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Fine Engraved & Gilt Pinfire Revolver by Chaineaux of Liège

Fine Engraved & Gilt Pinfire Revolver by Chaineaux of Liège

  • Product Code: FHG-3496
  • Availability: In Stock
  • $1,895.00

In 1835, Casimir Lefaucheux developed what would become the first truly successful self-contained cartridge system, one that would become known world-wide by its method of ignition; the “Pinfire”. Lefaucheux was a French gunsmith and inventor who had been born in 1802, only a year before the Napoleonic Wars would plunge Europe into a dozen years of nearly constant conflict. Lefaucheux was not the first to experiment with combining the powder, projectile, and ignition source into a single, easy to handle cartridge. In fact, Swiss-born French gunmaker Samuel Joannes Pauly probably created the first workable system about a decade after Lefaucheux’s birth. It was to Pauly that young Casimir was apprenticed to at the age of 12, and where he learned the gun-building trade. In fact, by 1827 Lefaucheux was the manager of Pauly’s Paris establishment and very soon thereafter, Casimir became the owner of the company. What Lefaucheux can be credited with was that he was the first to come up with a broadly successful and reliable self-contained cartridge system. Although the pinfire cartridges that we think of today are metallic, Lefaucheux’s new cartridge used a cardboard tube to contain the black powder, lead bullet and pinfire primer. It would not be until more than a decade later that improvements in Lefaucheux’s revolutionary design by Benjamin Houllier would result in the metallic cartridge that we think of today as a “pinfire”. Due to a French government that felt military arms production was strictly for their national armories and not for private contractors, Casimir concentrated on the manufacture of sporting arms. He applied his cartridge design to arms for that market, including breechloading shotguns and single shot pistols. It was Casimir’s son Eugene who would put the Lefaucheux name indelibly on the map with his revolutionary revolver design.


Eugene had an interest in applying the pinfire concept to a revolving pistol, and in 1851 he exhibited such a handgun at the London Exhibition. The revolver was revolutionary in that the cartridges loaded from the rear of the cylinder, which had bored through chambers. Any student of firearms history will immediately note that in America, the concept of the “bored through” cylinder is attributed to Rollin White. White’s US patents #12,648 and #12649, granted on April 3, 1855, granted him sole control of this essential design element for any metallic cartridge revolver until the patent expired in 1869. White subsequently entered into an agreement with Smith & Wesson, granting them the right to produce revolvers that incorporated his patent in exchange for a .25 cent per gun royalty payment. By so doing, White essentially granted Smith & Wesson a monopoly on the most efficient cartridge revolver design and kept major manufacturers like Colt and Remington from being able to compete in the cartridge revolver market while the patent restrictions were in effect. However, Lefaucheux’s design pre-dated White’s patent by at least four years, and Lefaucheux received a French patent for the concept (#19,380) on April 15, 1854, almost exactly a year prior to White receiving his American patent for the same principle. Had Lefaucheux the younger been forward thinking enough to register his patent in America, the history of American cartridge handgun design would have been very different, and it is arguable that Smith & Wesson might not have become the industry leader in firearms that they remain today. In fact, Smith & Wesson might even have failed financially during their first decade in business.


Eugene Lefaucheux’s design, that would become known as the Model 1854 Pin Fire Revolver, was based upon his original 15 April 1854 patent, but also on additional modifications to the original patent, which he registered on June 10thand November 9th of the same year. The revolver depicted in Lefaucheux’s patent application bore a strong resemblance to the Colt Model 1851 Navy revolver, including the open-top frame, octagonal barrel, and single action lock work. His patent drawing even included the square-backed triggerguard of the earliest production Colt Model 1851 revolvers. The primary differences between the Colt and Lefaucheux designs were the inclusion of a hinged loading gate where the Colt had the frame cut out for capping, the inclusion of an ejector rod along the lower right-hand side of the barrel to push the spent cases out of the cylinder and of course the inclusion of the six bored-through chambers in the cylinder for metallic cartridges. Interestingly, the patent drawing looks very much like a Richards-Mason cartridge alteration of a square-backed Colt Navy revolver, almost two decades before Colt produced these cartridge conversions!


The following year, Lefaucheux submitted his new revolver design to the French military for testing. The French Navy wanted to replace the single-shot percussion muzzleloading pistols then in service, and the pistols selected for evaluation were the Colt Model 1851 Navy, the Model 1854 Beaumont-Adams and the Lefaucheux design. Whether it was nationalism or simple practicality is hard to know, but from the outset the French Navy had determined that the only acceptable pistol would be one that used self-contained metallic cartridge ammunition, so by default the percussion ignition designs from Colt and Adams never had a chance of being accepted. The Lefaucheux design was officially chosen as the winner in 1857 and entered service with the French Navy the following year as the Model 1858. It is interesting to note that the one area of testing where the Colt revolver was clearly superior to the Lefaucheux was in the actual power of the cartridge. The cap and ball Colt fired a round lead ball of .36 caliber at about 750 feet per second, generating a muzzle energy of about 152 ft/lbs. In terms of modern ammunition, this amount of muzzle energy is about the same as the .32 ACP, not exactly known as a “man stopping” round. However, the 12mm cartridge fired by the Lefaucheux had a woefully slow muzzle velocity of about 330 ft/s, and a muzzle energy of about 52 ft/lbs; about one third the power of the Colt Navy’s projectile and slightly less muzzle energy than the modern .25 ACP, a cartridge that is certainly ridiculed in terms of stopping power. This lack of power was likely a combination of many factors, including the limited amount of space in the cartridge case for the black powder propellant and the inherent weakness in metallurgy of the copper cases of the time, which would severely limit the pressures the cartridge cases could be exposed to without rupturing. 


Despite the woefully underpowered cartridge, Lefaucheux’s design would be the most widely issued martial cartridge revolver of the American Civil War. Thousands of these pinfire revolvers were imported for use by US troops, and at least a few hundred saw service with Confederate troops as well. The typical “Civil War” used pin ire revolver was the military pattern Model 1854 in 12mm. Most these guns had octagon to round barrels that measured between about 5.75” and 6.25”, although some wider variation has been noted. Most had a spurred triggerguard and a lanyard ring in the butt. Lefaucheux revolvers were produced with both blued and bright finishes, and it appears that the guns that were imported were a mixture of both finishes. Some 12,333 Model 1854 Lefaucheux patent pinfire revolvers are recorded as having been officially purchased by the US government during the America Civil War, with 11,833 being delivered. Additionally, more than 2.2 million pinfire cartridges were acquired by the Federal Ordnance Department, primarily from domestic sources. However, surviving examples and regimental records indicate that more than the “official” number were probably imported, especially when southern use is considered. 


With Eugene’s military pattern revolver accepted by the French Navy and in use in a conflict on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, he had proved that design was a successful military one. With that market firmly in his grasp for the time being, Eugene started to explore the civilian arms market more adequately. This meant introducing pinfire revolvers for the general public in a variety of sizes and calibers for different purposes. Most of these guns were produced in 7mm, 9mm and the earlier 12mm caliber and in sizes ranging from palm-sized, folding trigger 7mm pocket guns through mid-sized (sometimes referred to as belt sized) 7mm and 9mm revolvers and larger 12mm holster sized revolvers. Many of the guns utilized a double action lock work, with the guns designed for pocket carry often employing a folding trigger and no triggerguard; for ease of concealment and drawing from a coat pocket. Lefaucheux found strong success in the sale of these civilian handguns and the pin fire became wildly popular in Europe and Great Britain with many more of the guns being produced by the Liège gun trade in Belgium, as well as the Birmingham trade in England.


As with any successful concept, Lefaucheux had his imitators and inventors who sought to improve upon his designs. One such Belgian based gunmaker was Joseph Chaineaux of Liège. According to Stockel, Chaineaux worked circa 1850s-1870 and received at least four firearms patents, including patents for six, twelve and twenty shot revolver designs. He also patented a double action lock work that was widely imitated in Belgium and France. The action would be considered a “traditional double action” today, in that the revolver could be fired in double action mode with a long, heavy pull of the trigger or in single action mode by thumb cocking the revolver and then firing it with a shorter and lighter single action trigger pull. In both cases the action worked in the conventional way with the cocking action also rotating and indexing the cylinder. What was unique about Chaineaux’s design was that there was no half cock position for the hammer and no special action was required to release the cylinder to allow it to be rotated for the process of loading and unloading. While some revolvers of the period used the opening of the loading gate as the release to free the cylinder, Chaineaux’s design was more akin to English double action revolver designs which essentially left the cylinder under minimal tension when the hammer was down, enough to keep the cylinder from spinning freely but not enough to keep it from being rotated by hand. Like many English and European designs of the period the revolver’s cylinder was only firmly locked into battery when the hammer was fully cocked, remaining so as the trigger was pulled.



Offered here is a FINE condition example of one of those Liège-produced Chaineaux patent double action revolvers that dates to the 3rd quarter of the 19th century. The revolver has a 6” round barrel with a small octagonal portion at the frame where it meets the cylinder. Like most Lefaucheux inspired designs the gun has an open top with no topstrap. The left flat of the octagonal barrel section is stamped in two lines:





The gun is a Chaineaux double action design, as described above. Like most Lefaucheux inspired designs, a hinged loading gate is present in the rear of the right side of the recoil shield and an ejector rod is present along the right side of the barrel. The grip has the “saw handle” profile, common on many English and Continental double action revolvers of the period. The gun has relief carved ebony grips with a foliate theme and a lanyard ring in the butt. A typical triangular-shaped front sight base supports a barleycorn style front sight bead. Other than the Chaineaux patent markings there are no addition markings other than Liege proof marks.


The cylinder is marked with a typical E/LG/* Liège proof mark in an oval with a {CROWN}/V controller mark, and the same controller mark is found on the lower left side of the barrel web. The gun is engraved with deep flowing foliate themes on the frame, cylinder, upper flats of the octagonal barrel section, backstrap, and on the triggerguard and butt cap.


As noted, the gun remains in about FINE condition. The gun retains much of its original gilt finish on the cylinder, frame, and hammer and overall, probably rates around 30% original finish. The barrel retains some traces of the gold finish with heavy flaking, thinning and loss, leaving the gold primarily in the protected areas. There may be as much as 10% finish on the barrel. The exposed areas of metal have and slightly mottled pewter gray and brownish patina. The cylinder retains about 20%+ of its original gold with moderate amounts of thinning and wear. The exposed areas of the cylinder have taken on a richly oxidized brown patina. The frame retains about 50% of its original gilt finish with the gold brightest in the protected areas and showing the most wear along the high and sharp edges. Much of the frame has a rich coppery brown patina where the finish has worn away. The loading gate, trigger, hammer, and ejector rod all retain some nice gilt finish as well. Again, they all show the expected thinning, wear, and loss. The backstrap, gripstrap and butt retain no real finish to speak of and have a richly oxidized brown patina that is much like the exposed areas of the cylinder. 


The revolver remains mechanically functional and as noted the cylinder rotates for loading and unloading while the hammer is in the down position. The conventional double action trigger mechanism operates correctly as well, with the gun working perfectly in either double or single action modes. The original ejector rod is present and remains functional and the loading gate remains fully functional and locks into place as it should. The frame to barrel fit is very tight and secure. The bore of the revolver is in about FINE condition. The bore is mostly bright with scattered oxidation and some very light pitting along its length. It retains very crisp and strong seven groove rifling cut with a fast rate of twist and with grooves that are slightly narrower than the langs. The original front sight is in place at the end of the barrel and the original lanyard ring is in place in the butt. The grips are in about FINE condition as well. They fit the revolver perfectly and the relief carving remains crisp and well defined. The grips do show some scattered minor bumps and dings from handling and use, but no abuse.


Overall, this is a lovely example of a double action Chaineaux Patent Pinfire Revolver by the Joseph Chaineaux of Liège. The gun shows some light wear and use but has an extremely attractive and pleasing appearance. This would be a fine addition to any collection of mdi-19th century European handguns, of pinfires or to any general collection of high-grade antique handguns.


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Tags: Fine, Engraved, Gilt, Pinfire, Revolver, by, Chaineaux, of, Liège