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US Model 1836 Flintlock Pistol by R. Johnson

US Model 1836 Flintlock Pistol by R. Johnson

  • Product Code: FHG-2088-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

The US Model 1836 Pistol was a unique handgun in the history of US martial arms. It was the last of the single-shot martial flintlock pistols to be authorized and contracted for by the US government, and it was the first contract small arm that appears to have been designed by the contractor, and not based upon a US armory produced sample firearm. At the very least, no “USM” – “US Model” marked examples are known and no period documentation reveals the manufacture of such model pistols at either national armory. A total of 41,000 of the pistols were contracted for between 1836 and 1844. Robert Johnson of Middleton, CT designed the pistol and produced a total of 18,000 of the guns (about 44%). Asa Waters (and later A.H. Waters) of Millbury, MA produced the balance of 23,000 of the pistols.

The contract was entered into at a very tumultuous time in US military history. The Second Seminole War had erupted in December of 1835 and both the newly authorized 2nd US Dragoons and the many mounted state militia troops that were sent to swamps of Florida to deal with the situation were in need of pistols. The stores of pistols in US arsenals were rather small at this point of time. Most of the pistols in storage were the obsolete and rather bulky US Model 1816 pattern, which was not considered to up to the current standards for military use. The lack of pistols was further exacerbated by the very limited production of contract handguns over the previous decade. As a result of the need to arm the US Dragoons, state militia troops being called up for the war and to catch up on backordered requisitions for pistols from the states under the Militia Act of 1808, extreme pressure was applied to both the contractors to deliver the guns and the US ordnance inspectors to approve them for service. This created a pressure point in the facilities of the contractors where assembled pistols sometimes languished while waiting for an Ordnance Department inspector and accepting officer to view the pistols. New standards for small arms inspection had been published in the Ordnance Regulations of 1834 and specified that two inspectors should view and mark all contract ordnance. The Armory sub-inspector (a civilian employee of one of the US arsenals, typically Springfield) would inspect each part in detail, stamping his initials on proved barrels prior to their assembly into complete arms, and inspecting the various parts of the arms, both large and small. The sub-inspector would also inspect the finished product, disassembling the arms as necessary and affixing his initial to the major components of the gun; the old saying “lock, stock & barrel” originates here, referring to the inspection process. The inspector would mark all of the completed arms on the underside of the flash pan, the stock flat opposite the lock, and the left breech flat with his initial. He would further mark the stock with his cartouche, verifying that the gun had been completely inspected. The Ordnance Department accepting officer would then double check the inspection, although not in such detail, and would stamp his acceptance cartouche on the stock flat (normally towards the rear), indicating the gun had been accepted for US service and verifying that it could be paid for. The Ordnance Officer who was appointed as the “Superintendent of Inspection” was expected to personally view (at least casually) and mark all contact small arms and accouterments being delivered to the US government. This was a massive undertaking for any one person, who had to perform the inspections at the contractor’s manufactory, and not at a central depot. The difficulties in making the necessary personal inspection of contract arms during this period have led collectors to note a number of variant US Model 1836 pistols that have only a single inspection cartouche; that of the arsenal sub-inspector, but without the cartouche of the Ordnance Department accepting officer.

The diligent research of American Society of Arms Collector member Lewis F. Southard has allowed collectors to identify the likely disposition of certain examples of Johnson contract US Model 1836 pistols that bear only a single cartouche. By delving into both Johnson factory records and the US Ordnance Department records and correspondence, he has established three occasions where Johnson delivered US M1836 pistols without an accepting officer’s cartouche. During this time, Major Henry Knox Craig of Watertown Arsenal was also the “Superintendent for Inspection” of contact arms and accouterments. Craig was simply swamped by this duty and much of the correspondence unearthed by Southard relates to his requests for help from the head of the US Ordnance Department, Colonel George Bomford. The first two occasions when Craig could not be present to inspect Johnson’s pistols were in 1837. The first was a March 11, 1837 inspection, when sub-inspector Thomas Warner inspected M1836 pistols at Johnson’s facility without Craig there to accept the pistols. The guns are marked with Warner’s script TW cartouche, but do not carry Craig’s HKC mark. Craig was simply spread too thin on contract inspections to be there. The March 11 inspection was for 500 pistols that were subsequently sent to the New York Depot for issue to the 2nd US Dragoons for Seminole War service. These pistols are identifiable by locks dated 1836 or 1837, inspection marks applied by Thomas Warner, and no “HKC” cartouche. The next group of Johnson contract “single cartouche” pistols were inspected by armory sub-inspector Joseph Hannis on October 5, 1837. This group of 500 guns included some with Thomas Warner inspected barrels, left over from an August 1837 inspection of parts by Warner. The balance of the gun is inspected by Hannis, with his small H on the major components and his script JH cartouche on the stock flat. Craig could not be present at the October 5 inspection, as he was inspecting powder flasks at the Ames facility in Cabbotville, MA on that date. These pistols are all 1837 dated, are fully inspected by Hannis and again bear no “HKC” cartouche. It seems likely that most of the 500 pistols from the October 5 inspection were delivered for use by the Tennessee militia, which had been called out for service in Florida. Southard quotes a September 15, 1837 letter to Ordnance Inspector Craig form Colonel Bomford of the Ordnance Department stressing the need to deliver 600 pistols to the Tennessee volunteers that were being sent to Florida to fight the Seminoles. The final group of “single cartouche” pistols was inspected by armory sub-inspector Lewis Foster on August 18, 1838. These 600 guns were delivered to the state of Georgia for Seminole War service as well. They are identifiable by their 1838 lock dates, Foster’s inspection marks throughout, and again the lack of Craig’s inspection mark. Due to the wonderful research conducted by Mr. Southard, we can with some degree of accuracy attribute the destination of these single cartouche US M1836 pistols by Johnson, and we know that they were all bound for Seminole War service. The inspection crisis of 1837 resulted in a Presidential order, signed July 5, 1838 that expanded the officer corps of the Ordnance Department. It authorized the addition of two more majors to facilitate the final inspection and acceptance of the ordnance, as well as the transfer of twenty lieutenants from the artillery branch, ten 2nd lieutenants and ten 1st lieutenants. The two newly appointed majors were formerly captains that had been transferred to service in the Ordnance Department, James Ripley and Mann Page Lomax. By the end of 1838 both of these men were involved fully in the inspection process. While we can see from the above information that some US M1836 pistols that bear no state markings can still be attributed to a likely state by a process of elimination regarding the presence or absence of specific inspection marks, some states did mark their small arms. These include the state of North Carolina. However, most states did not mark the M1836 pistols that they received. As a result, there is no way to determine the disposition of those M1836 pistols with standard dual cartouche inspections and no state marks. Such guns are as likely to have been issued to regular army units as to the various states.

This is an extremely attractive US Model 1836 pistol (Flayderman 6A-034) that is in VERY FINE+untouched overall condition. The gun is an 1841 dated example by Johnson and bears a pair of inspection cartouches on the stock flat. The sub-inspector’s mark is the script JH of Joseph Hannis and the final inspection mark is that of Major of Ordnance William Anderson Thornton, with a script W.A.T. to the rear of the flat. Both cartouches are nearly mint and deeply and clearly struck. The pistol is in extremely crisp and remains in its original flintlock configuration. This is quite uncommon with these pistols, as the majority of these guns ended up being altered to percussion between the mid-1850s and the beginning of the Civil War. This US Model 1836 Johnson contract pistol is marked on the lock in four lines forward of the hammer:


The “R” is quite lightly struck and nearly invisible, with the “J” and “O” in “Johnson” being weak as well, the “J” better than the “R” and the “O” better than the “J”, suggesting an uneven application of pressure to the marking die, as all subsequent letters are well struck. I have noticed this same light marking in the right hand part of the stamp in the past, which suggests that the die may have been wearing out, as inconsistent marking becomes worse the later the date of the pistol. The breech is marked in three lines:

U.S. / JH / P

The JH is the mark of armory sub-inspector Joseph Hannis. As noted, the stock flat opposite the lock has a pair of crisp and fully legible scripts cartouches, a JH and a W.A.T.. Hannis’ tiny block letter H mark is also present on the bottom of the brass flash pan, on the left breech flat of the barrel, on the front of the triggerguard, inside the lock, and on the stock flat below his inspection cartouche. The presence of Hannis’ sub-inspection on all major components (lock, stock and barrel), indicate that he was the final sub-inspector of the completed pistol, which he subsequently inspected as a finished product with his cartouche. The pistol is in VERY FINE+, untouched condition overall, with very nice metal that is quite smooth throughout with only minor pinpricking and oxidized surface roughness present, mostly around breech, flash pan area and the muzzle area of the barrel. The metal has a thick brown patina over the iron barrel and furniture. The lock retains some strong traces of its original oil-quenched color case hardened finish. This type of case hardening does not result in the vivid colors that we think of on Colt and Winchester arms, but rather results in a deep, dark, bluish-black color with some muted mottling in blues, purples and browns. The lock is mechanically excellent and functions crisply and correctly on all positions. The frizzen remains nice and tight, working as it should, with only some minor surface wear on the face. The rounded, fenced brass pan shows good age and shows some moderate verdigris around its edges, as well as old powder residue and stains in the bottom of the pan. As previously mentioned, the bottom of the pan shows the correct sub-inspector mark H. The interior of the lock is completely untouched and unmolested, showing the perfect and precise fit of an original flintlock battery. The touchhole is well centered both vertically and horizontally in the pan. The touchhole shows some minor erosion, commensurate with the appearance of the metal on the barrel around the breech area. The iron furniture matches the barrel of the gun perfectly and is free of any real pitting, with only some very light scattered areas of light pinpricking and oxidized surface roughness, matching the barrel of the pistol perfectly. The .54 caliber smooth bore is in FINEcondition, showing only some minor discoloration, but remaining mostly bright with only some lightly scattered pitting along its length, along with some old dirt and debris. The original swivel rammer is in place under the barrel and it functions perfectly. A small “V” shaped touch or inspection mark appears on most of the lock parts, including the upper left rear of the top jaw, the inside of the reinforced neck of the hammer, and the head of the pan screw. The original swivel ramrod is in place in the channel under the barrel and operates smoothly and correctly. The stock is in NEAR EXCELLENT condition and is even nicer than the metal of the pistol. It is solid and complete with no breaks or repairs. The stock is extremely crisp and sharp throughout, without any indications of any sanding or even serious cleaning. The grain remains open and attractive with a “feathery” feel over most of its surfaces, and the edges are razor sharp along the stock flat. There are a couple of very tiny surface chips of wood missing from the front edge of the lock mortise. These are extremely small and minor and are mentioned for exactness. The stock does show some scattered minor handling marks, with the expected dings, bumps and rubs, as would be expected from a military pistol that is over 175 years old. The stock shows no significant wear and absolutely no abuse and has an extremely pleasing look to it overall.

All in all this is a really outstanding example of the last official US Martial Single Shot Flintlock pistol. The gun is in fantastic original flint condition, which is extremely rare for any late model marital flintlock weapon. These pistols were the standard issue handguns during the Second Seminole War and the Mexican War, and nearly all of the surviving pistols saw additional Civil War service of some sort. It would be hard to beat this US Model 1836 for overall crispness, condition. I have no doubt you will be extremely glad to add this US M1836 Flintlock Pistol to your collection.


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