This is a fabulous example of a Turner Rifle, produced by the famous Philadelphia gunsmith John Wurfflein. The Turnverein or simply Turners in America were nationalistic German-American gymnastics (athletic) clubs. Many were recent immigrants to the US, arriving in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s. When war broke out in their newly adopted land, many Turners rushed to enlist, and often sought out units comprised of their own members. The most famous Turner regiments were the 9th OH volunteer infantry (raised in the Cincinnati area) and the 17th MO volunteer infantry, known as the Western Turner Rifles raised in the St. Louis area. Although both of these units were raised in specific areas, they drew Turner’s from all over the US, including cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia, as well as those in the mid-west and west. Many of these men arrived in camp with their own personal weapons. Usually they arrived with civilian style percussion target rifles, both half stock and full stock, in calibers that were typically between .42 and .45. While the styles and variations of the rifles were quite wide ranging, the two features that were typical of these guns were the addition of sling swivels (uncommon on civilian rifles) and a large lug to accept a saber bayonet (almost never encountered on civilian guns). The saber bayonets were typically very large, often featuring Yatagan or Bowie style blades, in the range of 18”-24" and with cast brass hilts. The rifle was produced circa 1858-1860 by John Wurfflein, who worked as a gunsmith in the Philadelphia area from 1848 to 1867. John Wurfflein received US Patent #7334 on April 30, 1850 for a safety for the Prussian Needle Gun. The rifle is from the collection of author Thomas B. Rentschler, author of RIFLES & BLADES of the GERMAN-AMERICAN MILITIA & the CIVIL WAR. The rifle is pictured and described on page 77 of that book, as figure 21. Rentschler acquired the rifle directly from the estate of Colonel John H. Willets of Bridgeton, New Jersey. Willets was born in 1834. He attended West Point for 1 year and then entered Jefferson College where he received a medical degree. In 1861 he joined the 7th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry as a Captain. In August of 1862 he was appointed Colonel of the 12th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. Willets was discharged due to injury from multiple wounds in December of 1864. Willets returned to his work as a doctor and then followed a political career, serving in the New Jersey House and Senate. Colonel Willets died in 1926 and his extensive collection of personal items, weapons, Civil War memorabilia and uniforms was sold at an estate sale in 1999. This is when Rentschler acquired the gun. A nice collection of information about the 7th & 12th NJ, as well as some copies of information about Willets military career (and even a copy of an image of him), are included with the rifle.
The rifle is in VERY FINE condition overall and is clearly marked on both the lock and the top barrel flat with Wurfflein’s name. The lock is clearly marked J. WURFFLEIN PHILADa in a single line, and the top barrel flat is marked in one line with three separate dies: JOHN J. WURFFLEIN PHILADa. The rifle is 47 ““ in overall length with a heavy octagon barrel that is 31” in length and .44 caliber. The rifle has a false breech and a back action lock with double set triggers. The action of the rifle works well and the set triggers operate as they should. The rifle retains about 60% of the original browned finish on the barrel, and shows some light wear and finish loss. The original Turner style bayonet lug remains on the right side of the barrel near the muzzle, but one of the two mounting screws appears to be a replacement. The rifle is mounted with German silver throughout, including the barrel wedge escutcheons and the butt plate, trigger guard and front site. The rifle is serial numbered 8, and is so marked on the top of the barrel between the muzzle and the front site and on the butt plate. The brass rammer with a large bulb like head is also numbered 8 with a matching die stamp. The rifle retains an original and correct brass and wood tompion that was clearly made for this style and caliber of rifle, but it is numbered 16, not 8. The original sling swivels are present on the rifle, and they are also of German silver, and the original elevation adjustable rear site is present as well. The stock is in VERY FINE condition as well. The left side of the butt has a lovely cheek rest, and the wrist is lightly checkered. The stock is full length and shows only the normal bumps and dings from use, no abuse, damage or repairs. There are a handful of flecks of white paint that are scattered around the gun, which is not uncommon with antique arms that have been in a family for a long time. These could probably be easily cleaned off, should the new owner desire to do so.
Overall this is simply a wonderful example of a rarely encountered Turner rifle by a famous Philadelphia maker. A famous and successful New Jersey officer owned the rifle and on top of that, it is documented in the best reference work on Turner rifles and bayonets that has been published. The rifle comes from the author’s collection and has a wonderful chain of provenance. It even has the seldom-encountered original tompion! If ever you have wanted to own a Turner rifle it would be hard to beat this one for condition, eye appeal, historic importance. Every serious collector needs at least one published gun in their collection to serve and a centerpiece.SOLD