By Bob Walsh
The Gun of the Week this time around is the Wheellock pistol.
The wheellock was in many ways the first reasonably concealable pistol. Up until that time firearms were triggered by placing a hot spike against a touch hole to set them off or a mechanism that brought a burning slow match (something like a wick) into contact with the touch hole to fire the weapon. Obviously such a thing cannot be carried concealed effectively. The firing mechanism is very much like a modern cigarette lighter with a spring powered mechanism to spin the wheel when trigger is pulled. This lights off the powder in a covered pan, and this ignites the main charge in the weapon. The weapon could be operated with only one hand. Previous firearms such as the matchlock required two hands to operate effectively.
The actual inventor of the wheellock is unknown. It is known that DaVinci drew a plan for an effective wheellock mechanism in the very late 1400s or very early 1500s. There is also a known German book of inventions dating from 1503 and a written reference from 1507 referring to the purchase of wheellock pistols.
These weapons were the subject of the first gun control laws beginning in 1517 in the Holy Roman Empire and thru many of the Italian city-states. One was used in the assassination of William the Silent in 1584 in the Netherlands.
They were never mass produced though small lots of semi-identical weapons were made for military groups. They required a great deal of mechanical skill to make and needed a fair amount of high quality maintenance.
In some ways the wheellock was actually superior to the flintlock which supplanted it, but the flintlock could be mass produced more cheaply and could be maintained much more simply by less skilled people than could a wheellock.