Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 170: A. Harrington Flintlock Rifle Attributed to Andrew Jackson

Auction Date: September 10, 2021

Extraordinary Historic Panel Scene Patriotic Motif Engraved, German Silver Banded, and German Silver Mounted A. Harrington New York Flintlock Full-Stock Rifle Inscribed "Old Hickory" and Attributed as Owned by President Andrew Jackson

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $75,000 - $120,000

Extraordinary Historic Panel Scene Patriotic Motif Engraved, German Silver Banded, and German Silver Mounted A. Harrington New York Flintlock Full-Stock Rifle Inscribed "Old Hickory" and Attributed as Owned by President Andrew Jackson

Manufacturer: American
Model: Flintlock
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 42
Barrel: 34 1/2 inch octagon
Finish: brown/casehardened/German silver
Stock: curly maple
Item Views: 6056
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 126
Class: Antique

This incredible rifle, without any historical connection, would already be a magnificent example of American fine arms from the "Age of Jackson," but the "OLD HICKORY" inscription on the cheekpiece plate suggesting that this rifle was built for Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) certainly adds considerably to its mystique and historical interest. Jackson was frequently called Old Hickory throughout the period, but exactly when, why, by whom, and if this rifle was presented to Jackson is not known. This fine rifle would certainly have been as fitting as a gift for Old Hickory when he was president in 1829-1837. He rose to prominence as a military hero famous for leading American riflemen to victory in an age when smoothbore muskets remained the norm. He is known to have owned other fine arms. He earned his nickname due to his toughness while leading a small army in multiple victories in the American southeast during the War of 1812 and the contemporaneous Red Stick War. The most famous of these victories was his defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, though they outnumbered his ragtag "army" by 2 to 1. The use of rifles by the Americans was given out-sized attention in the period, and the song "The Hunters of Kentucky" (also known as "The Battle of New Orleans") is credited with popularizing the name "Kentucky rifles" for the American long rifle with the lines: "But Jackson he was wide awake, And was not scar'd at trifles, For well he knew what aim we take, With our Kentucky rifles." Jackson was certainly a tough man and very familiar with firearms. In addition to his many years of military service dating back to his youth when he was a courier during the American Revolution, Jackson fought in several duels. Most famously, he carried a ball in his chest near his heart from the duel with his rival Charles Dickinson after willingly allowing Dickinson to shoot first and then carefully taking aim at Dickinson not once but twice after the lock malfunctioned and dropped to half-cock. Many saw his behavior in the duel as vicious and even murderous. Jackson was certainly politically and morally divisive figure within his own time and remains so today. Perhaps it is not surprisingly then that he was the first American president to deal with an assassination attempt. After both of the assailant's pistols misfired, Jackson beat him with his cane. Though divisive, Jackson was also very popular. He defeated John Quincy Adams by more than 10% in 1824, but lost the election when it was sent to the U.S. House of Representatives because no candidate had secured an electoral majority. He defeated Adams by just over 10% again in 1828 and won. In 1832, he beat Henry Clay by more than 16%. Regardless of his reputation, Jackson stands as one of the most influential presidents in American history. When he died in 1845, Old Hickory may have left the rifle to his adopted son Andrew Jackson Jr. (1808-1865). The Hermitage states that Andrew Jackson Jr. reportedly owned another of Jackson's ornate rifles. The rifle is signed "A. Harrington MAKER New York" on the barrel in ornate script with lightly engraved swirling accents and is believed to have come from the shop of A.A. Harrington of Poughkeepsie, New York. Relatively little is known about this maker and his firearms, but there are advertisements from 1830-1832 for his shop in various issues of the "Poughkeepsie Journal," first for the "Poughkeepsie Gun Factory" and later for "Harrington's Gun Manufactory." His June 2, 1830, dated advertisement indicated he had taken over the shop of P.P. Hayes and was manufacturing rifles, fowling pieces, and muskets and also converted flintlocks to percussion. His June 2, 1832, dated advertisement was published on the same page as the town's proclamation of support for Andrew Jackson in the election of 1832 and notes that A.A. Harrington of Poughkeepsie, under the sign of an eagle, offered double and single barrel guns for $4.25 to $75, fine rifles for $10 to $100, "smooth rifles" for $9, pistols, variety of muskets for $4 to $8, and an assortment of accoutrement. A $100 rifle would certainly have been a high end piece. The barrel was manufactured by Remington and has their curved maker's mark partially visible on the left flat at the breech and has three holes for a false muzzle (not included), a brass blade front sight, adjustable notch rear sight with decorative finial, the above noted maker's mark, a peep sight with a long extended tang and light engraving, five bands at the breech (two broad at the rear and three narrower at the front), and coned vent. Shorter barrels became more popular during the percussion era. The false muzzle was patented in 1840 by Alvan Clark of Boston as a "loading muzzle" and was reportedly solely assigned to Edwin Wesson. Wesson began licensing other gunmakers as well, and some New York gunmakers simply made unauthorized use of Clark's design. The peep sight was also likely installed at that time. The building of highly accurate rifles became a specialty of the Northeast in this period. The lock has a rainproofed pan with distinct gutters that direct water away from the pan, a "J-FISHER" maker's mark, scroll and cornucopia engraving, stepped tail, and a roller on the frizzen spring. The rifle has an adjustable single set trigger. The stock is finely figured curly maple and has engraved German silver furniture including an eagle on the bottom of the grasping section of the forend, scroll accented trigger guard, ornate banner inscribed "OLD HICKORY" and scroll engraving on the rounded cheekpiece, scroll pattern accent trim along the edge of the butt between the buttplate tang and toeplate with twist motif borders, the patch box has a pair of deer and foliage, a cougar mask, and bald eagle finial with a banner inscribed with the motto "NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT" held in the eagle's beak. The Latin motto on the banner in the eagle's beak means "no one provokes me with impunity" and is most famously the motto of the Stuarts and the Kingdom of Scotland as well as the Order of the Thistle and multiple Scottish organizations. Andrew Jackson's parents were Scots-Irish immigrants. The patch box appears to be purely decorative. No provision for opening the lid has been found after close investigation in search for a hidden release button, and the lid fits tightly against the buttplate. The engraving may be the work of Richard Bates Inshaw who was active in New York in the early 1830s and engraved arms for Samuel Colt in the Paterson era before moving to work for Ames in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 1836. A comparison to the Inshaw rifle in the Chicopee Historical Society's collection and shown on pages 68-71 of "Colt Factory Engravers of the Nineteenth Century" by Houze is warranted. Houze is recorded as saying the rifle, which is believed to have been a "masterpiece" example of the Inshaw brothers' work, "Is it without a doubt the best pre-1850 American firearm I've ever seen," and this rifle is certainly every bit as fine and even more fascinating.

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine. The barrel retains 85% of the original brown finish and has aged patina and verdigris on the German silver bands, minor oxidation, and general minor wear. The lock has brown and mottled gray patina, crisp engraving, and mild wear. The German silver furniture displays crisp engraving, minor aging, and light wear. The stock is very fine and displays attractive flame figure, minor dings and scratches, a tension crack at the lock screw on the left, and light overall wear. Mechanically excellent. This is a very attractive, fresh to the market, and extraordinary "National Treasure" flintlock rifle undoubtedly once owned by "Old Hickory": President Andrew Jackson.

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