Curators Choice – The Flintlock Flint

Gunflints were an important part of an early type of gun known as a flintlock. Such guns were in use between the 17th and 19th centuries. The gunflint would be placed into a part of the gun known as the cock. This was because it resembled the shape of a bird’s beak. The cock was spring-mounted. When the trigger was pulled it would swing forward and the flint would hit a piece of steel called the frizzen. This produced sparks, which ignited a charge of gunpowder and fired the gun.

Gunflints were made by knapping, or striking, flakes off a core. The flakes were then trimmed into their distinctive square shape. This is like the way many Prehistoric flint tools were made. A gunflint would soon become blunt and stop producing sparks. It could only be used for a limited number of shots. There was also the danger of it breaking within the gun. Because of this, a continuous supply of gunflints was necessary. At the peak of the industry, millions of them were made and transported all over the world.

In this video, Collections Assistant Archaeology, Catherine Knight takes a closer look at some of the gunflints in the Museum’s collection.

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