Fancy Flintlocks of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries

Versailles Dueling Pistol, Kumbley & Brum of London flintlock

There are some very sleek and modern pistols being produced today, with major advances in technology and accuracy. But they are in a different class from the old flintlock pistols of the past. Ornately engraved and scrolled decorative finishes are something that is no longer produced, except in custom work, made to order at a high price. Many European gunsmiths were producing beautiful flintlock pistols in the 18th and 19th century. The few that have survived are now fetching high prices at auction, or on display in museums.

French design is legendary for its classical elegance and ornate decor. It is evident in French furniture and architecture. It can also be found in flintlock muskets and pistols produced by the famed armory at St. Etienne, the Manufacture d’armes founded in 1764 in Charleville, France. St. Etienne is only one of many locations for armories bearing the name. Small arms have been produced here since the middle ages, including the many weapons used in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon Bonaparte himself had personal weapons made here for him by his personal gunsmith, Jean-Baptiste Gribeauval. Among these are a double-barrelled flintlock pistol, and Napoleon’s personal St. Etienne 1806 traveling flintlock pistol with his crowned mongram “N” on the grip. Though customized, it is clearly a variation of the AN XIII flintlock pistol, used by French Cavalry in the Napoleonic wars. Polished wood, and intricately scrolled brass and pewter fittings make a resplendent contrast to the plain and the utilitarian. There are also the Versailles dueling pistols made by Nicholas Boutet in the time of Napoleon. Carved exotic woods and precious metals were used in the production of these pistols, which were presented to high-ranking officials.

A lot of the St. Etienne flintlocks made their way to America also. Merriweather Lewis and William Clark carried some of these flintlock pistols on their famous 1804-1806 expedition to explore the open western lands for expansionist and president Thomas Jefferson, accompanied by a native-American guide, Sacajawea. These were variations of the St. Etienne Model AN IX, which were issued to French infantrymen in the Napoleonic Wars. Most of these flintlocks can be identified by the famous St. Etienne stamp in the metal on the side of the lock mechanism.

Around 1680, Italian gunsmith Lorenzoni produced some magnificent triple-barrel flintlock pistols for the Medici family, with ornately carved ivory grips. Around 1795, Kumbley & Brum of London also made flintlock pistols with beautifully-carved ivory grips and bas-relief brass engraving.

First American President George Washington had a favorite pistol, a 1748 Hawkins, made in London had his name engraved on a silver plate on the grip. It is now housed in the museum of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was also presented with a brace of flintlocks by the Marquis de LaFayette. The famous first shot of the American War for Independence, the “Shot heard ’round the world” was fired by a 1760s Scottish flintlock pistol, an all-metal piece of extraordinarily ornate design. These are but a few examples of the fine art and craftsmanship that went into gunmaking in the 17th through the 19th centuries. When compared with today’s utilitarian, sleek and modern hanguns, which are faster and more powerful, there is still something magnificent about the time-honored practice of handcrafted elegance.

The first flintlock firing mechanism was created by a French courtier for King Louis XIII, and by 1630 was in use in Europe for warfare. Flintlock weapons were in use for around two hundred years, until they were succeeded by the invention of the percussion cap. The percussion cap was a short-lived technology, bridging the gap between flintlocks and the later self-contained metal cartridges.

For more detailed background on firearms history, please visit  If you are interested in authentic non-firing and blank-firing replicas of famous, historical firearms, reenactor gear and other items, please visit


Kentucky Rifle; A little Clarification


I have sometimes been asked to explain what a “typical” Kentucky Rifle is. Unfortunately, while there are many things that typify Kentucky Rifles, there’s really no such thing as a typical Kentucky Rifle. They were not uniformly mass-produced in factories, but rather made by hand in small, private gunsmith shops all over Appalachian America (eg. Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina). Sometimes they were plain affairs, with no thrilling extras, other times they were ornately engraved or decorated with gold and silver furniture. In the early days of Colonial America, a lot of immigrants from Europe found their way here, especiallly the Dutch, Irish, and Germans. Many of the Germans settled in central Pennsylvania, around York, Lancaster, Elizabethtown and surrounding areas, and undoubtedly in and around Philadelphia–the capitol of Colonial America. These Germans had their own brand of rifles dating back to the late 1600s and early 1700s–the Jaeger Rifle. When they got over here in the Colonies, they continued to make these Jaegers (pronounced Yay-Gur), and after a while, they became as much of a regional phenomenon here as they had been in what would later come to be called Germany.

Gunsmithing was (and still is) a fine handcrafted art, and many examples of those Long Rifles are still around today. During the War of American Independence, much of the Colonial military consisted of volunteers to bolster up the Continental Line. Many of them showed up with their home-grown rifles and caused a stir among the attacking British. You see, at the time it was common to use flintlock muskets–smoothbores–as military arms, and to form lines or rows, advancing towards the enemy. Rather than taking careful aim, it was the practice to have an entire line fire simultaneously in a volley of fire, in an attempt to decimate the line of an advancing enemy. So here we had all these independent “Hunters” (Jaeger is German for “hunter”) hiding behind rocks and trees and using their rifle sites to take aim at individual enemy soldiers, to great effect. The startled British officers began buzzing about these new “Long Rifles” which were being used with success against them. Although most did not know it at the time, this was the future of warfare. Up to that point, a rifle was supposed to be used for hunting game for food, whereas a musket was a military weapon. This led to the old German Jaeger rifles to be called “American Jaegers” and then “Long Rifles” by the British.

Now we get to the Kentucy Rifle. Up to this point the American Jaegers were being called “Long Rifles” by the British, and probably some locals too. Using the Long Rifle (and allowing for the generous support of the Marquis de LaFayette’s gift of 25,000 Charleville muskets to General George Washington) and some good strategies and a little luck, America won its independence from Britain. In the War of 1812, at the Battle of New Orleans, General (Yes, he later became president) Andrew Jackson led a group of some 2,000 Tennessee volunteers (another famous term!) armed with the Long Rifles they brought with them, and were able to defeat the British. After this, amid the celebration, jounalsits coined the term “Kentucy Rifle” and it stuck. So now, in the 21st century, we still call it the Kentucky Rifle. There you have it. There are still artisans in Appalachia who make these by hand, often with magnificent results. Do a search online, and you can find some absolutely beautiful Kentucky rifle artwork out there.

There is a more detailed and expanded story on the Kentucky Rifle at  There are also stories and links to many other famous firearms at this site.  Feel free to drop in and check it out!  We have authentic non-firing and blank-firing replicas of these guns at, in addition to a large assortment of reenactor gear, accessories and other items.  If you are specifically looking for a replica of the Kentucky Rifle, we have that too.