During the era of muzzle loading classic target pistols, the powder charge with lead bullet were loaded through the open-end (muzzle) of the barrel. It was a relative lengthy process which took some experience loading it properly. During the progression from the flintlock system to the introduction of the percussion system and the more common use of rifled barrels, the pistols became more reliant. Even more so with the introduction of the first modern cartridges, which we still use today.
During the late 19th and early 20th century, the cartridge powered classic target pistol evolved from the pin-fired cartridges to the basically two cartridge options: either rimfire- or centrefire cartridges. Some authors argue that the use of the bigger and oversized calibers were preferred by some shooters as this had an added advantage: the larger the hole in the target – the more chance the shooter had in hitting the inner rings! Before the time of internet or television the shooters of that era were often reliant on their local gunsmiths for their ammo. As one can imagine that the same gunsmith who earlier sold his pistol to a customer, wanted that same customer to return back to him for more business. What better way than to make one’s own caliber?!
The most common caliber in classic target pistols is the .22 Long Rifle (LR) or 5.6×15R (metric) cartridge. In some cases calibers up to 11 mm are found as well. Although many other calibers were used, a lot depended on the availability and cost of ammo for the shooter. The .22 Long Rifle cartridge became readily available and (still is!) relatively affordable to shoot. The cartridge is consistent in performance and allows the shooter to fire their pistol more often while practicing. While the early target pistols had hand-loaded flintlock systems, the development of better chemicals led to the introduction of percussion pistols which in turn led to the development of early rimfire and later centrefire cartridges. In 1845-49 the Frenchman named Louis A. FLOBERT introduced his invention: the Flobert cartridge, which was basically a percussion cap with a small round lead pellet mounted on it. By making a rim to the cartridge, it formed to basis for the modern rim fired cartridge. Flobert or (BB and CB’s) munitions are low powered cartridges which only use the explosive force of the ignition compound to power the pellet through the barrel. No powder charge is used. This type of ammunition did not produce a lot of smoke – in an era where black powder was the standard – and therefore was ideally suited for indoor shooting at targets up to a couple of yards. When indoor shooting became popular during the 1850-60’s, it caused many gunsmiths to design their own new systems. These type of classic target pistols became known as the ‘salon- or parlor pistol’ as they were often used in the living room of the home, using the fireplace as a bullet stop!