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Muzzle loading needle gun for guncotton cartridges

Key data

Valentin Sauerbrey, Basle, 1846

Wood, steel, brass, leather

overall length 144.5 cm, barrel length 96.5 cm

Inv. 1949.62.a.


In 1846 Christian Friedrich Schönbein was responsible for a discovery in Basle that had a major influence on the development of modern explosives. The guncotton he invented, a mixture of cotton fibre soaked in sulphuric and nitric acid, produced a greater explosive force than the black powder previously used. Guncotton also had the advantage of burning without residue or smoke. The custodian of the Basle armoury, Valentin Sauerbrey, constructed a needle gun for guncotton cartridges the first firearm that could be fired without smoke. In 1849, in the presence of the Federal Councillor Ulrich Ochsenbein and General Henri Dufour, shooting tests were carried out in Berne. However, the new explosive met with little success, as it was prone to spontaneous combustion and was unstable when stored. Sauerbrey donated the gun (signed on the barrel "V. SAUERBREY IN BASEL") with cartridges and a box of guncotton to the Institut fur Organische Chemie in 1877. Smokeless nitrocellulose powder was not produced successfully until 1886, by the Frenchman Paul Vieille.

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Basel Historical Museum
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