The Lancaster base- fire
In the early development of breechloading in the 1830s and 1840s, the Frenchman Casimir Lefaucheux used pinfire cartridges. After he displayed his guns at the Great Exhibition in Charles Lancaster’s base-fire cartridge used in a slide-and-drop action. London in 1851, the breech-loader gradually caught on using this pinfire system in Great Britain.
However, the pinfire was not a good or efficient design, and makers soon began to improve upon it, eventually leading to G.H. Daw’s watershed centre-fire gun of 1861. In the meantime, other methods were tried, including the base-fire cartridge of Charles Lancaster.
The base-fire cartridge was a hybrid rimfire/ centre-fire shell and very few are known to exist. The head of the cartridge had no percussion cap, but contained inside the base of the head was a perforated copper disc housing detonating compound with four flash holes. Consequently it didn’t matter which part of the cartridge head was struck – the firing pin striking any part of the base would detonate the compound, which would then ignite the main charge through one of the four flash holes, hence the term base-fire.
The advantage claimed was that it was safer than the pinfire. However, the defect of the base-fire was that the cartridges could not be reloaded, so it was an expensive system. Most basefire Lancaster guns were converted to centre-fire and any original base-fires are very rare today.
Twenty-bore Lancaster slide-and-drop hammer gun no. 5173 of 1882, engraved “Charles Lancaster’s Patent”. But was it really a Lancaster patent?