If I asked you to name the maker of the oldest revolver in existence, who would you say made it? Colt? Smith & Wesson? You’d be wrong.
The oldest revolver know to exist in the world today was made in 1597 by German weapons blacksmith Hans Stopler and it is in the collection of the Maihaugen Folk Museum in Lillehammer, Norway.
The revolver belonged to Georg von Reichwein, a well-known officer who made his name defending Norway in the wars against Sweden in the early 1600s. Reichwein bought or received the revolver in 1636, according to the inscription on the gun stock, the year he was promoted to major and was put in charge of the forces stationed at the Bergenhus fortress in Norway. The gun is ornately decorated, with mother of pearl and engravings, so it’s doubtful it was meant for daily use.
Though it may be the oldest known revolver, it is definitely not the earliest one ever made, because the craftsmanship and sheer refinement of the weapon says it was built on well established conventions.
Like other guns of the era it is a flintlock, but instead of a single barrel and chamber, it uses a rotating cylinder with eight chambers and a fixed barrel. Each cylinder has a sliding cover to protect its flash pan and prevent chain fires — lighting up more than one charge at a time. That’s a bad thing!
The big difference in this revolver? It must be manually rotated! You point, pull the trigger, rotate the cylinder to the next chamber and repeat. According to the museum curator, the revolver was “made to injure other people. Not necessarily to kill, because in war at that time the most important was to injure other soldiers.”
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