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Friedrich Martini

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Frederick Chevalier de Martini (1822-1897) of Frauenfeld, Switzerland, designer of the Martini-Henry Rifle, and presumably founder of Societe F. Martini et Cie., of Frauenfeld, Switzerland.

* Translation of a letter of 1866 from Fr Martini published in The Engineer 1869/06/11

I, the undersigned, Frederick Chevalier de Martini, of Frauenfeld, in Switzerland, do hereby oblige myself to cede and transfer to Messrs. James R. McDonald and Co., of Hamburgh, my invention consisting an improvements in the Peabody breech-loading system, together with any future improvement of this system; also all business transactions closed with respect to this system within three months from this date, say up to 23rd February, 1867, to be their exclusive and lawful property, on consideration that they pay to me between now and the 23rd February or next year, 1867, the sum payable to me at Frauenfeld, in Switzerland.

Should Messrs. James R. McDonald and Co. not pay to my hands the above mentioned amount or consideration in full within the terms specified, for any reason whatever, I shall be entirely free from all obligations which I have now taken upon myself, and the present document will then become null and void. On payment, however, of the above-mentioned amount of consideration in full and within the time specified, I oblige myself to execute and deliver to Messrs. James R. McDonald and Co. All documents required for a transfer to them in due form of law of my Peabody breech-loading system and or all business transactions closed with respect to the same within three months from this date. (Signed) Fr. MARTINI. Vienna, 23rd November, 1866.

* Follow-up letter sent to J. R. Hamilton by Friedrich Martini.[1]

.... My earliest model of breech action was constructed like the "Peabody," upon the principle of a “falling block” . It had the ordinary side-lock, but was self cocking. That original model was presented alongside with the Peabody, to the Swiss Ordnance Committee sitting in Aarau in 1866. From its outward resemblance to the Peabody, although with essential differences in the combination, it was by many persons christened the "Martini-Peabody." I made no objection to that appellation, as the Peabody was up to that time the best known and most successful application of the falling-block system. Moreover, the Peabody Company being able to fill an immediate order, which I was not then prepared to do, had been successful in obtaining one of some importance from the Swiss Government. That system is, however, neither peculiar to the Peabody firm, nor is Mr. Peabody its inventor.

Among the numerous foreign officers present at Aarau were an Austrian who requested me to make him a "Martini-Peabody" rifle, which he invited me to present in person in Vienna. In the meanwhile, further experiments induced me to change my ideas in very important particulars, and, in lieu of the pattern that had been ordered, I took to Vienna a model of the breech action which has always been known by my name alone, and the mechanical principles of which remain unchanged by my subsequent modification of details. It was while in Vienna that Mr. Peabody'a agent offered to buy my action for the sum of 150,000 fr - say £6000 - payable in three months. I believed the proposal to be a bona-fide one, and deemed the terms fair. The name was, under the circumstances, a matter of indifference to me, and the Peabody Company being the purchasers, I suspected no further thought in the use of the word “Peabody” as a generic term for falling-block systems. The provisional transfer which I signed was, by its own wording, to become null and void in the case, which did occur, of the Peabody Company not carrying out its part of the contract.

I may not have been sufficiently careful as to the terms in which the document was drawn up, but I confess that I fail to see how it can now be construed into a title on the part of the Peabody Company to a property which they then offered to buy for £6000. If the document proves anything it proves that these gentlemen dutifully recognised my undeniable title to a property for which they offered a valuable consideration.

If the owners of the Peabody patent believe that the combination of the parts which the Martini breech has in common with theirs as it has with many others, infringes any rights of theirs, they could not have been at a loss to find the proper and obvious way of testing the question. During the two and a half years that have elapsed since the abortive Vienna negotiations, my rifle has been before the public, and numerous samples of it in constant use. It was in open competition with theirs throughout the exhaustive inquiry of the Select Committee, and the reports of the latter show that as many as five modifications of the Peabody rifle were opposed to the single model of mine. It is, to say the least, singular that the pretensions now set up were left to slumber so long, and that, instead of putting them in a tangible form and submitting them to the decision of a competent authority, it should be preferred - without even applying to me - to prejudice public opinion by ex-parte statements and announcements in the newspapers.

You are at liberty to make such use of this letter as you think proper, although I feel bound to reiterate my firm conviction that a newspaper war does not appear to me to promise a satisfactory solution of the technical issues of a patent controversy, and I find it difficult to take seriously claims out forward in that way.

Fr. Martini.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1869/06/25