Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 364: Scarce Fine Engraved J.&J. Miller Revolving Pill Lock Rifle

Auction Date: May 5, 2017

Scarce Fine Engraved J. & J. Miller Revolving Pill Lock Rifle

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $10,000 - $18,000

Scarce Fine Engraved J. & J. Miller Revolving Pill Lock Rifle

Manufacturer: J&J Miller
Model: Pill Lock
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44
Barrel: 27 3/4 inch part octagon
Finish: brown/casehardened
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 4467
Item Interest: Average
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 130
Class: Antique

Manufactured from 1835 to 1850, these revolving rifles were commonly called Billinghurst rifles because William Billinghurst of Rochester, New York, was the most prolific and well-known maker of the rifles. At least 15 gunsmiths made revolving rifles under the Miller patent, and it is estimated that only a few hundred were produced. With over a dozen known makers, surviving examples of revolving rifles using the Miller patent show a variety of variations including varying calibers, barrel lengths, barrel styles and number of cylinder chambers. Each is a unique glimpse into mid-19th century craftsmanship and design. However, the rifles follow the basic pattern of the Miller patent: a distinctive front latch on the cylinder. This example has the J.&J. Miller markings. The rifle operates with a pill lock ignition. Very tiny pills containing the fulminate are retained in small receptacles in the cylinder by use of bees wax. The pill lock, or pellet lock, was patented by renowned London gunsmith Joseph Manton in the early 19th century. The seven shot cylinder is rotated manually by releasing the latch located in front of the cylinder on the bottom of the barrel lug. James Miller patented this system in 1829. This is one of the earliest revolving firearm patents and pre-dates the automatic cocking and locking system that Colt patented in 1836. The cylinder is serrated for an easier grip, and the chambers are numbered 1-7. The top barrel flat is marked "J.&J. Miller. Rochester." in Gothic lettering. The lock plate is marked "J.&J. MILLER." The lock plate, rear frame section, trigger guard and buttplate feature fine floral engraved motifs incorporating leaves, blossoms and borders. The upper buttplate tang also features an engraved panoply of arms around the screw head while the lower buttplate tang has an ornate floral engraved finial. It has a set trigger, and the barrel is equipped with fixed sights and solid under rib carrying a wooden ramrod. The cylinder and barrel are brown, and the remaining surfaces appear to have been casehardened. Mounted with a highly figured straight grip stock featuring gold thumb and barrel wedge escutcheons, horn forend tip and crescent buttplate.

Rating Definition:

Very fine. The barrel and cylinder retain 70% thinned original brown finish. The remaining metal surfaces have mixture of smooth brown and gray patinas with traces of original case colors in the protected areas. The ramrod is short. The engraving and markings are crisp. The stock is excellent showing some minor handling marks and retaining most of the varnish. Mechanically excellent. A fine example of a rarely encountered revolving rifle that will fill a gap in the most advanced antique American rifle collections. Provenance: Robert M. Lee Collection.

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