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Auction Date: December 4, 2015

Lot 83: J.M. Browning - Percussion Rifle

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Historically Significant Harmonica Rifle Built by Jonathan Browning, Carried with Him During the Mormon Exodus, and Purchased from the Browning Family with Documentation
Estimated Price: $50,000 - $75,000
Item Views 257 Bid Activity Average
Serial #J.M. Browning - Percussion Rifle ManufacturerJ.M. Browning ModelPercussion Rifle
TypeRifle Gauge45 Percussion Catalog Page42
Barrel32 Inch Octagon FinishBright Grip
Stockwalnut ClassAntique RatingSee Condition
DescriptionAccording to renowned firearms expert and author Norm Flayderman very few of these unusual rifles are known to exist, and they are "rarely seen or traded on the open market place." This example is one-of-a-kind and was manufactured in the 1840s in Illinois in either Quincy or Nauvoo. Its history can be traced back to members of the Browning family who stated that it was passed down from father to son for generations directly from Jonathan Browning who carried the rifle with him while walking with the wagon train from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Utah due to the violent persecution of the Latter Day Saints sanctioned by state governments in the East. Browning was trained in gunsmithing and blacksmithing in Tennessee. He opened his own shop in Quincy, Illinois, and designed his "slide action" rifle in 1834. He was Quincy's justice of the peace and personally knew Abraham Lincoln when he was still a young lawyer on the Illinois court circuit. He converted to Mormonism after personally meeting Joseph Smith and his followers in nearby Nauvoo. Hostility towards Mormons in Quincy caused him to sell his property and join his fellow Latter Day Saints in Nauvoo in 1842. There he continued to build firearms that helped the Mormons protect themselves from violent persecution. Soon though, the violence escalated and Smith himself was gunned down. The remaining Mormons were driven from Illinois. Browning temporarily settled in Council Bluffs, Iowa, before joining the Mormon migration to Utah in 1852. During that migration this rifle no doubt provided a sense of security during the dangerous journey of 1,000+ miles on foot. Once settled in Ogden, he and his sons repaired the firearms of other settlers until he died in 1879. He was the father of the famed American firearms innovator John Moses Browning famous for his numerous designs that led to the creation of many iconic firearms including multiple Winchester lever actions, the Browning Auto-5, Colt Model 1911, Browning Auto Rifle, Browning .50 caliber machine gun, and the Browning Hi-Power. As a young boy John had worked in his father's shop. The documentation included with the John Moses Browning falling block rifle also in this sale states that gunsmith and firearms collector John Kontes had first seen this rifle and the single shot in the office of a Buick dealership owned by J. Ed Browning, a John M. Browning descendant, after learning of them while shining the man's shoes. He stated that the rifles had been passed down from father to son for generations. When J. Ed Browning died without any children of his own, he gave the rifles to his younger brother who had twin sons: "Ed" and Merwyn. Ed received the harmonica rifle, and Merwin received this deluxe single shot. Kontes purchased this harmonica rifle directly from Ed, and purchased the single shot from his friend who had purchased it directly from Merwyn. A copy of the original check written to "J. E. Browning" for this rifle is included along with a hand written bill of sale signed "J. E. Browning." The rifle has no identifying markings but was clearly made by Jonathan Browning. There is a slight flourish of engraving on the top of the barrel at the breech, and it has blade and notch sights in the style often found on Kentucky rifles. The smooth walnut half stock also has a Kentucky style butt and furniture. The block has five chambers. Sling swivels are fitted on the middle ramrod pipe and the lower tang. The trigger has a grip extension that curls at the rear. A short wooden ramrod is included.

ConditionGood. The iron surfaces have been cleaned many years ago and now display a silver gray patina and with some minor surface pitting and marks. The brass has an attractive "mustard yellow" aged patina and a few dings and small "casting sand pits" from the original foundry process. The stock is very good with a hand rubbed patina, cracks at the ends of the saddle plate and ahead of the comb, and some light handling marks. The action functions very well. This is an extremely rare opportunity to acquire both a historical and evolutionary significant rifle only recently removed from the hands of Jonathan Browning's descendants.
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