A detail of the loading mechanism of the Robert Rowland breechloading flintlock estimated at $7500-12,000 by Rock Island.

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However, closer inspection of the mechanism reveals “touches of peak technology”, according to Rock Island Auction Company expert Austin Ellis.

This particular firearm was ahead of its time – and one of two ‘break action’ guns that will be on offer at the Illinois saleroom on December 10.

Each of these two British flintlocks is actually a breechloading, automatic-priming design using detachable cartridges filled with powder and ball.

Ellis adds: “Their unique break actions would not seem out of place on a double [barrelled] gun today. Each utilises a reusable steel ‘case’ in which powder and ball can be loaded and then slipped quickly into the breech. This is quite an innovation for the time with several similarities to today’s modern self-contained ammunition.

“Elegant in appearance and thoughtful in their design, these two break-action British flintlocks are a fascinating look into firearms technology of the early 1700s.”


The Robert Rowland breechloading flintlock estimated at $7500-12,000 by Rock Island.

The gun shown here was made by Robert Rowland (d.1721) who was made free of the Gunmakers’ Company in 1715. Specialising in breech-loading firearms, he probably set up on his own in 1717.

As Ellis adds, money and royalty were quite possibly involved when it came to the original buyer of such a gun. It features an oval silver plaque inscribed with fancy script initials PR, probably the esteemed owner.

The flintlock, estimated at $7500-12,000, has a provenance to the collection of Joe M Wanenmacher Jr and before that to the renowned William Keith Neal Collection (a William Keith Neal collection tag numbered G318 is hanging from the trigger guard).

Also provenanced to Wanenmacher is the other early 18th century breech-loading flintlock cartridge sporting gun which has the barrel swinging 45 degrees to the left instead of vertically. It is estimated at $5000-8000.

Further examples

Various examples of Rowland flintlock cartridge guns have appeared at auction, with some held in public collections.

Another with a 1718 date marking is known to exist (sold at Bonhams, April 29, 2010, after previously being sold at Sotheby’s in 1977 and Sotheby’s Billinghurst in 1996, then in the Peter Finer catalogue of 2005).

A Rowland breech-loading gun is located in the Royal Armouries collection (object number XII.11142) dated 1720, listed as ‘purchased from D A Oliver. June 1999’.

One is pictured and described in the book Early Firearms of Great Britain and Ireland, from the collection of Clay P Bedford (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1971).

A 10-bore break-action breech-loading flintlock gun by Rowland dated c.1720 which featured in Great British Gunmakers 1570-1740, by W Keith Neal and DHL Back, was sold at Sotheby’s in 2001 for a premium-inclusive £4465.

The Royal Collection Trust lists a Rowland breechloading flintlock. This was made for a London merchant, John Tournay (same as the Bonhams example) and was later acquired by George IV when Prince of Wales, before 1806. Rowland is renowned for the guns he supplied to Tournay. The trust states it is “one of a small group of such guns – another by Rowland and a third by the Huguenot maker, Henry Delany (active 1715-46), of c.1720 being the only others of this type”.

It seems that James Freeman was another manufacturer – registered as a London gunmaker 1738-56 – who made early breech-loading guns.