I’m lucky enough to have a day job where I’m constantly learning new things about guns. Sometimes it’s a brand new product; other times, it’s an old gun that I knew nothing about, or thought I knew something about only to be proven wrong. I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong, so here’s something I learned within the last week.
The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums has a surprisingly good arms collection on display. One of the guns I saw (pictured above) was described as being of Austrian origin on the exhibit label.
With just a quick glance at the lock plate, it was obvious that the hammer was missing. I saw what I thought was another hammer mounted – presumably – backwards at the front of the lock plate. I snapped a photo on my phone and moved to the next item in the display.
After doing some research on unusual flintlock-to-percussion cap lock conversions, I believed the gun to have been a former flintlock ignition system design that was converted to the percussion ignition system, with a backward-falling hammer.
Turns out I was wrong.
While the internet is full of keyboard warriors, many hell-bent on being snippy and unhelpful, I had a very helpful encounter with someone who knows more about these arms than I do. He chimed in and corrected me in a most pleasant manner.
Instead of being Austrian, it’s actually a Prussian Potsdam arm with a nipple protector, which served to keep the cone from getting mashed and deformed, thereby hindering the performance of the percussion cap. Intrigued, I did some more sleuthing online and in my personal library. Lo and behold, this internet individual was right! This gun had indeed started life as a percussion cap lock and wasn’t a conversion.
Here’s how I ended up at my (incorrect) conclusion:
Because the hammer was missing (it appears that the screw actually snapped off) and the nipple protector mechanism looks very much like a percussion hammer mounted to a frizzen spring that is seen on flintlock rifles, I made the assumption that it was an ingenious flintlock conversion that utilized part of the flintlock ignition system.
When the percussion system came onto the market, it was very common to convert a flintlock rifle to a percussion rifle by altering the lock plate and continuing to use the gun. Arms were often expensive, so altering old guns with new technology was more cost-effective than buying new arms. Sometimes this was done by installing a completely new percussion lock, and sometimes just through modification of the existing flintlock lock plate. I’ve seen some unusual muzzleloading conversions before and figured that this was just one that I hadn’t seen before.
The link to Austria was simply because I read the museum exhibit label. Not being an expert in this particular era or geographical region of old guns, I trusted the label copy. (I knew the gun wasn’t American, but I didn’t know exactly where it came from.) Unfortunately, labels are written by humans and not everyone in a museum knows about firearms. Such was the case with this piece because its online record notes that they contacted an outside individual to come help and identify their arms collection. This person claimed it was Austrian and the museum staff had no reason to doubt him.
So, let this be a lesson in a few things: 1) get more than one expert opinion; 2) not all keyboard warriors are unpleasant; and 3) learn to admit when you’re wrong and relish in the fact that you learned something new.
Now that I know a bit more about Prussian Potsdam arms, I’ve found myself researching them more just to see what else I can learn!
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.