Pair of duel pistols
Ponsino Valet Borgognone
Brescia, the second half of the 17th century
Material: Norway Maple and forged, engraved and chiseled iron
Size: 47 cm long
review by gherardo turchi
A rare and elegant pair of muzzle-loading pistols with a flintlock, made by master Ponsino Valet Borgognone, working in Brescia in the last quarter of the XVIIth century.
The art of azzalinieri –the way flintlock makers were called once – is one of the oldest arts among firearms manufacturers. They were already active at the end of the fifteenth century and especially in the second half of the sixteenth century, succeeding the previous snake and wheel masters as they were called in Italy. The azzalinieri were mainly blacksmiths active in Valtrompia and especially in Marcheno (northern Italy), and had specialized in the realization of trigger mechanisms for weapons. In this panorama of great masters, the name of Ponsino Valet Borgognone stands out in history.
Son of the master gunsmith Giovanni Valet Borgognone, defined in the sixteenth century “master of rode et azzalini”, (rode meaning wheels and azzalini flintlocks) Ponsino was born in 1621 in Brescia, breathing his father’s family likeness workshop from the beginning; he will take part after the first mid-century together with his father to the transition in using flint mechanisms instead of wheel ones.
Some documented sources from the taxes lists in the city of Brescia, testify how Ponsino parted away from his father’s shop in 1660, becoming an established gunsmith and registering his trademark at the headquarters of the azzalinieri corporation.
The first flint weapons made in his workshop are easily recognizable by their decorations, so much so that Carpegna himself defined pistols produced between 1660 and 1665 as “top decorative”. In the second period of his career, Borgognone tends to diminish the art of decoration in his weapons, until reaching almost a military linearity in the final phase of manufacture.
These two weapons belong to the production carried out in the years from 1660 to 1655. They assemble in their first part smooth barrels with two octagonal orders, where the signature “Lazarino Cominazzo” takes place. The same barrels have then ring-shaped change and a reinforced metal ring at the mouth of the pistol called in Italian “gioia di bocca” , plus two richly engraved and sculpted batteries, where some dogs depict killed dragons that falling down hit the decorated with masks. Pans too are finely decorated with leaf motifs, and the plates with large dragons figures.
Inside the main plates, almost under the spring, there is the “PB” brand with effigies of human figures and stars, a punch used as a signature by Ponsino Valet Borgognone. The wooden stocks, entirely made of Norway maple briar, are carved with leaf motifs and are set with iron fittings such as breeches, counter plates, and sub-barrels richly chiseled with figures of snakes intertwined with floral and leaf-like spirals.
The decoration of the trigger and the trigger guards too is not casual, but starts a decorative continuum through a skillful work of fretwork and chisel, recalling the plants and reptile motifs throughout the decoration of the weapons. Finally, the ramrods are made of wood, with an iron “battipalla” (Italian word meaning a small ball grip pushing the ball inside and placed at the end of the ramrod) worked as a baluster and hiding on the opposite side the cartridge extractor, hidden inside the wooden stocks.
These pistols are in a good state of conservation and are an important addition, not only to the autograph catalog of Ponsino Valet Borgognone, but to a precise period of his production too, which places these works in the master’s workshop, in a five years range.