The Great French Conversion
Your editor has to admit from the
outset that his information on the French
breech loading conversion system is rather thin on
the ground, and any additional information would
be appreciated. The lack of information is
probably due to French secrecy concerning military
weapons, and that includes long obsolete antiques.
In 1867, the French government
decided to convert large stocks of 17.8 mm caliber
rifled percussion muzzle loaders to breech
loaders. The breech mechanism decided on was a
swinging block affair that was somewhat like the
British Snider system. This system was popularly
known as "a Tabatière"
(like a small snuff box).
The cartridge adopted was similar in appearance to
the British •577 Snider. but fatter and a trifle
shorter. The •736" diameter bullet weighed in at
556 grains, the powder charge was something like
70 grains and the case length was 1.94".
political climate in Europe in the mid-1860s was
portending inevitable war between France and
Prussia (the warlike and dominant German state in
an ununified Germany). The French government,
acting on the advice in 1867 of an advisory
committee called the Commission of Vincennes,
promptly got the state arsenals to work, and when
the Franco-Prussian War began in 1870 a total of
more than 340,000 muzzleloaders had been altered.
To confuse the issue, the French were also
producing the smaller caliber (11 mm) Chassepot
needle gun, a vast improvement over the Prussian
needle gun as devised by Johann-Niklaus von Dreyse,
but still no bargain as its fragile rubber gas
sealing system on the bolt tended to disintegrate
with use and make the system useless.
the French lost and the Prussians won is still a
matter of debate and provides an interesting
lesson in history, politics, weaponry and tactics.
As far as the collector is concerned, the French
later converted the Chassepots to use metallic
cartridges (the Gras) and the Tabatières were sold
off to end up, in the main, converted into cheap
shotguns that served to put duck on the menu of
more than a few pioneering families in Australia.
Seen one lately?
I'S. Even some flintlocks were
converted and the system is generally thought to
than the Snider system as the area
behind the block is scooped out to facilitate