Thing From the Vault: Pinfire 9mm Double Pistol; Worst Trigger Ever

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).

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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.

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pinfire_pistol_3Forward 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.

pinfire_pistol_6The main lock of the pistol shows trigger and hammer pins, and is curiously cross-hatched.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Here is the half-cock position in profile view. You can see how sliding the sight/safety to the rear would block the hammers.

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Each lock functions completely independently of the other. You can cock and fire one hammer, or both. Here is one hammer, cocked:

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And here, both are cocked.pinfire_pistol_19

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?

12 thoughts on “Thing From the Vault: Pinfire 9mm Double Pistol; Worst Trigger Ever

  1. Jonathan Ferguson

    Weird; why would you need such a massive pull-off? There’s nothing about pinfire that demands it. Cool piece though, thanks for sharing.

  2. James

    Pin fire,that is something new I learned today,and bless those that still make ammo for the little critters.

    As for the 80%,would say you want that route go with one set up to use a router for finishing if no mill available.You first do trigger to avoid bit wobble/then mill for finish,then all side holes with material to lessen bit wobble,then careful drilling of pocket(use a bit stop along with drill stop for depth),then carefully mill away with router a1/16 to at most a 1/8 of inch at a time,1/16 gives a much nicer finish with it’s shallow cuts.Assemble,test all functions/everything good/take to range,still good/take home/disassemble/finish of your choice and done.I would add number/name ect. for ID purposes but at moment not a legal requirement,just common sense.I have seen a few done this way and the system works well for those without a mill,decent trim router with good bits does the job.Do check before any work that jig you have mates up to 80% and is centered ect.,prussian blue your friend.Also,start saving some monies/go in with friends on a small mill,amazing with some work/practice the things one can do with a mill and good bits(and a lot of practice).

    1. whomever

      “Also,start saving some monies/go in with friends on a small mill”

      What he said. I have a friend who got into hobby machining with a Grizzly mill-drill and lathe 20 years ago. He liked it, and eventually opened a commercial shop. He now has a few commercial quality lathes, a few high end mills, a CNC machining center, a water jet, yadda, yadda. And he still has the old Grizzly mill drill, and still routinely uses it.

      They come with a lot of annoyances – the round column means you lose positioning when you raise the head, changing speeds w/ belts is downright annoying when you have 50 holes to center drill/pilot drill/drill/ream/countersink, all at different speeds, etc, etc. But they are light years ahead of putting end mills in drill press chucks, etc, etc. As cheap and nasty as they are, for the average hobbyist it will be in good working order at your estate sale.

      If you can afford a Bridgeport or CNC, great, but you won’t regret one of the mill-drills. I just looked and they are selling for $1500 +/-. With all their foibles, they are head and shoulders above whatever is in second place. If we were talking deer hunting, it’s like a drill press is a sharp stick, a mill drill is a Savage Axis or Turk Mauser or something, and a Bridgeport is a Blaser or Weatherby or whatever – the first step up is the big one.

  3. Dan F.

    Maybe it’s broken after a hundred plus years. A spring or part has could have failed or old timey bubba lost a part and reassembled it without marring the screws.

  4. Tom Stone

    I have actually encountered a worse trigger than that on an early production S&W titanium revolver.
    I have very strong hands and could not move it to full cock. I can easily lift a 25 Lb bag by crooking my trigger finger so that gives you an idea of how bad it is.
    Single action was 20 Lbs using a Lyman scale.

  5. Sixgunner

    That is a fascinating piece. It makes one wonder if the trigger was like that from the maker or if it has suffered from abuse from past owners. The crosshatching on the action is an interesting touch. I’ve seen the same applied as a type of crude checkering on the stock, but hadn’t seen such applied to the action or other parts before. The concept of the spur trigger sans trigger guard is fairly common in the 19th century. Colt’s Patterson revolver had a similar (in a way, if you squint just right) setup. We’ve become used to the sight of a trigger guard and a trigger hanging down full time where it’s supposed to be, so the sight of an old pistol sans trigger guard looks odd. This one reminds me of my first handgun, a Rossi double barrel 22. It had regular triggers, but a former owner had removed the trigger guard. The main fault with it was the inability to hit anything with it – until one had spent some time and ammo learning where each barrel pointed.

    I’m guessing, but suspect your 9mm is smoothbore?

  6. Bonifacio Echeverria

    Re: who would ever have bought such a thing?

    A lot of people did, actualy. What you have here is what was commonly called a “Pistola de Perrillo(s)”. Perrillo is a common technical name given to the old style external hammers, so, broadly speaking any pistol with a external hammer would have been a “Pistola de Perrillos”, regardless of system, manufacturer and/or design. I have seen examples made in Eibar with single, double and multiple barrels, and using percussion caps as well as pin-fire Lefaucheux. The concept stuck so long that there is even an example in the Eibar Arms Museum with the same typical configuration: double basculating barrels and external hammers but central-fire and dated 1926.

    Those little things -I mean the Lefaucheux types proper- were produced double time in Eibar, guess everywhere else too, as a kind of cheap, portable self-defence weapon between 1850 and up to very late, some sa as late as the 1910s. Not very different from those Jimenezes of a few posts ago. Although they started as a sort of high-tech personal concealed carry selfdefence weapon, specialy for urban types at a time cities were starting to realy grow in size and population, they kept being sold as a cheaper, and simpler, alternative when more sophisticated models started appearing.

    (Now “Perrillo” means literaly “Small Dog”, so maybe you want to pass this one to the little guy for his concealed carry needs).

    They were dirt cheap, specialy after 1865 or so, when they could not be considered hi-tech any longer. Their main drawback was that the pin-fire cartridges were prone to accidental activation if the protruding firing pins hit something in the wrong angle and moment, hence the sliding sight-cum-safe.

    (BTW, no expert, have never had one of these in my hands, but, just a wild shot, maybe the position of the sight-safe has something to do with the trigger resistence? perhaps you tried to pull it while in the “safe” position? soiling/rust accumulated in the triger mechanism?)

    In more technical venues you’ll see them called Lefaucheux pistols (single, two barrelled…), after the patented pin-fire Lefaucheux ammo. It is not at all clear why, but Spain was caught in a short of Lefaucheux fad in the second third of the XIX, maybe by proximity with France, don’t know, but very early Lefaucheaux used brass cases are known to have been found around old First Carlist War battle sites. Funny enough, the spent cases found are from an early breechload hunting shotgun, not a military weapon. Some French attaché having a little fun with one of the first breechloading basculating twobarrelers before the battle maybe. Even funnier, the Lefaucheaux ammo kept strong thanks to these small pistols for longer than anybody would have expected.

    Back to the Pistolas de Perrillos, Lefaucheux system. They appeared in a very critical moment in the history of Eibar arms producing industry. The wars and attendant political changes of the first half of the XIX had mostly destroyed the traditional gremial structure of the arms making guilds. A great number of gunsmiths, and rising as old arms making talleres were closing steadily, found themselves jobless. For most of them the alternative left to keep putting food on the table was cottage industry production of arms and parts to be sold to those few that had the vision, and luck, to start in the new capitalistic ways. Then, the most successful ones started banding again, gathering enough capital to open the small factories that, in time, would make the big names of pistol making in Eibar.

    While the early firms turned to make copies of Colt or Lefaucheux service revolvers for the army and navy, or high-end percussion cap duel pistols, most of the gunsmiths kept producing these, or similar, Pistolas de Perrillos, usualy helped by part of the family, as a cottage industry to suplement income or to keep them afloat when there was no employment in the established firms. One time or another, for 70 plus years every gunsmith in Eibar produced Perrillos like that one, or parts of it.

    The realy interesting thing of this one is the markings. Assuming that marks and gun are contemporary, this must have been one of the very last Lefaucheux Perrillos ever made. The Eibar crest is actualy the crest of the Probadero de Armas de Eibar, and it looks like the very first version, used between 1910 and 1921. Perrillos were still being made in those years, but the high days of production had long gone. Most of them had been made and sold long before there was even an idea of a Probadero. Also Eibar gunsmiths, specialy Perrillo makers, were known for avoiding as much as they could the Probadero, since having the proof marks meant paying duties and taxes which would have ruined the main attractive of the whole thing: a subterranean level low price.

    But, of course, it could be an earlier example recovered by a collector and proof and marked in the early XX, forgotten stocks coming to the surface with a location change, who knows…

    As said, the Probadero mark looks like the very first version, 1910-1921. The number one after the X may be the mark for black powder, smooth bore guns, in that same timeframe but that will make the three roundels mark redundant. Over the rest I can’t sed more light unfortunately, but it looks like this pistol has too many marks to me (again no expert in Probadero markings, shame unto me by my Granpa who worked there)… maybe it was marked twice in two separate moments?

    And about that awfull trigger… well, as heir to one Eibar armorer that did actualy produce them all I would say is: I will need to see your purchase ticket, sir, but I’m afraid your warranty expired long ago :-)

    1. Hognose Post author

      Your last comment cracks me up, Bonifacio. Thanks for the Spanish / Basque view. I actually ordered two German books on the Eibar pistols in a big shipment of books from DWJ that never arrived.

  7. W. Fleetwood

    “Who would have ever bought such a thing?”

    Well, some of us did buy Colt American 2000s didn’t we? (Show of hands? Mine reluctantly rises.) Actually, the real problem wasn’t the pistol. The real problem was finding an IWB holster for the size three steel vise you needed to clamp the damned thing into before shooting it. Oh well.

    Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

  8. BAP45

    I think the real question is when is HN going to scrounge up some of that pin fire ammo….

  9. Geodkyt

    My P-64 (Polska PPK copy in 9×18 Makarov to those unaware) came with a DA trigger measured in excess of 26 lbs, via my FISH SCALE (I couldn’t find a trigger scale heavy enough) and an SA trigger about 3.5 lbs. (Wolff spring swap brought it down to about 19/3.25lbs).

    First time it fired, I thought the sear slipped, because it doubled. Nope, just my figer slapping the trigger in recoil…

    I’ve been told it was intentional, to mitigate the risk of Lieutenant Kielbasa blowing a hole in his leg — the thought was if they were too close you didn’t have time to thumb cock, they were close enough to crunch one off Magilla Gorilla style. If you needed accuracy, you had time to thumb cock (and thus the nice triangular build up of the original rowel hammer production started with).

    Frankly, it’s one of my most accurate pistols… in SA. In DA, well, I managed to work myself up to “acceptable combat accuracy” with the first round when I carried it regularly.

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