Original French MLE 1866-74 M80 Gras Infantry Converted Balloon Troop Rifle - Made in 1871

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. The Fusil Gras Modèle 1874 M80 was a French service rifle of the 19th century. The Gras used by the French Army was an adaptation to metallic cartridge of the Chassepot breech-loading rifle by Colonel Basile Gras. This example was originally a needle fire Chassepot, the French ignition system introduced in 1866. It was a single shot bolt-action rifle and was among the best of its kind at the type, being superior to the German Dreyse Needle fire system. It was quickly surpassed however,  principally by the British Martini-Henry system. In 1874 the self contained cartridge Gras bolt-action system was introduced, and the Chassepots in service were converted to this system, and had additional markings added indicating this.

The left side of the receiver marked  St. Étienne MLE 1866 - 74 / M80 indicating manufacture at the government arsenal at St. Etienne. The rifle has arsenal proofs on most parts, and also is marked S.1871 S.79 indicating that it was originally manufactured as a Chassepot in 1871, an then converted to Gras in 1879. The rifle has all matching serial numbers, with M 75388 on the barrel, bayonet stand, and all parts of the bolt. There is no stock serial number visible, as wear has obliterated virtually all stock markings.

Very unusually, the bolt on this full length Rifle is fitted with a down-turned Bolt handle. Traditionally all Chassepot and Gras Rifles have "straight" Bolt handles with the exception of Short Rifles and Carbines, which usually with Brass mounts indicating Colonial issue. The stated reason for this was that it was easier to carry a Down Turned bolt weapon in a saddle scabbard while in use on a Horse or Camel. A full-length rifle however is impractical for mounted use, so a down-turned bolt would serve no purpose.

An answer suggested by many Collectors is that this particular feature was for use by Balloon Troops, not necessarily this in the basket but the ground crews to best avoid fouling with the tethered balloon lines. Clearly there was a sound reason for this variation and perhaps this was it.

Condition of the rifle is good, though it definitely does show long service. Wood is in solid condition but does have quite a bit of dents and other wear. Metalwork is in good condition, but the finish is worn on many of the fittings. The bore shows clear lands and grooves, but does also have a somewhat oxidized finnish.

A really nice M-1866-74 Chassepot/Gras rifle fully cleaned, with an interesting history. Ready to display.

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