Pair of pistols Pietro Fiorentino
Brescia, early 18th century
Material: Walnut wood and iron
Size: 50 cm long
Review by Gherardo Turchi
Both the astonishing muzzle-loading snap-hance pistols we’re going to analyse were produced by one of the most skilful gunsmiths living in Brescia in the early eighteenth century.
The snap-hance ignition mechanism, better known as Florentine lock, caught on between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Unlike the wheel lock system, it was cheaper and much easier to load since no wrenches were required.
The term snap-hance, or snaphaunce, is assumed to come from either the Dutch snap haan or the German schnapphahn. Both recall the very image of roosters pecking at grain, due to the shape of the cock such a device is equipped by.
Italian snap-hance locks were mostly produced in Brescia, in addition to the Emilian and Tuscan ones which, however, were less renowned. They were then bound for Northern Italy’s market mainly. Unlike the European mechanisms, the Italian ones are equipped with pan covers to protect the priming powder from moisture: they’re then meant to be a kind of trademark.
The authenticity of the pistols we’re analysing is proved by the gunsmith’s signature, Pietro Fiorenti. He was such renowned he’s mentioned on Gaibi’s Armi da fuoco italiane (1978) and Barbiroli’s Repertorio Storico degli Archibugiari Italiani (2012), two of the most important firearm books ever. Just like most of the earlier Italian gunsmiths producing matchlock and snaplock mechanisms Paratico degli Archibusieri (1717) refers to.
Provided with walnut wood stocks and two barrels, whose central section is reinforced by a thick strip, each pistol is finely chiselled. The mask-looking embossed iron items at the breech are known to be such distinctive decorations of Italian firearm production as of the mid eighteenth century.
The counter plates are richly engraved with dragon-looking and floral items, just like the trigger and the stock lateral surfaces, whose chiselled batteries are certainly worthy of note.
Greatly preserved, the pistols we’ve just analysed are provided with their own wooden tools.