Published: June 12, 2001
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 31-¼ 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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