Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1139: Ellis-Jennings Four-Shot Flintlock Rifle

Auction Date: September 11, 2021

Incredibly Rare and Historically Significant Documented Ellis-Jennings Four-Shot Sliding Lock Repeating Flintlock Rifle

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $15,000 - $25,000

Incredibly Rare and Historically Significant Documented Ellis-Jennings Four-Shot Sliding Lock Repeating Flintlock Rifle

Manufacturer: R. JOHNSON
Model: Ellis-Jennings
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 54
Barrel: 36 inch round
Finish: bright
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 1184
Item Interest: Average
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 100
Class: Antique

These rare repeating rifles are among the rarest and most fascinating U.S. martial arms. Very, very few of these rifles are known today, and they are almost never available to the public. This rifle is pictured on pages 457-459 of "American Military Shoulder Arms, Volume II: From the 1790s to the End of the Flintlock Period" by George Moller and has his discreet "GDM" collection mark near the toe. As explained in Moller's book, these rifles were based on Isaiah Jennings' September 2, 1821, patented improvement of Joseph Belton's earlier repeating system and were manufactured under contract with the federal government through Reuben Ellis of New York by Robert and J. D. Johnson of Middletown, Connecticut, for issue to the New York militia. They were inspected by U.S. Ordnance inspectors and delivered to the New York Commissary General in three batches: 200 on June 30, 1829, 160 on September 21, 1829, and 161 on October 22, 1829. The 521 rifles cost $13,090, a very significant amount for the period. Each of these rifles cost around 2 1/2 times what the government paid for earlier contract rifles. The State of New York legislature authorized the acceptance of these rifles in lieu of one-half of their annual federal allotment of muskets from the Ordnance Department. The pivoting vent covers also serve to stop the lock in the proper position for each shot. When the lock is cocked, a link to the priming magazine tilts the primer and fills the pan and the screw on the link into the magazine hits the frizzen pulling it closed. After the shot, the next vent cover is then manually flipped up, and the lock can be pulled to the next position and cocked again in one motion. While some Jennings are known with more than four shots such as the 10-shot rifle at the Cody Firearms Museum, those produced under contract were the 4-shot variety. This design would have allowed for much more rapid fire for four shots before the shooter would then need to reload. Given that slow reloading was the main disadvantage of rifles before the advent of the Minie ball, this system would have been a real improvement for the first four shots, particularly in an encounter that might depend on engaging multiple foes in quick succession. However, the rifle would have taken considerably more time to reload between the 4th and 5th shots compared to a regular rifle if the shooter wanted to start with four more shots, but, when in a rush, the rifleman certainly could have just loaded a single shot again. Unlike most contract arms of the period, there are no markings for the contractors on the lock which is basically the same as the pistol locks used by Simeon North on the 1826 U.S. contract pistols but with the jaw connected to the primer magazine with a link and the lock fitted to a mount in the sliding track rather than into the side of the stock. Many of the components have small "4" assembly marks, and the sliding mount is marked "D3." The barrel has the same rifling and blade and notch sights as the Model 1817, and the furniture is also the same as that model with the exception of the lack of a sideplate since the lock is not fitted through the stock. The barrel is numbered "445" on the left side at the breech and is marked "US/JM/P" indicating inspection by Justin Murphy, and the left stock flat also has his oval "JM" cartouche. "N. THAYER." is marked upside down on the stock in the slot for the lock track. Moller noted this is common on these rifles, and the example at the Institute of Military Technology is marked with just "NT" in the same spot; however, nothing is currently documented on his identity. It is likely that N. Thayer was the stockmaker. While we could not confirm a connection, there was a Nathaniel Thayer operating a joiner shop in Burlington, Vermont, at the time, and a complex stock like this would have benefited from the skills of an advanced woodworker. The patch box contains a "U" shaped turn-screw, ball puller, worm, and vent pick. A normal iron ramrod with brass tip is fitted beneath the barrel, and the rifle has been fitted with a later black leather sling. Provenance: The George Moller Collection

Rating Definition:

Very good with silver-gray patina, mild pitting mostly around the vent holes indicating this rifle actually saw some use, and minor overall wear. The stock is fine and has a chip at the rear of the frame plate, glossy reoiled finish, and some general minor dings and scratches. The trigger bar mechanism isn't tripping the lock in the first position, but it is otherwise mechanically fine. This is an amazing opportunity to add one of the rarest firearms ever made under contract with the U.S. government and certainly one of the most fascinating early repeating rifle designs and would be as at home in a collection of antique martial arms as it would in a collection of 19th century repeating arms.

Customer Product Questions

There are currently no customer product questions on this lot