Hello and welcome back to another edition of The Rimfire Report! This week’s special edition is going to depart from our normal subject and instead focus on another cartridge design that is only a couple of decades older – pinfire. Similar to rimfire cartridges, pinfire cartridges were invented in the earlier half of the 19th century as firearms technology was rapidly progressing. The pinfire cartridge design was one of the trailblazers of what would eventually become modern cartridges for the time and is also noteworthy for being one of the first metallic cartridge designs of the 19th century. Today in this special edition of The Rimfire Report, we’ll dive into the history, design, and firearms that existed within the pinfire world and how they eventually became obsolete after a short-lived era of widespread adoption.
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The Rimfire Report: Special Edition – The Pinfire Report
The pinfire cartridge was invented by Casimir LeFaucheux of France who is also notable for designing and patenting a design for a drop-barrel sporting gun using paper cartridges. Around the same time as the invention of the self-contained pinfire cartridge by LeFaucheux, the Frenchman also proposed the first practical design for a breech-loading weapon which would eventually be adopted across the globe as a direct replacement for muzzle-loading weapons. Breech-loaded weapons using pinfire cartridges were much more reliable, weather-resistant, and probably most importantly, much quicker to reload.
The first iteration of the cartridge was not patented until 1835 and made use of an internal primer cup which was then struck by a small pin protruding from the side of the case. A hammer similar to what was used on a matchlock rifle then struck this pin, igniting the primer material contained within the cartridge, and then things proceeded from there as you would typically expect. Although the design was not without its drawbacks (proprietary firearm design and increased cost of materials), the pinfire cartridge represented a significant leap in firearms technology and one that allowed other firearms engineers to improve upon it quite rapidly.
Although patented in 1835, it wouldn’t be until the second half of the 19th century that the cartridge would catch the eye of riflemen around the world and see mass production and widespread adoption. Large firearm producers at the time like the British manufacturer Lancaster started manufacturing rifles, revolvers, and shotguns based on the new cartridge design for its improved weather resistance. This is despite the British initially being distrustful of the new cartridge for purely political and cultural reasons as they considered the french at the time an “unreliable ally” at best, and at worst, they were an old enemy. However, the Great Exhibition of 1851 was held in London and it was there that several British gunmakers brought their improved pinfire designs and convinced others to produce their own rifles for the new metallic cartridge.
A Stepping stone to greater things
Pinfire firearms were found in virtually every type and size ranging from small revolvers all the way up to break-top shotguns and rifles. The pinfire design was a significant improvement in speed and reliability but also had the drawback of needing firearms to be designed around the protruding pin which also had to be loaded in the correct rotational orientation for the cartridge/firearm to work. Despite this apparent drawback of the design at the time, carbines, pistols, and shotguns saw widespread use during the American Civil War. It was here that they gained a reputation for being underpowered compared to percussion cap revolvers, however, they were quite popular with sailors because of their increased resistance to moisture and even salty conditions due to the improved brass cartridge construction.
Despite the cartridge design representing a great step forward to self-contained cartridge designs both centerfire and rimfire cartridges would eventually surpass and replace pinfire cartridges because of their faster loading times, greater power potential, and the increased layer of safety that removing the protruding pin gave rimfire and centerfire designs. The pinfire cartridge could have been considered obsolete as early as the 1855s with the introduction of the first mass-produced centerfire cartridge.
As they sit today, pinfire firearms and cartridges sit squarely in the category of curios and relics of the past. Pinfire guns and ammunition are still manufactured in very small numbers today but are often quite expensive to their niche nature as both obsolete technology, and specialized design to accommodate the cartridge. Pinfire guns from the time that they were popular are mostly sought after as highly prized collector’s items as they hold significant historical value for firearms technology. The Rock Island Auction Company often has several of them in its catalog at any given time.
Despite the advantages it brought to the firearms world, the pinfire design was only popular for a very short amount of time, especially when compared to the subsequently adopted rimfire and centerfire cartridges that still see widespread use today. To bring things full circle, the pinfire cartridge got me thinking about how rimfire started off with many different sizes of cartridges but has now more or less been reduced to just varmint hunting rounds. Do you think that we will eventually see the end of the rimfire cartridge any time soon or will rimfire be with us for the rest of time? as always I’d like to hear your thoughts and comments. Thanks again for stopping by to read The Rimfire Report! We’ll see you again next week!
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