Object Title

Model 1789 Pistol


Made by the Potzdam Armoury, located near Berlin, this pistol and its successors saw action during the Napoleonic Wars. Although some pistols were produced in Spandau, Potzdam was the main arsenal for the Prussian military. It had manufactured small arms since the early eighteenth century, and was key to the success of Fredrick the Great's (1712-1786) military campaigns.

The lock is the standard Prussian pattern for their eighteenth century arms, suitably reduced for pistol use. The bevel edge beneath is marked S&D (Splittgerber & Daun), who were proprietors of the Potzdam manufactory from 1722-1774. This would suggest that the parts used on this pistol were perhaps not put together until later, from an amalgamation of different pistol models. To support this theory the decorative metal insert, running through the centre of the grip, is a feature of the Model 1731 pistol. However, since the cypher displayed on the handle is that of Fredrick William II (1786-1797), and has not been added to, the date of the pistol's assembly can be dated to the reign of this monarch. Other Prussian examples held at the Royal Armouries show that the letter 'W' was added to existing Prussian royal cyphers, turning them from a weapon created during the reign of Fredrick the Great to his successor Fredrick William II, which presents dating issues.

This pistols predecessor, the Model 1731, was a little different. It had a longer barrel, and most noticeably a provision for a ramrod. The Model 1789 has a barrel length of 28 cm (11 in) which was shortened further in the Model 1813 to around a 20.3 cm (8 in) barrel. In the absence of a channel for a ramrod, a cavalryman was expected to carry his separately. The ramrods were both cylindrical and double-ended, as the need to extract it from its slot and spin it in order to charge the pistol was eliminated. Another important feature introduced to many Prussian small arms in 1781 was the conical touch-hole. Originally designed to simplify and speed up the rate of fire for infantry muskets, it had been in use in German hunting rifles prior to its introduction into the Prussian military. The idea was that the user would not need to prime the pan before use. One simply loaded the pistol at the muzzle with powder and a ball, and rammed home the charge. The breech plug and the edges of the touch hole inside the barrel had been rounded, and channelled a portion of the charge through the touch-hole to prime the pan.

As with any invention, creases needed to be ironed out. Most notably some of the infantry muskets featuring this design would self-ignite. This occurred as a result of musket drills, which were conducted without a cartridge followed by the cleaning process. During the drill, in which the soldiers practiced ramming home the charge, the ramrods were damaging a part of the channelling feature. When cleaning the inside of the barrel with a swab of material, some fibres were left on the damaged feature. After the first shot of the newly cleaned musket, they kept glowing and when loading the next round they self-ignited. To prevent this occurrence a special plug was devised which was inserted into the barrel, shielding the channelling feature.

Use and Effect

A notable feature of this pistol is the comfortable flat sides of the grip. A common feature in holster pistols, this allowed for a more ergonomic grip and thus a more accurate shot than a pistol with a rounded handle. Stored in the holsters of the saddle, perhaps along with the ramrod, the pistols would almost certainly have been preloaded and half-cocked. The firer could then quickly bring one to full cock, draw it, and fire.

The accuracy of pistols at this time was limited, especially whilst on horseback. Therefore these would probably only have been discharged at close-quarters, or perhaps in desperation. Although it was not best practice to reload on horseback, the ability to skip the pan-priming stage of the process would have made this a more viable option.

A high grade of powder would also have been required for use (which may be a reason why others did not adopt the conical touchhole) but luckily the Prussians did produce powder of such quality. However, as with all black powder weapons, eventual fouling would become an issue if the weapon was not maintained. This is, however, more relevant to the infantry rather than the cavalry who had a much higher rate of fire.

Experiments with British muskets were carried out in the mid-nineteenth century, to examine the effect of enlarged touchholes. A larger touch-hole would allow for the form of expedient loading explained above, speeding up loading times. It would also increase reliability in terms of ignition, by reducing the need to prick the touch-hole to clear away fouling. However, the efficiency with which the main charge burns would be reduced, as expanding gas is wasted by venting out of the touch-hole instead of contributing to pushing the ball down the barrel. The British experiments showed that a 2.54 mm (0.10 in) touchhole was the ideal for power, accuracy, and penetration. The touchhole on the Model 1789 pistol is 5 mm (0.2 in), suggesting that perhaps the Prussian pistol did not have as much penetrative power than its counterparts in Allied and enemy service at Waterloo. This perhaps is not that much of a sacrifice with pistols, as they are less likely to see heavy use. However with infantry muskets the effectiveness of the weapon is sacrificed to speed up reloading.

Whilst it is not conclusive that the Model 1789 was used on the battlefield at Waterloo, it is certainly possible. Various regiments on both sides were still using weapons which had been in service for a number of years, alongside their more recent incarnations. The regiments who might have used the Model 1789 or the Model 1813 were the Non-Commisioned Officers and trumpeters of the hussars and the Uhlans. Interestingly, according to French historian Henri Lachouque it had been the Uhlans who had rescued General Blücher from capture by French cuirassiers at the Battle of Ligny, two days prior to Waterloo. The Prussian cuirassiers who were not present at Waterloo were each armed with two pistols, and would have certainly discharged them at Ligny.

The regiment most likely to have been armed with the Model 1789 would have been the Landwehr. At Waterloo, 40% of the Prussian cavalry was made up of the Landwehr. Originally formed as a militia in 1813, it is entirely plausible that the Landwehr's personal arsenal included the the Model 1789, as a proven tool to use for battle at close-quarters on the field of Waterloo


Barrel length 28 cm (11 in)
Calibre 16.8 mm (0.66 in)
Country of manufacture Prussia
Date entered service About 1790
Loading Muzzle-loading
Overall length 48.9 cm (19.25 in)
Weight 1.44 kg (3 lb 3 oz)


Lisa Traynor