Originating in China during the 12th century, cannons are a more sophisticated version of a “fire lance,” or an early weapon used with gun powder. The fire lance had a pyrotechnic mechanism (slow-burning gunpowder contained within a bamboo tube) attached to a spear. The heat created from igniting gases within the gunpowder causes the gases to rapidly expand, which generates explosive energy. The confined space of the tube made it even more explosive. As improvements were made to gunpowder formulas, changes in the weapon also took place. The tubes were made wider while the spear was eventually done away with, and Chinese warriors began adding pellets and debris before the powder was ignited to cause more damage with the explosion.
After cannons made it to Europe, a general rule of thumb by the 16th century was that a longer barrel would be able to hit a longer range. That being said, some manufacturers of the time crafted barrels that were more than 10 feet long! They also could weigh up to 20,000 lbs. Most countries developed a sizing system to keep track of how cannons were being built so that it would be easier to identify how much gunpowder was needed, or what kinds of cannon balls could be launched. (The bigger the barrel, the more gunpowder and larger cannon ball it required!) France decided on six cannon classifications, while England “narrowed” it down to sixteen!
Although most cannons used today are “autocannons” (which automatically load their own ammunition and fire faster than artillery), gunpowder cannons are still an important part of World History. They were used in all corners of the globe, from the Islamic world to Medieval Europe.
From signaling for help to operating as functional toys, the uses of the cannons on display vary greatly. Regardless of the model, the craftsmanship, ingenuity and longevity of these fascinating firearms are astounding. And some will actually fire!
With more than 90 antique and collectibles dealers between two handicap-accessible floors, The PAST Antiques Marketplace is sure to have something for the collector in all of us. Visit us at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville!