Some firearms inventors distinguish themselves so well their name becomes naturally associated to the products they create. Browning, Colt, Winchester, Thompson and Kalashnikov are some of these.
More than inventors or manufacturers, the results of their intelligence and work comes to mind as “types” of firearms to virtually everyone in the world. The model doesn’t really matter — the simple name of it is enough to define the “thing” even for non-enthusiasts.
The same can be said, in much smaller proportions, of course, of Louis Nicolas Auguste Flobert. If the general public doesn’t necessarily recognize this name, it immediately evokes an image of a great inventor — or a type of firearm — for we gun lovers. He’s the original rimfire ammunition distributor. In fact, the rimfire invention was patented by Joseph Alexandre Robert — in 1831.
Flobert’s name soon became a synonym for “parlor” or “saloon” pistols — small-caliber pistols intended for indoor use — and helped to forever change the way firearms will be conceived and used in the future. Flobert essentially started the road leading eventually to the .22 LR, what is at most levels, the back-bone of he shooting sports.
We’re very proud to showcase a one-of-a-kind Flobert-created pistol for Handgunner. Nicknamed “Pistolet de l’Inventeur” (“Inventor’s Pistol”) by his descendant Mr. Bertrand Flobert, to whom it belongs, this pistol is a priceless piece of art.
If you were a 19th-century Bourgeoisie gentleman, the
“Pistolet de I’Inventeur” would have been a dream to own.
A Job Done Right!
Louis Nicolas Auguste Flobert left his family to move to Paris in 1830 at the age of 14, in order to become a Master Gunsmith apprentice. Working extremely hard and saving all he earned, Flobert was able to open his own gunstore in 1844 at age 28.
The search for a modern and convenient “parlor pistol” in the Parisian mid-19th century finds its roots in the universally famous book The Count of Monte-Cristo. In his novel, Alexandre Dumas depicts the hero as owning specially designed weapons, using a cap powerful enough to push the bullet out from the barrel (see Chapter 89, “Nocturnal Interview”). This was enough to bring many Parisian gunsmiths to the culminant point of intellectual excitation: If ever realized, such an invention would be extremely valuable, as one might imagine.
Thanks to his knowledge and experience in mechanisms and “cap technology,” Flobert created a pistol considered superior to any of those proposed by his competitors, giving him a solid reputation and comfortable profits for many years to come.
Flobert’s pistol — in his own words — had the very simple construction mid-19th century Haute Bourgeoisie Gentlemen might dream about. It was perfectly easy to operate (with no loose powder and balls), no smoke and was powerful and accurate enough for short distances — such as indoor shooting. It used very affordable ammunition. No complicated instructions were required to use the pistol; success came easily to novices. To make things clear, the pistol invented by Flobert was doing its job — and was doing it right!
Fascinated by a Flobert’s carbine, Emperor Napoleon III — who considered guns to be simple toys — asked one of his generals to find more information about Flobert and his inventions. Specifically, he wanted to know if a more “serious” firearm could be designed from his system — for war.
Light wear and tear is visible, yet this remarkable pistol still shines with exclusivity and rarity.
What made this pistol innovative for its time — other than its marvelous exterior —
is the fact it did not use loose powder and balls, and fired with no smoke.
A “Big Bore”
For his own satisfaction, Flobert built a 14mm carbine, which he presented to the Emperor. This meeting resulted in Napoleon III, who was extremely satisfied, to start testing this type of weapon at Vincennes for military purpose. The Comité de l’Artillerie (Artillery Committee) would propose funds for the cost of research and manufacturing to create a rifle capable of replacing the muzzleloaders used by the French Imperial Army at the time.
The judging committee’s absolute requirements for a 12mm minimum caliber based on his design would result in a “non-acceptable firearm.” Flobert declined the government proposition and never made any attempt to invent or produce a military weapon — except to help improve General Fave’s rifle prototype reliability.
This proved almost useless, since it was finally the bolt-action, breechloading needle rifle “Chassepot” to come away victorious from these military tests. It became known as the “Mle 1866,” a very well known firearm from collectors and shooters alike. But that is a completely different story!
Flobert’s name is proudly raised on the top of the gold-plated barrel.
A proud night owl stands watch at the bottom edge of the stock.
You’d never be alone while handling this intricate pistol!
Coming back to Flobert, the inventor gave us an incredible number of guns to shoot and collect — but none are as beautiful and wonderfully crafted as the one pictured.
The pistol showcased here is a classic, 6mm Flobert, hammer-extracted mechanism. In use, nothing distinguishes it from the more classic, plain Flobert parlor guns.
No, the beauty of it lies in the absolute perfect craftsmanship and incredibly rich decorations. It includes natural themes such as birds, dogs, snakes, lizards and dragons — along with other mythological figures and themes. All are executed in the most prestigious French Napoleon III taste, with the classical Renaissance accents from this very particular style.
Made from ebony, the pistol stock is almost jet-black and delicately, flawlessly carved and with an inlet. Unfortunately, time and life took its toll somewhat on this lovely piece of wood — taking away some bits of it, splitting it a little near the sideplates and a small piece of the stock is missing on the right side. The bottom of it has evidently not been forgotten, as a proud night owl is standing there near the shooter’s hand!
Gold-plated just like the hammer, the octagonal-shaped barrel is carved and engraved with interlaced flowers, acanthus leaves and other decorative details. The inventor’s signature “FLOBERT inventeur” is clearly visible on the barrel top of this work of art.
I want to warmly thank Mr. Bertrand Flobert and his brother, without whom these photos and article wouldn’t have ever existed. Meeting and holding such a magnificent piece — crafted by such a prestigious and important inventor — is a true honor, only occurring a few times (if ever!) in a gun enthusiast’s life. But if this pistol is unique, I know — like all the other Flobert pistols, even the more simple ones — it will continue to shoot and bring happiness to people for a very long time!
By Jonathan Marmand
Photos: Jonathan Marmand