We have thought that, as arms constitute a separate industry and belong to a special type, it would be preferable, instead of studying them in several parts, to separate them from the various classes in which they are scattered in the Exhibition and to group them in a special chapter under the heading: arms.
In this way, we believe that the review will be easier and the appreciation more convenient for the reader.
The first weapons that we encounter are in class 40, these are handguns and hunting weapons.
Paris and Saint-Etienne have almost exclusively the monopoly of this manufacture.
Rifles, revolvers, swords, pistols, one sees them of all the kinds, of all the forms.
Ammunition is not lacking either, and Mr. Gevelot's showcase attracted the attention of connoisseurs in this respect.
In the room of hunting objects, there are nothing but game bags, gaiters and cartridge belts; the powder flask and the lead bag have disappeared forever, since the hunters, obeying the new fashion, much more convenient besides, have adopted the cartridge.
A little further on, there are foils, breastplates, masks, gloves and sandals.
In the third room is the magnificent exhibition of Saint-Etienne.
M. Laisant, in the Rappel, found and said very plainly that this exhibition seemed to him insufficient.
"This third hall and part of the next room are occupied by weapons of war and by accessories of the military art, such as the soldier's clothing, objects for camping, coffee pots for the armies, etc. All this is reduced to about one hundredth of a square metre. All this is reduced to almost nothing. These are the debris, the wreckage of the famous class 68: "Material and processes of military art," of which we have already spoken on several occasions, and whose sad misfortunes cannot be overemphasised. A committee had been formed, which contained military luminaries. But the war offices, always vigilant, judged that there was a public danger, and claimed to oppose the exhibition of any weapon of a system in use in the army or likely to be put into use there. Thereupon, the members of the committee, rightly judging that their mission was becoming useless and even slightly ridiculous, resigned. I cannot blame them for this; but the war offices would have had many reasons, on this account, to resign as well.
Let us say a word about a little invention which may have its practical side and whose author is Mr. Wohlgemutte.
It is a hook attached to the bag and used to suspend the rifle, in order to reduce the fatigue of a long march for the soldier, a fatigue which seems to increase the weight of the rifle.
To be compared with this invention, whose humanitarian purpose is quite obvious, is that of the engineer Bazin, inventor of the military wheelbarrow.
Mr. Bazin, thinking of the additional fatigue that the weight of the bag causes to the soldier during long marches, began to look for a means of transport for the bag other than the man's shoulders.
Here is what he came up with: two rifles for stretchers, a bag-carrying board, two small steel wheels mounted on an axle of the same metal, all of which can be assembled and disassembled in less than a minute, and the wheelbarrow is built.
It would be very convenient, no doubt, except for walking on ploughed land, for example.
And then, in the event of surprises, no matter how quickly it is dismantled, would there not be a disadvantage, perhaps even a danger?
Let us end this chapter on weapons, - too short for our liking, but the poverty of this part of the Exhibition does not allow us to develop it any further, - let us end this chapter by quoting the following interesting lines written by M. Florian Pharaon in the Chasse illustrée and which relate to the weapons industry in Kabylia:
"The rifle barrels, he says, are made there in parts of thirty to forty centimetres in length. A piece of iron of the desired length is corroded and a blade is made with the width of the barrel. This blade is wound on a mandrel so that the edges of the iron are close to each other without touching. A small square iron rod is then inserted into the gap between the edges to facilitate welding.
"This welding is done in small parts and in several heats, until the tube is complete. When all the partial tubes intended to constitute the barrel are completed, they are welded end to end.
"All the breeches are welded. When they leave the forge, these barrels are bored by means of a machine called a teurn.
"The barrels of Arab rifles are decorated with inlays. To apply these ornaments, the designs are first engraved with a chisel, then cut pieces of copper are inserted into the hollows; the edges of the iron are then tightened with a carp tongue, and finally the whole is flush with a file.
"The results of this naive manufacture can be seen in the showcase where the works of Ali-ben-Mohamed-Arab, Areski, Mââman-ben Mââman, from the Beni-Yenni tribe, which almost alone monopolises the manufacture of firearms in Algeria, are exhibited (at the Algerian palace).
"Barely fifty years ago, the armoury of Algeria was renowned in the barbaric countries, and the dey of Algiers, among the objects which accompanied the annual tribute to the Porte, sent the sultan two richly nielloed rifles, intended for the personal use of the sovereign.
"We have in the museum of artillery specimens of the Arab arquebuserie of the beautiful time, among others a rifle richly assembled, which was given to the king of France, in 1689, by Chââban-Pacha, successor of famous Mezzomorte, dey of Algiers.
"It would have been interesting to exhibit these old samples of Arab harquebusery alongside contemporary products. It would have been instructive for the visitors and for the indigenous armourers in particular, who would have been able to find valuable models for their industry.
©Les Merveilles de l'Exposition de 1878