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Old February 15, 2009, 11:33 PM   #1
Greg Bell
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What rifle, circa 1850, would be called a "Swivel bore."

I was reading Blood Meridian and John Glanton's rifle is refered to as a "Swivel Bore." What is that?
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Old February 16, 2009, 02:14 AM   #2
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I would guess it was some variant of a swivel gun. A large caliber musket meant to be mounted on a platform rather than being fired from the shoulder.

So it could just mean a big bore musket.
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Old February 16, 2009, 08:24 AM   #3
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Not having read the book, I can only go by known real world examples.
The correct term from the era and area is "swivel breech."
It describes a muzzleloading rifle with two barrels but only one lock and is laid out as an over-under. The barrels are pivoted or "swiveled" into the breech. It is operated:
Load and prime both barrels.
Cock the lock and fire the top barrel.
Re-cock the lock, swivel the bottom barrel to the top position, and fire a second shot.

Most of the ones you will turn up on a google are flintlocks, but I have seen percussion swivel or "rollover" rifles.
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Old February 16, 2009, 10:11 AM   #4
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Oddly enough, the rifle described by Jim appears in a movie that I will stop to watch anytime: Big Sky (black & white version) staring Dewy Martin, Kirk Douglas and one of the best actors to ever portray a western character, Arthur Hunnicut.

Dewy Martin (Boone Caudil) carries the 'swivel breech' and demonstrates its effectiveness when the evil 'company' tries to detain Poor Devil.

In the late 70s and early 80s there was some fella in Montana that was selling the 'swivel breeches' themselves and I, foolishly, did not pick one up. I believe 1 or 2 of the Flathead Freetrappers did make some of these firearms but they are pretty labor intensive.

Here are a couple of images to give you an idea:
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Swivel breech - 1.jpg (64.0 KB, 302 views)
File Type: jpg Swivel breech - 4.jpg (33.8 KB, 233 views)
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Old February 16, 2009, 03:43 PM   #5
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Jim,

I think you are right! That pretty much fits the description.

Thanks! I have been wondering about this for years.
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Old February 16, 2009, 03:51 PM   #6
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I should mention that the 'locking mechanism' is the triggerguard which slides backwards.
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Old February 16, 2009, 07:13 PM   #7
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Were these custom only affairs? I presume these were not common.

This is a really neat rifle. Thanks.
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Old February 16, 2009, 07:46 PM   #8
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Actually that is a very difficult question to answer.

We're not really dealing with industrial revolution here... yet many gunmakers specialized in certain types of firearms. To that extent it was a 'production' firearm. i.e. the Northwest Trade Gun, Leman, Plains, Hawken, Kentucky, Lancaster, Billinghurst, etc. Parts were forged, cast using the 'lost wax' method or purchased from sources employing the 'cottage industry' labor force.

There was some 'production' firearms utilizing men like Eli Whitney. i.e. the Walker Colt.

So they could be made one-at-a-time but not be custom rifles.

Were they 'common'? I would venture to say that they were not 'rare'. John Browning's father made a state of the art 'harmonica' rifle but he made them for the Mormons and was considered one of their most important gunmakers. Rare to us but not 'rare' to Mormons of the period.

I hope this isn't too confusing but, I believe, each firearm needs to be investigated in context. The Hall Breechloader used by American forces comes to mind.

I was approached once to clean and restore a complete Civil War collection. I was quite amazed at the number of rifles I had never heard about or seen. Naturally there was no 'owner's manual' so it was quite a job to carefully dis-assemble them (one-by-one), clean them and re-assemble them. As you can imagine, I took it very slow. The owner expected there to be no marks or evidence of dis-assembly.

In the time period you specified, many men 'invented' firearms in an attempt to get around existing patents. Most of them were just too complex and too fragile to be of any use to the armed forces. Their yardstick always was and still is, the fewest parts possible, capable of field repairs with 'plug in' style components and stout enough to be used as a club to achieve a tool that will stand up to the abuse of recruits.

I believe that this aim was achieved with the arrival of the Walker and Dragoon Colts. You will note that they were issued in pairs with a gunstock attachment for each pair.
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Old February 16, 2009, 07:57 PM   #9
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wow. THat Harmonica gun is absolutely amazing. What do they go for?
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Old February 16, 2009, 08:06 PM   #10
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Perhaps this might be an indicator:

BEDFORD, N.H. - On June 3, J.C. Devine, Inc, auctioned an important rifle at the Wayfarer Convention Center. It brought $68,500, including the buyer's premium.

The top hammer rifle was made in 1853 and production was very limited, with only two or three other specimens known today. Jonathan Browning's earliest examples of his slide action or "Harmonica Rifle" were of the underhammer design and were built in Quincy, Illinois in the 1830s.

In 1839 Browning met the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith and converted to Mormonism. He continued his gun-making in Nauvoo, Ill., until the Mormons were forced to flee to Iowa in 1846. It was not until 1852 that the Mormon Church leaders permitted Browning to move to Utah and he settled in Ogden where the rifle was made.

The rifle has a brass frame and colorful cherry wood stock along with a five-shot .41 caliber slide that is manually operated and locked in position by a thumb lever on the right side. The octagonal barrel is 31-ΒΌ inch long with the overall length of the rifle being 50 inches. The rifle has an iron triggerguard and buttplate, a pewter forend cap, and a single-set trigger. The top of the barrel is marked "JN Browning Ogden, UT" with the "N" almost illegible because of dings in the metal. The top of the brass frame is dated "1853." Prior to the sale the rifle has been in only two collections in the last half century; a New Jersey collector purchased it from Bob Halter who owned it in 1953 when it was pictured in Ray Riling's The Powder Flask Book.
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Old February 16, 2009, 08:35 PM   #11
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well, guess I am still going to be looking for a piece of land to buy. Sure not paying $70k for a gun, no matter how sweet it is.

How did you stop the other chambers from inadvertantly going off when the primer went off in the first?
How could you stop the powder from pouring out the hole the spark goes down form the primer? It wouldn't be covered like a single shot.
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Old February 17, 2009, 02:20 AM   #12
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If I remember correctly the "swivel breech" rifle manufacture centered around the Pennsylvania area, especially those with a ready supply of skilled German riflesmiths.

They were never a widespread firearm because of the cost required in their exacting manufacture. Kinda like how double rifles were very popular in Africa, but rare because you could get a B grade Mauser 98 in 9.3x62 for less than a tenth of the cost.

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Old February 17, 2009, 01:06 PM   #13
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Quote:
How did you stop the other chambers from inadvertantly going off when the primer went off in the first?
The barrel had a cone breech that fit into a recess in the front of the chamber on the slide, sealing the chamber and avoiding chain fires. The thumb lever/locking lever would push the sliding chamber forward to seal the breech. I don't know whether they used grease over the ball or not to help control chain firing. A friend of mine is currently working on a harmonica gun, it should be interesting when it is done.
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Old February 17, 2009, 01:16 PM   #14
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Sorry fellas... I should have done this in the first place:
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File Type: jpg Johnathan Browning Slide-2.jpg (23.7 KB, 80 views)
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Old February 17, 2009, 06:48 PM   #15
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Check out the bores on this sweet swivel breech.

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Old February 17, 2009, 09:08 PM   #16
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wow, maybe it would be worth 70K
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