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Hayden & Whilden - Charleston, SC Marked Shotgun

Hayden & Whilden - Charleston, SC Marked Shotgun

  • Product Code: FLA-3135-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

During the mid-19th century, the most common firearm in the American home was the double-barreled percussion shotgun. This utilitarian arm could handle every need the average family had for a firearm, from providing small game and fowl for the cooking pot to protecting the family from predators, whether of the four-legged or two-legged variety. The muzzle loading, percussion shotgun was one of the easiest guns to produce and one of the least expensive to manufacture and sell, and yet the “American” shotgun of the mid-19th century was almost universally one that was produced in either Belgium or Great Britain, and the only thing “American” about it was typically the retailer’s name on the locks or the barrel rib. The availability of inexpensive, ready made of shotguns from Li’ge and Birmingham made it economically impractical for American gunmakers to actually produce their own shotguns. In fact, it was not until the post-Civil War era that I have been able to concretely identify any “American” made percussion shotguns that were actually manufactured in America! Even when a local American maker did stock and assemble a shotgun, it universally utilized imported English or Belgian barrels, and although the proof marks were typically concealed by the forend, removing the barrels from the stock immediately reveals their origin. Imported locks were often used as well, resulting in only the stock and furniture (if that) being of American origin. During this time importers located in New York, Boston, New Orleans and other major port cities would purchase the foreign made shotguns in huge quantities and then resell them to other retailers around the United States. As a result of this system it is not uncommon to find a mid-19th century “American” shotgun with the name of a Boston retailer (importer) on the locks of the gun and the name of a southern retailer on the barrel rib; all the while the gun was actually the product of some Birmingham or Li’ge gun maker. While the lowly percussion shotgun from the 1840s-1870s has received universally short shrift from the antique arms collector, recent research and scholarship has revealed the importance of these arms to the Confederate war effort during the American Civil War. Shotguns saw universal use with much of the southern cavalry throughout the war, especially in the Western and Trans-Mississippi theaters of operation, and recently published records from Confederate arsenals and ammunition manufactories attest to the fact that shotgun cartridges were being produced in large quantities for use in the field right up to the end of the war. The shotgun also saw use as an infantry weapon during the early days of the war, and ordnance returns from outposts like Fort Donelson in Tennessee attest to the large number of shotguns on hand at some of the early war battles. In order to make the shotgun a more formidable weapon in the hands of the infantry some were altered to accept bayonets, and new research has revealed that iconic Confederate makers like Cook & Brother of New Orleans were contracted with to provide saber bayonets for use on shotguns, and many shotguns had specialized lugs attached to the barrels to accept these brass hilted bayonets. All of this relatively new information has resulted in substantial new collector interest in southern retailer and agent marked shotguns, which are now generally considered secondary Confederate arms, whether or not they have the modifications that one would associate with military service (sling swivels, bayonet lugs, musket sized nipples, etc.). They fact that so many shotguns went off to war and then subsequently returned to civilian service in the reconstruction era means that most were used up and eventually discarded without a second thought, like an old rusty screwdriver or hammer, with no concern for a future generation of arms collectors. As such, southern retailer marked shotguns are quite scarce today and also represent one of the new horizons in Civil War arms collecting that remains relatively untapped and is still available for new and exciting research.

Offered here is very attractive example of a scarce, Charleston, South Carolina retailer marked shotgun sold by Hayden & Whilden. The firm of Hayden and Whilden was a partnership between Nathaniel Hayden, Augustus H. Hayden and W.G. Whilden that operated in Charleston from 1855 though 1863. The company was located at 250 King Street (corner of Hasel Street). The firm had its origins as Hayden, Gregg & Co from 1838-1843, became Gregg & Hayden (often listed also as Hayden & Gregg) from 1843-1846, and in 1846 became Gregg, Haden & Company. All of these businesses involved William Gregg and one of the various Hayden brothers (H. Sidney Hayden, Augustus H. Hayden, and Nathanial Hayden). The firms were primarily silversmiths and jewelers, but like most companies of that type in the south, they also offered imported arms, and a smattering of military items to supply local militia companies and their officers. The firm of Hayden & Whilden was established in 1855 and was a partnership between Nathaniel Hayden, Augustus Henry Hayden and William G. Whilden. Nathaniel had started in the silversmithing, jewelry and import business in Charleston, but in 1843 had moved to New York City, establishing a company there, but also keeping his fingers in the Charleston business as well. Augustus Hayden and W.G. Whilden ran the day-to-day operations of the company. With the coming of the American Civil War, the firm expanded their military supply business, and number of invoices and receipts for the company exist in the Confederate Citizen Files (NARA M346) today. Some 53 pages of documents related to the business that the company conducted with the Confederate government are extant, with most of the invoices being for items like flags, drums, drums sticks, etc. Their invoices had the image of a military style drum on its side, with the head represented with a clock face on it, clearly indicating the wide variety of goods that they offered. The letterhead invoices specifically listed Watches, Clocks, Jewelry, Silver And Silver Pated Ware, along with Jappaned Goods, Lamps, Military Goods, Cutlery, Pistols to name just a few of the wide variety of items offered for sale. Several invoices to the Confederate Engineering Department also exist for the sale of “mathematical instruments”. The Civil War was in fact the downfall for the company, for a number of reasons. As with the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, W.G. Whilden enlisted as a 3rd Lt. in the Charleston Washington Artillery (also listed as Captain Walter’s Company of Light Artillery) on December 27, 1860. After the firing on Fort Sumter and the eruption of the war, Whilden spent much of the next year and half on duty with the coastal defenses, usually commanding an artillery battalion on John’s Island near Charleston. Over the intervening months both Whilden’s absence from the business and the Union blockade apparently hurt it significantly, as in a letter dated January 24, 1863, Whilden writes to his company commander: “I am desirous of obtaining a special furlough for one month for the purposes of attending to my business in Charleston which requires my supervision at this time. Having been in service with the exception of a short interval since the 27th of December 1860 my business has suffered from the want of my personal attention and a furlough at this time would be valuable to me. I make this application feeling that I can be spared without detriment to the service. My address will be Charleston from which place I can be ordered should an emergency arise.” Whilden’s leave was granted and on February 27, 1863 he again wrote to his company commander, asking: “Will you please make application for me for an extension of my furlough for 15 days longer. I have made good use of my time, but the 15 days already granted will be insufficient for me to complete my business which I find even in a more disordered condition than I anticipated.” Whilden goes on to note that if the general in immediate command of their battery is not willing to extend the furlough that Whilden would “apply to General Beauregard or General Gordon personally”. The next letter I could find from Whilden, dated May 16th of 1863 is to General Beauregard, requesting an additional 30 day furlough extension, and in it he notes that “General Gordon has informed me if not disapproved it will be granted.”. The letter also notes “I have acquainted him with the circumstances which compel me to ask for it (furlough extension) at this time, and which you will remember I explained to you fully when I forwarded my resignation. From the paper you will notice that I have advertised the whole of the stock of goods of our concern to be sold at auction on the 26th of May & previous to that time it will require all of my attention to arrange it to be ready for the sale.” Whilden goes on to blame his two years service for the condition that his business has deteriorate to, and further suggest that the lack of previous furloughs had prevented him from keeping the business afloat. Despite his apparent request to resign his commission, and another furlough request in December of 1863 to attend to more business, Whilden remains on the rolls of the battery through the end of the war and is listed on the rolls of men paroled on April 28, 1865 at Greensboro, NC, where the Army of the Tennessee surrendered. From Whilden’s letters it is clear that 1) the war directly resulted in the liquidation of the assets of Hayden & Whilden and 2) that the firm officially ceased to exist on May 26, 1863 when the assets were sold at auction.

The Hayden & Whilden retailer marked shotgun offered for sale here is in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. The shotgun appears to be 100% complete, correct and original, with only the ramrod missing. The gun is 52" in overall length with a pair of 36 1/2" barrels. Like the majority of the American retailed shotguns from this era, the gun was made in Belgium and bears Li’ge proof marks under the barrels. The bottom of the breeches have the usual E / LG / * in an oval proof, as well as the intertwined script EL, the Belgian Perron (shot tower mark), and the letters of Li’ge controllers (inspectors) V and K and N, all surmounted by crowns. The “Crown / N mark can be specially dated to between 1853-1877, which is during the era of Hayden & Whilden, 1855-1863. The bottom of the barrel also bears file slash mating marks and the number 17, which is the bore in millimeters, meaning that the bores are approximately .669 caliber, or about 16 gauge. The bottom of the barrels are also marked with a (CROWN) / PM, which may be the Belgian maker Pierre Montigny. The only external markings on the gun is the retailer mark HAYDEN & WHILDEN CHARLESTON SC, which is engraved in block letters on the barrel rib, reading from the breech to the muzzles. The back action locks of the shotgun are crudely engraved, with simple, coarse floral designs. The hammers are similarly engraved and both appear to be original to the gun. This is the typical level of embellishment for mid-grade, workingman’s shotgun of the era. The gun is mechanically excellent and both locks function exactly as they should. The left side cone (nipple) is a modern replacement and is not original to the gun, while the right side cone appears to be original. The gun is mounted in German silver with the triggerguard, buttplate, forend cap and escutcheons all of this material. The mounts are simply engraved as well, and have simply flowing floral splays and rudimentary pineapple finals. The locks have a medium pewter gray patina and do not appear to retain any original finish. The barrels retain about 60%+ of what appears to be an original browned, faux “Damascus twist” finish that was only applied to the exposed portions of the barrel. The underside of the barrel, protected by the forend never appears to have received any finish at all and is “in the white”. This was a somewhat common 19th century practice on lower price point guns, a cheap finish on the exposed metal only, and the faux “twist” finish created an illusion of quality. The barrels are mostly smooth with only some scattered light pitting around the breech and muzzles and some evenly distributed minor pinpricking present. The barrels also show some lightly flecked surface oxidation along their lengths. The German silver mounting are all quite crisp and in nice condition with sharp engraving and a silvery patina with a yellowish undertone. The stock and forearm are in NEAR FINE. They remain solid and complete with no breaks or repairs noted. The wrist is coarsely checkered and the checkering shows wear and smoothing commensurate with the use and overall condition of the gun. The stock does not appear to have been sanded and remains in solid, attractive condition.

Overall this is a very nice example of a scarce and desirable southern agent marked shotgun retailed by Hayden & Whilden of Charleston, SC. Charleston marked arms are quite rare and desirable, and the Hayden & Whilden history makes it clear that this shotgun was retailed between mid-1855 and mid-1863, covering the period of build to the Civil War and the first half of the conflict. The failure of the company, a direct result of the war, is well documented by Lt. Whilden’s letters and gives you some insight into what the Confederate soldier saw as the destruction of his business and home life due to service in the southern cause. This gun would be a wonderful addition to any South Carolina centric collection, being equally at home in one that was either antebellum or wartime, and would be a nice addition to any Confederate arms collection as a secondary weapon, possibly used by home guard or militia either at the beginning, or end, of the conflict. I have seen similar southern agent marked gun from much more common Richmond retailers priced in the $3,000 to $4,000 range recently. This is a great gun from a much more rarely encountered and desirable retailer, who was located in the very cradle of the Confederate cause.


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Tags: Hayden, Whilden, Charleston, SC, Marked, Shotgun