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Wheel Lock Pistol — First CCW Handgun?


The wheel lock pistol was developed in a short configuration for cavalry warfare. It was one of the first concealable handguns.

Some of the earliest firearms or “handgonnes” date to the 1200s. However, they were basically a shrunken-down cannon. By the 1400s, the first true ignition system, the matchlock, was developed. But even with this invention, the need for a slow-burning match cord to fire the gun really put a damper on the ability to carry concealed. However, that would soon change with the advent of the wheel lock pistol.

Around 1509, the development of a new ignition system, the wheel lock, made the idea of a concealable handgun not only possible, but popular.

The wheel lock pistol was originally developed in a short configuration for cavalry warfare, since horses weren’t huge fans of burning ropes hanging around their bodies while they were working.

The benefit of having a firearm that could be kept in a more ready-to-fire state led to wheel locks quickly becoming popular handguns and rifles. However, the complexity of the mechanism wasn’t ideal for battlefield use, so it saw more common use as a civilian arm — for those permitted to own firearms.

The wheel-lock mechanism fires through the manipulation of a serrated disc. In order to fire, the jaws of the cock hold a piece of pyrite. It’s manually lowered into the pan of the firearm into contact with a serrated disc.

Gunpowder and the projectile are loaded down the barrel and additional powder is put into the pan. An external device called a spanner is then used to wind up the disc. Pulling the trigger causes a slight rotation of the disc against the pyrite, creating a spark that ignites the powder and fires the gun.

It’s important to note that while the wheel lock pistol was a great improvement over earlier arms, allowing the option of concealment, this was no small handgun. Thankfully, overcoats and capes were in fashion back then, so concealing something this large was doable.

But, the development of the wheel-lock and its concealment capabilities worried the period’s nobility. The resulting assassination concerns prompted some of the world’s earliest gun laws.

If you want a look at the history of concealed firearm carry, start with the wheel-lock pistol — the OG of concealment.

1650 Winchester Wheel Lock Pistol
Caliber: .60-ish
Length: 24.25 inches
Action: Wheel-Lock

Wheel lock Pistol. Cody Firearms Museum. Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY. Gift of Olin Corporation, Winchester Arms Collection, 1988.8.3707

Learn more about classic guns and gun values at Gun Values by Gun Digest.

Corey Graff contributed to this article.

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