Wendy’s Top Five Guns I Curator’s Corner Season 5 Episode 4


Hello, my name is Wendy Adamson and I am NOT a curator. I’m a Collections Manager here at the British Museum based in the Middle East department and welcome to my corner. So, here in my corner we are
actually in the Asia and Middle East arms and amour basement and we’re here today because we’re going to talk about firearms. We are not known here at the
British Museum for being a military museum because we’re not. But what you may be surprised to know is that we have over 6,000 items of arms and armour including 135 firearms, which is why I’ve brought you here. So firearms, even though we don’t have a huge amount compared to some other museums, are a really big deal
here. The reason they’re a really big deal is because some of these bad boys
can still cause a lot of injury. Because of that, somebody actually needs to take care of them, take charge of them and organise them. and that person is me. As a collections manager, I’m responsible for looking after a specific part of the
collection and as I already mentioned I work in the Middle East Department so
that means I get to play with everything that’s come from the Middle East from
prehistory up to the modern day. we have a mixture of different firearms here at the Museum in all kinds of classifications. We have a lot of antiques. Now, an antique is theoretically a firearm that cannot cause a lot of damage in the eyes of the law. We’re talking about the things that you would
need some match for and you’d be lighting it and realistically you’d only
get one shot off before, you know, you would actually be wrestled to the ground.
So in the eyes of the law it’s not really deemed as much as a threat as
some others. But we do go on and we have much more modern weapons where you could actually buy ammunition and you could actually fire them. We also have some that fall into another category which is a deactivated weapon, which is a
firearm that you could buy ammunition for but it’s actually been
deactivated to a stage where you can’t fire it anymore and it’s actually deemed
safe and doesn’t need to be dealt with in the same way. You’ve probably had
enough of hearing me talk about my job and the admin around firearms so why don’t we actually have a look at some
guns? So, what I’ve brought out first of all are two
matchlock rifles this one is the oldest one and this is 18th century and it’s a
Turkish style but found in Ethiopia and a century later we have the Japanese
matchlock which is much higher quality. What’s really interesting is in a lot of
the European countries by the end of the 18th century matchlocks weren’t really
being used much but what’s really interesting is these two items are
separated by about a century so you can see how much later the Japanese actually
embraced the firearms but as I say they really made them so well and they were
beautifully decorated. So for anyone who doesn’t know, the matchlock mechanism utilises a slow burning match cord. It still has the ultimate elements of a gun.
So you need a projectile, you need propellant which is gunpowder, and then
you need an ignition source so with a matchlock what you have is these are
muzzle loaders which means you actually load the ammunition into the end. So you
would put your propellant, your gunpowder, then you put your lead ball and
then what you do to ignite with a matchlock is you would put a piece of
slow burning match cord into this part of the gun which is called the
serpentine. Now the serpentine is basically a handle which is on a pivot
mechanism so as you actually pull the trigger it bobs forward and pulls back As you bob the slow burning match cord forward, it goes next to the touch hole
which is where your propellant is hopefully igniting it and causing the
gun to fire. By the time we get to the Japanese matchlock, what we have is a proper cocking mechanism called a snap matchlock where you can cock the item
and it is in a ready state until you then pull the trigger. This is Albanian and it has lots and
lots of embellishments. It has mikolay lock which is very ornately decorated and inscribed. It also has beautiful velvet in its stock, beautiful tassels and of course you can’t help but notice just how many semi-precious stones are
actually studied into the entire length of it. Oooo Aaahhh Watch them not sparkle. Now, a flintlock mechanism is very similar to a matchlock in that we still put the
propellant and everything into the muzzle end but our technology has moved on slightly. What we actually have here is a flint,
not surprisingly because of the name, and a steel plate now the way this creates a
spark is when you cock the mechanism. In the dog or cock which is this area is
where you would clamp the small piece of flint this plate here is called the
frizzen this is made of steel so when we actually fire the mechanism and you can
see that this has a very very tiny trigger down here it would cause the dog
to strike forward causing the flint to strike down the steel plate creating a
spark which would then travel into the touch hole and ignite the charge. What we’re always curious about though because this is a non-functioning gun, is
if we actually try to fire it would all the decoration actually stay put? As part of the training we run here at the British Museum, we do actually learn how
to check if an item or a firearm is loaded or not. Part of that with the
antique firearms involves pushing a stick down the muzzle and down the
barrel to actually see how far it comes down and see if there is still something
blocked up by the touch hole. Whenever we’ve done it on this weapon we
certainly get residue of gunpowder coming out so we assume that at some
point in the past it was fired and the decoration remained where it was. This has to be, despite its beauty, one of the most impractical weapons I think we have here. So I think this might be more for its
looks than its actual practicality. So we move onto something a bit more modern now. As part of our Africa collection we have three fairly odd guns. I’ve got one of them out on the table. Now there’s an interesting story behind these three firearms because nobody’s entirely sure if they are indeed improvised Kenyan Mau Mau
weapons or if they were made as props for an exhibition when the Museum of
Mankind existed over in Burlington Gardens. But what’s really interesting is either way this counts as a deadly weapon and has to be licensed as a shotgun. Now you can see it’s a really crudely carved stock, the barrel pretty much just looks like a piece of piping and the firing mechanism is a wing nut
and an elastic band. Ultimately nut of the wing nut is replacing the firing pin that you would find in a modern firearm. You need a firing pin in the modern firearm because by the time we have a
bullet we have combined all the separate elements of firearms into one handy
small capsule so what you’ll find in a bullet is you have your projectile which
is your lead end you still have your gunpowder or other accelerant in more
modern firearms and you have a primer and the firing pin or in this case the
wing nut as long as it strikes the bullet at the correct place it will
ignite the accelerant which will then set off the main charge which will then
fire out the projectile. So what I have here as the last
gun we’ll look at today is a Wild West revolver. This isn’t a traditional
Smith & Wesson this is actually a Belgian copy But it’s still the same technology. Revolvers alway use bullets you’ll be pleased to hear that you don’t
you don’t have to muzzle load them because that would be a lot of
hassle and one of the main differences between a revolver and some of the other
guns even some more modern firearms is that you don’t have the traditional
parts of traditional parts of a gun is always the lock stock and the barrel, as
you may have heard from the film ,whereas with a revolver almost everything apart
from inlay is metal. So apart from more modern repeating firearms a revolver is the only gun that allows you to shoot more than one round before you need to
reload. This is a traditional five-shot revolver which means you can get five
shots off before you need to reload with bullets. So we’ve collected for various reasons here at the Museum. Because we’re not a
military museum we’re not always interested in the actual technology it’s
almost a kind of by-product but what we are interested in is that it can tell us
something about the time and the people and the culture where it came from so
like this revolver we have and some of our items have been collected purely for
the decorative reasons so our beautiful flintlock we saw earlier has many
decorative qualities that for example our Islamic curators would be very
interested in to see the filigree work and the inlay and the decoration on the
the stock. It’s the same with some of the items behind me
you know the beautiful inlaid mother-of-pearl and all the other kind
of demeaning these are beautiful traits that you find through a lot of other
metalwork and a lot of other items so the reason we’ve collected them is
because they are beautiful and beautiful examples to add to our collection. I really hope you’ve enjoyed your time down here in the gun store with me. We’ve looked at five different firearms and I you’ve enjoyed every single one I picked for you. On behalf of myself and Jeff we’d like to thank you, in advance. If you’d like to watch more videos, just look under Jeff’s feet.

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