J Henry & Son Saber Rifle - Scarce Civil War Militia Rifle for Saber Bayonet
- Product Code: FLA-2839-SOLD
- Availability: In Stock
The gunmaking firm of J. Henry & Son was established by William Henry in Lancaster, PA, prior to the French & Indian War. During that era Henry produced arms for the use of British colonial militiamen, and even took the field himself as an armorer during the campaign to recapture Fort Duquesne during 1758. In the years after the French & Indian War, he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. By about 1760 he had left the gun trade and become a successful Lancaster based iron monger, but his son John Joseph Henry took up the family gunmaking business sometime around 1775 and the firm continued operation under his leadership until 1811, when John Joseph Henry II took over. During the early 1800s, the firm relocated to Boulton, PA. The firm became known generally as the Boulton Gun Works (some references spell it “Bolton”). After John Joseph’s death, his son James took over, and in 1859 James’ son Granville joined the firm and the name was changed to “J. Henry & Son”. During their nearly six decades in business prior to the name change, the Henry family had produced guns for the new United States government, for the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland and numerous fur trading companies engaged in commerce with the many American Indian tribes. They also worked as manufacturers for other gunmakers and retailers like Philip S. Justice of Philadelphia, selling that firm both completed arms and parts to manufacture arms from. It is also likely that the Henry firm provided gun parts to other local Pennsylvania gunmakers like John Krider and possibly Henry Leman. With the coming of the American Civil War, and the calling for 100,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion, (not to mention the calling out of Pennsylvania militia units for the defense of the state) Henry looked to produce military arms to cash in on the need for guns. He produced two patterns of military style rifles and a cadet musket. The rifles were offered with either a socket or a saber bayonet, and were known respectively in the Henry company records as “Mini” Rifles” or “Saber Rifles”. Both patterns of arms were brass mounted rifles with 35” barrels in .58 caliber. Most had a unique “recurved” triggerguard that is commonly associated with the arms made (or sold) by both Henry and P.S. Justice. It appears that much of the brass furniture was probably obtained from Bernard Leman of Philadelphia in 1861. It is not clear if both Henry and Justice purchased brass furniture from him or if Justice acquired the parts from Henry. Both patterns of Henry rifle also included a brass patchbox that is also associated with arms made by Justice and Krider. It appears that these patch boxes were left over parts purchased from the Sharps Firearms Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia. In 1859 Sharps had transitioned from brass mountings to iron mountings, and apparently a large number of brass patchboxes in varying states of manufacture were sold as unneeded surplus. It appears that the 285 “Mini” Rifles” produced by Henry during the summer of 1861 were sold almost entirely to Justice, who sold them to the US government to help satisfy his contract for rifles. However, Henry sold 40 of these rifles to the Bethlehem Home Guard in August of 1861. Henry also produced some 952 “Saber Rifles” during the summer of 1861, most of which (876) were also sold to Justice, with deliveries starting in September of that year. However, 70 were sold to Henry to the Catasanga Home Guard in October and November, and another 6 were used as sample rifles in an attempt to obtain other military contracts.
This is one of the very scarce J. Henry & Son Saber Rifles, and I believe that it may have been one of the 6 sample guns. The 876 guns sold to Justice were Justice marked (either by Henry or Justice), and only the 70 “home guard” saber rifles and the 6 samples were marked with the Henry name. This rifle is clearly marked in two horizontal lines: J. HENRY / & SON, on the left angled barrel flat near the breech and J. HENRY / & SON in two vertical lines on the lock plate, behind the hammer. The standard finish for the J. HENRY & SON Saber Rifle was a color case hardened lock and browned barrel, with all small iron parts blued and the brass mountings left bright. This rifle was clearly tinned, and about 20%+ of that original period tinned finish remains scattered over the barrel, with about 30% on the lock plate of the rifle. The standard production rifles also included a long base, long-range rear sight similar to those found on some Whitney long range sighted arms and some Harpers Ferry altered Mississippi rifles. However, this rifle is equipped with a US Pattern 1858 rear sight, as used on the M-1855 rifles and rifle muskets. The sight is clearly original to the rifle, as the dovetail cut and steady pin notch in the barrel attest. The sight has the pre-1861 “curved” sight leaves that are expected on 1858 pattern sights used on the 1855 arms and the very first of the M-1861 rifle muskets. The use of the “current pattern” US military rear sight and the tinned finish suggests that this was one of the 6 sample rifles sent out in an attempt to secure more arms contracts. The combination of features suggests that this might have been Henry’s attempt to obtain a Naval rifle contract. Henry may have been aware of Whitey’s problems in delivering the M-1861 Naval Rifles that had been ordered by the Navy in July of 1861, and which Whitney did not even begin to deliver until October of 1862. Henry may have been hoping to capitalize on Whitney’s production problems. Whether the tinned finish and US military pattern sight were really destined for potential US Navy use is difficult to know, but it is clear that both of these non-standard features are original to the rifle and certainly suggest it was one of the sample guns. At least one other example of this rifle is known with the same pattern sight, so this is not a “one of a kind” variant. The rifle is in about FINE overall condition, and appears to be 100% complete, correct and original. The 35” octagon to round barrel is full length and has a medium pewter patina, mixed with the freckled traces of the period tinned finish. There are also freckled patches of oxidized age discoloration scattered along the length of the barrel. The metal of the barrel is mostly smooth, with some scattered areas of pinpricking and some light pitting that is mostly confined to the breech and bolster area. The 4 groove bore of the rifle is in FINE condition and is mostly bright throughout. The bore retains very crisp rifling and shows only some very lightly scattered pitting along its length. The original front sight is in place near the muzzle, as is the original saber bayonet-mounting lug. The muzzle of the rifle is numbered 154 to match the gun to the Collins & Company saber bayonet that was fit to this rifle. The original and correct ramrod is present in the channel under the barrel, and is full length, with fine threads on the end. The lock of the rifle is in EXCELLENT mechanical condition, and operates crisply on all positions. The brass furniture has a lovely, mellow ochre patina and shows some very minor traces of tin plating, suggesting the rifle was completely plated, including the brass mounts. The patchbox opens and closes smoothly and the brass triggerguard and upper barrel band retain what appears to be the original sling swivels. The stock of the rifle is in FINE condition as well, and remains crisp and solid throughout. The stock shows no indication of having been sanded, and the sharp edges remain sharp as they should be, with good definition and fine wood to metal fit throughout. There are the usual bumps, dings and minor surface mars from handling, use and storage over 150 years, but nothing serious or abusive. There is one small stock crack, running along the grain from the rear lock mounting screw to the barrel channel. This is a typical crack for Civil War era muskets and is the result of the lock screw being over-tightened. The crack is tight and stable and does not detract from display in any way, but it is mentioned for exactness.
Overall this is a very scarce example of a rare J. Henry & Son Saber Rifle in very crisp and original condition. The gun does have a couple of unusual features, but both the tinned finish and the rear sight appear to be correct, original and of the period. With only 76 of the total production of these rifles being sold or delivered by Henry to someone other than PS Justice, and with the rifle being Henry marked instead of Justice marked, it is a very rare gun. Even including the 876 delivered to Justice, less than 1,000 of these rifles were produced. This is a great rifle to add to a collection of Pennsylvania made military arms, Civil War secondary martial rifles or just a collection of J. Henry firearms. The tinned finish and US military pattern 1858 sight make the gun even more interesting and worthy of some additional research. This is a fine condition, very crisp and complete example of a rather scarce Civil War rifle that you will be very glad to add to your collection.SOLD