Revolutionary War firearms rank among the most elusive firearms in the collecting pursuit. Surviving examples are rarely found outside of museums and dedicated historic societies, and Rock Island Auction Company’s December 8 – 10 Premier Firearms Auction features an exceptionally scarce U.S. flintlock pistol from the American Revolution and other items from the era.
Two Revolutionary War-era firearms tied to the Maryland Committee of Safety. Both of these immensely significant pieces are available this December.
In the lead-up to the Revolutionary War, the American colonies were ill-prepared to produce standardized military weaponry and equipment at scale. Committees (or Councils) of Safety were organized in the various states to address this issue. Most of these early American firearms have been lost to the ravages of time, and surviving examples with ties to America’s fight for independence are holy grails for military arms collectors, history enthusiasts, and anyone interested in owning a crucial piece of the American story.
One of only two known Revolutionary War, Thomas Ewing inspected, Maryland Council of Safety flintlock pistols. Available this December.
A Maryland Council of Safety Flintlock Pistol
One of the most desirable pieces for Revolutionary-era arms collections in December’s auction, the flintlock pistol pictured below follows the overall design of its contemporary, the British Light Dragoon pistol. Manufactured between 1775 and 1777, the pistol was stamped with the mark of Captain Thomas Ewing, an inspector for the Maryland Council of Safety and the commander of the Third Battalion of the Maryland Flying Camp mobile reserve during the American Revolutionary War.
The Maryland Council of Safety issued pistols like this example primarily to militia officers, although some were also given to cavalry units and to the limited number of sailors fighting for the American cause. Then Captain Thomas Ewing was responsible for inspecting weapons that were intended both for the Maryland state militia as well as the Continental Army.
On the left side of the barrel, this pistol is stamped with the tulip-shaped proofmark of Captain Thomas Ewing, a Maryland Committee of Safety Council inspector appointed about 1775. Available this December.
This pistol, serial number 434, is nearly identical to pistol number 226 as illustrated and described on pages 16 and 17 of ‘Historic Pistols: The American Martial Flintlock’ by Samuel Smith and Edwin Bitter. The authors identify the tulip-shaped symbol on the left side of the pistol as a Maryland proofmark of the Revolutionary period and provisionally that of Captain Thomas Ewing. A scarce few American-made pistols with a recognized individual maker’s proofmark have survived.
In addition to Ewing’s inspection mark, the underside of the pistol’s barrel bears serial number “434” and the stamp of “JGM/ eagle” inside a shield, denoting that before the firearm left the manufactory it was inspected by James Johnson, Superintendent of the Pistol Division and co-founder of the Catoctin Furnace, a historic iron forge outside of Fredericktown. Current research indicates that serial numbers 226 and 434 are the only pistols manufactured by the Maryland Council of Safety that are known to exist today.
One of the rarest American martial flintlocks in existence, this Maryland Council of Safety Flintlock pistol closely follows the British Light Dragoon design style but with distinct iron furniture and a civilian “Germanic” lock. Available this December.
The .64 caliber pistol is in exceptional condition for a Revolutionary War gun. Its smoothbore, round iron barrel is 9 inches long, produced in a pin-fastened British style with a series of rings at the breech. The stock is light-colored walnut with a pronounced “beavertail” carved around the barrel tang. The pistol’s hickory ramrod has a flared head and an iron tip with a worm on the opposite end.
In a December auction packed with some of the finest firearms of every genre, this Maryland Council of Safety flintlock pistol, one of only two known, produced during one of the most significant periods in American history would be a centerpiece in even the most advanced U.S. martial arms collections.
Serial number “434” is crisply marked on the pistol’s left stock flat. This phenomenal piece represents American history from the cradle of liberty. Available this December.
A “US” Surcharged Maryland Committee of Safety Attributed Flintlock Musket
Offered next is a Maryland Committee of Safety-attributed musket. The Maryland Council of Safety directed and regulated the local militia, with the group’s 16 council members appointing and commissioning officers and establishing a gunlock factory in Fredericktown, Maryland, in December 1775 to help answer the state’s desperate call for war manufacturing.
This historic musket includes a number of interesting markings, including the raised letters “ICI” in an apparent maker’s mark located on the lock near the frizzen spring, with a “US” stamp on top of the breech and a mark resembling an inverted “V” within the arms of a larger “V” stamped at the left quarter of the breech, and a “D” stamped in the stock behind the trigger guard tang. Available this December.
Brown Bess Maryland Committee of Safety muskets were assembled using imported locks and barrels. These firearms resemble British Short Land Pattern Brown Bess muskets at a glance, but feature a wrist escutcheon/thumb plate secured by an exterior wood screw, which is considered a distinguishing feature of early Maryland-attributed muskets.
This Committee of Safety-attributed firearm features a 42 inch barrel and brass furniture similar to a British Short Land Pattern musket. Available this December.
More information on these fascinating Committee of Safety muskets can be found on pages 110 to 111 of ‘The History of Weapons of the American Revolution’ by George C. Neumann, page 161 of ‘Muskets of the Revolution’ by Bill Ahearn, and pages 114 to 116 of ‘American Military Shoulder Arms Volume I’ by George D. Moller.
Guns of the Revolutionary Period
Rock Island Auction Company’s December Premier features numerous intriguing firearms from the late 18th century that highlight the variety of weapons available during the Revolutionary period.
One such example, the New England fowling piece, was a popular hunting arm in the northern colonies that often doubled as a service weapon for American militiamen. Produced by Benjamin Homer and his son Benjamin Perrott Homer, both merchants in Boston during the Colonial and Revolutionary eras, these long smoothbore hunting guns were sometimes shortened and modified to take bayonets.
This New England club butt flintlock fowling piece produced in the 1760s or 1770s has “B-HOMER” on the English-style lock. The wrist escutcheon is silver and has the initials “BG” in ornate script. Available this December.
During the American Revolutionary War, Verbruggen guns were in wide use with the Royal Army and Royal Navy in North America, and their bronze guns were among the most commonly recovered artillery pieces in the American fight for independence, including at the Battle of Cowpens and the Siege of Yorktown. The 3-pounders, nicknamed “Grasshoppers” or “Gallopers,” were particularly well-suited for warfare in North American and were specifically designed for use as light battalion guns to support the infantry and were able to be transported by a single horse or carried by men. This allowed them to be far more mobile and suitable for difficult terrain.
A historic Revolutionary War era 1775 dated Verbruggen 3-pounder “Grasshopper” bronze cannon. Available this December.
In the 18th century, the British Royal Navy began to standardize its firearms. The Sea Service pistol of .54 caliber was a reliable design that saw extensive use around the globe. In contrast to the less defined proof marks on American guns of the era, the barrel markings on British pieces tended to be far more uniform. The example below, a British pattern 1756/77 Long Sea Service flintlock pistol, would have been a common model during the French & Indian War and the American Revolution, but surviving examples are few and far between.
British Pattern 1756/77 Long Sea Service Flintlock Pistol features a “crown/GR” royal cipher and “crown/broad arrow” marked at the center of the lock, and “broad arrow/BO” stamped on top of the wrist. Available this December.
Scottish belt pistols were carried by men in the U.K.’s Highland regiments in the latter part of the 18th century, including during the Revolutionary War. One of the most famous examples was the 71st Regiment of Foot, the Fraser’s Highlanders, who were raised in 1775 to help put down the American rebellion.
Perhaps the most famous example is the Scottish belt pistol is the pair of Pitcairn-Putnam Pistols displayed in the Hancock-Clarke House of the Lexington Historical Society. Originally belonging to Major John Pitcairn, a Scot who commanded the advance British force that marched into Lexington in April 1775, these Scottish belt pistols were said to be recovered by American militiamen during the British retreat back to Boston and were presented to General Israel Putnam.
Extravagant examples like this silver-accented Thomas Murdoch Scottish pistol, produced during the 1770s, were designed as more ceremonial pieces to compliment dress uniforms, but they were fully functional firearms that were carried in battle when the need arose.
An ornate, extensively engraved, silver-accented Thomas Murdoch Scottish flintlock belt pistol from The Norman R. Blank Collection. Available this December.
Approximately 549 first type Nock seven-shot volley guns were delivered to the British Royal Navy during the Revolutionary War between 1779 and 1780. The firearm’s distinctive barrel cluster, six outer barrels around a central barrel, produced a tighter shot group and had greater range than a blunderbuss, making the Nock volley gun an ideal naval weapon for sharpshooters of the day firing at the deck of a passing enemy ship.
The example pictured below is an even rarer second type Nock volley gun, one of only 106 issued to the British Royal Navy. After the American Revolution, the Nock volley gun went on to serve in the French Revolutionary Wars and the early Napoleonic Wars. According to Admiral Horatio Nelson, the firearm’s severe recoil could cripple its users. The massive fireball the weapon produced also risked igniting nearby sails and rigging. Both factors contributed to the gun being pulled from service between 1804 and 1805.
This second type Nock Volley gun, one of the finest examples of the model in circulation, was previously part of the famous Clay P. Bedford Collection and was displayed in the “Early Firearms of Great Britain and Ireland” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Available this December.
Revolutionary War Guns for Sale and More
After nearly 250 years, most firearms from the American Revolution have been lost to time. The Thomas Ewing inspected pistol and the “US” surcharged Brown Bess musket offered by Rock Island Auction Company this December, both linked to the Maryland Committee of Safety, represent two of those rare survivors and are absolute cornerstones in early American martial arms collecting.
The Revolutionary period saw a multitude of unique pistols, carbines, rifles, and other distinctive firearms produced. The handsome lines and graceful aesthetic of flintlocks manufactured during this era stand out against some of the more utilitarian designs that followed, and Rock Island Auction Company’s December 8 – 10 Premier Firearms Auction includes some of the finest examples from this fascinating chapter in arms development.
A documented engraved pair of Griffin & Tow double barrel, silver mounted boxlock flintlock pistols manufactured in the early 1770s. Available thid December.
Making its debut this December, The Norman R. Blank Collection offers collectors a comprehensive look at the pinnacle of craftsmanship in the genre of high-art European antique firearms. From exquisite 17th century flintlocks and wheellocks to exhibition quality percussion pistols from the early 19th century, Mr. Blank’s collection is a tour-de-force of the era’s most noted craftsmen, including Nicolas-Noël Boutet, Gastinne Renette, Durs Egg, Henry Nock, Joseph and John Manton, and numerous other elite artisans from the U.K. and Continental Europe.
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