Original Extremely Rare U.S. Harpers Ferry Arsenal First Model 1803 Flintlock Rifle - dated 1803

Item Description

Original item: One of a Kind. Now this is something we do not see every day! This is a very early American Flintlock Rifle, in fact the first model rifle ever issued by the Federal Armories! Previously only Flintlock muskets and pistols has been produced, but with the world moving towards the increased accuracy of rifled barrels, the United States had to keep up. The first model designed the Harpers Ferry Model 1803, which is what we have here. There were several different models made, but the 33 inch barrel and octagonal to round barrel identify this definitively as a First Model, especially with the 1803 dated lock. By 1805, the barrel design had changed to have the entire bottom octagonal, so this is definitely an early production example.

The rifle is in very good condition, especially considering the age, and has a great look. The lock plate bears the Federal Eagle over US to the right of the hammer, and is also marked HARPERS / FERRY / 1803 on the lock plate tail. The breech end of the barrel is marked with the "Eagle's Head" over P, the National Armory proof mark that had just been instituted in 1799, replacing the earlier "Liberty Cap" marking. There is also US in an oval next to this, the standard marking at the time added to Federal arsenal made barrels. There are also V and MH proof marks on the side of the stock near the side plate.

The rifles mounts are all of brass, including the spring loaded brass patch box, and the iron lock plate shows light old rust speckling, which actually is not bad at all. There is some powder burn and surface oxidation near the touch hole, as expected for any flintlock that saw service. The ramrod is still present, and definitely looks to be original. The lock functions correctly, holding at half cock, and firing at full. The bore of the barrel is clear, but is definitely no longer rifled. It looks to have been converted to a smoothbore sporter after its service life was over, the rifling most likely worn away. It now is approximately .61 bore, which would be about 20 gauge as a fowling gun.

The stock is in great shape, with the expected hairline cracks in areas, with no repairs that we can see. The wood color is a lovely red brown color, and has a lovely polished finish.

A fantastic example of a very early and rare Harpers Ferry Rifle. Ready to research and display!

The Harpers Ferry Arsenal Model 1803 rifle was the first standard rifle (as opposed to a smoothbore musket), made by an American armory. Rifles existed long before the 17th century, but were rarely used by military forces. Problems with powder fouling, cleaning, as well as reloading the smaller bores caused many problems. However, by the beginning of the 19th Century, the excellent accuracy of Pennsylvania / Kentucky rifles was too much to ignore. Great Britain had just started to use the Baker rifle, officially known as the Pattern 1800 Infantry Rifle in small numbers, so the United States decided to follow suit.

In 1803, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn wrote about the utility of a short barreled rifle, it being easier to charge enemy positions with, and "less likely to foul by firing". He specified that the new rifle that should "not exceed 33 inches" and have a ball "one thirtieth of a pound weight, about .54 caliber". Under Dearborn's direction, the war department issued an order for the new rifle on May 25, 1803. Joseph Perkin, superintendent of the recently created Harper's Ferry Armory, was placed in charge of the design of the new rifle. Perkin and several other armorers created several patterns from Dearborn's instructions, and in November 1803 these patterns were presented to the War Department. With a few minor changes, one of these patterns was approved and became the M1803 rifle. Dearborn was so impressed that he complimented Perkin for submitting such "an excellent pattern", and an order was placed for 2,000 rifles. Based on the rifle's success and performance, Dearborn later expanded the production from 2,000 to 4,000 rifles. In November 1805, Dearborn also asked Perkin to create a horseman's pistol that was in many ways a scaled down version of the M1803 rifle.

Perkin and Dearborn originally planned to produce 2,000 rifles per year. The rifle proved to be more difficult to produce than expected, due to mechanical difficulties as well as a large amount of handwork required to finish each rifle. Production was also slowed by outbreaks of malaria in the summers of 1805 and 1806, which reduced the available manpower at Harpers Ferry. The order of 4,000 rifles was eventually completed in 1807. A second production run was ordered in 1814. This production lasted until 1819, and a total of 15,703 rifles were produced at this time.

The M1803 rifle was later replaced by the M1814 common rifle, the M1817 common rifle and the M1819 rifle, when it was decided that a more rugged weapon was needed.

Specifications -
Year of Manufacture: 1803
Caliber: originally .54" - bored to .61
Cartridge Type: Ball and Powder
Barrel Length: 33 Inches

Overall Length: 49 1/2 Inches
Action type: Side Action Flintlock
Feed System: Muzzle Loading

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