The French Lebel Model 1886 rifle, or officially “Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886” was the first rifle designed to use smokeless gunpowder.

The Lebel was the standard bolt action rifle of the French army from 1886 until 1916; it incorporated many advanced features for its day, except for its magazine. The first smokeless gunpowder, “Poudre B”, was invented in France in 1886 and the government swiftly developed the new rifle to exploit its huge advantages. The committee which oversaw the rifle's development was headed by Colonel Nicolas Lebel, after whom it was unofficially named.

The use of smokeless powder resulted in a more powerful cartridge overall, giving much more accuracy at longer ranges

When it first appeared, the Lebel's longer range and lighter ammunition was a sensation. Not only would a soldier equipped with it easily outrange troops who had black powder rifles, but he could carry more of the smaller caliber ammunition because it weighed less and his view would not be obscured by the smoke generated by black powder.

Many thanks to Willem J. for these details.

Handkerchief of instruction Lebel 1886

French WW1 1886 LEBEL rifle instruction handkerchief.

About 30 inch wide. Unit marked. Issued to the French soldiers along with their 1886 Lebel rifles.