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An explosive business

These tools of war enabled centuries of explosive bloodshed.

This Gem is an adjustable copper measure for gunpowder and shot. Without these, it would once have been impossible for riflemen and sportsmen to reliably measure the correct amount of powder for their weapon and launch projectiles. To work it, one would twist the bottom of the copper cup to adjust the size based on markings along the side of this cup. One would then fill it up and scrape off any excess grains, giving a precise and repeatable amount of powder for reliable shooting.

Black powder was invented in ancient China, and travelled through the Islamic World along the Silk Roads. It arrived in Europe with the early Crusades and the Spanish Reconquista. Mills were crucial to its mass production as they drove a number of processes in its production. Often these were water-powered mills, through wind and horses were also used.

This centuries-old form of warfare was replaced in the late 19th century with developments in smokeless powder. However, Black Powder enthusiasts and the fireworks industry continue to use this potent mix for making a bang. 

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Black Powder was used in warfare for centuries. Learn more about how milling drove this lethal industry here.