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Merckelbagh Needlefire Conversion Rifle


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum, and I’m here today at the Rock Island Auction Company taking a look at some of the guns they’re going to be selling in their upcoming May of 2019 Premier firearms auction. And this is a bit of a mystery gun. It’s also a needle-fire rifle, which is super cool. So there are two main needle-fire rifles that have gotten major production and attention in history. And they’re the Dreyse, manufactured in Prussia, and the Chassepot, manufactured in France. And the whole needle-fire concept was one
of a great many cartridge systems developed before the traditional brass cased centrefire
cartridge that … we’re familiar with today. So the idea of a needle-fire was actually a
paper cartridge, a combustible paper cartridge (the original caseless ammo, sort of), with a primer inside the cartridge, either at the
base, or up in the bullet depending on the design. And then your firing pin, of course, would have to penetrate
into the cartridge to hit the primer (or the percussion cap, whatever the design style was), and so what you
ended up with was, instead of a sort of, you know, round nosed firing pin like we’re used to today,
you had a very sharp needle-like firing pin in order to punch through the cartridge
case. Hence the name needle-fire. Now, aside from those two major versions of needle-fire rifles that were actually adopted and used in large numbers, there were other experiments and even small-scale
adoptions. The Italians had some needle-fire rifles. But it’s never been a particularly popular system,
it just existed for this very brief period in history. What we have here today is a needle-fire, paper
cartridge conversion of an existing percussion rifle developed by a guy named Merckelbagh.
So let’s take a closer look at how this thing works. So what we have here is a percussion style
of system, old-school style of of lock plate, very much an old style of trigger-guard. Bands on
the other side to keep the lock plate in place. And then, where we should have a percussion cap,
we instead have a spring-loaded firing pin. And, of course, a bolt handle sticking
out of what should be a solid barrel. So the way this guy works is you can lift
the bolt handle up vertically, pull it back slightly, and then it actually
pivots vertically out of the gun. This then allows you to load your paper cartridge into the breech, push it at least flush with that, and then you can lower the bolt down, push it forward to seat it all the way in
the chamber, lock it down to the side. Now this one’s a bit loose, but when you pull the trigger and drop this, this firing pin is going to go down, it’s going to push on a
connecting rod in here, which will push the needle forward, and that has the effect of locking the bolt in place.
So it’s still a little loose, but it can’t actually come up. You can see the firing pin doing that right
here. So when I lift the hammer back, this firing pin retracts under spring
pressure. When it goes forward, it’s actually in just a little bit of a groove in the back
of this bolt assembly and prevents it from rotating. Now we don’t have very much information
about this because there are very few markings on it. We do have these Belgian proof marks.
We have some sort of serial number, Z30, on top. And then most usefully we have a nice little
name on the bolt itself, ‘L. Merckelbagh’. ‘Brevete’ means patent, and this has a Belgian
proof on it as well. So when this gun was converted they would have reproofed the bolt, and most
likely these are reproofing stamps as well. On the other side of the bolt we have a similar
marking ‘J. Bertrand’ and, without any actual evidence, I’m going to hypothesise that that is the name
of the shop that actually did the conversion work. Merckelbagh patented it and … contracted
out to other people to actually convert guns. I could be wrong on that, but that
seems the most likely scenario. Unfortunately, the lock plate itself is devoid of markings that
might give us some further hint into where this came from. We do have one serial number on the butt
plate here, but that would be from the original rifle that was converted and
that doesn’t really help us at all. And if we move forward, some of the other
features include a pretty standard old style of sight, goes out to 1,000 metres. Calibre on
this is 17.6mm. We have pretty typical iron hardware, sling swivel up here at the front, old-style nose cap set up for a socket
bayonet, cleaning rod, front sight, etc. The interesting part of course is the bolt.
So let me go ahead and remove the bolt head. Take that screw out, that is the toggle
joint. So I can then peel this guy out. We can then also take out the back section which
just sits in there, held in place by the front section. You can see the firing pin working right there,
the first piece in the firing pin connection. That piece comes into here, pushes this down,
which pushes that little tongue forward, like so, and then that pushes this forward,
which pushes our needle out into the cartridge. This is a pretty
short needle, suggesting that the primer was in the base of the cartridge.
And that is the way that the Chassepot worked. Now to further disassemble this, we’re
going to take out this little retaining screw. That simply serves to keep the obturator here
in place. The way that needle-fire systems worked (or at least the way that the Chassepot worked,
which this copies), is that it has a rubber obturator here, and what’s basically a pressure
plate here at the front. So when you fire, this plate gets pushed inward
which compresses this rubber obturator, that forces the rubber (because it has to go
somewhere, if it’s going to get shorter in this dimension, it gets wider in this dimension), which
causes it to create a nice tight gas seal against the walls of the back of the chamber,
and that prevents gas from leaking out. This does wear out over a couple hundred rounds, and
so you would need to replace this every few hundred rounds. Now you can do that in fact by doing what
we just did. You take out that screw, that screw sits down in here and prevents
this from coming off. We can then take this off. This obturator is very old and it doesn’t want
to come past this, so I’m gonna leave it on there, but you can see exactly what’s going on there. And we can then pull out our firing
needle, has a nice big spring on it. You don’t want this thing to go forward
into a cartridge when you chamber it, that’s what the return spring is for.
So there’s our needle. And there is our complete Merckelbagh
needle-fire conversion system. I should mention that the original base
rifle here is a French model of 1822. Those actually started out as flintlock weapons,
which were converted to percussion guns, and then this one has been of course converted
to needle fire. It’s interesting, these have this cool scalloped relief on the side of the
stock to allow you to get a better … cheek weld, better sight picture on the rifle,
which is kind of distinctive of that pattern. Merckelbagh conversions do exist on
other rifles. This appears to have been a limited commercial attempt to convert old
technology, old firearms into newer technology firearms, i.e. the needle-fire
system, and it didn’t work. It wasn’t successful in any significant commercial
scale, as such attempts generally are not. I was able to find almost nothing
about Merckelbagh himself. There are at least a few other of these rifles out there,
or these conversions on a variety of different host rifles. As for Merckelbagh himself, the one listing that I
found was a very old patent listing which lists a patent, I believe it was 92251, to a Merckelbagh of
Paris for a … breech-loading firearms conversion, or firearms improvement system. And that
headline would seem to match this conversion system, although I was unable to actually
find the original patent. That patent was granted in July of 1871, which … gives
us a little bit of date context, and that would fit. The heyday of needle-fire systems …
really ended by the mid-1870s. The French adopted the Gras, the Dreyse
was well and truly obsolete by that point, and the brass metallic cartridge was
obviously becoming the wave of the future, the technology that was going to stick
around and work well. So, it’d be really cool if this had been developed in Paris, of course,
it wasn’t. We know this has Belgian proof marks on it, but it sounds like Merckelbagh was
probably of French origin working in Belgium. At any rate, very cool to take a look at an unusual needle-fire conversion system on a rifle. This is of course coming up for sale here at Rock
Island. So if you’re interested in having it yourself, take a look at their catalogue, you can
check out their pictures and description. Although I suspect they won’t have a whole lot
more information than I do here, there’s very little written and documented about this sort of thing. At any rate, you can check out this and everything
else that they have coming up for sale. Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Merckelbagh Needlefire Conversion Rifle

  1. FYI: You noted looseness of bolt, the dried out, hardened rubber obturator contributed to your observation. Having fired a renovated a collector's Chassepot, with custom fabricated cartridges, a fresh obturator does tighten up bolt closure.

  2. It might be interesting to make modern needle fire cartridges with molded PVC cartridge cases. Should be as waterproof as brass and might be self obturating.

  3. might be handy for native troops that just need to the the other locals with different imaginary friends in line….

  4. Do you think someone sent a comment by pony express admonishing the manufacturer for the finger grooves?

  5. I'd rather clean the B.A.R. than have to tear a needle rifle apart and clean all the fouling out of that action!

  6. Russia also had needlefire rifle. Designed in 1865, tested in 1866, adopted in 1867, replaced in 1868.

  7. Covers the same ground as the Samain pure bolt action conversions to the same flintlock/percussion/musket/rifles. Took the same Gevelot 1868 centre fire cartridges as the M1867 Tabatiere. I had Samain once which had run the whole series of conversions from AnXI flintlock musket through percussion musket, percussion rifle, bolt action rifle to 12 bore shotgun. The sights on the Merckelbagh looks to have been taken straight off surplus production for the Enfield Pattern 1853 rifle muskets which were made in Liege. The Samain is almost as forgotten as the Merckelbagh but were made in the tens of thousands for the French National Government after Sedan. I suspect that France was the intended customer but the war finished before the Merckelbagh could be put into production. Cunning to make a lock that could use the existing percussion hammer.

  8. Examined this particular needle-ignition rifle during our visit to BAPTY 2000 Ltd, during our  research into needle-ignition systems and conversions.An interesting project for research and develop a cartridge to get shooting.G and L A-R-West

  9. For some reason I find this particular rifle very pleasing. I can only imagine the original owner proudly showing off his newly converted gun to his friends I bet he got brought a few beers for a chance to shoot it

  10. Flintlock to percussion to needlefire, this is just a few conversions away from a plasma rifle in the 40-watt range.

  11. Why stop the conversion process here, after flintlock to percussion to needle fire? Someone please buy it and convert it to rimfire metallic cartridges, then center fire cartridges, then gas-operated semi-automatic fire, then belt feed.

  12. Hey Merckelbagh.. can we go thrift shopping?

    What, what, what, what
    What, what, what, what
    PS. Enjoyed the video on this old oddity.

  13. Hey Ian, I recently picked up a professional ordinance carbon 15. I know you took a look at one a while back but if you are interested in shoot one I would gladly loan it to you.

  14. Really nice gun, I hope you can get your hands on a "Podewils Rifle" sometime, would love to see that gun on your table 🙂 also a very cool conversion of a precussion rifle

  15. From a flintlock to a percussion cap then to a needle fire, that old firearm certainly did not want to go away.

  16. "J. Bertrand", maybe Joseph Bertrand in Liege http://www.littlegun.be/arme%20belge/artisans%20identifies%20b/a%20bertrand%20joseph%20fr.htm

  17. I've been pronouncing Chassepot wrong all this time…

    Weren't Needle guns all the rage once the Dreyse debutted? I heard most armies rushed to develop their own needleguns and deploy them in small scale. Most suffered the same shortcomings of the Dreyse, being the fragile needle and the quickly fouling chamber, but the major factor in their adoption was that armies had a ton of percussion cap rifles and there was no way to easily convert them to Needle firing. But the Needle rifle design certainly wasn't short lived. Percussion caps were invented in 1810-1820, the Dreyse in 1936 and the Boxer cartridge in 1866. Of these, the Dreyse innovation was the longest lasting and technically made the Percussion cap obsolete as much as the Boxer cartridge made paper cartridges obsolete. Furthermore, it took as much time for a military to adopt the first Dreyses as it took for the centerfire cartridge.

    It takes a while for militaries to pick up new technologies because of budgetary limits. The french had already dumped a ton of resources on the Chassepot only for it to debut right in the year metallic centerfire cartridges made it obsolete. Took the french eight years to adopt the Centerfire cartridge with the Gras rifle in 1874, and they only done so once the Mauser 1871 proved itself the superior system.

  18. Using a rubber casket to contain a fire that burns at hundreds of degrees is giving me Space Shuttle flash backs.

  19. These conversions (Well, not Needlefire conversions – but you get what I mean) always make me giggle a little because they always wind up costing the person, factory or country developing them as much, if not more, than it would cost to tool up and develop entirely new rifles.

  20. Neat rifle, great video as always. Thanks for bringing those cool pieces for us to see. Since you did speak the word, here are a couple of nerdy things about "Breveté". On the rifle it's spelled "bréveté" in capital letters (I can't do that on my keyboard). Or so it seems, if those are not blemishes. And it's OK to put accents on capital letters in principle, btw, surprising as it may be. But the correct spelling, at least today, is "breveté" IIRC, for the adjective, without the first accent. Odd. Anyway, more to the point for english speakers, as to pronounce it, with only one accent, is something like bruhvuhtay, where the uh sounds like in purr and the ay like in tail. Yet, strangely, the related noun is "brevet" without accent. And that is pronounced like bruhveh as in mud and best. Goes to show ya…

  21. É interessante a engenhosidade dessa arma… Quando penso que já vi tudo sobre armas antiga, cada vês mais me surpreendo com raridades como esta…

  22. Hello Ian
    Merckelbagh doesn't sound french at all – its obviously a flamish/dutch name or from some other germanic origin – probably Luxembourg… but french? Je ne crois pas!

  23. A what a magnificent piece of work made for something ellaborate that has zero practical use.. 😀 It has to be thesis of it's own how in the blue fuck they didn't come up with the cartridge concept earlier before making these..

  24. Actually you could change the needle for a firing pin, then insert an adaptor on the rifle and shoot modern brass bullets with it.

  25. Over 1.1 million subs. Over 0.3 billion views. Thousands of Patreon supporters. Employ your own staff. How about you invest some of the ridiculous amount of money you've made from this on a decent camera? Your videos look like they were recorded in 2005.

  26. It's interesting that the US essentially skipped past all of this needle/pinfire stuff and went straight from muzzleloaders to metallic cartridges.

  27. What an interesting rifle, and I'd have had no way of learning about it, or indeed other rare and interesting firearms, without Forgotten Weapons. Many thanks.

  28. God bless the innovators, the tinkerers, the professionals and the amateurs one and all for giving us our modern weapons.

  29. The design was invented by Louis Merckelbagh of Liege, Belgium, operating out of No.8 Southhampton Buildings, London, in January 1871. The particular model was built by Liege gunmaker Jules Bertrand, who was mainly associated with pistols and revolvers. This appears to be an attempted venture into the sporting market – but the idea evidently never took off, and why would it? Given that needle-fire had had its hayday. In Britain where Louis was based, one could buy the Needham or Wilson needle-gun.

  30. I was curious as to why this was a commercial failure, but the time frame revealed it. Brass cases were already coming about by then, and surplus needle rifles were already available on the market. Why spend good money to convert a sidelock when you could buy a purpose built needle rifle at surplus prices. If he were 10 years sooner, he may have really had something. Still cool though.

  31. жалко не по Русский говорите а канал интересный я бы смотрел его но не понимаю ваш язык

  32. This obturator funnily looks exactly the same as a bushing from the skateboard truck. I almost expected Ian to pull the skateboard bushing out of the pocket to replace the worn one.

  33. Sights go out to 1000m? Did they really expect people to be able to hit anything at that range, in that day and age, and with iron sights?

  34. With the "é" accent on the E letter, the word "breveté"(patentED, whereas "brevet" ([bruhvay]) means "patent") actually would rather be pronounced [bruhvtay] instead of [bruhvett]: this final E letter is indeed not mute (because of the accent).Thanks for a very interesting video!

  35. In 2019 the French military announces the FAMAS will be replaced by a .223 conversion of the 1822 flintlock/percussion/needle rifle.

  36. Imagin if there ever was a gun that was originally a matchlock and then converted into flintlock, caplock , brech action ,magazine , semi-auto, and then a full auto

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