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The World’s Oldest Revolver, Made in 1597

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The world’s oldest revolver known to exist can be found at the Maihaugen Museum in Lillehammer, Norway. At over 400 years old it’s still in incredible condition and is a real treasure. The markings indicate that it was fabricated in 1597 and engravings show that it belonged to an officer serving during the Thirty Years’ War.

In addition to its advanced design by period standards, the revolver is ornately decorated. The revolver is fully engraved and inlaid with gold and has a personalized silver butt plate bearing its owner’s name.

It is engraved “Georg Reichwein 1636” — the gun belonged to Georg von Reichwein, a German officer hired to strengthen Norway’s defenses during the troubled times. The Thirty Years’ War was fought from 1618 to 1648 and was one of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts in history.

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.

See Also: Flintlock Fun! – Shooting the French Fusil de Chasse

It’s clear that the gunsmith or “weapons blacksmith” Hans Stopler knew what he was doing. This is no working prototype or proof-of-concept. It’s a highly refined firearm, something that would stand out without any embellishments. It may be the oldest revolver but it’s easy to see that it’s built on established conventions — surviving or otherwise, this isn’t likely to be the earliest revolver ever made.

Each pan cover travels in tight tracks and is individually sprung to prevent the covers from opening unintentionally. The cylinder is indexed to ensure proper barrel alignment and locks into a spring-loaded detent. And the frizzen has been worked to mount to the barrel lug since the gun can’t use side plates.

To turn the next chamber into position the user has to rotate each chamber into place by hand — cocking the hammer does not turn the cylinder. Still, with eight shots between reloads, this revolver embodies sixteenth-century fire superiority. Cock the hammer, turn the cylinder, slide the pan cover off and fire again.

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This flintlock has eight chambers. (Photo: Camilla Damgard/Maihaugen Museum)

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The ‘smiths mark is still clearly visible. (Photo: Camilla Damgard/Maihaugen Museum)

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Period art depicting the fabrication of a similar flintlock. (Photo: Camilla Damgard/Maihaugen Museum)

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The engraving reads “Georg Reichwein 1636.” (Photo: Camilla Damgard/Maihaugen Museum)

In 1636 Reichwein was promoted to major and was put in charge of the forces stationed at the Bergenhus fortress in Norway. Denmark-Norway was directly and briefly involved with the Thirty Years’ War during the Torstenson War from 1643 to 1645 but had been building up their defenses long before then.

Sadly the Maihaugen Museum doesn’t have the world’s oldest revolver on display all year ’round. Like many museums the Maihaugen has more artifacts than floor space and the gun spends much of its life in storage. They do bring it out for special occasions such as the recent 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution.

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Jim Greaves August 29, 2016, 9:14 pm

    While not a revolver, the simplicity of the same technique was developed in 200 bc when the Chinese devised an automatically repeating chariot – see “Man At Arms” magazine, an article entitled “The Antiquity of Repeating Arms” – written and documented by Fielding Greaves nearly 4 decades ago. Admittedly, carrying a chariot is like carrying a fully armored cop today, but the concept is NOT as “recent” as this article seems to represent. In the above referenced articles are illustrations from numerous sources (including Chinese) of the types and configurations of same. As I said, however, it was not as easily carried as a revolver in one’s belt!

    • Oaf September 2, 2016, 1:53 pm

      Why is that not a revolver?

      • Spud March 8, 2017, 7:58 pm

        Looks like a revolver to me!

  • Martin August 26, 2016, 6:23 pm

    Absolutely beautiful craftsmanship, and such innovation. I’m awestruck everytime I look at it.

  • Animal August 26, 2016, 4:48 pm

    One wonders if the town burgher-meister was upset about this guy building a “high-capacity assault pistol.”

  • Chief August 26, 2016, 3:52 pm

    BEAUTIFUL

  • john sandonato August 26, 2016, 1:51 pm

    This was the birth of the 22cal. lol It’s hard to believe it was made at the time they claim WOW IT IS NICE

  • john August 26, 2016, 1:45 pm

    This was the birth of the 22cal. lol it’s hard to believe it was made in the time they claim WOW IT IS NICE

  • Daniel Braatz August 26, 2016, 1:03 pm

    Many think Sam Colt was the inventor of the revolver. There is the story of Colt coming up with the idea while looking at a ship’s wheel; his carved wooden ‘prototype’ of the cylinder is still around. Things like this, and there are several examples (Ian VanHogg has a great flintlock revolver in his “History of Military Small Arms”, show that we were working on multiple shots between reloading for a very long time. I wouldn’t mind a replica either

  • Larry Koehn August 26, 2016, 12:58 pm

    That is an amazing pistol for the time it was made and the tools available to make it. No CAD / CAM design, just from a mans brain to his hands. Make me a multi shot pistol. Nothing to copy, an original creation, it is spectacular in it’s details.

  • Steve August 26, 2016, 6:32 am

    A beautiful gun. Think of the design ideas of that time,the knowledge and the tools they made and used to create such a gun,it baffles the mind.

  • Anthony August 26, 2016, 3:29 am

    I wouldnt mind owning a replica of that

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