View Full Version : Revolutionary War Musket ID

August 17, 2009, 09:07 PM
This is a family heirloom that was taken from a battlefield in upstate NY. I thought it might be a Brown Bess, but I have been told that is not. I would like to get an ID and approximate value for insurance purposes.


Jim Watson
August 17, 2009, 09:24 PM
Beats me. I cannot decipher the proof marks but will look some up.

I don't think it is any sort of military musket, too slender and lightweight. Looks like the wrist of the stock is cracked and has been repaired by wrapping with sheet brass. With the lightly engraved brass furniture and fancy off-side plate, I would call it a medium grade fowling piece. The sling swivels are unusual for that, though. Maybe built by or for somebody with military experience who knew the value of a sling.

But then I am just guessing.

August 18, 2009, 12:06 AM
Thanks. It may have been a hunting weapon that was later taken to war. It was used for hunting after the war. But I always assumed that it was military issue because of the marks. The family story is that it was parried from a British dragoon officer, but who knows... I have had someone tell me that it might have been manufactured in continental Europe, but again, I have no clue. It was last fired on July 4, 1876.

Mike Irwin
August 18, 2009, 09:34 AM
It was definitely manufactured in Europe. The proofmarks attest to that. All firearms, military and commerical, were proofed in Europe by proofhouses.

We need to see good CLEAR pictures of the proofmarks.

Knowing the approximate caliber would help a lot.

The British issued .75 caliber muskets, while the French issued .69 caliber muskets.

It's definitely not a "Brown Bess" or a "Charleyville."

It's also not a dragoon carbine, so I doubt that it would have been in the hands of a British dragoon, definitely NOT an officer, either.

I agree, it's a commercial market fowling piece that may have been pressed into military service, but certainly not in the hands of the British.

August 18, 2009, 12:38 PM
Thanks. That explanation makes a lot of sense. I have added a close-up of the proof marks to the gallery linked above. The three marks appear to be the following.

A 'P' under a crown in a starburst

A 'WG' under a crown

A 'V' under a crown in a starburst

The caliber appears to be a bit more than 5/8s of an inch, but not 3/4 so it could be French.

Jim Watson
August 18, 2009, 02:05 PM
A little over 5/8" (.625") might be British Carbine Bore of .65 caliber.
Shoots a standard ball of the day and amounts to an 18 gauge fowler for hunting. Very versatile.

If I had lived back then, my eyesight would have made a long heavy Pennsylvania-Kentucky rifle pretty useless. I would have wanted a light handy fowler and dealt with man or beast close up.

Those proof marks do not show up in my articles with British or French marks and information on Italian and German proof marks do not go back that far.

Mike Irwin
August 18, 2009, 02:11 PM
I'm at a loss on those.

They're similar to marks used at various times in England, France, Italy, and Spain.

Other than that, I'm just not sure at all.

August 18, 2009, 06:22 PM
Many thanks for the information.

Based on this list, I am guessing that the crown over the V indicates London.

Any general ideas on value?

Mike Irwin
August 18, 2009, 06:26 PM
Until you positively ID it, you won't be able to positively set the value.

August 18, 2009, 07:27 PM
There appears to be some lettering on the lockplate, just ahead of the hammer pivot, and a crest or someting hard to see atop the barrel above that, on the barrel flat next to the three marks.

Could you please examine them under magnification, and let us know if you can make out what they spell ?



August 18, 2009, 07:51 PM
I added a close up of the lockplate lettering to the gallery linked above. I can't completely make it out. Something like 'G KLC E'.

Interestingly, I looked closer on the top of the barrel. There are 2 sort of zig-zag patterns there, but they don't look like they were intentionally placed there.

I did however notice for the first time that "LONDON" is lightly stamped on the top of the barrel... about 1 inch long in caps.

August 18, 2009, 08:20 PM

if i may this seems to be a baker or tower rifle with a upgraded trigger guard and some other later works

the proof marks show its a White castle which suits the time frame for a baker

and the frizzen and frizzen spring are atypical too

so my guess ( and please remember thats all it is ) is this is a Baker rifle thats been handed to a gent who had some finery ( the fancy work) added after manufacture which was not that uncommon.

date between 1724 and 1749 because white tower had a fire in 1749 and that proof mark was not used after this year. the main armoury moved to another location and never returned also the white castle was renamed in 1753.

below is a shot of a baker on the left and a Bess on the right the bess has a flash guard that was not standard until 1752-1754 ( took 2 years to convert them and some never where done)


and the inside that will tell you for sure


the shape of the bridle is the best indicator as to what model and year the rifle was made as they changed often over 100+ year period



August 18, 2009, 08:20 PM
Sorta looks like a trade gun made for the North American market by English(?) gunmakers. Like those traded to important Chiefs and such. Certainly resembles some of the guns in a book I own, "Colonial Frontier Guns" by T.M. Hamilton (paperback photo and drawings illustrations). Well maybe you could email some pictures to the gunsmiths at Colonial Williamsburg or the like. Or Antiques Roadshow. Or the National Muzzleloading Rifle Assoc. Those old trade types are rare and desireable pieces, regardless of their usage by civilians or indian allies of the British military. Does not look like a French trade gun to me, but I could be wrong, they are not vastly different in appearance from a distance, it would take research or an expert. But the British and French were the big trade gun makers at the time that was made, I believe. The Dutch made trade guns but I think they are earlier. Good find and valuable in any case.

August 18, 2009, 08:59 PM

Which of the 3 proof marks leads you to believe it is a pre-1750 Baker rifle?

4V50 Gary
August 18, 2009, 09:11 PM
I see a Brown Bess style buttplate as well as the trigger guard. The front thimble also appears to be off a bess as well as the entry thimble.

The stock style is not a of the Brown Bess pattern.

The lock is not engraved in the pattern of the Brown Bess muskets I've seen.

The barrel near the breech end has octagon flats. The Bess was round. Could this be a smooth rifle?

I think it is a gun assembled from salvaged gun parts. That was not uncommon as American gunsmiths did assemble guns from parts so as to save time in fabrication. So it is very possible that even though it's neither Bess nor Charleville, that it is an American era firearm used during the Revolution (we have two of them where I play curator but they've got Charleville parts combined with either a Bess lock or a German lock).

BTW, the Baker didn't come along until the Napoleonic era. The British Pattern 1776 rifle (1,000 made) were used quite extensively in Northern America and virtually every regiment recieved a small supply of them. The Baker's lock was smaller than the Bess's.

You might want to take it to the firearms curator at the New York State Military Museum in Albany for an opinion. Either him or the firearms curator at Fort Ticonderoga.

August 18, 2009, 09:39 PM
Thanks. I think we are getting very close.

Here is a New England Colonial Fowler/Militia Musket at the bottom of the page.

Here are the Pennsylvania Fowler and the Smooth Rifle.

I am inclined to think it is the NE fowler, but I am not sure if the gauge is right.

James K
August 18, 2009, 11:07 PM
OK, I'll take a shot (pardon the pun).

I think it is English. The Proof and View marks are present, though too old a form for my books. The WG may be a maker's mark or a private inspection mark. The OP says "London" is also on the barrel which would confirm the above.

It is not military or at least not made for the royal armed forces; there is no evidence of a crown on the lockplate and they were very careful about that. Every gun accepted into HM service had the crown, signifying that it belonged to the crown; those made for private sale did not.

I think it was made as a musket, then "sporterized" by cutting down the stock and adding some fancy parts. The presence of military sling swivels adds to the impression that it was originally a military style musket; they would not have been on a fowling piece.

I don't think it is American; not only do the markings indicate otherwise, but the workmanship is too good for American work of that period. The stock is not the Brown Bess type, but it could have been an officer's fusil or some musket sold on the commercial market, possibly to a wealthy nobleman who formed his own military organization, a common practice at the time.

Color me clean out of guesses.


4V50 Gary
August 18, 2009, 11:08 PM
BTW, barrels that begin octagon near the breach and become round are typical of fowlers. Of course, the exception is the Model 1803 rifle. Smoothbore guns were predominantly used in the New England states. As one moved south toward Maryland, Pennsylvania and especially Virginia, rifles became the preferred weapon.

You should also go to one of those long rifle shows and ask the experts.

August 19, 2009, 01:52 AM
Here is the English Fowler/Officers Fusil. http://www.flintlocks.com/rifles05.htm It has an uncanny resemblance. The barrel length and overall length are close matches. Interestingly, the story written down by my great grandfather about the weapon being taken from an officer also matches.

In the photobucket gallery, I have placed a 1930s newspaper story about the gun being displayed in the Missouri Valley Trust Building in St. Josephs. It documents that the gun was taken from a British soldier during the Battle of Saratoga. If true, the weapon was probably surrendered on October 17, 1777 by an officer in General Burgoyne's remaining army of 5800. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saratoga_Campaign

August 19, 2009, 02:20 AM
Check out this photo. H-NOCK English Fowler. The lettering on the Lockplate is a close match.

Here is an India pattern Brown Bess manufactured by Henry Nock.

Here is a write-up on the Henry Nock Company... Now known as "the Wilkinson Sword Ltd., formerly known as Schick-Wilkinson Sword in the United States, the world's second-largest maker of razor blades..." (Too funny)

4V50 Gary
August 19, 2009, 05:51 AM
Just noticed the sling swivels. That's not normal for a fowler. I concur that it's an officer's fusil.

August 20, 2009, 04:13 PM
Interestingly, Baker was Henry Nock's apprentice.

October 2, 2009, 12:08 PM
I know this is a little late, but I just noticed this thread. This is a smoothbore gun built by William Grice. It has his proofmark on the barrel and I believe that's what left of his name on the lock. Judging by the furniture I would say it was built anytime in the 1760-1780 era (a rough guestimate). The lock has only one rear lock screw showing, which pretty much went out of style by 1777 or so.

It has sling swivels, so was probably either built for an officer or retro-fitted later. Grice was a major contractor for locks, barrels and ramrods for British muskets of the period and he did quite a bit of stuff for the commercial trade as well. I would place the value at $2000 -2500 give or take.

The triggerguard and buttplate are engraved in typical trade style patterns of the period. That is a really cool piece and nothing about it would detract from the plausiblity of the story of its acquisition.

October 2, 2009, 04:57 PM
Many thanks!

October 6, 2009, 05:06 AM
A bit more research shows that Thomas Barden did in fact serve in Ezra Ormsbee's militia in 1776 according to The History of Warren, Rhode Island, in the War of The Revolution, 1776 - 1783 by Virginia Baker, Warren, RI, 1901, p38-40. (http://books.google.com/books?id=I9ITAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA38&lpg=PA38&dq=thomas+barden+revolution&source=bl&ots=-k3af22Tvh&sig=rTu1YyICce8m6e7OIU_oIpu62fk&hl=en&ei=uhHLSsGXFYOkswOwlOChBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=&f=true)

Moreover, Ormsbee's militia, serving under General Gates & General St. Clair, retreated from Fort Ticonderoga to Saratoga for the big battle according to this site. http://www.gaspee.org/EzraOrmsbee.html