Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Model 1851 Sharps, was the first of the “slant breech”. It was based upon Sharps’ patent and a model he had produced and submitted to his production partners at Robbins & Lawrence.

However, it was the modifications to the design added by Richard S. Lawrence and William Jones that resulted in the very unique M-1851 design.
Rather than the sliding breech block engaging the breech face of the barrel at a 90-degree angle, perpendicular to it, they inclined the breech 22 degrees to the rear, resulting in an operating angle of 112-degrees. This inclined plane is clearly evident from the exterior of the gun, as the breechblock is obviously canted to the rear. The M-1851 series of gun utilized the Maynard Priming system and had a unique “box lock” mechanism, with the hammer inside the lock plate, rather than outside the lock. This allowed the bottom portion of the hammer to serve as the tumbler upon which the hammer operated, rather than having a separate tumbler inside the lock that connected to the hammer outside the lock.

The M-1851 was produced from November 1 of 1852 through April 1 of 1855 and based upon factory serial number records a total of about 2,050 M-1851 were produced. Only 193 were sporting rifles and the balance were carbines. Of the carbines, 150 were delivered on a US Army contract for use by the U.S. Dragoons in Texas and New Mexico. Another 60 were delivered on a Navy contract. They were produced with the typical 21” round carbine barrels. Most were mounted with some variant of a sling bar for mounted carry. Both carbines and sporting rifle variations were produced in .38, .43 and .52 calibers.

Standard Carbine

Sporting Carbine

The sporting carbines and rifles were offered with either round or octagon barrels in lengths ranging from 18” to 34”, with 27” being the “standard” and most commonly encountered length. All were brass mounted with brass patchboxes and buttplates standard and brass barrel bands on most carbines. ( a limited few were produced without patchboxes) 

The rifles typically had pewter forend caps, but some were made without them as well. The standard sights were a fixed front and folding “squirrel tail” shaped rear mounted on the barrels of both rifles and carbines. On the carbine a fixed brass blade was the standard front sight and a fixed globe front sight was standard on the rifles. An additional folding long-range sight was typically mounted on the receiver tang of the rifles as well. 
Of course special order sights were available for the sporting arms, and both sporting rifles and carbines were available with factory embellishments like high grade wood, standard engraving, “extra” engraving, etc. 

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I have to believe that the Hopkins & Allen “XL No 8” single action revolvers were the era’s most overlooked handguns. However, it did make them ‘high on the list’ for revolver collectors.

In 1867 the Hopkins & Allen Manufacturing Company was established when brothers Charles and Samuel Hopkins, along with Charles Allen purchased the faltering Bacon Manufacturing Company. Hopkins had previously worked as a gunsmith at other area firearms manufacturing companies and it appears that he was the company’s leading designer. Charles Hopkins had already been granted firearms patents. In all, some 17 patents would be held by Hopkins & Allen and associates during the company’s lifetime.

The minds at Hopkins & Allen were particularly savvy about the firearms business, and in addition to being mechanically minded and capable of turning out high quality arms, they also realized that their manufacturing capabilities allowed them to produce guns for other companies that had a design they wanted to offer for sale, but did not have the manufacturing facilities to produce them. During the latter part of the 19th century, Hopkins & Allen manufacture firearms for a number of well-known gun companies, most notably Merwin, Hulbert & Company, and the Evans Repeating Rifle Company.

Hopkins & Allen also produced a wide array of pocket “suicide special” firearms under various tradenames for retailers. More than three-dozen trade names can be associated with Hopkins & Allen. 

Around 1877, Hopkins & Allen introduced their “XL No 8” line of large frame, single action revolvers to compete with Colt and Smith & Wesson, the two major American handgun manufacturers of the period. It is believed that a total of 2,700 of the large framed XL No 8 revolvers of all models were produced by Hopkins & Allen between 1877 and 1885.
The line of handguns included the XL Army in .44 caliber, both rimfire & WCF, XL Navy and Police both in .38 caliber rimfire. All were six shot and various barrel lengths were available.

They had solid robust frames that had a spring loaded ejector rod that was located under the barrel. When the catch on the left side of the frame was depressed, the rod could be withdrawn from the center of the cylinder arbor and then automatically moved into position to eject cartridges from the cylinder, through the loading gated on the right side of the frame.

It is puzzling that these revolvers were not designed with swing out cylinders considering that Hopkins’ name was already on two patents for swing out cylinders as early as 1862.

The silhouette of the XL No 8 revolvers was very similar to that of the 3rd Model Merwin, Hulbert and could easily be mistaken for the Merwin or vice versa. The XL also utilized the same style of sliding loading gate as found on the Merwin, Hulbert & Company products, which no doubt added to the confusion.

3rd Model Merwin Hulbert

The XL No 8 was certainly Hopkins & Allen’s top of the line revolver and the closest they ever came to producing a martial handgun, but it is likely that their reputation for producing inexpensive “suicide special” handguns undermined their ability to successfully market the XL No 8 series.

Looks like the gent on the left has a H&A

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

One of the least known, but quite interesting, post Civil War rifles is the Remington-Keene.

The rifle was the invention of New Jersey arms designer John W Keene. Keene had been working on his bolt-action repeating rifle since the early 1870s and eventually received nine separate patents pertaining to the design.

Keene's rifle came to the attention of the Remington Arms Company. Remington was seeking a bolt-action repeater that might be acceptable to an U.S. Ordnance Department trial that was to be convened in 1878.
An agreement between Keene and Remington was reached for the company to fabricate several prototype Keene rifles for submission to the Board. 

The rifle operated in more or less in the typical bolt action fashion. The action was unlocked by raising the bolt upward, and the empty case was extracted and ejected by pulling the bolt to the rear. As the bolt was almost fully retracted, the "magazine elevator" (as it was called by the inventor) raised a fresh cartridge from the tubular magazine into position in the breech so it could be chambered when the bolt was pushed forward. Manipulation of the bolt also automatically cocked the cocking piece, which was fashioned in the shape of an external hammer. It could be lowered to "half cock" to function as, a safety. As with most of the other bolt-action military repeating rifles of the time the Keene was fitted with a magazine cut-off to permit it to function as a single­ shot, with the contents of the magazine held in reserve for "emergency" use.
The magazine tube is loaded through a loading gate in the bottom of the receiver in front of the trigger guard similar to many modern slide action shotguns.

Carbine Model

Although the "Remington-Keene," as it came to be known, was rejected by the 1878 Ordnance Board, the rifle performed well enough to justify the faith that Remington had in the design. The Remington-Keene was subsequently produced the in several configurations for the civilian market, chambered for .45-70, .60-40, and .43 Spanish. Remington manufactured the rifle from 1880 - 1885 with only around 5,000 rifles produced. 

Standard Sporter

Deluxe Sporter

The United States Department of the Interior purchased an estimated 600 Frontier Model carbines with 24 inch barrels to arm the Indian Police on a number of reservations in the western United States.

Frontier Model

In 1880 the US Government did purchase a few rifles. The US. Naval Bureau of Ordnance, ordered 250 trial Remington-Keene "Navy" rifles. This variant weighed approximately 9 lbs. and was about 48" in length with a 29¼" barrel secured by two bands. The magazine held nine .45-70-405 cartridges. These rifles remained in service for less than a decade aboard USS Trenton and USS Michigan. 

Navy Model

The cost of the new machinery for the Keene rifles in return for the slow sales, helped push Remington into bankruptcy and when the company went into receivership in 1886, production ended on these guns for good. When they started back up in 1887, they did so with their Rolling Block Remington No. 1 rifles.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

One of the lessor seen Springfields, the M-1847 Sappers & Miners (Engineers) Musketoon.

In early 1847 the US Board of Ordnance met to evaluate three new patterns of “musketoons” that had been produced at the Springfield Arsenal during 1846. These three pattern guns would be adopted and approved by the Ordnance Department as the US M-1847 Sappers & Miners (Engineers) Musketoon, the US M-1847 Artillery Musketoon and the US M-1847 Cavalry Carbine.

All major features were nearly identical, a nominally 26” long, round, smoothbore barrel of .69 caliber, secured to the stock with a pair of barrel bands, the locks being smaller versions of the US M-1842 percussion lock.The primary differences lay in the furniture, carrying systems, rammer systems and type of bayonet mounting systems (if any) that were used on the guns.

While the family of US M-1847 “musketoons” originally contained only three models, within a decade no less than 10 different variants existed, due to modifications, design improvements, and refitting of some guns for other service.

The carbines went into production in 1847, with 200 US M-1847 Sappers & Miners Musketoons being being completed and accepted into stores during that calendar year. Production of the three models ended in 1856. During the production run a total of 1,030 Sappers & Miners Musketoons were made.

The most identifying feature of the Sappers Musketoon was it’s massive 2-section bayonet lug that allowed a large saber bayonet to be mounted on gun. The bayonet had an overall length of about 26 ¾” with a 22” double-edged gladius style blade and a 5 ¾” brass hilt with a fish scale pattern cast into the grip.

The Sappers musketoon remained in general service until it was replaced by the US M-1855 Rifle, which was available in sufficient quantities for issue to the Corps of Engineers during the latter portion of 1858.
During the final years of their service, a few Sappers Musketoons were altered to artillery musketoons (or “cadet musketoons”), and were issued to the various states under the Militia Act of 1808 for use by military school cadets. 
However, I found it noted, "802 unaltered examples remained in military stores until officially deemed obsolete".
With war looming it is rather unlikely that any arms in arsenal inventory were “deemed obsolete”. Did any of these see service in the American Civil War, I have not found any documentation saying yea or nay.

It is easy to understand why original configuration US M-1847 Sappers & Miners Musketoons are a “want to have” by Springfield collectors. 

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Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Rigdon, Ansley & Company Revolver

When the Leech & Rigdon partnership dissolved in December of 1863, Charles Rigdon moved to Augusta, Georgia. Here he formed a new company with Jesse A. Ansley, Andrew J. Smith, and Charles R. Keen under the new name Rigdon, Ansley & Company. New production revolvers begin at about serial number 1500 with the highest serial number known in the 2400 range.

Some historians feel they were basically the same revolvers, with 6 stops, as those produced by Leech & Rigdon and that 12 stop cylinders came later in production "at the request for some sort of safety system, by Confederate Ordnance". 
Speculation on my part; it does sound reasonable that some of the first revolvers could have had leftover Leech & Rigdon parts.

Others feel there were three major changes made in the beginning. The cylinder changed to 12 cylinder stops, the loading lever changed to a Colt Navy type latch, and the face of the recoil shield now had a cap release groove. They feel that these changes are important identifying features of the real Rigdon and Ansley. 

The Rigdon, Ansley just like the Leech & Rigdon revolver fall in that same category of being some of the most counterfeited revolvers ever made. 


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