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Earlier this month, I wrote a piece about turning single-shot, percussion muzzleloaders into primitive “repeaters” through the concept of superposed charges. The arm shown in that article featured a percussion ignition system that had been modified after it was originally created.

It’s important to note that superposed charges were not only a means of modification. Sometimes the guns were initially made to function like that.

This lock above features two different ignition systems. First, the wheel lock mechanism (shown on the right) would be discharged. With that load now out of the way, the second load could be discharged with the doglock mechanism (shown on the left).

This lock features two flintlock mechanisms. Just like the one above, the charge from the mechanism on the right-side of the photo was fired first, followed by the charge from the mechanism on the left-side of the photo.

(Lock courtesy of NRA Museums)

Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.

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  1. Sometimes they all went off at once!

    As things get dirty, (black powder after all), there could be flame leaks between charges.

    Any thing from full auto, one after another to just one big K-Boooom!

  2. Wouldn’t the Girandoni rifle be a better example of an early repeater?

    Makes me laugh when the gun banners argue that our founders never conceived of a weapon that could shoot as fast as some of our weapons of today…

    • I had never heard of the Girandoni rifle, so I looked it up. What a very interesting rifle. Thanks for your comment

        • From the above link “The Girandoni was a repeater with up to 30 deadly shots, unheard of in an era of single shot muzzle loaded matchlocks.”

          Well! That is JUST WRONG! That needs to be outlawed! 30 “DEADLY SHOTS”! FOR the CHILDREN!

        • One was taken on the Lewis and Clark expedition.
          One story I read was that when they came upon and Indian encampment, they would demonstrate how quickly it could fire.
          Kind of like a “don’t mess with us” statement.

          • I found a youtube video of a guy shooting one of these and it is impressive of how fast it fires considering the time period. Heck if the air storage tank had been better, and if it didn’t take 1500 pumps to charge, this thing would have been a huge game changer.

        • The air tanks were swappable, to an extent of threading them on and off, if memory serves…

    • The Girandoni was fragile, extremely difficult to manufacture, and fired no faster than a modern single shot. At peak pressure, it could fire with the force of a typical .45 ACP pistol. The fact that muzzle loading flintlocks remained the weapon of choice for decades after they stopped making Girandoni’s speaks volumes.

    • for anyone interested, here is a good video on the giradoni.
      It is actually the gun that won the West. One went west on the first trip with Lewis and Clark. They took one deer with it early on and from then on kept it locked up in the keelboat and only brought it out with a full uniform squad, for demonstrations, to impress the natives. The fact that after the first few tubes of balls it took two men an hour to re-pressurize the air tank(s), they kept to themselves. They didn’t get all the way across a hostile Continent by being stupid. Its all there in their journals.

  3. Since the integral metallic breechloading cartridge has not yet been invented, this was another example of people playing around with existing technology to see what kinds of performance they could squeeze out of it – kinda like the never-ending lineup of polymer nines we see hitting the market every year.
    Until we get something REALLY new and inventive that could change how guns work (a successful caseless cartridge?), then all we’ll continue to get is just variations of tried ideas.

    • There were wheel lock guns with removable chamber inserts early on that functioned as non-primed cartridges somewhat like the brass cases used for the Maynard carbines of the Civil War. The same idea was used on some swivel guns and small artillery pieces.

    • “I desperately want to see a video of this.”

      Does this qualify?

      A ‘John Belton’ 1786 flintlock, as mentioned by Strych9 below :

      • And here’s Ian from ‘Forgotten Weapons’ with a ‘Wilson’s Lorenzoni Repeating Flintlock Musket’.

    • No its two loads in one barrel. The bullet from the second load acts as a gas seal so that when the first load is ignited, the second is theoretically safe.

  4. Regarding superposed charges:

    An old idea, one used as the concept behind the Belton Flintlock. An interesting note: Under the NFA such a thing might actually be an MG.

    I’ve been considering building one and asked the ATF for clarification on this topic. As of yet, no response other than one saying it’s an oddball question that they will research and get back to me on.

    I was surprised that they didn’t have a canned answer but apparently they dont.

    • I would think it would only be illegal if it is designed to ignite both charges at the same time.

      • At the same time or in series doesn’t matter. It fires more than one shot per function of the trigger without the need for the user to reload. Under a strict reading of the NFA that is an MG.

        • “At the same time or in series doesn’t matter.”

          It *might*.

          That ‘double 1911’ monstrosity launches 2 rounds of lead with one trigger pull.

          But, get the clarification from the ATF to be safe(er). You still might want to keep the number of a good AFT-savvy lawyer handy, for unexpected emergencies…

        • The problem with your concern is this: If you are going to pattern your firearm after the guns shown here, then they are a sort-of semi-automatic, or else repeaters. They do not fire more than one charge with one actuation of the trigger. (If they were designed to do that, then why separate ball/powder charges? Just fire more than one ball, designing the barrel to handle the heavier charge needed. That’s fairly easy. It was even done back then; they called them shotguns.)
          As for the BATFE(ARBF), they don’t know anywhere as much as they think they do (or should). Allowing the Arsenal Firearms AF2011-A1, when it clearly fires more than one projectile with a single pull of the trigger, only demonstrates their lack of understanding the English language, which one would think would be a pre-condition for attempting to apply a law written in English.

        • But is it a “firearm”? I’m not sure of which law declares it, but guns made before a certain date, “and replicas” are not considered firearms. If not, then they can’t be automatic firearms, because they aren’t firearms.

  5. Articles like this are just way cool.

    Besides the utility, firearms are simply really interesting machines. Now that I have seen the two articles on early “repeaters”, and seeing the elegance of the solutions, think I just might contact my range bud, and see if he will sell that Luger.

    • You’re coming along just fine, Sam.

      Who needs an excuse to acquire a Luger?

      (Besides clearing it with the significant other…)

      • “Who needs an excuse to acquire a Luger?”

        The caliber would be a big move up for me. Have been looking at .32cal Lugers online. Way expensive for something that wouldn’t be embarrassing to hold. Moving to 9mm after getting comfortable with the .22 plinker is more than just the cost of the gun (and now that I might want it, my range buddy will sense it and probably want me to provide a lifetime income stream for the purchase).

        Wife actually shot the Luger back when, and wondered why we didn’t have one. She did not like the pricing she saw when we were cruising the Information Super Hiway.

        But maybe….

  6. Interesting how on the flint/wheel combo lock the assembly seems much shorter back to front compared to the double flint. I wonder if staggering the locks on opposite sides of the barrel was tried as well, like on a SxS. That would keep the action nice and short

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