I’ve been spending the last few weeks researching my grandfather’s rifle collection, and I figured that I might as well share the fruits of my labor here, for those interested in history/firearms/collecting things. My grandfather, whom I never knew except as a wee babe before he had a sudden heart attack due to all the fried chicken he ate, was into the whole Wild West thing (my older sisters recall his house—which is now my parents’—adorned with pictures of cattle and the like), and he loved to target shoot, and was a card-carrying member of the NRA. I even have his sharpshooting medals. He certainly knew his guns, and amassed himself a handsome little collection of rifles, extending from the late 1800’s to WWII. 2 of the guns are considered ‘antiques’ (pre-1899, which means that I could UPS them straight to your front door step without any legal issues (kind of scary)), and the rest are WWI-WWII era, which makes them ‘Curio & Relic‘ guns (C&R). He obtained 4 of them through the NRA (I know this because I have his original receipts), and the rest who knows—maybe from when he was a Coast Guard or something.
In any case, I’ve been doing a fair amount of research on them these past few weeks, which have included: 1) an on-line appraisal to get some idea of what I was looking at, as I didn’t even know the first thing about guns or their worth; 2) a trip to a local gun show to talk to dealers and corroborate their info with what I knew from the general appraisal; 3) going downtown to the central library to sift through a Flayderman’s guide on antique guns; 4) scanning through my grandfather’s book on rifles that I had at home, as well as another book on bolt-action rifles I picked up at my local library; and 5) extensive internet googling and wading through the on-line threads of other people’s queries, historical information pages, gun auctions, and other various catalogs, cross-references, and resources that could be plundered for free.
In the process—which has actually been somewhat thrilling in a nerdy sleuthing kind of way—I’ve learned a bit about the history of each gun, as well as learned that almost every little mark somewhere on the gun has some kind of significance which can lead you to more information. Now let’s begin:
1) Remington Rolling Block Military Argentine Contract Rifle
Details: 3 bands; full-stocked; .43 Spanish caliber; Patent dates May 30, 1864; May 7th June 14th Nov 12th Dec 24th, 1872; Dec 31st 1872; Sep 9th Jan 12th March ? 187?; U” on barrel; “R” on stock; no other discernible markings. Over 1 million made.
History of the Rolling Block Rifle: The Remington Rolling Block was one of the most successful single shot weapons yet developed. The “rolling block” refers to the system of a rolling breech block on a pivot backed up by the hammer for centerfire cartridges. According to Wikipedia, the first rifle based on this design was introduced at the Paris Exposition in 1867, and within a year it had become the standard military rifle of several nations. This rifle is also well known for being the rifle that drove the American Bison to extinction in the 1870s-80s.
According to Guns Magazine, July 2005, the rolling block was “universally popular in military circles” because of its “simplicity. The rolling block is a deceptively simple and ragged action with few moving parts and an operation that is self-evident. Any untutored conscript could be taught the manual-of-arms with a rolling block in quick time. One merely cocks the hammer, rolls back the breechblock, inserts a cartridge in the chamber, closes the breechblock and pulls the trigger. In function, the hammer not only strikes the firing pin but progressively cams under the breechblock, locking it firmly in place at the moment of discharge.”
2) U.S. Springfield Trapdoor Model 1873, 3rd model
Details: Serial #: 216xxx; 45-70 caliber; 2 barrel bands. Model 1879 rear sight. Tulip-head ramrod introduced in 1882. Year of manufacture 1883. “U” on barrel bands; VP(graphic of eagle head)P (barrel proof marking) and “R” on barrel; 1882 stamped on stock, with “SWP” in cursive; SWP refers to Master Mechanic Samuel W. Porter who inspected the rifle at Springfield in 1882. (For a picture of Sam W. Porter, scroll down on this page at the Springfield Armory Historic site; he’s the dude in front in the black suit). 73,000 total of all types made.
History of Springfield Model 1873: This is a famous “Indian War”-era rifle, the first breech-loader used in standard military service. It is nicknamed the “Trapdoor” due to the flip-up breech-loading feature, which was first utilized on the Model 1866 to convert the slew of percussion rifles (muzzle-loaders) left over from the Civil War. The Trapdoors were used frequently by the Army against the Native Americans, and vice versa (Sitting Bull and Geronimo were both captured with their Trapdoors in hand). The Trapdoor was also used in the Spanish-American War. Manufacture of all models was terminated in 1893.
Details: Serial #: 642xxx; .22 caliber; 12-grooved pump forearm; “B” on barrel, as well as “P” with circle around it. Manufactured in 1924; 13,562 were produced in that year alone.
History of the Winchester Model 1906: The 1906 (introduced in 1906, of course) was essentially a modification of the most popular pump action Winchester made, the Model 1890, which was mostly used in target shooting. The 1906 was made to be sold at a lower price and available to wider audiences. The 1906 was also very popular, and 731,862 were made until it was discontinued in 1934 to make way for the Model 62.
There were three versions of the 1906: the first model, the .22 short, only accepted short bullets; the second model, the Standard version, was able to shoot short, long, and long-rifle bullets; and the third model, the Expert version, had a better stock and metal. My grandfather’s is a blued-frame version of the Standard.
4) U.S. Springfield model 1903 bolt action rifle
Details: Serial #: 1404xxx; 30-06 caliber. Year of manufacture 1932. Star-gauged barrel. Stock is stamped as a rebuild by Rock Island Arsenal, RIA over FK, inspected by Frank Krack, 1920-1930. Barrel stamped SA (Springfield Armory), with cartouche, followed by 10-30 (October 1930).
I have my grandfather’s original receipt for this gun. Purchased on Jan 13th, 1949 from the San Antonio General Depot for $15.00 + 2.85 S/H.
Signs point to this being a National Match 1903, which greatly increases it’s value, as only 11,000 of these were made and are superior target shooting rifles. However, there were also an unknown number of guns re-manufactured with star-gauged barrels for NRA members. Because of the rebuild stamp from Rock Arsenal, it probably points to the latter.
History of the Springfield Model 1903: According to Philip B. Sharpe in The Rifle in America, this is “one of the finest rifles ever designed and constructed.” This model was officially adopted as a service rifle in 1903, until its replacement in 1936 by the M1 Garand. It was used in both WWI and WWII, and is still utilized even today by drill teams and color guards, due to its superb balance. The 1903 is seen as the successor to the popular “Krag” rifle–the Krag-Jorgensen–which was an invention of two Norwegians.
Each year between 1920-1940, Springfield Armory would make a small quantity of specially selected 1903 rifles for National Match target shooting. These were distinguished only by their “star-gauged” barrels (meaning that they underwent testing to ensure uniformity, and were stamped to display that they passed the test), and the fact that they were selected for superior bolt and receiver quality, with the receiver and bolts made of either double heat-treated carbon steel or nickel steel.
5): Eddystone 1917 bolt action Enfield rifle
Details: Serial #: 376xxx ; Year of manufacture 1918. Barrel: JA (Johnson Automatics) with graphic. Sporterized with Fajen stock.
I have the original receipt. My grandfather purchased this on Sep 11, 1947 from the Red River Ordnance Depot in Texarkana, Texas for $7.50 +1.85 S/H.
History of the Model 1917: The “Enfield” rifle was originally contracted for British use by manufacturers Remington, Winchester, and Eddystone when Britain entered the war in 1914. The Brits then canceled their contract in 1917, as they had enough production ability by then on their own turf. When the US entered the WWI in 1917, the government enlisted these three large manufacturers for help, as they were already equipped for rifle-making. They had to re-design the Model 1914 used for the British to accommodate the .30/06 Springfield cartridge, as well as standardize all the parts for interchangeability and assembly speed. This new design was the Model 1917.
Enfields were made available to members of the NRA in the late 40s through the Director of Civilian Marksmanship for less then ½ the cost of a brand-new gun. I guess my grandpa took advantage of that deal–he bought one for $7.50 in 1947!
6) Remington model 03-A3 bolt action rifle
Details: Serial #: 3881xxx; Year of manufacture 1942; 30-06 caliber. On the stock: “P” with circle around it; RA, FJA with square around it. Remington Arms (RA) followed by the ordnance escutcheon and the inspector’s stamp (“FJA”), presiding inspector Lt. Col. Frank J. Atwood. Most likely a government rebuild from various parts. On the underside of the stock: 14, 22, 69 all with circles around them, and 33 with triangle around it.
I have the original receipt. My grandfather purchased this on Jan. 27th, 1958 from the Anniston Ordnance Depot in Anniston, Alabama for $15.00 + 4.50 S/H.
History of the Remington 03-A3: During World War II, the US suddenly discovered that all of its war reserves of rifles was pretty much kaput, as the government had charitably donated most of their stock of 1917s and 1903s to Britain after the Battle of Dunkirk. As rifles were desperately needed, the Model 1903 was resurrected, as all of the tools necessary to make it were in storage at the Rock Island Arsenal. The machinery was shipped to the Remington Arms Co. in Ilion, and they began re-making the basic design of the Springfield 1903, except this time with a few modifications. They made three different versions: the A1 Modifed, the A3, and the A4 sniper rifle. The “A” refers to “Alternate.” The most notable modifications for the A3 was the new rear sight, as well as the fact that since 03-A3s were needed in vast quantities—and quickly–they were modified for mass production, and thus were slightly less superior than the original 1903.
7) Ranger .22 bolt action target rifle
Details: .22 Caliber LR. Has target sights and front sight hood. No other identifying information marked on it. Judging solely by its appearance, it seems like a Savage Model 19 Target Rifle, given that “later production [was] equipped with extension rear sight and hooded front sight” (Gun Trader’s Guide, 9th Edition). These were made from 1933-1946.
History of the Ranger .22: The Ranger was a Sears Roebuck brandname made by various manufacturers. I looked up all the Sears models that I could find, and none seemed to quite match up with the version I had. In any case, this is a quality target rifle, and I’m quite certain that it was gainfully employed by my grandfather.
Update: I since determined that this rifle is in fact a Savage NRA Model 1933.
8 ) U.S. M1 carbine Caliber 30
Details: Serial #: 1895xxx. Receiver marked Quality H.M.C. (Quality Hardware); Stock: “RMC”, referring to manufacturer Rock-ola, with cartouche; Barrel: “Rock-ola”, “P”.
I have the original receipt. My grandfather purchased this on Sep. 4, 1964 from the Tooele Army Depot in Utah for $17.50 + 2.50 S/H.
History of the M1 Carbine: The result of a series of experimental designs for a fully automatic gun by Winchester, which after testing along with other models by the US Ordnance Department in 1941 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, was developed into a semi-automatic gun, which became the US Carbine Caliber .30. Winchester’s engineering department was on an extremely short deadline to design the new semi-automatic gun; 14 days for the first model, and 34 days to perfect that design. The day before the scheduled testing of new models, they had all the parts assembled and complete, but discovered that there was a malfunction with the piston receiving insufficient gas. Pressed with time and sleep-deprived, the engineers took a last-ditch approach—they drilled a larger hole in the gas port, and hoped for the best. This turned out to solve the problem, and the gun outperformed all others during testing.
Large quantities of this new feat of engineering were desired, far beyond the scope of any one gun manufacturer, and a number of other companies were enlisted in the effort: General Motors, IBM, Underwood-Elliot Fisher Co, National Postal Meter Co, Standard Products Co, Irwin-Pedersen Arms Co, Quality Hardware, and Rock-Ola all manufactured M1 Carbines during the war. Not all these manufacturers were associated with guns in any way—Rock-Ola, for example, was best known as a manufacturer of jukeboxes. Due to the large quantities needed, and the difficulties involved with machinery and engineering, not all manufacturers always made all the parts. Rock-Ola and Underwood-Elliot-Fisher mostly manufactured the barrels, which were then supplied to Quality Hardware, Standard Products, and National Postal Meter. My grandfather’s M1 is an example of this: the barrel and stock components are made by Rock-Ola, while the receiver and serial stamp are Quality Hardware’s. From a collector’s standpoint, the Rock-Ola-issued components add a premium, as Rock-Ola only manufactured 3.7% of the 6,221,220 M1s (228,500). They also are valued as collector’s items because of Rock-Ola’s fame as a jukebox maker.
Now for the foreign rifles:
9) Japanese Arisaka type 38 bolt action rifle
History of the Japanese Arisaka: The Arisaka is named after the Colonel who oversaw its manufacture in 1897. It is called a Type 38 in reference to the 38th year of Emperor Meiji’s reign. Most Western thought on the Arisakas during and after WWII was that they were inferior rifles and not well-constructed. This was a bias that was quickly debunked by field tests and direct battlefield experience by soldiers. Arisakas are some of the strongest and most well-designed bolt actions ever made.
When the Japanese soldiers surrendered their arms, they ground out the imperial seal on their Arisakas, which is known as the “rising sun” or “chrysanthemum” emblem, in order to preserve the honor of their emperor. Arms which have been captured on the battlefield retain this insignia—or “mum” to collectors—intact. When my grandfather’s Japanese gardener found out that he was trying to acquire these Japanese rifles, he walked away and never came back. Having the “mum” intact may be a boon to collectors—but to many Japanese, it was simply dishonorable.
10) Japanese Arisaka type 38 bolt action rifle, half stock
Details: Serial #: 1990xxx; “S” on barrel; No series marking; Half stock; Manufactured by Koishikawa (Tokyo), which switched from “B” to “S” barrel proof mark in the late 800,000 range. 1906 – 1935. “Mum” is intact.
11) Birmingham Small Arms Cadet Martini Rifle .310 Model 4
Details: Serial #: 290xx; Commonwealth of Australia; Stock: C.M.F., N.S.W. (New South Wales) 13621 8 / 11
Barrel: +310 12-120 *; Kangaroo on top of receiver. Manufactured by the British B.S.A for Australia, 1910 – 1921.
History of the Cadet Martini Rifle: This is a colonial-era gun (known as the “weapon of empire”), manufactured by Greener and Birmingham Small Arms Co, both of which are British; they made this gun for sale to the Commonwealth states. In 1910, the Commonwealth Government introduced a system of universal cadet training, and they were issued the Cadet rifle. This rifle was also popular for small game hunting and target shooting. 80,000 made.
12) Italian Terni manufactured Fucile Corto Carcano model M38 carbine in 7.35 caliber
History of the Terni Carcano M38: The Carcano bolt action rifle was adopted by Italy in 1891 as their official military shoulder arm. The Carcanos were unusual in that they are the only military rifle in the world which employed the “gain twist”, in which the rifling starts wider and increases in pitch towards the muzzle. Italy had a problem of supply in terms of arms and ammunition, because they made so many different types and calibers of weapons that they never had enough for any one type of gun. Italian troops often carried assorted ammunition on them that sometimes didn’t even fit the weapons they were using. Reflecting this confusion is the plethora of markings to be found on the Carcano. The dating system used on the Carcanos manufactured during the fascist reign of Mussolini included not only the date, but also the “fascist year”—so on my grandfather’s Carcano, for example, it is stamped 1939 XVII, meaning the 17th year of Mussolini’s reign in the year 1939.
The Carcano is also infamous as being the gun which Lee Harvey Oswald used to assassinate JFK. He obtained his rifle through mail-order.
Here is a cursory list of the references I used in compiling the information on my grandfather’s gun collection. I stumbled across an infinite amount of web pages that I didn’t mark—this list serves more as a guide to anyone else who might be doing similar research.
The Rifle In America, 2nd Edition; Philip B. Sharpe, 1947—This was my grandfather’s—perhaps it was used in determining which guns he wished to acquire. The author is opinionated and All-American.
Bolt Action Rifles; Frank de Haas, 1971
Flayerdman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms, 7th Edition; A good reference for antique appraisal and values
Gun Trader’s Guide, 9th Edition; Paul Wahl, 1981; My dad got this at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store in the 80s when he half-heartedly did his own research into the collection; he gave up and stowed them up in the attic instead. I was surprised at how handy this guide turned out to be in the end, even though it was outdated.
Gun Appraisals.com — I used this site initially to get a rough idea of what type of guns I was looking at and their approximate value. The guy doing my appraisal did a really good job given that all he had to go on was some pictures.
Homestead Firearms — This site was useful for specific model and serial information on the Springfield Trapoor and Winchester 1906.
1903A3 Rifle Site — Good site for research into all things 1903A3.
United Kingdom’s NRA Historic Arms site — I found initial info on the BSA Cadet Rifle on this site.
Digger History Info — Great history and background on the BSA Cadet Rifle.
Carcano Info — Excellent information on the Italian Carcano, especially under the Model Identification section.
Cross Reference of Store Brand and Manufacturer — I used this cross-reference in an attempt to identify what model of Ranger .22 I had. Highly useful if you’ve got some identifying markings to work with on your gun, which unfortunately, I did not.
Markings on Arisaka Rifles — Highly detailed and useful information on what the markings on Japanese Arisakas signify.
Pocket History of the M1 Carbine — Concise details on the making of the M1 Carbine, as well as useful statistics on the numbers from each manufacturer.
Military Surplus Rifle page — Quick reference guide with links and specifications for all military surplus rifles.
Springfield Armory Historic Page — Some nice pictures and condensed history of all Springfield weapons.
Gun Data.com — Good reference for historical firearms; some of its data actually conflicts with some of the other pages (such as Homestead Firearms), but it seemed more accurate given some of the other data I had acquired.