Welcome to College Hill Arsenal
Near Excellent US M1817 Rifle by R&JD Johnson

Near Excellent US M1817 Rifle by R&JD Johnson

  • Product Code: FLA-3431-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

The US M1817 Common Rifle was a unique US military long arm in that it was never produced at a National Armory, other than some sample models that were made up at Harpers Ferry, with all of its production being handle by contractors. 38,267 of the rifles were produced by five different contractors between 1819 and 1845. The contractors included Henry Deringer of Philadelphia, as well as Robert Johnson, Robert & J.D. Johnson, Simeon North and Nathan Starr & Sons, the last four all being located in Middletown, CT. Deliveries by the contractors from greatest to least were as follows: Henry Deringer: 13,000, Nathan Starr: 10,000, Simeon North: 7,205, Robert Johnson: 5,002 and Robert & J.D. Johnson: 3,060. Although the rifles were adopted in 1817, it appears that in some cases the US Ordnance Department thought of the rifle as the "M1819". The 1841 Ordnance Manual refers to them as "Common Rifle, Full-Stocked; 1819", which apparently refers to the first year the rifles were delivered. Most other period sources do use the model designation "M1817".

The US M1817 "Common" Rifle was an elegant and graceful flintlock rifle. It had a 36" long, .54 caliber, round barrel, rifled with seven deep grooves with a high rate of twist for shooting a patched round ball. The barrel was secured to the stock by three barrel bands and a single tang screw. Initially the barrels and furniture of some of the contract rifles was polished to National Armory Bright and was left unfinished. Later the metal of most of the rifles was finished with a lacquer brown. This change over appears to have happened during fiscal year 1826, meaning that those guns that had been left bright by their manufacturers initially were being browned after July 1 of 1825, when fiscal year 1826 began. This changeover can be documented by additional payments made to some of the contractors for browning the rifles. Whether the guns were delivered browned or bright, the lock was color case hardened, and the hammer and small work (screws, bands, etc.) were blued as part of the heat drawing process. The rifle had an oval patch box inlet into the obverse buttstock for the storage of cleaning implements and greased patches. As originally produced, the rear tang of the triggerguard extended to form a pistol grip, from which a sling swivel was suspended. Later production rifles eliminated the extended finger-rest tang and relocated the lower swivel to the more conventional location of the triggerguard's front bow. The upper swivel was mounted on a stud below the middle barrel band. The rifle was produced with a fixed, V-notch rear sight and a front sight that was either a brass blade on the upper barrel band or a fixed blade on the barrel near the muzzle. As originally produced, the rifle did not accept a bayonet of any kind. The ramrod was a trumpet shaped iron rod with a brass tip to prevent damage to the rifling during the ramming process. The opposite end of the rammer was threaded for the attachment of implements, including a wiper, and ball puller.

The US M1817 Common Rifle was extremely popular during its period of use, and many of the guns were delivered to the various states under the terms of the Militia Act of 1808. The rifle saw significant use during the Seminole Wars in the south and during the Mexican American war as well. The rifles continued to serve well into the percussion age, and the National Armories, at the request of the states, altered many of these guns to percussion. The term Common Rifle was a period appellation and was used to differentiate between the "common" muzzleloading rifle and the "less common" and certainly more unique Hall's Patent breech loading rifle. With just over 38,000 of the rifles being produced by all of the contractors, the guns are far from "common" in the greater scheme of things, when you consider that approximately 900,000 US M1816/22/28 flintlock muskets were produced during the same time frame by the National Armories and about two dozen contractors. That production ratio indicates that roughly two-dozen US M1816 muskets were produced for every M1817 rifle!

With the coming of the American Civil War, thousands of US M1817 rifles (many already altered to percussion) were in state armories around the country. Thousands were in the hands of the Southern states that had seceded, but many were in Northern armories as well. Extant examples exist with state ownership marking of both North and South Carolina (markings are from the Seminole War era), as well as the state of New Jersey. Another 5,000 US M1817 Rifles were in storage at the Benicia Arsenal in San Francisco in 1861, and many of these rifles were issued to the 1st California Volunteer Cavalry, who fought in the far western theater against Confederate forces in New Mexico and Arizona. Even as late as March of 1863, "Common Rifles" were showing up in Confederate arsenal inventories. With the significant number of M1817 rifles altered to percussion during the 1850s and the early Civil War years, finding a rifle in its original flintlock configuration is very difficult. As such, these guns demand a significant premium when found in original flint condition.

The US M1817 Common Rifle offered here is one of the 3,060 guns produced Robert & J.D. Johnson. The firm of Robert & John D. Johnson was a short lived partnership that received a single contract to deliver 3,000 US M1817 Rifles on December 10, 1823. The rifles were delivered between 1824 and 1828, with 220 delivered the first year, and with the subsequent deliveries being 740 rifles (1825), 1,080 (1826), 520 (1827) and 500 (1828), for a total of 3,060 rifles delivered. The firm received extra payment for browning 1,780 of the rifles, which suggests that the rifles delivered in fiscal years 1824 (220), 1825 (740) the first 320 delivered early in FY1826 were finished bright and the balance were browned. Due to the very small contract received by R&JD Johnson for these rifles, they only delivered 8% of the total number of US M1817 "Common Rifles" produced.

The gun is in about NEAR EXCELLENT condition overall, retaining most of its lacquer browned finish and most importantly remains in its original flintlock configuration. The lock of the rifle is marked clearly, forward of the hammer in two horizontal lines: U.S. / R.&J.D. JOHNSON. The tail of the lock is marked in two vertical lines: 1825 / MIDDN CONN, with the second line in an arc. The lock retains dulled bluish gray-mottling from its casehardened finish with a smoky patina and shows some minor pinpricking along with some scattered minor surface oxidation and age discoloration. The brass flash pan has a lovely untouched ochre patina and shows some erosion, debris and staining on its interior. The barrel is clearly marked at the breech with a US / P / JW, with the "P" in a sunken starburst. The initials "JW" are those of Joseph Weatherhead, civilian employee of the Springfield Arsenal who had started working at the armory as a machinist in 1818. Eventually, Weatherhead spent some time as an inspector of contract arms, working intermittently between 1822 and 1826. Weatherhead proved 504 barrels at the R.&J.D. Johnson facility during calendar year 1825, and also inspected 504 finished rifles there during that calendar year. His matching script JW cartouche is present on the counterpane of the stock as well. The barrel tang is marked with the same date as found on the tail of the lock, 1825. It is worth reiterating that Fiscal Year 1826 began on July 1, 1825. Thus, the majority of the rifles delivered in FY1826 were finished in lacquer brown and many of those guns were produced in calendar year 1825.

The barrel retains most of its original lacquer browned finish, with some fading, and minor loss. The markings on the barrel remain crisp and clear. The barrel remains nearly completely smooth with some scattered pinpricking and minor surface oxidation scattered along its length and some more moderate pinpricking and very light pitting near the breech. The bore of the rifle in in its original .54 caliber configuration and is in about FINE condition. It remains mostly bright and retains very deep, crisp rifling, with only some lightly scattered pitting along its length. The furniture retains slightly less lacquer brown finish than the barrel and also shows some lightly scattered pinpricking and minor surface oxidation as well. The appearance and the finish on the barrel and furniture match very well. The lock of the rifle is in excellent mechanical condition and functions crisply on all positions. The touchhole is unmolested and shows some typical oxidation and minor pitting. The hole is well centered in the pan and correctly angled and tapered. The rifle retains its original V-notch rear sight, as well at its original front sight near the muzzle. The both original sling swivels are present, the lower one attached to the end of the extended pistol grip behind the triggerguard and the upper swivel is located on the middle band. The original trumped head, brass-tipped 36" ramrod is present with the rifle as well and retains its original threads at the end. The exposed steel portion of the rod's shank is lightly oxidized with some scattered discoloration. The stock of the rifle is in NEAR EXCELLENT condition as well. The stock remains solid and full-length, and is free of any breaks, major cracks or repairs. The stock shows some scattered bumps, dings and handling marks from issue and use. The stock shows no indication of having been sanded and retains crisp lines and sharp edges throughout. The flat opposite the lock has the readable script JW that does have an impact mark in the middle, making it a little harder to read. Interestingly, no second cartouche of the accepting ordnance officer is present. Additional small inspection marks are present behind the triggerguard, a block JF. This is the mark of a currently unidentified armory sub-inspector.

Overall this is a really wonderful example of a US M1817 "Common" Rifle that remains in its original flint configuration and retains much of its lacquer browned finish. The rifle was made as part of the smallest contract for these guns, with only 3,060 being produced; representing only about 8% of all M1817 Common Rifles manufactured. These rifles are rarely encountered in original flint and rarely with this much finish. The gun shows some real world use, it remains complete and original throughout. This is a wonderful chance to add a very rare contract US M1817 Rifle to your collection in original flint and in a wonderful state of preservation.


Write a review

Please login or register to review

Tags: Near, Excellent, US, M1817, Rifle, by, RJD, Johnson