A metal cylinder bought at a flea market for less than $25 was identified as an extremely rare medieval hand cannon and sold at auction last Thursday for more than $2,500. The cast bronze cylinder is 17 cm (6.7 in) long and 4 cm (1.7 in) wide at its widest end. The hole diameter is 1.7 cm (0.7 in.). This is a three-circuit cast gun with an expanding muzzle.
“This is really a wonderful find,” said Charles (Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers). “Initially, this cannon was to be mounted on a tree with a powder bag and a ram rod. It evolved into a firearm with a matchlock and a trigger.
The seller found a good deal at a flea market in Hertfordshire. They spent less than £20 on it thinking it would make a cool addition to their rock garden (which it certainly will). It was spotted in the rock garden by appraisers from Hansons Auctioneers, who identified it as a firearm with a metal barrel made in Europe between 1400 and 1450.
Gunpowder was invented in China in the 9th century, and weapons in which it was used were widespread by the 12th century. Most were in the form of bombs, but the fire lance, a spear with a barrel attached to it capable of firing projectiles, was the forerunner of the hand cannon. The oldest confirmed hand cannon, the Heilongjiang hand gun, dates from 1288. Weighing almost eight pounds, it was a heavy hand weapon device, and the firearm remained the more popular firearm until the invention of the musket in the early 16th century. .
From China, gunpowder and gunpowder weapons migrated to Europe, probably introduced by the Mongols during their invasion of the Turkic states and Eastern Europe in the mid-13th century. The earliest known hand cannon from Europe is the Loschult cannon, a cast bronze cannon dating from around 1330-50, discovered in Sweden. Its bottle-like shape and expanding chamber suggest that it fired iron bolts or arrows rather than stone or metal balls. It is also much heavier than the earlier Chinese versions, weighing in at 22 pounds.
The first written mention of hand cannons in England dates from 1473, but there are records of their use in France in the late 14th century and surviving examples dating back to the 1380s. The Hundred Years’ War ensured that the British were fully acquainted with the latest and greatest weapons available in France. The rock garden hand cannon predates the English written description and is closer in age to French examples.