Archive General | archaeometallurgy
Nov 23 2017

Handgonnes: A health and safety issue?

Bastian Asmus

Detail from the Bellifortis manuscript by Conradius Kyeser (ca. 1430).  Source: Bayersiche Staatsbibliothek. License:  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Handgonnes: A health and safety issue?

Surprisingly health and safety issues are not as new as many might suspect. At least for German speaking people they actually originate at least in medieval times. Of all things this health and safety rule is from the earliest published technical treatise in German language and deals with: Guns and how to use them. Interestingly enough there is a section that underscores the danger of these things.  In my recent research on early breech loaded bronze guns and my experiments on how to make them one of the original questions is how safe are they to use. Apparently not as safe as one might hope for. 

The Feuerwerkbuch, Freiburger manuscript Ms 362

Just how safe to use were they? Chapter 223 in the Feuerwerkbuch underscores the general modern perception that these where as dangerous to the wielder as to the enemy. The earliest version of the Feuerwerkbuch was transscribed to high German by Ferdinand Nibler .  The complete work is available online. This very early technical treatise authored in German provides invaluable insights for the understanding of the matter of early firearm usage. And the following health and safety instruction caught my eye. It is only present in two of the surviving copies. In the Freiburger Manuscript (Freiburg Ms 362 from 1432)  it reads:

In transliterated form chapter 223 as follows (Nibler 2005, 85):

Das man kainer büchß si sye groß oder si sye klain trwen sol sunnder sich daruor hüten als denne dise nächgeschribne lere dich wyset.
Aber ain lere dem der vß der büchß schiessen will er sol kainer büchß nit viel trwen si sye klain oder groß si sye Ibel oder wol geladen wie die büchß ist so hüt dich nütz dester minnder dauor ouch lçg wenn si du ladest das kain ysen das annder rüre wann das puluer möchte dauon ennzündet werden.

Transcription to high German (Nibler 2005, 40):

Dass man keiner Büchse, sie sei groß oder sie sei klein, trauen soll sondern sich vor ihr hüten, wie diese nachgeschriebene Anweisung weist.
Aber eine Belehrung für den, der aus der Büchse schießen will: Er soll einer Büchse auf keinen Fall vertrauen, sie sei klein oder groß, sie sei schlecht oder gut geladen. Wie die Büchse auch ist – hüte Dich nichtsdestoweniger davor! Sieh‘ auch zu, dass wenn Du sie ladest kein Eisen ein anderes Eisen berühre, denn das Pulver könnte davon entzündet werden!
Translation to English
That you should not trust any gonne be it small or large, but beware of it as the following instructions advise.

But a lesson to whom wants to shoot from a gonne. He shall not trust the gonne under any circumstances, be it small or large, be it badly or well loaded. In whatever state the gonne is, beware of it nonetheless. Make sure when you you load it that no iron touches another iron, as the powder may be ignited upon this.

3d reconstruction of an early breech loaded handgonne.

3d reconstruction of an early breech loaded handgonne.


Bellifortis, BSB Hss Clm 30150

The second copy of the Feuerwerkbuch is preserved in the Bellifortis by Korad Kyeser . I included it here, as it is one of the few chapters that deviates from the above mentioned original.

Transliteration by the author

Das ma je kainer büchs tzündn ssol wie sy ist Aber ain lere dem der uß der büchsn schießßn wil Er sol si kainer büchs nicht zu getruwe si sye klain oder groß sy sy beschossn oder nit sy si übel oder wolgeladn wie die buchs iist so hut dich nichtzt deß mind dauor Ouch lüg wen Du sy ladest das kain ysen das ander rür wan das puluer möcht villicht dauo entzund werdn.

Transcription to high German

Daß man bloß keine Büchse zünden soll wie sie ist Aber eine Lehre dem der aus der Büchse schießen will. Er soll keiner Büchse trauen, sei sie klein oder groß. Sei sie beschossen oder nicht, sei sie schlecht oder gut geladen. Wie die Büchse ist, so hüte dich nichtsdestoweniger davor. Auch sieh zu, wenn Du sie lädst, dass kein Eisen ein anderes (Eisen) , denn das Pluver möchte vielleicht davon entzündet werden.


That you should not ignite a gonne as it is. But a lesson to whom wants to shoot  from a gonne. He shall not trust a gonne, be it small or large. Be it that the gonne was fired or not, be it that it is badly or well charged. Whatever the state of the gonne, beware of the gonne nonetheless. Also make sure, when loading it, that no iron touches another (iron), as the powder might possibly ignited upon this this

Interestingly this warning is not in the printed version of the Feuerwerkbuch from 1529. As to whether this is due to higher manufacturing standards, that led to safer gonnes, or to totally different circumstances must for the moment remain open.


Nibler, F. (2005). Das Feurwerkbuch in synoptischer Darstellung zweier anonymer Originaltexte. Transkription und Textvergleich des  Freiburger Manuskriptes Ms 362 von 1432  und des so genannten    Feuerwerkbuches von 1420  (gedruckt 1529 bei Stainer, Augsburg)  mit erklärenden Anmerkungen zu den Texten.
Kyeser, C. (1430). Bellifortis - BSB-Hss  Clm 30150.

Oct 25 2017

Short documentary – favourite tool of a tap maker

Bastian Asmus

A conical reamer for the tap maker

In Nuremberg the tap makers belonged to the redsmiths. This article is about a simple question of how the conical opening of a late medieval tap was dressed. Although you can do this completely manually, as I have shown in the short documentary, it is highly unlikely that it was actually done this way by the Nuremberg Red smiths or tap makers. Grinding the stop cocks into the tap takes several hours, even if the casts had a good fit to  begin with. Of course, it is not the spent labour time that has caused me to investigate the grinding of the stop cocks in more detail, it was rather the pictorial evidence that I found in Weigels book of trades and in the Nürnberger Hausbücher of the Zwölfbrüderstiftung.

Tap maker Hans Zeuller

Redsmith and tap maker Hans Zeuller

Redsmith Hans Zeuller with conus reamer. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The tool with which Hans Zeuller uses is clearly visible inside of the tap We can assume that it is a kind of conical reamer; i. e. a tool used in a scraping rather than a cutting fashion. Metals are very dense and can hardly be cut by hand. Continue reading

May 21 2015

Aquamanile in the form of a griffin

Bastian Asmus
Aquamanile in the form of a griffin cast in the workshop of Ragna and Bastian Asmus in 2015 inspired by a 15th century Nuremberg aquamanile.

Aquamanile in the form of a griffin. The original is from a 15th century Nuremberg Rotschmied workshop. The pictured aquamanile was modelled by Ragna Asmus and cast by Bastian Asmus.

A griffin aquamanile made some 600 years later

I realise that I have been somewhat negligent over the past three to four months when it comes to writing. I was immersed in the most fascinating and satisfying work in the past four months, however and simply did not have time to write. Within the next few weeks I will post about the 12th to 15th century bronze and brass objects I was commissioned to reconstruct. Let us begin with my favorite piece today: The griffin aquamanile that is now housed in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

This bronze aquamanile in the form of a griffin was cast in early 2015 and can be viewed from 30 May 2015, the newly established European Hanseatic League Museum. The Griffin was modelled by Ragna Asmus after a griffin aquamanile that was made in Nurmeberg between 1425 and 1450. It is significantly younger than the lion aquamanile I have made two years previously. In the 15th century Nuremberg was a leading centre of the brass and brass-ware production and had surpassed the importance Dinant  held in the 12th and 13th centuries. From the 14th century the production of “Dinanderie” shifted from Dinant and the Meuse region to Nuremberg. After Dinant’s destruction in 1466 the metal trades in Nuremberg  became an even more important one than Dinant ever was . The numerous professions in  the Rotschmiedehandwerk  may be seen as an evidence of this upsurge in productivity.

This aquamanile was completely remodelled  in bee’s wax and cast in the lost wax process.

Aquamanile in the form of a griffin cast in the workshop of Ragna and Bastian Asmus in 2015 inspired by a 15th century Nuremberg aquamanile.

Aquamanile in the form of a griffin.



Lockner (1981) Die Merkzeichen der Nürnberger Rotschmiede. München; Berlin [West]: Dt. Kunstverl. (Forschungshefte).
Theuerkauff-Liederwald, A.-E. (1988) Mittelalterliche Bronze- und Messinggefäße : Eimer - Kannen - Lavabokessel. Berlin: Dt. Verl. für Kunstwiss. (Bronzegeräte des Mittelalters).