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Flashback: Kalthoff Flintlock

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17th Century Repeating Pistol

The development of the wheellock ignition system in the first decade of the 1500s put handguns on the map. By the 1600s, the flintlock ignition system continued to progress the popularity of pistols. These pistols weren’t always single shot; many were repeating firearms, including ones that were magazine-fed.

By the 1640s, a Dutch gunmaking family, Kalthoff, began experimenting with a patent that, in long-gun form, allowed up to 29 shots to be fired in succession. It utilized a tubular magazine located in a pistol or rifle stock and a sliding breech mechanism. Although variations existed in design, essentially a magazine held the projectiles and a user would slide a ball into the breech and do the same in a separate chamber with the powder, then fire the gun and repeat the action until the magazine was empty. 

This system was so innovative that it was reproduced and modified for over 150 years — even seeing military service. Of the Kalthoff style alone, at least 19 known gunsmiths were making variations of this gun. According to historian Herbert G. Houze, “Their longevity is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that Admiral Horatio Nelson owned a repeating flintlock pistol of their basic design, as did President Thomas Jefferson.” Over 50 Kalthoff repeaters survive today.

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