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Extraordinary Pair of Henry Nock Flintlock Pistols

Extraordinary Pair of Henry Nock Flintlock Pistols

  • Product Code: FHG-2074-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

A number of world famous English gunsmiths emerged during the late 18th century to become internationally known makers; many of whom remain well known today. Names like Joseph Manton, Joseph Egg, Durs Egg and Henry Mortimer are still associated with some of the finest English arms of the period. In the case of all except Durs Egg, it is typically the fine sporting arms that the arms collector and gun enthusiast is aware of. In the case of Durs Egg, it is his interesting and sometimes revolutionary military arms that are most often remembered. Another gunsmith of the period with continued international renowned, particularly for his military arms, is Henry Nock. The preceding is my summary of Howard Blackmore’s opening assertion in Chapter V of British Military Firearms 1650-1850 regarding Henry Nock’s arms and I could think of no better way to adequately describe the importance of Nock to the English military arms industry during his active period, which was basically from 1770 through his death in 1804.

Henry Nock was born in 1841 and apprenticed to become a gunsmith. Little is known of his early life but prior to 1770 he was working as a gunlock maker, under a master gunsmith who was freed of the Gunmaker’s Company. The Gunmakers’ Company can best be described as a period union where youngsters learned their trade under master makers, eventually becoming journeymen and then masters themselves. This system is not unlike a modern journeyman plumber or electrician working under the license of a master plumber or electrician. In 1770, Nock submitted a “new pattern musket”, with a lock of his own design, to the Ordnance Department for evaluation. The design was roundly rejected, primarily because of deficiencies the board found in his lock design. Nock was not deterred and continued to make locks, with his name initially appearing in Board of Ordnance contracts for locks circa 1771. In 1775, Nock patented a new lock design, described as a “concealed lock”, which would become the basis for his “screwless lock” design. At the same time, he also patented what was his version of the “hooked breech”, a method by which the barrel(s) attached to the gun by means of hooked studs that locked into a fixed breech piece. This meant that after removing the pins or wedges, the barrel could be lifted up at an angle from the stock and removed, rather than having to unscrew the breech pin that passed through the tang. This design concept would become standard on muzzleloading shotguns throughout the 19th century, as well as on many fine sporting arms of the period. As he was not a “master” gunsmith and could not receive a firearms patent and trade under his own name, Nock joined forces with well-known London gunmaker William Jover (who was “freed” of the Gunmaker’s Company) and another partner John Green to manufacture arms utilizing this lock under the name of Nock, Jover & Green. Despite not being free of the Gunmaker’s Company, Nock’s reputation within the arms making community was skyrocketing and soon he was maintaining workshops and premises both at 83 Longacre under the Nock, Jover & Green name, but also in the Mount Pleasant section of London and also on Drury Lane. By 1777, he was contracting to provide Ferguson breechloading flintlock rifles to the East India Company, was still working as a Board of Ordnance contractor on his own account and had organized a consortium of Birmingham arms makers to supply gunlocks to the Board of Ordnance in mass quantities. His Birmingham trade association was short lived but planted the seeds for what would become the Birmingham Small Arms Trade a few decades later. The organization also showed that he was looking towards creating a system of mass production of arms components and complete arms in a period of hand work by artisans. In 1779, James Wilson invented a seven-barreled volley gun that would become known universally as the “Nock Volley Gun”, even though Nock did not invent it. Nock was hired to produce two sample guns for evaluation by the Board of Ordnance and as such was in a prime position to receive the contracts to manufacture these arms, which he did. Wilson then suggested that Nock build an additional 20 guns for sea trials, which went well. Ordnance then paid Wilson 400” for the design and sent him packing, while awarding a contract to manufacture a total 500 of the volley guns to Nock in 1780; 480 in addition the 20 previously ordered. Seven years later, Nock received a second order for 100 of the guns, for a total of 602 (including the two original samples) being produced for the Royal Navy. The notoriety of the guns and the design created a brief interest in seven barreled guns, and Nock produced a handful of sporting volley guns with rifled bores (all of the military guns were smoothbore except for the first two sample guns). This notoriety also attracted the attention of the Royal Court and resulted in Nock receiving orders to produce some personal sporting arms for King George III.

In 1781, Nock was contracted to provide gauges for the London Proof House, an indication of his reputation within the trade for quality work, as he was still not officially a “master” gunsmith. In 1784, Nock was finally “freed of the Gunmaker’s Company” and was no longer hobbled by an official status within the trade that was below “master”, even though his work was superior to many other master gunsmiths. He established a new headquarters at 10 Ludgate but continued his practice of operating numerous small facilities for the manufacture of parts and assembly of arms. Over the next two decades, Nock’s star would continue to rise, and the output of his company would continue to increase. In 1786, the Duke of Richmond, who had been appointed Master General of Ordnance in 1782, approached Nock regarding a design to upgrade and improve the standard infantry musket for the British military. As it was a period of peace and the size of the army had been decreased after the conclusion of the American Revolution, it was the perfect time (in the Duke’s opinion) to experiment with some new ideas. The Duke was particularly interested in the use of Nock’s screwless lock, which was an enclosed flintlock design with all the internal and moving components on the “inside” and all parts bearing upon pins, rather than screws. To this end, Nock developed two variations of what would become known as the Duke of Richmond Musket. This incorporated Nock’s screwless lock and a number of other refinements and improvements, including a small reduction in the nominal bore size from about .76 caliber to .73 caliber. Once Nock’s foot was in the door with the Board of Ordnance via the Duke of Richmond he proceeded to supply a variety of new ideas and patterns of arms, including various experimental muskets like his two-barreled smoothbore and rifle design, an experimental breechloading musket, as well as muskets of various calibers to assess the effectiveness of different weights of ammunition. The Duke was looking not only for an improved musket, but a lighter one, as any reduction in the weight of the arm would mean an increase in other equipage, provisions or ammunition that the men could carry. During this period Nock also designed and manufactured a small number of double-barreled pistols with shoulder stocks for the Royal Horse Artillery and a new pattern of heavy dragoon carbine for the Duke of Harcourt in 1793. This carbine design would essentially be adopted by the Board of Ordnance as the Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine a few years later. All of these efforts, however, could be considered fun for Nock, where he could apply his inventiveness and engineering skills to solve problems and create new designs. The bulk of his business remained producing conventional pattern arms with conventional flint locks for the East India Company, Board of Ordnance contracts, various militia and volunteer companies and for commercial sale; both within Great Britain and for export.

The eruption of war with France in 1792 (known as the French Revolutionary Wars) meant that Ordnance required huge numbers of arms quickly. This also meant huge expense and many of Nock’s excellent, but rather expensive, designs were abandoned for general issue. In fact, it was this period of conflict that resulted in the eventual adoption of the inexpensive and inelegant “India Pattern” (aka 3rd Model) Brown Bess Musket for general issue, just at a time when the hope was to reequip the infantry with Nock’s Duke of Richmond Musket.

In 1804, as the Napoleonic Wars were heating up and another long period of conflict between Great Britain and France was erupting, Henry Nock died. The business was taken over by Nock’s foreman (and son-in-law) James Wilkinson, whose surname is well known to all in the historic arms community. The company eventually became James Wilkinson & Son in 1818, and when James’ son Henry (no doubt named for his grandfather Henry Nock) passed away in 1864, the firm became Wilkson Sword. It is interesting to note that one of the last contracts awarded to Henry Nock by the Board of Ordnance while he was alive was to replace all of the Nock screwless locks in the Duke of Richmond pattern muskets in inventory with conventional locks. This was a clear indication that the exigencies of war and the need for some level of standardization were more important than the superiority of Nock’s lock design.

Offered here are a VERY FINE condition Pair of Henry Nock Flintlock Holster Pistols. The pistols are a combination of features between the Pattern 1793 Light Dragoon Pistol and the 1798 Heavy Dragoon pistol, both of which Nock received contracts to produce. The Pattern 1793 Light Dragoon pistol introduced the simple, flat S-shaped side plate that would remain standard through the New Land Pistol era. The Pattern 1793 was a nominally .65 caliber (carbine bore) single shot flintlock muzzleloading smoothbore pistol with a 10” barrel and brass mountings. The Pattern 1798 Heavy Dragoon pistol had a shorter, nominally 9” barrel that was “musket bore”, around .75 caliber. These heavy dragoon pistols were made without the brass buttcap of the 1793 pattern and had a plain wood stock. The guns were produced by various contractors with standard flintlocks, and by Nock with his screwless lock. The pistols offered here show a combination of features from the two patterns and appear to date to the turn of the 19th century, circa 1800. They have the shorter barrel of the Pattern 1798 as well as its plain butt, with the other mountings and caliber like the Pattern 1793. The guns are both 14 ““ in overall length with 9 1/16” round, browned barrels with baluster turned rings at the breeches. The bores are smooth and are “carbine bore”, measuring .65 caliber at the muzzle. The brass components are of the Pattern 1793 Light Dragoon type. These include a simple triggerguard with abbreviated finial, the flat 1793 type sideplate and a single tapered rammer pipe of the Pratt’s improvement type. The pistol were likely manufactured for militia (volunteer regiment) use, or for a young officer who was not particularly wealthy. The guns are somewhat plain, particularly with the plain butts without butt caps, but are very well made and show the quality that Nock arms were known for. The stocks show simple, carved flat moldings to the rear of the locks and counterpane, as well as flattened sides to the grips. Both pistols are engraved on their locks H : NOCK and feature simple boarder line engraving around the outer edge of the lock plate and body of the cock. The barrels are both engraved LONDON on their tops and are stamped with a pair of private Tower proof marks with the (CROWN) / HN maker’s mark of Henry Nock between the two proofs. The guns have 5 ““ flat beveled color casehardened locks with pronounced teats at their rear, with integral, fenced iron waterproof pans. The cocks are of the flat beveled swan neck design and the steels (frizzens) have curled toes. The pistols are equipped with brass tipped wooden ramrods with steel wipers at the ends.

As noted, the pistols remain in VERY FINE condition. For the purposes of begin able to determine which of the photos go with the condition notes in this description, “Pistol 1” is the gun that is photographed cocked and with the pan closed in all of the photos. “Pistol 2” is the gun with the cock lowered and the pan open. There are some minor differences in the markings between the two pistols. The lock of “Pistol 1” is marked as noted above, while “Pistol 2” has the colon between “H” and “NOCK” turned ninety-degrees on its side, instead of the in the conventional, upright position. “Pistol 1” is stamped with a CROWN / B on its counterpane, while “Pistol 2” is stamped VS, which is applied upside down. The barrel markings on both guns are the same. Both pistols use a dual assembly mark system, with one applied for the lock and one applied for the balance of the pistol, with both marks appearing on or in the locks. “Pistol 1” has the master assembly mark X throughout, with XI in the lock. “Pistol 2” has the master assembly mark VIII throughout and V in the lock. Both pistols remain in their original flintlock configuration with both the locks and barrels in original flint, retaining their original small parts, cocks and top jaws and not reconverted from percussion. Both pistols are mechanically excellent as well, with both locks operating crisply on all positions. Both pistols retain about 85% thinning original brown on their barrels and strong traces of faded and dulled case colors on their locks, showing a mottled bluish-gray patina. “Pistol 1” shows some small, scattered flecks of minor surface oxidation mixed with the thinning brown on the barrel, as well as some minor oxidation and extremely minor pinpricking on the lock, especially in the pan and around the touchhole. “Pistol 2” shows a couple of small patches of similar surface oxidation on the barrel. These patches are slightly larger than the flecks on the first gun but are less numerous. The lock is in similar condition to the first gun with slightly more finish loss on the cock. The markings on both guns are clear and sharp, with only the “crown” over Henry Nock’s “HN” mark on the barrel of “Pistol 1” being a little weak due to a poor strike. The brass of both guns has been lightly cleaned and has a lovely golden color. Both guns retains what appear to be their original brass tipped, tapered wooden ramrods with steel corkscrew type wipers on their ends. The bores of both pistols are in VERY GOOD condition. They both show even, light oxidation, with some old dirt and dust present and some lightly scattered pitting. Both stocks are in VERY FINE condition as well, with sharp lines and crisp edges and no indication of having been sanded. The stocks are solid, full-length and complete with no breaks, cracks or repairs. The guns are both stocked to within 1/8” of the muzzles. While of the same pattern and nearly identical, the handmade pistol stocks are slightly different, with “Pistol 1” having a grip that is about 1/10” wider and about 3/8” longer than the “Pistol 2”. Both guns show some very minor scattered handling and storage marks, with some scattered small dings and mars. Both show some tiny, really miniscule amounts of loss around the pins. The only wood issue worth mentioning at all is a tiny amount of wood loss about 1/16” wide on “Pistol 2” below the lock plate, under the sear. This might actually be the way the gun was made, with the extra relief of the wood needed to make the sear engage correctly. Other than the scattered light handling marks the stocks really remain in extraordinarily crisp condition for a pair of guns that are more than 200 years old.

Overall this is simply a gorgeous pair of high condition English Flintlock Military Style Holster Pistols by Henry Nock in a fantastic state of preservation. These would be a wonderful addition to any collection of flintlock pistols, particularly English guns from the period of the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. These pistols are both 100% original, complete and correct in every way and should please even the most critical and advanced collector. Considering the condition and quality of these pistols, they are certainly "a lot of gun for the money."


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Tags: Extraordinary, Pair, of, Henry, Nock, Flintlock, Pistols