View Full Version : Melvin Johnson semi-auto 30.06 Taft Pearce prototype B6680

August 20, 2012, 04:56 PM
Okay, so a friend of mine just finished bringing by all the riffle's he got from a recently deceased grandfather. Most all was military style stuff, just about one of each from most major US conflicts.

He said he got a Melvin Johnson, I remember hearing something about them as a M1941 which was in direct competition with the M1 garand with the US Army, but this riffle didn't look military, it looked like a sporter. I've been trying to find more info on it, reading a little here and there, about how M.Johnson didn't get the US Military contact he wanted, so bunked up with Taft-Pearce, and some sporterized models were released.

It has "Melvin Johnson semi-auto 30.06 Taft Pearce prototype B6680" stamped on the receiver followed by a "1513" stamped on the barrel, no other markings on it anywhere to be seen unless taking it apart provides access to something we dont see.

This riffle was supposed to have a rotary clip, but it is missing it, any chance something like that will ever be found?

Anyone know their stuff that wants to comment on this rifle, feel free please. It looks to be in real nice condition.


no one is left in his family to give him any real info, but some quick internet searching didnt show up much except that they are extremely rare in the M1941 format, wanted by collectors, etc, etc. Any info on this one, again, please let me know.

James K
August 20, 2012, 07:18 PM
The Taft-Pierce Co., of Woonsocket, RI, made a number of prototype rifles for Johnson. After having purely experimental guns built in small machine shops, Johnson turned first to Marlin, which made the three earliest prototypes to be demonstrated to the U.S. military. He later worked with Taft-Pierce, a firm well known for precision machine work and the manufacture of experimental and prototype devices in many fields, to produce enough rifles for serious testing. At that time (early 1938), Johnson had not yet developed the rotary magazine of the Model 1941 and was using a vertical feed system with modified BAR magazines.

Taft-Pierce first turned Johnson down, saying the firearms were out of their normal line of business, but Johnson persuaded them that it was simply a mechanism that was subject to mass production like any other mechanical device and they agreed to do the work.

So that rifle was not built after Johnson's Model 1941 was rejected by the U.S. Army, but before the Model 1941 had even been developed.

While Johnson never considered Taft-Pierce for mass production (they were not set up for that), they did manufacture several prototypes, including three or so in a sporter configuration.

Johnson then (mid-1938) went to a single column magazine designed by Taft-Pierce that was made in two versions, a 5-round and an 8-round. That seems to be one of the vertical feed prototypes made by Taft-Pierce and would accept that special magazine.

Those rifles are extremely rare; Marlin and Taft-Pierce combined seem to have made less than ten, so I have no idea what the numbers mean.

The stock appears to be like the stocks Johnson Automatics used for sporterizing surplus bolt action rifles in the post-WWII period. I can't find any indication that that style was original on any of those vertical feed rifles. How did it get that stock? How did your friend's grandfather come by it? Good questions, but I have no clue.

(Most of this information comes from Bruce Canfield's excellent "Johnson Rifles and Machine Guns", with Robert Lamoreaux. I highly recommend the book and you should get one for more background on the rifle.)

Value? Who knows? My WAG would be in the middle five figures, but that is just my opinion. The right person might be willing to go twice that.


August 20, 2012, 08:26 PM
A very interesting piece of history; I've got an autographed copy of Johnson's 1945 "Automatic Weapons of the World", with a photo of some of the intermediate stages of his M1941 design, and it certainly appears that your rifle would fit into the line-up. Your rifle shows the odd safety in front of the trigger-guard, as well as what appears to have been an in-line mag that was used early on.

James K
August 21, 2012, 06:36 PM
It now dawns on me what looks funny about jnicita's Johnson - it has no perforated shield around the barrel. On the Johnson rifle, that shield is effectively part of the receiver and is not decoration; it provides support for the barrel bearing as the barrel moves back in recoil and also contains the latch that allows easy removal of the barrel for cleaning or replacement, a major Johnson feature.

All the rifles pictured by SDC, as well as all the vertical feed and rotary feed rifles shown in Canfield's book, have that shield. Perhaps jnicita would show us some pictures of the rifle at the front end of the stock so we could see how the barrel is supported and latched.


August 22, 2012, 08:30 PM
Thanks for the kind words and the information. If you want to read what how not to respond to a thread, check out the crap I had deal with by posting on another forum, so bad that I feel like I was dragged out over the coals.


Let me first state, I have no idea what my buddy has, when I get my hands on it and can take pictures of it, I will, if anyone has any links to the b series receivers and the sporter version, since this guy bridgeport claims to to have all the information, it must be out there somewhere, anyone know where I might get more info? I have emailed the webmaster and johnsonautomatics.com for any additional info.

James K, I noticed the same thing, except now I am curious on how the barrel stays connected, as the original forward barrel attachement also had the fittings that held the barrel in place. There must be a different design or later model? No?

Guess I'll be spending more time over here with the civilized folks....

Thanks again..

August 23, 2012, 05:42 AM
I've always wondered how a quick-change barrel on a machine gun could possibly work. With regard to the Johnson rifles, however, I was just struck by looking at the photos, both of the issue rifle and the sporter model, at how long the action is. The older Swiss straight-pull Schmidt-Rubins also had very long actions. Do you suppose that was a consideration at the time as far as adopting the gun went? I do understand comments about a rifle not looking military enough (too much like a sporting rifle), yet there were rifles before and after that did have quite a sporting look to them, such as the Krag carbine and even the M1 carbine.

August 23, 2012, 01:08 PM
The thread on Calgun's has been deleted, and the abrasive user received a 3 month ban for his attitude.

I still think that rifle may be an early Taft-Pierce prototype. It is very interesting. I wonder if a single stack mag from a modern rifle can be modified to work with this rifle (i.e. not modifying the rifle just a cheap mag).


James K
August 23, 2012, 01:36 PM
I am quite certain that the gun pictured here is exactly what it says it is, a vintage 1938 prototype. There were no "later models" that did away with the barrel support sleeve.

But it has been "sporterized" by someone unknown, and seems to have been altered to remove that "sleeve". Whether that was done safely, I have no way of knowing, but I would certainly like to see the gun.

The Johnson is short-recoil operated. The barrel and bolt travel back locked together for about a half inch, then the bolt head is cammed out of engagement with the barrel and continues back to extract and eject the fired case. If the magazine is empty, it is locked back; otherwise, it comes forward to chamber the next round and the bolt head locks into the barrel.

So the barrel has to move and has to have support, which that "sleeve" provides. Also, of course, the close fit of the barrel in the sleeve is needed for accuracy.

As for a magazine, Johnson first used BAR magazines, so I think I would try that approach first and see if one could be modified to fit without, needless to say, altering the rifle.


August 23, 2012, 07:05 PM
As soon as my friend gets into town and gets some time, I hope to get it and better pictures of it.

What I've done is basically helped him look for more markings on it, I didnt do this physically, but I went to some documentation from johnsonautomatics.com and read the document there that explained were inside there would be specific 30.06 markings, and JA markings, and other little things to look at. I didnt specify this and got called a liar because my post says things like "we cant find anymore markings" and how could I do this if I dont have it, just wanted to point that out. I'm just trying to help out a buddy.

Here is ANOTHER weird fact, I live in San Diego, and there is a pretty cool collectors shop called La Mesa Collectables (its actually a reloading shop now, with NO FFL), but one of the guys there is pretty knowledgeable. He actually told me that he knows of another person that has one of these firearms. He believes that something funny might be going on, but has access to this other firearm (at least he made it sound like it) so that would be interesting, I didnt ask if this other firearm did or didn't have the barrel shroud/support on the front of the receiver. But one thing that the weapon does have in common, is the fact that parts of the firearm have been nickel platted. Seems really weird, but anyways, I am just as interested as all of you, who knows what it is, maybe someone tried to do something funny 20-30 years ago, but Im just guessing, I have no idea how to answer how long this weapon has been in my buddys family.

I can tell you one thing, he is very happy that I posted all this, he doesn't know crap about firearms, and the BS dealt to me on that other forum would have left a real bad taste in his mouth. YOU GUYS rock, thanks for all the info.

Again, do any of you have any info on what were called the Melvin-Johnson "B series" receivers? Thats what was implied, was that this was a cut up series B. But the emergence of another one in the So Cal area, while this one was in Florida, sounds pretty intriguing to the least.

I told him how the barrel used to be connected at the front under the wood to a connection that was attached to the barrel shroud, which his unit doesn't have, but then he said he pulled the front nose off the stock (I later confirmed this is the deeper colored area on the front of the stock on the picture) and he tried to explain that there is a rod that runs under the barrel back to the receiver and the rod has some funky pivot pin connected to another lug that is attached to the barrel. He said this rod also had a tight spring wrapped around it running back as far as the rod goes into and under the rest of the stock towards the front of the receiver.

Pretty trippy, cant wait to get it and take some more pictures, sounds weird, and would be worth seeing most people I have talked to on a one:one basis, I like James read about how the barrel moved during recoil (or thats how I understood it at least).

I also emailed the guy running johnsonautomatics.com or the webmaster address at the site, but I think I already said that.

Standing by, and curious as all hell now..


August 23, 2012, 08:33 PM
If this rifle works anything at all like the original prototype, or the later versions of the Johnson, it should be a recoil-operated design, meaning that the barrel has to be able to slide back into the receiver under the action of recoil; you can check this by placing the butt on the ground with the barrel straight up, and pressing down on the barrel. If the barrel slides into the receiver at all, the bolt should begin to move backwards and rotate, so it can unlock from the locking recesses in the barrel. If this is the case, it certainly would be an early prototype, and the barrel should have a longer bearing surface riding inside the receiver tube, instead of the extended receiver of the later models.

PS. MAKE SURE the rifle is empty before you do anything with it.

James K
August 24, 2012, 10:18 PM
A rod and spring would enable the barrel to move and return to battery, but nothing I have ever read about Johnsons, and none I have seen (and I have seen a bunch) had any arrangement except the sleeve (or shroud - I like that term better) with the spring built into the barrel lock in the stock.

I sure hope we can eventually see some good pics of that gun. I will also note that I have never seen or heard of any Johnsons being chrome or nickel plated. My feeling is that that rifle was originally a prototype, but someone (who???) worked it over to make a sporter.

I once said that sporterizing was taking a $1000 rifle, making a $200 rifle out of it, and paying $800 for the job. If I am right, this was a case of taking a $50,000 rifle and making a piece of cr*p out of it.


August 27, 2012, 12:03 PM
I sure hope we can eventually see some good pics of that gun. I will also note that I have never seen or heard of any Johnsons being chrome or nickel plated. My feeling is that that rifle was originally a prototype, but someone (who???) worked it over to make a sporter.

I once said that sporterizing was taking a $1000 rifle, making a $200 rifle out of it, and paying $800 for the job. If I am right, this was a case of taking a $50,000 rifle and making a piece of cr*p out of it.

@Jim I can't wait to see some better pictures of this rifle. As for sporterizing destroying the value of a rifle; it all depends on if it is a factory job or not. What I mean is if the rifle was actually built as a sporter at the Johnson factory; instead of as a custom job by an independent gun smith. It could in fact increase the value of the rifle because it can be that much more of a rarity. I have seen one off factory custom rifles that were made as a custom one off by known high quality rifle makers go for a decent amount more than as a stock rifle. But as with all rare items it all depends on the rarity, and how much a collector is willing to pay for it.


James K
August 28, 2012, 10:12 PM
True, but I don't think that is a Johnson factory sporter. We definitely need more info.