In this Thing From the Vault, we have a double pistol gifted to us recently by a friend. It is a 9mm pinfire of uncertain European (Belgian, perhaps?) make. It’s an oddity with a number of screwball design features; maybe it was French, because it has some of the sorts of quirks our long-departed Citroën had. Wait… it is Spanish, we just figured that out, and we’ll tell you why. First, a picture. (All pictures here do embiggen).
The pistol is furnished with a carved walnut grip and is finished in the white. We’ll give you a quick walk-around, starting from the hammers and proceeding clockwise. There are two single-action hammers, each with a full cock and a half-cock position. The hammers are serrated at the top of the spurs. The retractable triggers only extend at full cock; with the hammers at half-cock or at rest, they are approximately flush with the bottom of the pistol.
Forward of the hammers, atop the barrels, is the sight, a simple notch; there s no front sight. The sight slides and forms the safety (we’ll show you later how this works). The barrels are octagonal in section and 9mm in caliber. Beneath the barrel, the pivot screw, pivot spring and locking block are evident.
The grip is rather crudely formed to fit the decorative shape of a steel grip cap with lanyard ring.
The right barrel bears black-powder proofs from Eibar, Spain in the 19th Century.
The markings on the right side are Xº1 9,9 [an Eibar proof crest with antlers] [an Ebar black powder proof with three non-interlocking rings] and the strength of the proof, 700 Kgs (Kilograms/square centimeter pressure). The markings on the left side of the barrels are a serial number, 05435; what may be 2.2 in a lozenge shape; and CAL. 9.
The pistol must be half-cocked to be opened. With the hammers on half-cock, pushing the locking bolt from right towards left allows the barrels to be opened. No extraction is provided; the pins in the cartridges can be used for that.
Pinfire was an early cartridge system that was quickly made obsolete by the rim- and later center-fire cartridges. There’s actually a lot to say about early cartridges (including a great three-volume work by George A. Hoyem). Pinfire allowed self-contained, more or less hermetically sealed, metallic cartridges, but they had to be inserted so that the pins fit into the slots in the barrel. The pin was like a little firing pin built into the cartridge, and activating an internal priming compound set against the inside of the cartridge case. It sure beat muzzleloading and paper and linen cartridges, but the popularity of the rimfire after 1850 consigned pinfire to the history books — and the Vault. By 1900, pinfire was a dead concept, but cartridges were made for existing firearms as late as World War II. A few die-hard enthusiasts remanufacture and reload pinfire cartridges today.
For more, including a look at the primitive safety, click on the link below.
The sight assembly is held on by two screws, and slides fore and aft. In this position, it does not interfere with the hammers or any of the processes of loading and firing.
Sliding it further back (with the hammers at half or, unsafely full cock) shows how it acts as a functional safety. Even if the hammers were cocked and then fired, the sight/safety wrapping around the pin keeps it from firing.
Here is the half-cock position in profile view. You can see how sliding the sight/safety to the rear would block the hammers.
Each lock functions completely independently of the other. You can cock and fire one hammer, or both. Here is one hammer, cocked:
What these images can’t get across is the sheer heaviness of these triggers. They were not readily measured (the drawbar on a Lyman trigger gage began to deform without moving the trigger one iota. Your Humble Blogger is probably stronger than the average man, but he could barely actuate this trigger left-handed, and still found it difficult right-handed. It is all but impossible to hold the gun on target whilst firing. We estimate the trigger pull to be in excess of 20 lbs, and it is without question the worst trigger we have ever experienced, a war-story-worthy horrible trigger.
But hey, it’s not like we can bop into WalMart and come bopping out with a box of 9mm pinfire shells.
It’s unlikely that this pistol will ever fire again. And we wonder: with that trigger, who would ever have bought such a thing?