A mys­tery to try to get a han­dle on

An un­usual breech-load­ing ri­fle con­cealed a se­cret that pro­voked Robert Mor­gan to dig deeper

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Oc­ca­sion­ally at Holts a gun turns up that has a fea­ture or pa­tent that is uniden­ti­fied. More of­ten than not, these fea­tures are found on pro­to­type and ex­per­i­men­tal arms and the only re­course is to turn to the pa­tent records, us­ing any avail­able clues as a start­ing point.

Re­cently, this un­usual mil­i­tary style breechload­ing ri­fle came into my of­fice. Dated 1867 and marked Sel­wyn Braendlin pa­tent, it is a strange beast to say the least. The breech­block hinges up and flips open for­wards over the bar­rel, ex­pos­ing a ta­pered cham­ber re­verse fac­ing in the breech­block it­self. The firing pin ig­nited a base fire sys­tem — a bit like a cen­tral firing rim­fire — at the bot­tom of a con­i­cal shaped case and, when the block is shut, the car­tridge is pre­sented to the bar­rel face for­wards in the tra­di­tional style. The large ham­mer is cranked right over the stock wrist to a cen­tral po­si­tion and, when fired, ev­ery­thing is locked up tight.

Hinged breech

A com­pany called Mont Storm pro­duced a sim­i­lar hinged breech sys­tem at around the same time, but it utilised a more con­ven­tional ear­lier idea of a com­bustible car­tridge with a sep­a­rate per­cus­sion cap. There is ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity that it pro­duced this ri­fle on be­half of Sel­wyn Braendlin.

Now, if the ac­tion wasn’t strange enough, the plot thick­ens. The right-hand side of the butt is al­most com­pletely cov­ered by a steel plate. The stock, to all in­tents and pur­poses iden­ti­cal to the pro­pri­etary En­field Pat­tern 1853 three-band ri­fle-mus­ket, has an ad­di­tional screw cen­trally mounted through the brass heel-plate. Cu­rios­ity get­ting the bet­ter of me, I re­moved the screw, which re­leases the iron plate from the butt, re­veal­ing that the plate has an elon­gated socket cav­ity at­tached to its re­verse.

The ven­dor be­lieved this to be a stor­age com­part­ment for the pe­cu­liar am­mu­ni­tion this ri­fle fires — but some­how this did not ring true.

Read­ing through the pa­tent records turned up Sel­wyn Braendlin’s pa­tent 2628 of 1865, which de­scribes the pe­cu­liar breech and how the ta­pered con­i­cal case would fa­cil­i­tate easy ex­trac­tion of the spent round, but no men­tion of the un­usual iron plate nor its in­tended use is made.

Old idea

Then bingo! Read­ing through some of Sel­wyn’s other patents, I came across pa­tent 2970 of Oc­to­ber 13, 1869. The first part of the pa­tent dealt with odd ideas such as mak­ing the trig­ger-guard out of a spring metal so it could op­er­ate a firing pin — I love the Vic­to­ri­ans — but at the bot­tom was another idea for a spade or shovel stored on the side of the butt with a ta­per­ing socket on the re­verse. This would al­low a separately car­ried brass-tipped wood han­dle to be in­serted for use as an en­trench­ing tool.

Sel­wyn sug­gests that the han­dle could also be utilised as a rudi­men­tary pick or that the spade socket could be adapted to at­tach to the muz­zle of the ri­fle, so the whole could be used as a more sub­stan­tial dig­ging tool. While this was not a new idea — the Amer­i­cans had pro­duced a trowel bay­o­net for some of their ri­fles dur­ing the Civil War

“Dated 1867 and marked Sel­wyn Braendlin pa­tent, it is a strange beast to say the least”

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