Language: Vietnamese
Source: Dictionnaire Franco-Tonkinois Illustré, 1898.


Súng hỏa mai is the Vietnamese word for matchlock musket.1 It breaks down to the words súng meaning "gun", hỏa mai meaning "wick of a firearm".2


Vietnamese matchlock muskets

Three Southern Vietnamese matchlock muskets.
Listed at



Tonkinese matchlock Rijksmuseum

A fine Northern Vietnamese matchlock musket of the 17th century.
Formerly in the collection of Cornelis Tromp, acquired 1679.
Rijksmuseum accession number: NG-NM-6091.


The Vietnamese matchlock musket follows the so-called Indo-Portuguese design, with a spring-loaded snapping mechanism for lowering the serpentine. They are generally of good quality, made with ironwood stocks and often ivory or fossil elephant or mastodon molar butt plates. The locks are usually made of brass, but sometimes of more expensive materials such as silver or báitóng (白銅).


Vietnamese matchlock lock 2Vietnamese matchlock lock 1

Both sides of the lock plate, disassembled.


We have a short account on Vietnamese gun production in Cochinchina from the acclaimed 18th-century Vietnamese philosopher, poet, encyclopedist, and government official Lê Qúy Đôn, dating from 1776:

"...the gun's nails are forged by blacksmiths, triggers and locks crafted by silversmiths... ...the stock carved by carpenters, the military's responsibility is making the barrels." 3

During the reign of emperor Gia Long (ruled 1802-1820), many Vietnamese troops started to train with Western equipment and tactics, and by 1812 period observers noted that matchlocks had become a very rare sight. 4


1. P. G. Vallot; Dictionnaire Franco-Tonkinois Illustré. F.H. Schneider, Hanoi, 1898. Page 235.
2. Entry by Prof. Bui Phung, Hanoi University. See
3. Lê Qúy Đôn, Phủ Biên Tạp Lục (撫邊雜錄 or "Miscellaneous Chronicles of the Pacified Frontier"), page 418. Thanks to Dong Nguyen for bringing this reference to my attention and kindly translating it for me. He runs the blog: Đại Việt Cổ Phong about Vietnamese history and traditional culture.
4. Observed by French missionary Pierre-Jacques Lemonnier de La Bissachère, quoted in Ian Heath; Armies of the Nineteenth Century, Asia 4, Burma and Indo-China. Foundry, Nottingham, 2003. Page 190.

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With a golden damascened lock of the Indo-Portuguese type.


An exceedingly rare set with fine mother of pearl inlaid string board


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Description A rather unusual Vi


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Price on request

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