Black painted Brown Bess

Discussion in 'Smoothbore' started by Rocklocks Only, Apr 5, 2019.

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  1. Apr 5, 2019 #1

    Rocklocks Only

    Rocklocks Only

    Rocklocks Only

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    Hello, I have seen some reference in museums and literature about the early 18th century Bess’ being painted black and issued to troops. Has anyone else ever heard of this? How would it have been done? Are their any paint being made now that would be similar? I’m curious.
     
  2. Apr 5, 2019 #2

    Keb

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    I'm no expert and I'm usually proven wrong but I've heard sea service Bess' were black. However, I can't back that up.
     
  3. Apr 5, 2019 #3

    Ranger Boyd

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    Yes, Sea Service muskets were issued both "japanned" with asphalt paint as well as with bright metal. The asphalt paint was a corrosion inhibitor.
     
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  4. Apr 5, 2019 #4

    Coot

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    Sea Service weapons were frequently (buy not always) painted with Japan Black. I am not aware of this being done in the army. Japan Black is a black lacquer or varnish that would have been brushed on muskets. Cutlass handles and axe heads could be dipped rather than brushed as there were no moving parts to gum up.
     
  5. Apr 5, 2019 #5

    Artificer

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    Ah, someone finally mentioned 18th century Cutlasses? Back in the early mid 1980’s, I collected original 18th and early 19th century Cutlasses for a few years. Both Britain and France used Cutlasses with not only Iron Guards, but also Iron Grips. (Americans used and made copies of the British Cutlasses for most of the 18th century, but switched to copying the French Cutlasses in the 19th century.)

    18th Century British Cutlasses had round or tapered round thick Sheet Iron Grips and a figure 8 guard as shown in the following link on page 12. I was never able to find one of those for sale when I collected Cutlasses, but did handle a couple of originals. However, the rounded grip was replaced with a “knobbly” Iron grip as of the Pattern 1804 and used in various forms for decades after that time. It is shown under page 26 in the following link. I did own one of these and that grip was much better than the 18th century round Iron Grips.

    http://antiqueswordsforsale.com/british-18th-19th-century-naval-cutlasses/

    I ran across and purchased a pair of original French Model 1760 Cutlasses and have to say the French Iron Grips were superior to the 18th century British Cutlasses in that the French Iron Grips were sort of Hexagonal/Octagonal Shape. I can’t find a link to an original of that Model, but the grip remained the same in the early 19th century. In the following link it shows a repro of the early 19th century French Cutlass and the grip is pretty close to originals of both the M 1760 and French 19th century Cutlass, to give you an idea. (Oh, the Iron Guard of this 19th century French Cutlass was also directly copied in Brass for the American Model 1860 Cutlass.)

    https://www.ima-usa.com/collections...al-boarding-cutlass-classic-pirate-style-used

    As Coot correctly noted, all the British and French 18th and early 19th century Cutlasses with their Iron Guards and Grips, were dipped into Black Japanning for protection against the elements aboard ship. Every original Cutlass I have owned or seen or read about, at least had traces of that finish remaining.

    OK, I do apologize for going a bit off topic, but I’ve been waiting for someone to bring up period Naval Cutlasses for some time now.:D

    Now back to our regularly scheduled topic of Black Brown Bess Muskets. ;)

    British Ordnance broke Sea Service Muskets/Firelocks down into two categories, I.E. “Black” and “Bright.” “Black” Muskets were intended for Boat/Landing Crews and besides being japanned black, were often shorter for better ease of handling in boats. The “Bright” Muskets were intended for Marines and were often closer to the length of Land Pattern Muskets. This per Dr. De Witt Bailey.

    As to British Land Pattern Musket stocks being stained or painted Black, we have the following original documentation.

    First printed in the 1760’s and twice more after that, “Cuthbertson's System for the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry.” By Captain/Major Bennett Cuthbertson. Below is translated into modern English spelling:

    “By going to some little expense, it will not be difficult to bring the stocks of the firelock(s) to one uniform colour, by staining them with either black, red or yellow; and then by laying on a varnish, to preserve them always in a glossy, shining condition.”

    https://books.google.com/books?id=1SxEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA89&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Gus
     
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  6. Apr 5, 2019 #6

    TFoley

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    Great and informative post, Sir.
     
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  7. Apr 5, 2019 #7

    dave_person

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    Hi,
    Isn't Gus great. Coot and Ranger Boyd also. The only thing I can add is that I have not seen an original land pattern Brown Bess painted or stained black. I've seen them many shades of brown from light cold dead oak leaf color to orangy brown, but not black. I am not contradicting Gus just saying I've not seen any examples in collections or museums that I can remember. Black stains might have been relatively rare. You do have to be careful assessing original color because the linseed oil varnish used on the stocks darkens with age.

    dave
     
  8. Apr 5, 2019 #8

    Artificer

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    Dave,

    Since I hold you in such high esteem both as a gunsmith and as a person, I am deeply honored by your kind words.

    I absolutely agree with Dave, and I too have never heard of nor seen any black stained or painted British Land Pattern Brown Bess stocks in museums or private collections or books. However, I have two theories on why that may be.

    The first theory is it seems Cuthbertson meant such staining or painting would have been by the Esthetics, Orders and Expense of the Regimental Commanding Officer; after the Muskets were received by his Regiment and not done by the British Ordnance Department. Then the next Commanding Officer may have found it not at all to his liking and had the stocks stripped of the black paint and refinished. It is also possible when these Muskets were turned in for later replacements, that British Ordnance surplus sold them and/or cannibalized the Brass and serviceable parts and then just discarded or burnt the black stocks. I could see asphaltum used to better seal and protect the wood of stocks used by the Regiments stationed at Gibraltar near the sea over the years, though I have no period evidence to back that up.

    The second theory is the asphaltum was indeed only used as a stain to bring the natural color of the wood in the stocks to a more uniform color, but still would have looked like natural wood. OK, I understand that sounds rather outlandish and I would also have agreed, until I read the following on Gary Brumfield's site a few years ago.

    "The stock was stained with petroleum tar, known as asphaltum in the 18th century, and finished with hot bee's wax."

    Be prepared when you look at the link to be surprised as I was the wood color is not black and looks at least somewhat to pretty "Natural." So I could see how using this as a stain could help the Brown Bess stocks to be brought to a more uniform color. Unfortunately, Gary passed a couple years ago, so we have lost the benefit of his knowledge and expertise for further information, though. So here is the link:

    http://flintriflesmith.com/GunsSince1990/2002_rifle.htm

    Gus
     
  9. Apr 5, 2019 #9

    Artificer

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    Thank you for the kind words, Sir.

    Gus
     
  10. Apr 5, 2019 #10

    Gene L

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    I can see why Sea Pattern Besses would be painted to defray rust.
     
  11. Apr 5, 2019 #11

    Black Hand

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    But if painted, it would be the wood (not the metal), and would have no effect on rust...
     
  12. Apr 5, 2019 #12

    dave_person

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    Hi BH,
    They also painted the metal on their "black" sea service guns.

    dave
     
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  13. Apr 5, 2019 #13

    Black Hand

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    Good to know - Thanks Dave!

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Japanning baked on? As to the asphaltum, I'd presume it was used on the barrel since using it on a lock just seems like a bad idea.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2019
  14. Apr 5, 2019 #14

    Artificer

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    Hi BH,

    Though most remaining original British Sea Service Muskets seem to have "Bright" Barrels and locks, they did paint the barrels and 'browned' the locks on the "Black' Muskets. However, much to confusion of us who study these things, their use of the term 'browned or browning' could have also meant what we would call Charcoal Bluing OR it could also mean they did not clean and polish the lock parts after case hardening. Case hardened parts also don't rust as easily as polished 'Bright" parts.

    Gus
     
  15. Apr 5, 2019 #15

    dave_person

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    Hi BH,
    That is a good question and I don't know. Japanned usually referred to a heavy black, red, or green, varnish or lacquer painted on something and then baked. When cooled it was polished and then another coat, then heating again. That was repeated until a glossy, smooth surface was achieved. I cannot imagine contractors doing that on cheap muskets. It must have been a thick paint and being black, some might call it "japanning". In the 17th century, the British painted barrels of long arms with a brown coating called "russetting". In the first list of prices set by King Charles I for government payment for gunsmithing services in 1637, russetting is mentioned often.

    dave
     
  16. Apr 5, 2019 #16

    Black Hand

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    Thanks Gus & Dave!

    I'm still curious as to the identity of the paint(s) used on barrels, if anyone has any info. More of an academic question than anything else...
     
  17. Apr 5, 2019 #17

    tenngun

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    Was ‘Japaning’ a thing before Japan was opened? Post the Brown Bess age.
    Marine varnish will blacken exposed to salt air. Ships often were varnished looking brown on launching turned black at sea.
    Would a varnished stock look black or at least darker then normal if varnished.The same if the barrel browned or blued and maybe varnished could look black or at least dark. (?).Sometimes ‘black’ just means darker then normal. Like ‘black irish’ black German’ Black forest’
     
  18. Apr 5, 2019 #18

    Ranger Boyd

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    "Japanning" (yes, it was the period term) involved a sort of lacquer finish using asphaltum, which is indeed black.
     
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  19. Apr 5, 2019 #19

    Black Hand

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  20. Apr 5, 2019 #20

    Loyalist Dave

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    Well here is a method used for restoring old wood-planes, having both metal and wooden parts, and were originally japanned, hence the desire to replace the old finish with the same...

    …, use roofing tar, but first let the volitiles evaporate, then mix it up with the McCloskey's Marine Spar Varnish (Gloss). Put the stuff on both wood and metal and it seems to be very durable.

    It is important to prepare the surfaces, use alcohol on metal to clean the surface of any grease or oil.
    As far as baking the stuff, of course don't bake the wood, but set the piece in direct sunlight, it helps cure the finish. On metal I do occasionally bake it but not at a very high temperature, 220 degrees F. I have done this for Ferro-type or tintype plates for a friend that does historic photography. If you don't bake it is a bit soft for a while but in a few weeks it hardens up.
    ..., Here in the US roofing tar is asphaltum. Asphaltum is available from a variety of sources and can be spendy, roofing tar is cheap, I have actually never bought any as when you tell someone that is tarring a roof, they will usually give you some.”


    Depending on temperature and humidity, the spar varnish will dry in 8 to 24 hours and will continue to cure for a few weeks. The asphaltum element adds some time to the drying process and hardens up as it cures. It will take more time, but you get the right look by using the right materials.


    LD
     
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