A Very Fine Whitworth (and much more)

by Fred Ray on April 25, 2008 · 0 comments

I always enjoy window shopping on the Damon Mills web site, wishing I had the money to buy some of the old guns there. Just sold (for a mere $18,500) is a very fine sporting Whitworth with case and full kit. The decorative work on this rifle is impressive, and is obviously something that only a rich man could afford. We mostly think of Whitworth today in a military context but Sir Joe also enjoyed a thriving business in the sporting/match market as well. With its unique mechanically fitted bullet the Whitworth dominated match shooting though the 1860s before gradually losing ground to newer designs in the 1870s. Another one is here.

Military Whitworths differed somewhat. The Confederacy purchased a number of “second quality” rifles. There wasn’t anything wrong with them, they were just stripped-down versions without the engraving, fancy wood, and a slightly shorter 33″ barrel. There is an example on the top of this page, with another variation with a slightly longer 36″ barrel just below it.

Also of interest is a Lancaster rifle of about the same vintage. The Lancaster was as unique as the Whitworth but in a somewhat different way. Instead of having a twisted hexagonal bore to impart spin to the projectile, the Lancaster used a twisted oval bore to get the same effect. Looking at it you might think it was a smoothbore. The Lancaster was very well regarded in the 1850s for accuracy and its bore system was said to be more resistant to powder fouling than most.

Damon Mills also has several examples of American target rifles (which differed considerably from their British cousins) that may have been used by Union sharpshooters. All were custom made and there was absolutely no attempt at standardization. In most cases a would-be sharpshooter had to buy it himself. Most, such as this one by gunsmith Nelson Lewis, were hand crafted in New York or New England. There is another one that appears to be made by Morgan James, a well-known gunmaker in Utica, New York.

These target rifles were quite accurate but rather heavy and delicate, and usually traveled in the baggage train until the situation settled down enough for them to be brought forward.

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