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Smith & Wesson rifle (courtesy

In previous posts I’ve written about the predecessors to the Winchester Lever Action Rifle. Like the Hunt Volitional Rifle – the only one located at the Cody Firearms Museum – and the Jennings Repeater. In these writings, I began to piece together the factors that contributed to making the iconic western firearm.

This rifle is another rare piece of the puzzle: a Smith & Wesson Lever Action Rifle, developed from Horace Smith & Daniel Wesson’s lever action patent of 1854.

Smith & Wesson initially made their lever guns in Norwich, Connecticut that same year. In July 1855, they changed the name to the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company as new investors came on board. Those investors included Oliver Winchester who bought stock in the firm in 1855.

Smith & Wesson rifle (courtesy
Both Smith and Wesson left the project between 1855 and 1856. A year later, the company was reorganized once again into the New Haven Arms Company. They retained the name Volcanic in reference to the firearms.

This Smith & Wesson Repeater is serial number 8 and was probably made in 1854. Note: the ornate embellishment on the rifle. The engraving indicates that it may be a promotion piece used by designers.

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  1. Under no circumstances should this deadly, high capacity, fast action, dangerous device ever be found in Australia

    • good luck finding ammo, its probably chambered in 329 webly-kelvin improved rimfire. PS, i made that up….

      but srsly, those old guns look great and some of them a box of ammo doubles the price. Like that remington pump action rifle I had in .25 remington. never fired it even once.

      • Rocket balls- basically a Minie ball with a primer and a little bit of powder stuck in the back. The ballistics were abysmal compared to even early self-contained rimfire cartridges.

  2. I noticed the finger hook just in front of the receiver, there, I would guess, to prevent the hand going too far forward and getting burned on the barrel. It took another decade to iron out that design flaw.

    • I’m not so sure that’s the purpose of that hook.

      Your hand naturally wants to be further than that down the barrel, and besides, the tubular magazine insulates you from the hot barrel.

      Perhaps it’s a hook for when steadying on a wood fence rail or window sill?

      • My understanding is that Winchester added the handguard specifically because of the hot barrel after firing. The tube is too small to hold onto, and your fingers still touch the barrel. To top it off, the balance point of these rifles is fairly close to this point, but the problem is that you have to move the support hand forward to operate the lever, thus coming into contact with the barrel.

    • It’s the magazine follower. This rifle and the later Henry had a front loading magazine tube similar to the way the modern .22 tube feed mags work. Except this tube mag didn’t open into two pieces like a .22.

      You hooked your finger on that protrusion and ran the spring and follower up to near the muzzle at which point you rotated them to the side and then dropped the cartridges in the tube.

      The mag tube had an opening on the bottom for its entire length to accomandate the protrusion on the follower. This caused two problems. One was the mag was open its entire length which let dirt in. The second problem was the follower had to travel unimpeded or the mag spring would bind and cause ammo feed problems.

      Your hand, if held in the traditional forearm grip, could block the follower. Not allowing the spring and follower to continue feeding ammo.

      The system is clunky to us. But at the time it was this or a muzzle loader. The only other breechloaders available to the American shooters were single shots that used paper or linen cartridges and percussion caps.

      • “It’s the magazine follower.”

        Now that makes sense.

        It kinda baffled me, but then again a hard sneeze would blow my mind…

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