Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1121: Experimental Whitworth Percussion Rifle Dated 1859

Auction Date: August 27, 2022

Rare Experimental Whitworth Percussion Rifle Dated 1859

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $5,000 - $7,000

Rare Experimental Whitworth Percussion Rifle Dated 1859

Manufacturer: Whitworth
Model: Percussion
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 451
Barrel: 33 1/8 inch round
Finish: brown
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 473
Item Interest: Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 97
Class: Antique

This is a desirable example of an early production 1859 dated Whitworth rifle. The Whitworth is widely considered to have been the first rifle used for true sniping. They were reportedly accurate up to 1,800 yards or more. At shorter distances, the Whitworth was far more accurate with tighter groupings than the Enfield Pattern 53 thanks to its polygonal rifling using specially fitted bullets in the shape of the rifling; both of which were originally patented by Joseph Whitworth under his British patent number 2,525 dated December 1st, 1854 and British patent number 903 dated April 23rd, 1855. The Whitworth rifle is best known for its use by Confederate sharpshooters during the Civil War, of which only approximately 250 Whitworth rifles are believed to been sold to the Confederate Army in total; the small amount of these rifles in use were well known and feared. Union General Sedgwick fell victim to a head shot from a sniper using a Whitworth rifle on May 8, 1864. Shortly before General Sedgwick was killed, he scolded some of his men for ducking gun fire, telling them that "they couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." This rifle has a fixed blade front sight that doubles as a bayonet lug, notch and ladder rear sight (mounted backwards), Birmingham proofs as well as "52" bore markings on the left at the breech and repeated on the underside of the breech, Whitworth marking on top of the barrel covered by the rear sight, "crown/W" marked at the tail of the lock and "WHITWORTH/1859" marked at the center of the lock, smooth trigger, full length stock, and sling swivels located on the front barrel band and tail of the trigger guard tang. Matching serial number "114" marked on top of the barrel at the breech, inside the barrel channel of the stock and inside the lock. "R&W ASTON" also marked inside the lock. "334" marked on the ramrod and "F PRESTON" marked on the side of the rear sight base and barrel bands. This example has the same type of experimental trigger guard seen on a previous example recently sold by Rock Island Auction Company (auction 84, lot 226), which Bill Curtis of the English Whitworth Project indicated as an unusual feature that may be meant to mate with a shooting rest, and further indicated that rifle was included as one of the very few surviving examples of the first 200 Whitworth rifles used in experiments and testing. This example is wearing serial number "114" on top of the barrel and the previous example sold was marked with later serial number "170", although this example has a lock dated one year later than the aforementioned example and both examples have matching serial numbered locks, indicating variances with the serial number of these early Whitworth rifles in relation to their lock dates. Weight: 8 lbs. 3 oz. (lighter than a Pattern 1853 Enfield that most later Whitworth's matched). Includes period leather sling.

Rating Definition:

Very good, exhibiting a mix of gray and brown patina overall with traces of original brown finish on the barrel, traces of original blue finish on the rear sight ladder, traces of original case colors on the lock, a few patches of light pitting, and mostly defined markings. Stock is very fine with attractive grain and defined edges, crisp checkering with a few small chips in the forearm checkering, some light handling marks, and a minor small crack at the toe. Mechanically excellent.

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