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Problems In The Measurement Of Gun Powder Charges Resulting From The Use Of Different Terminologies

Introduction

This study is based upon some original research, now much expanded, that was first published in 1974 under the title 'Drams and Drachms; or Confusion in Perpetuum' in Black Powder Volume 24 No. 4, the newsletter of the Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain.

At that time some eighteen references were consulted and conclusions were reached which clearly indicated the apparent trend in early writers to mention powder charges which to a modern practitioner of muzzle loading seem impossibly small. This is most outstanding with regard to the charges for flintlock sporting guns which appear very light even given the small bores then common. Since then the conclusions have been strengthened as some fifty different sources have been checked.

While examining the question of loads for fowling pieces it also occurred to the writers that there would be similar considerations in connection with the charges for early percussion rifles, where one finds reference to 1½ drams for 16 gauge rifles and in at least one instance 1¾ drams for an eight gauge rifle. Modern experience has clearly indicated that most rifles of around 16 gauge, firing a patched ball, perform best with 2½ drams.

It was decided, therefore, to carry out an investigation into a wide variety of authors from Benjamin Robins in 1742 to Sir Henry Halford in 1888, with a view to finding out if these writers meant what they said. Our basic conclusion was that while most did, for a certain period in the early 19th Century, a number became involved in the perpetuation of what appears to have begun as an incorrect translation of a French measure late in the 18th Century.

Dr. De Witt Bailey and W.S. Curtis