Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1285: Ferguson Patent Breechloading Flintlock Rifle by J. Hunt

Auction Date: May 15, 2021

Extraordinarily Rare Late 18th Century Ferguson Patent Breechloading Flintlock Rifle by London Gunmaker Joseph Hunt

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $35,000 - $55,000

Extraordinarily Rare Late 18th Century Ferguson Patent Breechloading Flintlock Rifle by London Gunmaker Joseph Hunt

Manufacturer: British
Model: Flintlock Rifle
Type: Musket
Gauge: 54
Barrel: 28 inch round
Finish: German silver
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 1528
Item Interest: Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 210
Class: Antique

Innovative for its time, the Ferguson rifle is considered by many to be the king of early breechloading rifles, and the most desirable, bar none. Originally invented by Captain Patrick Ferguson with intent for military use in 1774 and granted 1776 dated British patent number 1139. To operate, the knob protruding off the rear of the trigger guard is turned one rotation clockwise, which opens up the top of the breech end of the barrel, allowing access for loading of powder and ball; during a time when loading from the muzzle end with a rammer on a smoothbore musket was commonplace. In a combat scenario, the advantages of this system include the ability to reload drastically quicker, and also the ability to reload from the prone position in order to keep oneself from being exposed to the enemy, a feat near impossible with a muzzle-loading musket. An 1888 biography titled "TWO SCOTTISH SOLDIERS", by James Ferguson states, “Always on the outlook for opportunities of action, he [Patrick Ferguson] regarded with attention the aspect of affairs; and the outbreak of war with the revolted colonies found him intent on the invention of a new species of rifle, with which to counteract the superiority as marksmen of the American backwoodsmen.”. The "Annual Register" of June 1st, 1776 states, “Some experiments were tried at Woolwich before Lord Viscount Townshend, Lord Amherst, Generals Harvey and Desaguliers, and a number of other officers with a rifle gun upon a new construction by Capt. Ferguson of the 70th regiment; when that gentleman, under the disadvantages of a heavy rain and a high wind, performed the following four things, none of which had ever before been accomplished with any other small arms... 1st- He fired during four or five minutes at a target, at two hundred yards distance, at the rate of four shots each minute... 2nd- He fired six shots in one minute... 3rd- He fired four times per minute, advancing at the same time at the rate of four miles in the hour... 4th- He poured a bottle of water into the pan and barrel of the piece when loaded, so as to wet every grain of powder, and in less than half a minute fired with her as well as ever without extracting the ball. He also hit the bull’s eye at 100 yards, lying with his back on the ground; and, notwithstanding the unequalness of the wind and wetness of the weather he only missed the target three times during the whole course of the experiments. The captain has since taken out a patent for the said improvements.” After this demonstration, Lord Townsend, the Master General of Ordnance, directed one hundred rifles to be made for British Military use and for Patrick Ferguson to oversee their manufacturing. In 1777 Captain Ferguson would be put in command of a rifle corps to go fight in the Revolutionary War, carrying military pattern Ferguson rifles. Ferguson's men would see action at the battle of Brandywine all the way through to the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, where Ferguson was surrounded and killed. According to the article "THE FERGUSON RIFLE AND ITS ORIGINS" by Keith Neal, "...the actual rifles designed and used by Ferguson's corps were made by two contractors, D. Egg and J. Hunt... Only a few of the original weapons have survived and most of those that have are numbered on the barrels and have the word FERGUS stamped at the breech". "TWO SCOTTISH SOLDIERS" by James Ferguson states, "...the Americans destroyed all the rifles captured at King's Mountain." This Joseph Hunt manufactured rifle was not one of the military issue rifles, but appears to have been made for a high ranking Officer or a very important individual. It features Ferguson's patent multi-start screw breech plug system, which allows opening of the breech with one turn. The ten-thread breech plug on this example has Fergusons distinctive recesses cut into the sides to provide a place for fouling to go during use, and to allow for the use of lubrication. High quality embellished relief scroll engraving is seen on the barrel, lock, sideplate, breech screw plug, trigger guard and buttplate. Brass bead front and V notch rear sight ahead of the breech plug. Barrel features deep seven-groove rifling. The bottom of the muzzle end of the barrel has a bayonet lug, as seen on the military pattern rifles. The top of the German silver barrel is marked with crown proofs and "College Hill LONDON" for the location of the gunmaker Joseph Hunt. "A-N 4812" on the barrel and top of the buttplate, which is an Irish registration mark for Antrim County in Northern Ireland, the likely residence of the original recipient of this rifle. The lock is marked "J. HUNT". The silver vine inlaid sideplate is wearing small boxed Birmingham "anchor" and "E" silver hallmarks for 1777 date. The silver buttplate has small boxed London silver hallmarks at the bottom including a "C" for 1778 date, and "I•K" Silversmith mark. Walnut stock with fancy dot checkering and minor raised relief shell carving at the wrist. Original wood cleaning rod with a concealed extracting tool, accessed by a removable brass cap on the back end. Provenance: Firearms for Freedom Collection

Rating Definition:

Extremely fine and highly attractive, displaying attractive aged patina on the silver furniture and German silver barrel with some light handling marks, gray patina and some light spots of pitting and wear from period use on the lock, trigger guard, breech plug, and both tangs, small chips and a crack on the sideplate, and sharp markings. Stock is very fine with some light handling marks, some scattered dings and scratches, and crisp checkering. Mechanically excellent. With only a few Fergusons left, mostly residing in museums, this is a truly unique opportunity to own this most historic rifle!

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