Giant Pen Nib or Ramrod Holder?

3rd March 2015 — 12 Comments

By permission of

The detectorist on the forum asked, “Is this an old writing pen? I’ve Googled it and still can’t work it out. Can anyone help me and explain where it went and what it does?” That’s how I started a blog post in 2012, which was lost, but was worth trying to resurrect. Unfortunately, I am left with only the pictures and few notes. If there’s a major error – in attribution for example – then please let me know.

Scan copy

© Searcher – click to enlarge

The late Old Yellowbelly in a Searcher article of 2008 stated – with tongue in cheek I reckon – that he didn’t often ‘take on’ something that has baffled the FLOs as he had implicit faith that “they, despite youth and inexperience do a good job.”

When he was shown the item opposite, which had been through the system and and remained unidentified, he challenged readers to solve the riddle as to what the ‘thing’ actually was. He said, “Think early hypodermic needle for animals or a metal pen.” At a length of about 9 cm it was a large nib! He had a lot of feedback from experienced detectorists with a correct identification.

In an earlier edition of the same magazine when looking at a similar item, the spokesman for the ID and Valuation Desk said:

… obviously the nib from a pen and looks to be rather old. The lug on the underside probably had a chain or something similar added to it, so no one could run off with the pen … if any readers have knowledge of old writing instruments, then we’d be pleased to hear from them.

Untitled 2

Andrew Young © Searcher – click to enlarge

Two months later he was informed by a reader that the find had nothing to do with writing, but was actually part of a pistol, musket or rifle. It fitted into the wooden stock under the barrel and supported the end of the ramrod. A pin passed through the pierced lug (there was sometimes two) and held it in position. The reader also sent a drawing showing the position where the ramrod support was fixed.

GpSnoopy, an administrator on the CMD forum has done some extra research and found a video showing the loading of a musket, using a ramrod. Thanks for that!

Scottish detectorist Rodger Shearer sent me pictures of a ram rod holder he had found, but initially didn’t know what it was until ‘Dusty’, a member of the Rogers Relics detecting forum, informed him.


© Rodger Shearer – Ram Rod Holder – Approximately 9 cm long – click to enlarge

A ramrod is a metal or wooden device used with early firearms to push the projectile up against the propellant (mainly gunpowder). It is also commonly referred to as a “scouring stick”. The ramrod was used with muzzle-loading weapons such as muskets and cannons, and was usually held in a notch underneath the barrel.

Bullets that did not fit snugly in the barrel were often secured in place by a wad of paper, but either way, ramming was necessary to place the bullet securely at the rear of the barrel. Ramming was also needed to tamp the powder so that it would explode properly instead of fizzle (this was a leading cause of misfires).

The ramrod could also be fitted with tools for various tasks such as cleaning the weapon, or retrieving a stuck bullet.  Wikipedia

Even the tiniest objects, seen in the proper context, can tell you a lot. Those kind people at International Military Antiques have allowed me to show pictures of the holder in situ.

Ramrod Fixing

© IMA-USA – Click to enlarge

SEEN on a DETECTING FORUM: “Is this an old writing pen? I’ve Googled it and still can’t work out what it does?? Can anyone help me/explain where it went, what it does?”



Originally posted in 2012. Now updated with new material.


I had forgotten in the resurrection of this blog that DASZIP of the Australian MD Forum had found a ramrod holder at a whaling site. He said at the time that it looked like a spare tip, but something ‘inside’ told him that it wasn’t! I thank him for allowing me to share his ramrod holder.




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12 responses to Giant Pen Nib or Ramrod Holder?

  1. interesting John. obviously here in the midlands most pistols came from Brum so were well made cause I haven’t found one yet

  2. Great to learn something new. Thanks John!

  3. Was that clip shown without a musket ball being fired ,like the way the implement shown was fitted into the stock ..

  4. Well done John another enlightening article, we are still not too old to learn something fresh it keeps the old grey matter ticking.

  5. As someone who used muzzle loaders for many years, these were known as ramrod “pipes”. The large specimen mentioned probably came off a large bore, long barreled weapon known as a “bank gun”. My last gun was a Wildfowler of 8 bore with a 42 inch barrel and I could easily see a ” pipe ” of 4 inches or more on it.

  6. I’ve found a trigger guard John, but no ram rod holder, but I now know what to look out for, thank you

  7. Good piece of information here John liked the video and a nice Image from Rodger, thanks to all who supplied the info.

  8. A very interesting article John! I have got one of them somewhere and now I will be able to put a functional purpose to it. Before I was only guessing as to what it may have been!

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