Ancient black powder cannon, Las Vegas


This cannon is from a shop at Venetian Casino. Was this design functional, i.e. was the breach able to withstand the backpressure created by damming projectile or this was more like a signal or pleasure cannon? The claim is that it is authentic and was sold for $70,000 (not to me).



That would have been a working cannon alright. Breech loading cannons were, I hesitate to say common, but certainly around.


Yes, it was a functional design, both Spain and Portugal made use of this type of cannon. The original wedge which held the breech closed is missing. Each gun could have several loaded breeches ready to go giving the potential for a rapid rate of fire.



The breech system would be a limitation to the ultimate power and range but would put it in a good power range for close up spraying of another ship’s decks with grape shot etc. Not really an anti ship cannon for holing the hull or bringing down the rigging. More of a deck gun to prevent boarding in that size/ configuration.

However, some of the biggest field cannons used in the middle ages had a seperate breech system. So the idea must have worked reasonably well.


I believe that the Spanish ships of the Armada that came to grief during Drakes time were mainly armed with these types of breechloaders. The Royal Navy was using standard muzzle loading cannon, the intensive gunnery training of the RN crews negated any theoretical rate of fire advantage of the breechloaders of that time.



I had a chance to fire one of these type canons in 1976. I was stationed in San Diego,Ca and had joined a canon club. I own a civil war Dahlgren deck gun and would shoot it once a month in competition.
One of the members owned a reproduction of the type of gun shown in the photo. It was called the “Twin Sisters” as it was one of a matched set. It fired a six pound ball or cement filled oil can. The “breech” leaked, but not as bad as you’d think. The wood block ,made of oak,only lasted for about five shots before the breech would leak badly due to the wood being compressed or splintering. The oak was wet and not kiln dried. Range was about 400 yards with pretty good accuracy. The charge was a full pound of Canon Grade powder. The mounting was not as shown in the above photos. It was much higher and thinner.It had three wheels like a tricycle and could be trained onto target very quickly. I was told some carriages were made of cast iron.
The gun could be reloaded after a wet swabbing in under ten seconds.