The pinfire cartridge, one of the first self-contained metallic ammunition designs that allowed for easy reloading, was first crafted in 1835 by French designer Casimir Lefaucheux. Pinfires featured a short metal pin protruding at a right angle from the case that, when struck by the hammer, detonated a fulminate charge placed within a cap inside the cartridge. Early Lefaucheux arms were manufactured in smoothbore configuration and fired a composite cartridge made of paper and metal. Chamber sealing with these early cartridges was imperfect, and later cases were made completely from thin-walled metal tubing, which provided better expansion capability.
During the Victorian era, many British gun makers readily adopted pinfires as a viable breechloading alternative to muzzleloading percussion arms. A wide variety of high-quality rifle and shotgun actions were rechambered to take pinfire cartridges, employing a series of locking systems to accommodate the top-striking hammer ignition requirements. For British and Continental hunters, many double rifles were built to take hefty pinfire cartridges suitable for big game. The brief age of the pinfire, however, came to a close with the growing popularity of centerfire cartridges, and many of the pieces that had been converted to pinfire ignition were then reconverted to take new ammunition.
This classic firearm has been loaned to the National Firearms Museum by James Stockham, a noted collector of pinfire arms.
Reprinted from America's 1st Freedom, June 2006.