INTRODUCTION: The other night, while turning on one of my most used products of the industrial revolution – my relatively big screened smart television set – I listened to, and watched the following exchange of information.
TRANSCRIPT FROM: video clip from ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, Season 23, Episode 14 Titled Appraisal: 1834 US Model 1819 Hall Rifle & Bayonet
GUN OWNERS’ WIFE - This rifle belongs to my husband. He inherited it from his grandfather, and to be honest with you that’s all I know about it. My husband told me to tell you it’s a breach loader, which I am sure you know. That is supposed to make it unusual, perhaps.
APPRAISER - Well, it is for the time period it was produced. What you have here is a US Model 1819 Hall Rifle. Bear in mind that during the early part of the 19th Century, the standard military arm is a flint lock, muzzle loading, smooth bore weapon. This is innovative because not only is it a rifle, so it has a rifled bore that gives you more accuracy at greater distance, it is also a breach loading weapon. By operating this lever, you open the breach, you can put in your powder and your ball, close your breach again, and your ready to go! Much faster then loading manually through the muzzle with a ramrod. However, that’s not the really innovative part of this story.
This is the story of the American Industrial Revolution. John Halls design concepts and manufacturing concepts, provided for the first interchangeable parts guns to ever be produced at a US arsenal. The US Government was so impressed with what he had come up with, that they hired him to build the rifle works at Harpers Ferry, which was one of our two national armories during that period. And the guns that he produced there, were made with fully interchangeable parts. And this is a time when any manufacturing is by hand essentially, and even though some machine tools are being used, there is no interchangeability of parts. If you took five guns and took them apart, you could not swap the parts between them. Any Hall rifle made at Harper Ferry could be exchanged with any other. So, it was an amazing feat of engineering. Now Hall starts working in 1819, it takes him several years to get the rifle works up, operating, and producing guns. By the end of the 1830’s he produced about 20,000 of these rifles.
It had one little design flaw. When you fire the gun, gas tends to leak out of the breach area here. So, every time you fire it, you’ve got this puff of smoke, and hot gas right in front of your face. So, for some people it wasn’t a real popular weapon. (Gun owners’ wife can be heard laughing at this.)
It’s got a couple of little condition issues. It’s missing the top jaw and the screw that held the flint here. And it’s got a little crack here which is not uncommon in Hall rifles. When you see this crack, you know that sometime, probably in the last 50 or 100 years, someone took the gun apart inappropriately, and that’s how the crack was developed.
The other neat thing you have is the bayonet. Those were interchangeable, any Hall bayonet would fit on any Hall rifle. This gun was made in 1834, right on top of the breech (lady – ok its on there). You got the marks. [J.H. HALL, H. FERRY US 1834]. For John Hall, Harpers Ferry, it was made in 1834 – during the second production run of these rifles. Because the gun is still in its original flint lock configuration, its worth more. The gun on its own in a retail setting is going sell somewhere between 2500 and 3000 dollars. (WIFE OF GUN OWNER can be heard exclaiming – haa -ok!). The bayonet adds at least another 500 dollars to that price.
So, you’ve got a 3000 to 3500 dollar package here. And you have a great example of American ingenuity, and the birth of the American system of interchangeable parts manufacturing.
GUN OWNERS WIFE – Nice! Well thank you so much. Well it will stay in the family, and stay on the wall.
APPRAISER – Fantastic!
GUN OWNERS WIFE – Were not selling it!
CONCLUSION OF CLIP CAPTION – 1834 US Model 1819 Hall Rifle & Bayonet $3000 to $3500.
QUESTIONS AND OTHER THOUGHTS THAT CAME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING THIS–
How many Indians (and who were they) were killed by the 20,000 or so of these types of rifles?
Was the neatness of the interchangeability of the bayonet, in that if the bayonet became stuck in the bones of the person you were trying to kill, the ability to find another bayonet you could easily attach to your rifle so you could stab more people in between shooting them (if that makes sense)?
How much money did Mr. Hall make for his innovative manufacturing techniques?
How popular was the breechloader for folks facing the other end of the barrel?
What was life like for folks employed to manufacture the guns for Mr. Hall, using his innovative new techniques?
How did this gun with interchangeable bayonet used primarily to kill and terrorize people currently valued at $3000-3500,and other products of America’s Industrial Revolution, help to meet the real needs of the people impacted by its manufacture and use?
How many of these sorts of mass-manufactured marvels do I have hanging on my walls and will I keep them in my family?
These and other questions might be answered in follow-up posts.