Oct 23, 2009

A bit of history...

Anyone else ever have a non-gun friend who gets hold of you and says, "I've got this old gun..."?

Just happened to me. A few weeks ago someone mentioned over dinner that they had inherited most of grand-dad's guns and didn't know what they really had or if they were even loaded. (!) I made it over to their place last night.

I expected one or two old guns, maybe a muzzleloader and an old JC Higgins bolt-shotgun or something. BZZZZZT! WRONG.

Friend started bringing down guns and laying them on the kitchen table. Two at a time... until the table was nicely covered with long guns, without being crowded. A couple I was able to identify easily, but we just went down the row in the order they were out.

- a breech-loading black powder gun - the bore was so clogged with cobwebs and dust that I couldn't tell if it was rifled or not. Expecting not.

- a double-barrel ... thing. One bore was approximately 16- or 20-gauge, the other was rifled and looked like maybe .45cal or so. However, the action didn't resemble anything I was familiar with for blackpowder. Not centerfire, not percussion or flint. External hammers with a tiny notch under the hammer extending into the chamber. Simple but very well-done engraving. Lever to open the action was under the forearm instead of the more traditional place on the wrist.

- a single-shot marked ".410-.44cal". Nice gun, friend thought her grandfather may have carried that as his trail gun (long story).

- several muzzleloaders of various designs. Some were older than others, all were percussion cap, and condition varied widely. One may have been loaded, I dripped oil through the nipple and poured WD-40 down the bore and tried a ball puller. No joy. I marked it and suggested they have someone with more appropriate tools look at it.

- a Ruger 10/22 in "needs some TLC" condition. Light rust pitting, action was sticky, but it can be cleaned up and saved easily.

- an Ithaca 37 Deerslayer, same condition as the 10/22. I about had a heart attack with this one. As is my custom (and that of most other safety-conscious gun owners) I worked the action when I picked it up. And a slug came flying out. So I racked it again. And another came out. And a third time for a third one. That was all. My pulse topped 200. I'd love to know what my face looked like when that shell came flying out.

Then ... the "paperweights". A small firesafe appeared, and it contained:
- a blue-anodized Star .25acp
- a Ruger Single-Six in near-mint condition
- a Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless, .25acp

And last but not least ...

... a Volcanic Volition Repeater.

For those not familiar, either open the last copy of "American Rifleman" magazine and read the article about top ten pistols in history, or open the Standard Catalog of Smith and Wesson (3rd Edition) to page 60. This is one of the earliest repeating pistols designed. It was a tubular-magazine-fed, lever-action pistol. The middle finger was placed through a loop below the trigger, and that was the lever. Just flick the finger back and forth.

S&W had trouble with the pistols and the rights eventually made their way to Winchester... who spun off the Volcanic Arms Company.

This one appears to be in excellent condition for the age, mild pitting on both sides of the steel, but the brass frame is nicely engraved and in fantastic shape. Bore is likely .30-.32ish. Without knowing how the action really works, I think this one may have a broken hammer spring, as the hammer moved freely independent of the lever. Regardless, this piece likely pre-dates the Colt Single Action Army (1873) and is of tremendous value to a collector. (Tam, are you drooling yet?)

I suggested they contact the local authorities in order to make their possession of these (functional) paperweights legal, get all the muzzleloaders and the Volcanic appraised by a competent authority, and then decide what to do.

Friend said they should give me something for my time and effort - I asked only for first refusal on the Single Six and the Colt 1903 if they should decide to sell them.

Apparently there may be more in another family member's house; I will be checking into those when possible.

This is a case where no sum of money could replace the excitement at holding and examining these firearms. Ever watch "Antiques Roadshow"? Know how the experts say things like, "I'm so excited you could bring these in..."? ... Well, now I really understand that. These were a THRILL to look at.

Friend was glad to have a somewhat experienced eye look things over; apparently someone had offered their father, "A hundred bucks for the whole pile, they're all rusty." When I suggested the Single Six was probably 2-300 and the Colt 5-800, the Ithaca another 3-400 ... well, friend was surprised.

I also strongly suggested they contact their insurance agency and put a rider on their homeowner's policy, since most policies limit firearms coverage to $500 or $1000 - total, not per firearm. (Good advice for all of us who own more than one gun!)


elmo_iscariot said...

Not centerfire, not percussion or flint. External hammers with a tiny notch under the hammer extending into the chamber.


And fantastic story. I might've payed _them_ for the chance to handle a Volcanic.

elmo_iscariot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Borepatch said...


Man, that's cool.

ZerCool said...

Elmo, you nailed it. That double-barrel is pinfire. I had misunderstood how a pinfire action was set up.


Tam said...


Yeah, I'd've been happy to be there just to oogle.

IIRC, Volcanics bring less than Smiths, but even a mediocre one will fetch what a decent used car will.