Over the years I have handled some interesting and bizarre firearms but none stranger than this. This is a Cordier Minie rifle and has some extraordinary features.
The rifle itself was designed by Claude Minié, the original designer of the popular Minié ball, used in percussion rifles and muskets worldwide. The rifles were manufactured by Cordier and Cie, as indicated by the C. C marking in an oval, which is in front of the ladder sight (extant) which is optimistically calibrated to 1100 metres.. Minie’s name is clearly stamped on the rear of the removable barrel. The company existed in Paris, France, from 1850 to 1870. This particular design was also patented by Cordier in England, No. 1051, on 11 April 1862, so there was an anticipation of foreign sales and of course the British Army was the Jewel in the Crown for any manufacturer who had aspirations of global success.
There is a quaint assertion that I read that these rifles were designed as training rifles for cadets so the explosion of the percussion cap would not frighten them and make them flinch. The rationale being that having trained for several months with the percussion cap exploding far away from the right eye, the cadet would then merrily enjoy shooting the rifle with the cap inches from the right eyeball. Of course, this is nonsense and Claude Minie was more scientific than worrying about the sensibilities of cadets, bearing in mind of course the hundreds of thousands if not millions of recruits that had trained previously with conventional percussion caps placed under the hammer, notwithstanding hundreds of years of flintlock use. If anything would make you flinch a flintlock would!
The reality is that Minie decided that the optimum length for a rifle barrel should be 400 mm or roughly 16” which was pretty advanced thinking for the day. Not such a stupid idea when you realise that the SA80 standard barrel length is 518 mm or 20.4”.
Clearly the problem with a short barrel is the sight plane so Miniie’s ingenious solution was to mount the short barrel on a full-length stock to give the sight plane he needed. The percussion cap is struck by a transfer rod from the hammer which is cocked locked and dropped in the conventional way. His ingenuity doesn’t stop there. Black powder rifles and muskets, in fact all black powder arms are notorious for fouling. In fact, at Rourke’s Drift, it was only the opportune skills of a sergeant who kept buckets of water to clean the Henry Martinis to stop them from fouling that probably saved the day given the fire power of the Zulu’s and the need to respond with rapid fire. Without a clean cool barrel cartridges get stuck. In this instance instant disassembly with a screwed barrel allows easy and rapid cleaning and such is the tolerance of the thread that the nipple lines up every time. I have tried it.
There is also a pricker device to pierce a paper cartridge to ensure ignition. You will see this in one of the images. This is quite unusual and the most obvious comparison I can think of is Greene’s carbine adopted for a short period by the British Army during the Crimean War. This had a pricker cone designed to rupture the cartridge when the breech was closed. It also served to obdurate the breech but we won’t get into that now.
Another innovation is that the percussion cap does not fire into a simple hole but it enters the breech through an annular machined ring within one of the screw pitches of the barrel retaining screw. In theory I can see that this would present the flash 360 degrees around the base of the cartridge to ensure perfect ignition. A cadet training rifle? I think not. This is more likely a rifle that Minie hoped to increase his fame and fortune after his spectacular bullet success.
There is no money in arms for training, the real money is in mass production for front line battle. A hugely interesting rifle and in much better condition than the handful I have seen over the years. One in the USA and a couple on the Continent. An investment quality rifle that should belong in a museum or with an advanced collector who wants to share his collection with others.
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