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Sunday Gunday: History of Pinfire Cartridges

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What is a pinfire cartridge?

The pinfire cartridge is an odd, thoroughly obsolete cartridge ignition system from a long time ago.

It was, however, a step in the evolution of the self-contained cartridge.

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Way back in the 1830s, Frenchman Casimir Lefaucheux came up with the pinfire concept, which was finally patented in 1835.

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This was the first, somewhat-practical self-contained cartridge in the time of muzzleloaders. During the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the pinfire cartridge quickly gained popularity. A pinfire revolver was quite a popular weapon, particularly in France, due to the quickness of reloading.

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Pinfire cartridges came in many different calibers and load offerings. Below is a variety of 15mm pinfire cartridges that used lead projectiles and even shot loads.

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Yes, even pinfire shotshells were available with the pinfire ignition system.

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Pinfire cartridges relied on a firearm's hammer hitting the small pin to ignite the powder charge within. The firing pin was technically contained inside the cartridge, unlike a centerfire or rimfire cartridge system.

While this system was more weatherproof than traditional muzzleloading weapons, it was far from perfect. An impact to the pin could set off the cartridge outside of the weapon, causing disaster for anyone nearby. Loose carrying of cartridges was a dangerous idea. One pinfire cartridge going off in your pocket would certainly ruin your day.

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When rimfire and centerfire cartridges came to the market, the doom of the pinfire cartridge was inevitable. While it may be obsolete now, for nearly two centuries, there have been a handful of collectors and pinfire shooters who still reload their own cartridges. With reloading kits now available, these old guns occasionally still speak after many years of silence.

Do you like articles about the outdoors? Click here to view more articles by Eric Nestor. You can follow him @ericthewoodsman on Twitter, The Classic Woodsman on Facebook, and @theclassicwoodsman on Instagram.  You can view more Nestor Photography photos at Nestor Photography.  

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Sunday Gunday: History of Pinfire Cartridges