Joseph Manton

Joseph Manton

Joseph Manton (1760-1835) was a much celebrated British gunsmith who was to revolutionise sport shooting, vastly improve the quality of weapons and father the modern artillery shell.

Manton had a keen interest in guns from an early age. The firearms of his day were sluggish, inaccurate and poorly designed. Although major advances in the general rate of fire were to come after his death, Manton is oft credited with improving the quality of firearms in his time.

hotguns and rifles

Manton had been using the rifles and shotguns of his day for several years before he decided to improve on modern designs. It was in this field where he was first to make his fortune. Few guns of Manton's youth were rifled, and those that were tended to be expensive, slothful and brittle. Aged 29, Manton was to create a mechanism that allowed him to rifle a barrel with greater ease. He also refined shot design to create a wooden cup that allowed for faster reloading and greater accuracy; it is from this design that modern munitions are based.

Manton observed that people new to sport shooting tended to aim too low when firing at targets. Manton made the simple adjustment of making the front sight lower so that anyone aiming the gun would actually be shooting above where they thought they were, thus correcting this common novice error.

Shooters trusted Manton's guns above all others, this is evidenced by the fact that few, if any of his guns were legally tested by the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers. His octagonal barrels were simply inscribed with "Jos'h' Manton" and the tiger emblem.

Dueling Pistols

Manton's next great step in the world of gunsmithery was to come from observing duels. He noticed that the recoil or 'kick' from the dueling pistol forced back the forearm of the shooter, causing the elbow to bend upwards. Once again, a simple design alteration vastly improved the quality of the guns. Manton increased the weight at the front end of the barrel which steadied the gun. Again, this proved popular with the customers.


The greater part of Manton's career was to be spent at loggerheads with the British Army. Manton managed to interest the army in purchasing a larger a version of his wooden cup design to be used in rifled artillery. Manton worked tirelessly to improve the very inaccurrate canon, and did so by creating a new type of ammunition. Firstly, the ammunition was to be loaded in a rifled cannon. Secondly, the cannonball was attached to the wooden cup that fit into the rifled grooves of the cannon, which was in turn connected to a sack of gunpowder, thus eliminating the need for powder and shot to be loaded separately. The idea of having the powder fixed behind the shot in a disposable is one still extant today; it is the basis for modern bullet design. It also helped pave the way for breach-loading weaponry.

Lost sale

The army provided him a cannon and funding, and in return expected a greatly improved weapon. Whilst there is none-to-little doubt that Manton's design was superior, an argument over payment was to cause the army to declare it had little benefit. The row erupted over how Manton was to be paid; he believed the agreement was to a £30,000 lump sum. The army argued that since they had already invested sunk costs into research and development, they did not want to give away such a huge amount of money to a man whose design had not been tested in the field. Manton, angered, patented his design, twisting the army's hand into making him a deal. The army offered him one farthing for each shell the produced, but Manton refused this offer. Surprisingly for Manton, the army stood their ground and did not make him a new offer. Joseph Manton was frightened at the prospect of having spent a great deal of time and money (including some for his own money) into developing a weapon that the army would not use. He returned a new offer to the army, whereby the army could make the shells without paying royalties, but Manton would make the wooden cups. They refused.

Having spent more than a decade in unsuccessful legal battles against the board of ordnance, Joseph lost his vast fortunes and was declared bankrupt in 1826. His entire Oxford Street workshop was seized and his stock of guns sold by Joseph Lang, an aspiring gunsmith who would form Atkin, Grant and Lang [] . Lang is credited with opening one of the first shooting schools in the premises adjoining Manton's property.

Manton's guns today

As he was in his own time, Manton is revered as a maker of fine weaponry today. His weapons are considered the finest of the flintlock age, and often fetch considerably more at auction than even Holland & Holland's historical or modern shotguns.

External links

* [ Rifled Ordnance]

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