Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 16: Smith-Jennings Experimental Pill Lock Repeating Pistol

Auction Date: June 5, 2020

Historically Significant, Documented, Only Known Smith-Jennings Experimental Pill Lock Repeating Pistol as Pictured in Lewis and Rutter's "Volcanic Firearms"

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $18,000 - $30,000

Historically Significant, Documented, Only Known Smith-Jennings Experimental Pill Lock Repeating Pistol as Pictured in Lewis and Rutter's "Volcanic Firearms"

Manufacturer: Smith-Jennings
Model: Repeating Pistol
Type: Pistol
Gauge: 36
Barrel: 8 1/2 inch round
Finish: blue
Grip: walnut
Item Views: 2194
Item Interest: Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 18
Class: Antique

This highly unusual and historically significant Smith-Jennings pill lock repeating pistol with a tubular magazine represents a physical link to the development of the repeating lever action that eventually spawned the iconic American firearms manufacturers Smith & Wesson and Winchester. This early experimental repeating pistol is pictured and identified in Lewis and Rutter's "Volcanic Firearms" on page 18, is the only known example in existence, operates identically to the Smith-Jennings repeating rifle and was likely built around the same time the First Model Smith-Jennings magazine rifles were in production, circa 1851. The pistol and First Model Rifles share a similar flat sided scroll engraved frame which was derived from pioneering gunsmith Horace Smith's August 1851 patent of an improved Jennings Rifle repeating action. While more complicated than its Jennings model predecessor, the Smith-Jennings action was by far the superior design that allowed for a pivoting trigger rather than a trigger moving forward and backward in a straight line. The next leap forward in repeating action design came when Smith partnered with Daniel Wesson to manufacture lever action repeating magazine pistols under the name Smith & Wesson. The lever action and integral magazine introduced on these pistols represented the first variation of the lever action/integral magazine. Note that the bag shaped grips on this Smith-Jennings pistol foreshadow the grip design used on Smith & Wesson's lever action repeating pistol, which was manufactured circa 1854/1855 or about three years after this pistol was built. S&W was re-incorporated as the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company. Smith and Wesson left to form their second business venture involving the manufacture of revolvers, but their lever action design endured. In 1857, financial problems doomed the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. and the entire assets were sold to company stockholder Oliver F. Winchester. Winchester reorganized the company as the New Haven Arms Company where the Volcanic pistols and rifles continued to be manufactured. Eventually, the Volcanic action was redesigned to use large caliber rimfire metallic cartridges. The success of the redesign became the famed Henry lever action rifle. Oliver Winchester continued to serve as chief executive officer of New Haven Arms when the name changed in 1866 to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Under Winchester's direction the Henry rifle was ultimately refined to become the legendary Winchester Model 1866.

Rating Definition:

Fair. The pistol has a smooth dark aged patina with pitting overall. The barrel pin is a replacement. The grips are very good with a small gap at the frame juncture and a number of minor handling marks. Mechanically fine. Rightfully considered an important step in the evolution in the development of the repeating lever action, this Smith-Jennings experimental pistol is historically significant to the origin stories of both Smith & Wesson and Winchester. A true Holy Grail in early firearms design well deserving to be in the finest private or public collection. This is the only known pistol of its kind, and one will wait a lifetime before it is again offered at public sale. Provenance: Dr. Gerald Klaz collection.

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