Sunday, October 14, 2018

Westley Richards Monkeytail Match Rifle

Very few names in English gunmaking are associated with the level of quality, craftsmanship and innovation as that of Westley Richards.
Author and firearms researcher DeWitt Bailey may have said it best of Westley Richards when he noted: “The Westley Richards firm certainly enjoyed the highest reputation of any Birmingham maker with the ‘sporting gentry’, and were the only Birmingham manufacturers to seriously compete with the ‘Best London’ makers in the field of sporting guns and rifles.”

Richards patent #633 (March 25, 1858) for a breech loading percussion rifle design, was probably the most important. This patent covered his famous“Monkey-Tail” breechloading system. This simple and elegant design allowed the advantages of a breechloading rifle to be applied to traditional muzzle loading, cap lock designs. The system received its nickname from the shape of the breech lever, which resembled a monkey’s tail when the breech was opened for loading. The locking system utilized a sliding plunger that was actuated by the pressure of the cartridge being fired, moving backwards and locking the breech so it could not open until the pressure subsided. As a double safety, the hammer was machined in such a way that the breech could only be opened when the hammer nose was resting on the cone (nipple). Placing the gun on half-cock or full-cock prevented the action from being opened unintentionally. 
Richards was also innovative in advancing the science of rifling, and appears to have developed the concept of polygonal rifling simultaneously with (or possibly just prior to) Joseph Whitworth. As Whitworth had no facilities to manufacture arms during his early days (prior to the establishment of the Whitworth Rifle Company), he relied upon Richards to produce his early guns.

The most prized of the Westley Richards “Monkey Tails” were his Military Match and Prize Rifles. Richards produced 1,500 of these extremely well made and accurate rifles between 1858 and 1869. They were manufactured with both 36” and 39” barrels, with the 39” gun being produced in very limited quantities. These “Match & Prize Rifles” were the guns that consistently won the breechloading rifle competitions at Wimbledon from their inception until the 1886 rule change that required breechloading rifles to utilized “fixed” or internally primed ammunition, which eliminated the percussion guns from completion. 
Of these highly prized and desirable guns (numbered individually from 1 to 1500), less than 50 are known to have survived to today. Most of the above research regarding the “monkey tail” is derived from the work of Robbie Betteridge, from a paper he delivered to Great Britain’s Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association.


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Shawk & McLanahan Navy Revolver

This revolver’s history varies from one arms historian/collector to another. It has little, if any, real documentation. Collectors argue the who, what and where about these revolvers and even suggest that some of these revolvers may have seen Civil War duty, although that is not documented. Any revolver made in the late 1850’s era would likely have seen service in the war. 

The following information has been gleamed from bits and pieces of several sources and I’ll pass it along as hearsay.
Regardless of who knows what, the Shawk & McLanahan revolver has to be considered one of the rarest American percussion revolvers made.

The Shawk & McLanahan shop was located in Carondelet, on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri in the late 1850s. It is thought that Abel Shawk and J.K. Mc Lanahan financed the operation and Charles Rigdon provided the engineering and the majority of the machinery. (Rigdon of later Leech & Ridgon Co.)
The first few revolvers were basically handmade by a German immigrant gunsmith named William Tegethoff and so marked with his name. (Tegethoff is said to have been previously employed by Samuel Hawken) The later revolvers bare the Shawk & McLanahan name. 

Estimates of how many of these revolvers were produced run from 9 to 100.
The company suddenly went out of business about the time the Civil War erupted, the sudden dissolution appears to have been owed to the divided North/South loyalties of the three pardners.

As you can see, by the following pictures, there were two known variations of this brass frame revolver. Both of which bare slight resemblance to the Whitney and Spiller & Burr revolvers. They had 7-1/2” to 8” barrels and were .36 caliber.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Lucius Pond Revolvers

Lucius W. Pond of Worcester, Massachusetts, began making the Belt Revolver in around 1861, at a time when America was fighting itself in the American Civil War. 

For a year or so, Pond was able to produce a number of .32 and .44 rimfire Belt revolvers, in partial accordance with a patent issued to Abram Gibson on the 10th July 1860. In 1862, however, Smith & Wesson made a challenge to the Belt revolver's production.
Smith & Wesson's challenge centered on a patent issued for their 'Rollin White' patent, issued in 1855.The court ruled in favor of Smith & Wesson, however Pond (alongside Bacon, Moore and Warner whom were also found infringing that patent).
Pond was able to continue producing the Belt Revolver, under the clause of the contract which stated that the Belt Revolvers that were 'in the course of production' could be completed. This allowed Pond to continue production of the Belt Revolver with a final run of 4,486 Belt Revolvers. Those revolvers were marked as the court demanded, "Manuf'd for Smith & Wesson Pat'd April 5, 1855" (as well as a payment of royalties to Smith & Wesson).

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Following the Civil War, the federal government was experimenting with adopting some form of breech loading rifle based on the experiences of the war.

Erskine Allin was the master armorer at Springfield, and he developed this conversion design based on utilizing the 1863 percussion rifles left over from the Civil War.

The conversion was designed to take advantage of the sizable quantity of muzzle loading Model 1863 Springfields that were stockpiled following the Civil War. The overall design and philosophy of the conversion (remove a section of the breech, mill a chamber into the barrel, install a hinged breech block) remained consistent through all produced versions of Allin's system.

The first models (left and above) retained the 58 caliber bore, a mechanically ingenious spring loaded extractor/ejector assembly; opening the breech extends a cam-driven extractor, while retracting an ejector pin mounted in the bottom of the cutout, and when the breech is fully opened the extractor snaps back and the pin strikes the extracted cartridge, ejecting it from the weapon.

The second model, 1865 (below), had a simplified and improved extractor and the barrels being relined and rifled to .50 caliber and chambered for the powerful centerfire .50-70 Government cartridge.

The conversions were significant and key to martial rifle development as it ushered in the trapdoor rifle series and actually brought the US military solidly into the breech loading era. 

Both conversions amounted to approximately 25,000 Springfield Model 1863 rifled muskets that were converted by Springfield Armory for use by U.S. troops.

Wm. Cody with a 2nd Model in his lap

Friday, August 17, 2018

U.S. Springfield M-1875 Type III Officer's Rifle

An an original, U.S. Springfield Armory Model 1875 Type III, "Officer's Model" trapdoor Rifle. 

This series of rifle was manufactured circa 1877 to 1885 and were considered as a true badge of rank and distinction held only by U.S. Calvary Officer's. These were a private purchase weapon, procured directly from Springfield Armory on a special order basis only. 

There were three different types of "Officer's Model" rifles with a total of 477 Officer's Models made for all three types; with only 125 Type III Models made. 

The receiver, breechblock, lock plate, hammer, barrel tang, and barrel band were all highly embellished with a decorative fine scroll engraving and it was fitted with a hand selected American walnut stock. They all have a blued barrel/receiver with color casehardened breech block, lock and hammer assembly, trigger guard/trigger plate and buttplate.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Springfield Model 1869 Pistol

This is one of those firearms with a lot of speculation and little firm documentation that I can find. For sure they came from the Springfield Armory around 1869 but from there you will have to draw your own conclusions. The following are some excerpts I have run across.

"Right after the Civil War Springfield Armory made eight (8) single shot 50/70 trapdoor pistols for US Cavalry officers for use in the Indian Wars. These guns were originally cavalry carbines that the factory modified the stocks, barrel, sights, etc and turned them into pistols.”

“Brainchild of Commanding General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman 1869”.

From James Julia Auctions;
“EXTREMELY RARE MODEL 1869 SPRINGFIELD BREECH LOADING PISTOL. Cal. 50-70. Extraordinarily rare with less than 50 having been produced at Springfield Armory in 1869. These pistols were produced at the direction of the Ordnance Board to develop a large war pistol for the Cavalry. Springfield Armory built these pistols on Model 1868 Trapdoor actions with 9″ tapered rnd bbls and barleycorn shaped front sights. They utilized standard breech blocks which were stamped with a small “69” and standard “1863” dated lockplates & hammers. A standard 2-pc carbine trigger guard was utilized with a bent tang and brass butt cap with integral brass back strap. The sgl bbl band is secured with a bottom mounted spring keeper. Pistol is mounted in a nicely figured 1-pc walnut stock with curved smooth grip and raised side panels. This exact pistol, identified by SN is pictured as the bottom plate on p. 257 of The Wm. M. Locke Collection book”. 

From the Springfield museum

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Winchester Model 1866 Infantry Rifle

The iconic Winchester Model 1866 went into production in 1867 and over the next 30+ years some 160,000 M-1866s would be produced, in rifle, carbine and musket variants. While most images of the M-1866 center on the American “Old West”, and involve the saddle ring carbine or the rifle, the musket was an important part of the Winchester product line because Oliver Winchester was always hoping to secure military contracts for his arms.

Winchester actually termed these Model 1866s as "Infantry Rifles" because the term "Musket" evoked visions of the unwieldy long barrel, large bore rifles that were produced during the Civil War era.

Even though the musket variant of the M-1866 did not go into production until late 1869 or early 1870, in the series known to collectors as “Third Model” 1866s, they had a major influence on military rifle design, especially in Europe. A large number of M-1866 muskets and a smaller number of carbines were acquired by the Turkish military and used to great effect during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, where their rapid-fire capability decimated the Russian forces during the Siege of Plevna. Although the Turks eventually lost the war, the firepower of the repeating Winchester resulted in many European countries developing tubular magazine fed repeating rifles.

The military musket had a 27” round barrel, with the 24” magazine tube allowing the rifle to have a full 17 round capacity.

It had 3 barrel bands, sling swivels and could mount either a socket bayonet (standard) or a saber bayonet, 1,000 or less, were equipped to accept a saber bayonet. Today 1866 muskets that are equipped for the saber bayonet are highly sought after by Winchester collectors.

Most estimates place the production of 1866 Muskets at somewhere around 14,000 units.

A limited number of the rifles were nickle plated, possibility for naval use?