Converting flint to percussion in the 19th century in Austria

Colonel Natalis Felix Beroaldo Bianchini, director of the state-owned armoury of Vienna was responsible for any changes in firearms from 1822. The Austrian imperial-royal army was already under pressure by these times to test and evaluate the benefits of chemical ignition that conquered the civilian business in just a few decades. There were many parallel inventions for the form and material of the primer, just as well for the ignition compound (chlorate-kali by Berthollet, mercury fulminate by Howard, silver fulminate by Cagniard de la Tour) so the choices were many. All these solutions shared the fact that the modification, or replacement of the complete lock, or the entire firearm was inevitable. This need money that the imperial-royal army lacked. Bianchini knew all the little bits of gun and cartridge making. He published a book in 1829 in Vienna titled Abhandlung über die Feuer- und Seitengewehre… that described in detail his views about the chemical ignition systems for both hand-held firearms and both for artillery pieces.

Bianchini was clearly against the new ignition system. He seemed to understand its benefits, but he believed that it draw-backs are more: problem of military logistics, poisonous and corrosive priming compounds, splinters of caps hurting the eyes of the soldiers, caps too small for the rough hands of the soldiers, etc…). Altogether he strongly believed that these problems weight more than all the benefits the new system could offer. Instead of all this he still thought that probably the system could work with the light infantry, the Jäger troop, that new much more about handling firearms than the poor boys of the line infantry regiments. That’s why he designed a solution: a modification of the military flintlock, and a capper device.

The modification seemed simple and elegant. A hammering steel replaced the flint in the jaws of the hammer. The head of this piece of steel was countersunk to cover the splinters of the exploding cap. The pan was also modified. A little drawer with a nipple was attached to the top of the pan. When this was opened, the pan could still be primed, and the gun was still useable as a flintlock (if the steel in the jaws of the hammer was replaced with a flint). When closed, the nipple moved under the hammer, so the lock worked with percussion caps. This seemed to solve the most important logistics issue: what happens if the army runs out of caps?

For the rough hands of the soldiers, he designed a capper device that could safely and quickly place the caps of the cone, while it also protected them against wet weather. This could be worn attached to the uniform or cartridge box. It is interesting why the colonel did not talk about the larger military caps that, instead examined only the small civilian caps. Probably he just wanted to support his beliefs…

Bianchini’s plan was never carried out, probably because all his questions and fears were already answered by the time his work was published. Maybe he was looking for excuses to support his negative feelings about the chemical ignition… When his work was published in 1829 Giuseppe Console, a customs officer in Milan had been already working on his tube priming system, that was first used to modernize the artillery pieces of the fort of Linz and then later for converting flintlock military arms to percussion. But that’s a different story.

Balázs Németh, aka Capandball, 2023, jan.