Henry Marcus Quackenbush and the Quackenbush Model 1 Air Rifle (mfd. 1876 to 1938)

In this article, I am going to talk about extension ladders, nut crackers, oh, and a whole load of airguns! We’ve encountered Quackenbush in a couple of previous articles and now it is his turn to be center stage. Together, we will discover all about Henry Quackenbush and his significant contribution to airguns. I warn you though, this is probably my largest article so far. Quackenbush did so much for the field of airguns that it would do him, and you, a disservice to gloss over his accomplishments. Oh, there’s a bit of a “gem” to be discovered too….

Henry Marcus Quackenbush (1847 – 1933)

Henry Marcus Quackenbush (1847 – 1933) has made a few appearances in articles that I have written. This really shouldn’t be a surprise to the learned airgun collector as he was probably the most successful airgun inventor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I like to consider him as the great grandfather of airguns. Yes, there were airgun inventors that came before him, but Quackenbush is considered to be the one that brought mass produced airguns to the world.

He was born on April 27th, 1847 in Herkimer, New York where he spent his entire life. At the age of 14 in 1861, his career in the gun industry started when he joined the Remington Arms Company in Ilion, New York, as an unpaid apprentice. With the Remington Arms factory a little under four miles away from Quackenbush’s parental home, he probably journeyed to work and back each day. Today, many probably consider that too far to walk each day for work. But in the mid-19th century, the options would have been either horse, wagon or walk. I suspect Quackenbush probably walked. [1]

One day, according to rumour, one of the Remingtons returned from a trip to Europe. He noticed pot plants had been placed in one of the factory windows. When he went to investigate, he found Henry Quackenbush operating a machine which was producing twice as much as it normally would. Henry explained that he had modified the machine with attachments which he had made from scrap metal in his own time. Whether Henry was responsible for the pot plants I couldn’t say, but he was quickly promoted to the tool room and placed onto the payroll. Thus, his career as a metalworker and gun maker began. [2]

A few years later in 1863 and at the age of 16, young Quackenbush set up a small, ten by twelve-foot workshop in the grounds of his parent’s home at 219 Prospect Street, Herkimer. Here he spent much of his spare time experimenting and developing his own ideas. [1][3]

Whilst at Remington, Quackenbush was introduced to the world of patents. In 1865 he was as a witness to U.S. patents 47,707 and 50,232. Both patents were inventions by W. H. Elliot and related to revolvers. William Elliot was the inventor of the highly successful Derringer and Remington Army and Navy revolvers to name but a few. It would appear that Quackenbush was in excellent company and perhaps Elliot may have been the role model and inspiration that helped to guide Quackenbush to become an inventor too. [4][5]

As a side note, the Remington factory still stands at the same site producing custom firearms that are hand-crafted by professional gunsmiths. [6]

Improved extension ladder patent

Another two years pass and we see Quackenbush apply for his first patent in 1867. Surprisingly it wasn’t for a firearm, but for an improved extension ladder. It is clear that Quackenbush had an inventive mind and would not be contented as a mere employee. Many references suggest that Quackenbush was the inventor of the extension ladder. Personally, I do not think this to be true, otherwise the patent would not be titled the “Improved Extension-Ladder”. It suggests that the extension ladder already existed and Quackenbush invented an improved variant. Nonetheless, it appears that Quackenbush may have held the first U.S. patent for an extension ladder. The invention is quite ingenious and simple. But it is beyond the scope of this article. I have left a link to the patent in the references should you wish to learn how it worked. [7]

It is said that Quackenbush subsequently sold his extension ladder patent for $500. Strangely, the recorded patent does not show that he assigned it to anyone else. In his book “Air Guns”, Eldon Wolff states that Quackenbush used the money to setup his own business in 1872. However, I am unable to find any evidence to corroborate this and all other references state 1871 as the date when Quackenbush started his own company. It is possible that he may have used the proceeds of the patent sale for this, but four years between the issue of the patent and starting his own business is quite a while. Perhaps it took a while to sell the patent, or perhaps he held onto the money until deciding to what to do with it. [2][3][8]

Either way, in 1871, Quackenbush had the funds to start his own business, the H. M. Quackenbush Co. Still in his small workshop, Quackenbush’s first product was the velocipede cycle which was originally an invention by Pierre Lallement of France. Since Pierre’s patent was issued in the U.S. in 1866, many subsequent patents by other inventors had been raised with each claiming their own specific improvements. It is said that Quackenbush made just six of these bicycles and paid a royalty fee of ten dollars apiece to the patent owner. Unfortunately, due to unsuitable roads and being terribly uncomfortable, the velocipede was a disaster. [3][9][10]

first air pistol patent

Quackenbush’s first air pistol patent

Luckily for Quackenbush, and for us, he was also developing another product – his first air pistol!

Quackenbush’s U.S. patent, 115,638 “Improvement in Toy Guns and Pistols” was granted on June 6th 1871. On first glance of the patent drawings, you might think that this is a pop-out pistol. But you would be very much mistaken. Whilst the barrel does indeed slide into the pistol, it is actually cocked by pulling the barrel out. This pulls the piston head and compresses the spring towards the front of the pistol. A simple single levered trigger holds the piston head in place against the pressure of the mainspring. The barrel is then pushed back into the pistol through a hole in the center of the piston. The breech is a simple pivoting plate arrangement with a knob handle. Opening the breech plate exposes the barrel to allow the loading of a dart or other projectile. In its fully rear position, the barrel does not make contact with the pivoting breech. This is to allow the air that is compressed by the piston to flow into the barrel and shoot the dart through the barrel. [11]

Quackenbush’s Scientific American advertisement

Just three months later, Quackenbush placed an advert in the September 9th edition of Scientific American with the intention to sell his air pistol invention. It would seem he didn’t intend to manufacture it himself but perhaps raise money for some other purpose as he did with his extension ladder patent. I do find it amusing that in his advert he claimed that it “will throw over 100 yds”. He wouldn’t be allowed to get away with such claims today. [12]

Quackenbush’s second air pistol patent

It would seem that destiny had other plans for Quackenbush as he didn’t find a buyer for his first air pistol patent. Instead, he developed his design further. On December 26th 1871, Quackenbush was granted a second U.S. patent, 122,193, “Improvement in Toy-Pistols”. In this design, Quackenbush included a number of refinements and additions. The most important of which was incorporating the breech seal into the barrel itself. Quackenbush added what is effectively a plug to the end of the barrel. In its normal position, the plug would seal the end of the compression chamber through an interference fit. The pistol was still cocked in the same manner by pulling the barrel outwards from the front of the pistol. The barrel would then be pushed back in and then past the rear of the compression tube. This extended the barrel out of the pistol revealing a slot where a dart could be inserted. The barrel would then be pushed back to seal the breech. [13]

Two small springs were also added to the design. One at the muzzle to lock the barrel in place when it was pulled forward to close the breech. The second was placed in the loading port to lightly hold the dart or projectile in place once inserted. The last addition to the design was a hollow grip with a sliding cover plate where darts or slugs could be stored. [13]

According to The Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, Quackenbush advertised his second air pistol model in 1872 as the “Target Air Pistol”. It was around this time that Quackenbush expanded his workshop with a two-storey extension. Perhaps his pistol was selling so well that he needed to expand in order to keep up with demand. [1][3]

His next pistol is considered to be a “transitional” design. No patent or advertising material is known to exist for this design and so it could be considered a prototype. It is considered transitional as it has some elements from his first model and some elements that he took forward to his “rifle” air pistol. The transitional model air pistol has a long barrel placed on top of the compression chamber rather than inside the chamber. Cocking was similar in that a rod with a flange style handle, similar to the previous models, was used to pull the piston in order to compress the spring. The rod may have been attached to the piston as it remained in the forward position until fired. It also had a similar method of loading via a sliding breech seal plate. On firing the pistol, the piston and cocking rod would move rearwards under the force of the mainspring. The air would be forced into the barrel. Perhaps via a hole at the rear of the compression chamber. [14][1]

Of these three earlier pistols, no examples of the first and third models are known to exist today. Perhaps they didn’t become retail models or were made in such small numbers that none have survived. However, examples of the second model do exist indicating that it was made in large enough numbers and thus perhaps quite a successful product for Quackenbush.

What’s all this got to do with the air rifle I hear you say? Ok. Bear with me. I did warn you it would be a long read. Quackenbush was such a phenomenon in the field of airguns that it really is worth reading about his career.

the Pope days

Quackenbush’s “Rifle” air pistol

Quackenbush’s fourth pistol was first seen advertised in 1872 and was named the “Rifle Air Pistol”. This was probably due to its long barrel and wire frame shoulder stock allowing it to be shouldered as you would a rifle. Quackenbush manufactured and retailed the Rifle Air Pistol until 1874 at which point he patented the design and assigned the rights of it to Albert Augustus Pope. It is strange that he didn’t patent his design earlier. Perhaps he felt the cost of raising the patent was not justified. However, it is likely that he was advised at the time the contracts were drawn to protect his rights by means of a patent. [1][15]

Quackenbush’s Rifle Air Pistol, U.S. Patent 156,890, “Improvements in Air Guns and Pistols”, November 17th 1874, utilises the pull rod cocking method and the long external barrel features of his previous designs. His inventive step was to turn the barrel into a cocking aid. By fixing the barrel to the pull rod via a clamp and allowing the barrel to slide, the pistol could be cocked by pulling the barrel out. At the same time this exposed the breech of the barrel to allow the loading of a dart or slug. However, unlike his previous design, when the barrel was returned to close the breech, the cocking rod would also be pushed back, through a hole in the piston, into the compression chamber. For added safety, Quackenbush added a spring plate that would engage the barrel in its forward position. The intention was to prevent the owner from trapping a finger in case the trigger was accidentally pulled when loading a dart. [15]

Pope’s “Rifle” air pistol based on Quackenbush’s patent
Quackenbush’s toy cap pistol

Quackenbush wasn’t just developing air pistols at this time. In 1873 he had developed and generated another U.S. patent, 145,238, “Improvement in Toy Pistols”, December 2nd 1873. This design was for a cap pistol. However, this was more than a mere toy. Especially when compared to the cap pistols that were available when I was a young lad back in the 1970’s. Quackenbush’s cap pistol could be loaded with .22 calibre lead balls and launched with a percussion cap. Imagine the kids of today playing with a cap gun like this. We’d all be running for the hills! [16][17]

Also in 1873, Quackenbush raised U.S. patent 145,682, “Improvement in Steam Generators”. The purpose of which was “to produce a boiler or steam-generator in which constant circulation of the liquid to be heated is obtained, and in which the labor of attending to the fuel may be reduced”. Clearly it was an inventive period for Quackenbush. [18]

Returning to the Pope saga, we don’t know how the business relationship with Pope came to be, but we do know how it ended. Spectacularly badly.

a century of darts

On November 11th 1874, Quackenbush filed U.S. Patent 159,354 “Improvement in Air-Gun Darts”. This patent described a method of manufacturing darts that did not involve glue but relied on friction to hold the “tuft” in place. His patent was granted on February 2nd 1875, which, coincidentally, is my birthday. Before you ask, no, I’m not that old! A few days later he was also granted a patent for “Improvement in Projectiles for Air-Guns”. [19][20]

Quackenbush dart

Quackenbush built four complex and delicate dart making machines and sold one to Pope. Sometime in late 1875 or early 1876, a dispute between Quackenbush and Pope developed over the dart making machine. It seems that Pope’s staff were unable to get the machine to work reliably. Pope stopped making royalty payments for the Rifle Air Pistol. Probably in an attempt to force Quackenbush to repair the machine or reimburse Pope. Ultimately his strategy failed and Quackenbush sued Pope in March 1876. A settlement was agreed a few weeks later in which Pope returned all the patent rights for both the improvements to airguns and the dart making machine. However, one of the dart making machines did work successfully for a century. By the time it was retired by the Benjamin Air Rifle Company in 1993, yes, 1993, it had produced two million darts! [21]

A few days after the settlement was agreed, Quackenbush filed the paperwork to reclaim ownership of his Rifle Air Pistol patent. But, more significantly, on March 4th 1876, he filed U.S. Patent 178,327 “Improvement in Spring Air-Pistols” which was later granted on June 6th. Although this new design described a push-barrel air pistol, it became the basis of his Model 1 Air Rifle. The pistol was never produced as far as we know, but the rifle was so successful that there were eleven variations and nearly forty thousand were sold between 1876 and 1938! The rifle revolutionised the airgun industry and it became the design upon which all single-stroke-cocking airguns have used ever since.[22][23]

world’s first “gat”

Six months after filing his push-barrel design, Quackenbush had another design ready for the patent office. This time it was a push-in/pop-out barrel pistol, or what would become widely known as the “Gat” gun. That’s right, it was Quackenbush who invented the pop-out air pistol over one hundred and forty years ago!

The original pop-out air pistol

The pop-out patent, U.S. Patent 188,028, “Improvement in Spring Air-Guns” was issued on March 6th 1877. Quackenbush called it the “Junior Air Pistol” and whilst it became the most copied and most successful air pistol design to last the test of time, it wasn’t a success for Quackenbush. It was manufactured for a short period of time and very few are known to have survived to this day. [24][1]

The pop-out was Quackenbush’s last air pistol design. However, he wasn’t completely out of the game with regards to air pistols and rifles. In fact it was quite the opposite as it would appear that Quackenbush had only just got started.

Quite unexpectedly, whilst researching the material for this article, I discovered another patent that Quackenbush applied for on March 30th 1877. This was U.S. Patent 195,689,

Toy building blocks patent illustration

“Improvement in Toy Building-Blocks”! It appears that Quackenbush invented a product very similar to what the British know as Meccano. Except that Meccano wasn’t invented for another twenty-five years. Quackenbush’s mechanical toy, I have no idea what it was called or even if it was sold, consisted of various pieces of shaped metal and linkages that could be assembled into objects limited only by the imagination. [25]

Earlier I spoke about Quackenbush’s venture with Pope and the demise of their relationship in 1876. From 1876 to 1878 Pope had advertised and retailed Augustus Bedford’s Eureka air pistol. The Eureka was a design based on the Quackenbush and Pope Rifle Air Pistol. Pope not only retailed his own Rifle Air Pistol and the Eureka, but he also advertised Johnson and Bye’s Champion air pistol. It is possible that Pope may have manufactured the Champion himself under license from Johnson and Bye. [26][1]

Bedford’s Eureka air pistol bears a striking resemblance to Quackenbush designs

By 1878, Bedford moved into Pope’s premises in Boston and Pope ceased to be involved in the manufacture and sale of airguns. Perhaps Pope sold his entire airgun business to Bedford. [26]

At about the same time, it appears that Bedford secured a contract or an agreement to manufacture and market Quackenbush’s fourth model air pistol. Such pistols were stamped “MANFD BY A BEDFORD, 45 HIGH ST. BOSTON, PATD JUNE 6 DEC 26 1871” which was actually Quackenbush’s first air pistol design and bared no resemblance to his fourth. [26]

absorbing the competition

At some stage, until 1893, Quackenbush manufactured and retailed the Champion himself. It is possible that he manufactured the pistol or perhaps supplied castings to Pope to assemble. When Bedford took over Pope’s premises, Quackenbush may have taken complete control of the manufacture and sale of the Champion as well. [1]

Bedford’s company ceased to trade by 1880. Quackenbush acquired the rights to manufacture and retail the Eureka and Bedford became an employee at Quackenbush’s factory which was two hundred and fifty miles from Boston. It would seem that Quackenbush’s airgun empire was beginning to take form. [26]

Similar to the Champion, Bedford’s Eureka continued to be made at Quackenbush’s factory until 1893. However, there is no record of Bedford’s patent being re-assigned to Quackenbush. [26]

Haviland and Gunn pistol patent that was re-assigned to Quackenbush

Also in 1880, Benjamin Haviland and George Gunn of Herkimer applied to have their “Improvement in Toy-Pistols” patent assigned to Quackenbush. The pistol, possibly known as the “Morse” pistol, was advertised from as early as 1870 in Quackenbush advertising. Haviland and Gunn were in business together from 1868 and rented space from Remington for a while. Gunn may have worked for Remington prior to going into business with Haviland. Haviland is thought to have been the senior partner and provided the financial backing and marketing expertise. At some point, they moved out of the Remington factory into their own premises. But by 1880 their business was not doing so well and it is thought that Quackenbush was approached several times by George Gunn to buy out their company. Eventually a deal was agreed in which Quackenbush purchased Gunn’s share. Haviland retained his half share of the business and was not involved with Quackenbush at all. Unusually it took two years for the reassignment of the patent to complete. Perhaps this was related to Haviland not wishing to give up his part of the business. Whatever the reason, Quackenbush gained the patent rights, tools and stock of the Haviland and Gunn company. More importantly, he gained Gunn as an employee. [27][1][23]

mass production

On May 6th 1881, Quackenbush filed U.S. Patent 244,484, “Air-Gun”. This design was an improvement on his earlier push-barrel patent that we know as his Model 1 air rifle. However, this patent illustrated an air rifle rather than an air pistol and became known as the Model 2 air rifle. The Model 2 was also a push-barrel cocking rifle but was distinguished from the Model 1 by its heavier, one-piece octagonal receiver. Despite the patent filing date of 1881, the Model 2 was manufactured from 1879 to 1918. Earlier versions had a simple trigger guard with one loop rather than the longer trigger guard with two loops as shown in the patent illustrations. [28]

Quackenbush’s “Model 2” air rifle patent

The Model 2 was manufactured from 1879 to 1918 with approximately eight thousand rifles produced. In 1881, Quackenbush produced the Model 3 which ran until 1919. Similarly, over eight thousand Model 3 rifles were produced. The Model 4 was produced from 1882 until 1910 and had a gravity-fed, inline magazine running along the top of the barrel. There may be a patent for this design but I am yet to find it. Approximately fifteen hundred Model 4 rifles were produced. [23]

“Process of Manufacturing Felted Slugs” patent

On October 25th 1883, Haviland and Gunn filed U.S. Patent 290,230, “Process of Manufacturing Felted Slugs” with Quackenbush named as the assignee. This was three years after the partial buy-out by Quackenbush. I can only assume that Haviland and Gunn had developed their method of manufacturing felted slugs before going their separate ways. Perhaps Quackenbush acquired the machine as part of the sale and decided to protect his financial investment by raising the patent and naming Haviland and Gunn as the inventors. Certainly, the signatures of the inventors would appear to be from the same hand although it is possible that this was often signed on behalf of the inventor by the patent attorney. [29]

Quackenbush later improved on this design and raised U.S. Patent 358,984, “Apparatus for Manufacturing Projectiles” on December 31st 1886. Haviland and Gunn’s invention pressed a shot of lead to form the slug whereas Quackenbush’s invention included forming the shot itself from molten lead. [30]

Between 1886 and 1890, Quackenbush filed a further seven patents. Amongst these patents were a rubber band powered air rifle, a breech-loading rifle for small cartridges and a bell target where a metallic bird would pop-up and the bell sound when the bulls-eye was struck. Would you also believe that Quackenbush invented the nut-cracker? [31][32][33][34][35]

the “Gem” air rifle

“Gem” patent

But most importantly, on March 10th 1887, Quackenbush filed U.S. Patent 370,817 called simply “Air-Gun”. The patent was issued on October 4th 1887 and described a break barrel air rifle where the mainspring, compression chamber and piston where contained within the stock of the rifle. This air rifle we recognise today as the European “Gem”. [36]

But before we give Quackenbush full credit for the Gem air rifle, we should consider another patent that was created by George Gunn on August 12th 1885, some two years before Quackenbush filed his patent. Certainly, the break barrel design was not original. After all, Haviland and Gunn had patented such a design in 1871, “Improvement in Parlor Air-Pistols”, but this design did not place the compression chamber in the stock of the rifle. Gunn’s 1885 U.S. Patent 337,395, also called “Air-Gun”, shows a distinctly similar rifle to Quackenbush’s in that it is implied that the compression chamber was housed inside the stock section of the air rifle. However, Gunn’s patent was explicitly about a design that would automatically load a lead ball from a magazine each time the rifle was cocked. Gunn must have developed this design in his spare time as the patent does not appear to have been assigned to Quackenbush. [37][38]

Gunn’s repeating “Gem”

Quackenbush’s design was quite different though. He developed not only what we would consider a normal air rifle that would fire slugs and darts, but his design also enabled cartridges to be used by inserting a firing pin on which the piston would strike and thus fire. [36]

According to the Blue Book of Airguns, just under three thousand of these combination rifles were produced by Quackenbush between 1884 and 1913. [23]

It’s clear that Quackenbush’s business was doing exceptionally well. So much so that in 1890, he built a four-storey building with a tower opposite from his small workshop on Prospect Street. In his new factory he expanded his workforce to 100 employees. [39]

From this time on, Quackenbush only raised a few more patents. But his range of air rifles continued to be developed and sold. His son, Paul Henry Quackenbush joined the business in 1906 or earlier and soon began to raise patents of his own. Paul only raised one airgun related patent of his own. This was U.S. Patent 841,815 “Air-Gun” which he assigned to his father. This design became known as the Model 6 Quackenbush air rifle. [40][23]

Quackenbush factory on Prospect Street, Herkimer

In all, Quackenbush produced six air pistol models and about eleven air rifle models. Not to mention the variations of many of the designs. He also manufactured and retailed airguns from other inventors too. [23]

end of an era 

Henry died at the age of 86 in 1933. His surviving family turned his business into an incorporation, forming H. M. Quackenbush Inc. At about the same time, development of airguns stopped but sales of remaining stock continued until after World War II. During World War II, the company like many others, contributed towards the war effort by manufacturing military supplies such as bullet cores and shell casings amongst other items. [1][23][41]

The company manufactured various products after the war except for guns. Notable products are the nutcracker, the spring-loaded nutcracker and nut pick. The nutcracker may have been the company’s best performing product as over 200 million nutcrackers were sold during its existence. Paul also developed a kaleidoscope and a paper or card garment hanger which was born from the shortage of metal during the war. [39][42][43][44]

The company bought Utica Plating Co. in 1979. The marketing and distribution of nutcrackers and associated products was sold to M. E. Heuck Co which specialised in kitchenware. H. M. Quackenbush Inc then concentrated on metal finishing as their core line of business. About ten years later in 1987, the company added a large building on North Main Street, Herkimer to accommodate its electroplating works. [39]

In 1998, the company became HMQ Metal Finishing Group LLC consisting of HMQ Metal Finishing Group, L.L.C., HMQ Chemtech, L.L.C. and HMQ National Plating, L.L.C. But in early 2005 the company filed for bankruptcy protection. Its assets were purchased by a competitor and the business was permanently closed. [39]

the Model 1 – at last!

Now that we have learnt about Quackenbush’s incredible contribution to airguns, let us return to his Model 1 air rifle and examine it in detail.

Quackenbush’s push-barrel airgun design

Earlier, I briefly mentioned the patent that is related to the Model 1. U.S. Patent 178,327 “Improvement in Spring Air-Pistols” which Quackenbush applied for on March 4th 1876, was originally developed with a pistol in mind rather than a rifle. However, as obvious as it may seem now, all the design principles of this airgun could be scaled up for use in an air rifle. [22]

The Model 1 air rifle disassembled

The key concept for this design was placing the barrel, the piston, mainspring and compression chamber in line with each other. This is different from his concentric and pop-out designs where the piston would slide over the barrel or was an integral part of the barrel. The only other existing inline design of the period was Haviland and Gunn’s break barrel rifle where the barrel was used as a lever when cocking the gun. However, Quackenbush’s design did not have a “break-barrel”. Instead, the rifle was cocked by pushing the barrel backwards into the compression chamber. This pushed the piston back against the spring until it was locked in place by the trigger sear. [37]

Loading port and dart

The barrel could then be pulled forward slightly to reveal a loading port that is cut into the top of the barrel. A dart or slug would be inserted into this slot and pushed forwards into the barrel. Finally, the barrel would be pulled forwards to close the loading port. A flange at the breech prevented the barrel from being pulled out completely. It also acted as a seal to prevent air from leaking between the barrel and barrel sleeve.

Trigger adjustment screw doubles as a pivot

Quackenbush also added a compound trigger to his patented design which included a screw which was not only used to adjust the amount of sear engagement with the piston, but also as the pivot point between the trigger and sear levers.

The 17in / 43cm barrel is smoothbore, .21 calibre, nickel-plated brass. It is much thicker than the barrel of the Rifle Air Pistol or the Eureka. Probably to provide added strength due to the length of the barrel compared to the pistols. The front sight was fixed and the rear sight was a sliding plate making the rifle adjustable for windage only. The stock is made of walnut and fitted with a nickel-plated butt plate.

Typical of Quackenbush, the compression chamber is octagonal and constructed of polished, nickel-plated cast iron. The spring is a square section style, and, at least on this variant, tapered at one end to fit inside the piston. This variant also appears to have some leather attached to a recess in the head of the piston. It is not clear if this was designed to act as a seal or as a cushion between the barrel and piston head.

Barrel locating screw and serial number

The barrel housing is also nickel-plated and probably also cast iron. Underneath the barrel housing is a screw which is used to prevent the barrel from rotating. It loosely locates against a flat section on the underside of the barrel allowing it to slide but not rotate.

On this variant, the rifle is stamped with a serial number on both parts of the action. One serial number stamp is on the left-hand side of the trigger housing where the trigger guard meets the frame. The second serial number stamp is on the underside of the barrel housing just in front of the barrel locating screw.

Stamped on the left side of the octagonal compression chamber is Quackenbush’s patent details. These read, “H. M. QUACKENBUSH. HERKIMER.N.Y. USA” and on the line below, “PAT. JULY 19 1881”. The observant amongst you will have realised that the patent date stamped into the rifle does not match the date of Quackenbush’s patent which was June 6th 1876. However, the July 19th 1881 patent refers to his Model 2 air rifle patent, U.S. Pat. 244,484. In this patent Quackenbush describes a “pad of leather, rubber, or other elastic or semi-elastic material” to soften the impact of the piston and frame. This clears up the mystery I touched on a couple of paragraphs ago. [28]

Octagonal receiver with Quackenbush patent markings and serial number

Other earlier variants, for example serial number 19634, were stamped “Pat June 6 1876 – July 19 1881” “May 21 ‘72 – RE’ SEP 26 ‘87”. This refers to Haviland and Gunn’s U.S. Patent 126,954, reissue 10,210, which described their piston-in-grip pistol design that was re-assigned to Quackenbush. I am unable to work out how this relates to the Model 1 air rifle. [27]

36,000 produced

Eleven variants of the Model 1 were manufactured. The variants can be classified approximately by their serial number as follows. Variant 1 had a round compression chamber with no serial number or Quackenbush name stamp. The octagonal compression chamber was introduced for variant 2 and either had no serial number or were stamped 1 to 300. Variant 3 had serial numbers 301 to 1000. Variant 4 had serial numbers 1001 to 7500. Variant 5 had serial numbers 7501 to 12484. Variants 6 through 11 had serial numbers 12485 to 36850. [23]

I actually really like this air rifle. It has been constructed to quite a high standard for the period. I think you would be hard pressed to tell it was made from cast iron as it has been machined exceptionally well. The nickel plating of all the components except for the barrel is still intact. The stock is simple, but effective and made from long lasting walnut. There are only three pins and four screws. One pin holds the trigger guard in place whilst the other two act as pivots for the trigger and sear lever. Two screws fix the stock to the frame, another prevents the barrel from rotating whilst the last is the trigger adjustment screw. The barrel housing simply unscrews from the compression chamber as the piston and mainspring can then be removed. It really is that simple.

Cocking is easy as the springs in these rifles were never particularly strong. You can either cock the rifle by pushing it against the floor or some other object, or just with your hands. I wouldn’t recommend pushing the barrel against anything solid as there is a high risk of damaging the brass muzzle.

The trigger adjustment is effective allowing you to set the let off point. A spring, which removes any sloppiness, is fitted behind the trigger and located in a hole in the frame. The rifle is light and well balanced and the proportions appear to be for an adult. Clearly Quackenbush no longer considered his airguns as “toys”.

This particular variant is 35 ½ inches / 43cm long and weighs less than 1.5kg / 3lbs. Being so light it is very steady to hold and aim. However, I wouldn’t call it a junior rifle. The reach of the grip is too long for younger hands but it might be suitable for older teenagers and certainly for adults. It feels as though it packs a fair punch. But in reality, the Model 1 only delivers a couple of foot-pounds of energy. Being smoothbore, it isn’t going to win Olympic medals either. But, for some indoor “parlour” fun on these long, cold and dark winter evenings, it gets my vote.

These rifles come up for sale fairly often at auctions. Expect to pay a few hundred British pounds or similar in U.S. dollars for a good, late variant example. You are unlikely to make a loss if you don’t like it, but they are a worthy item in the portfolio of a keen collector.

To sum up, I have learnt just how important Henry Quackenbush was for our airgun heritage. Credited as the father of mass produced airguns, the Gem would never have existed without him. Without the Gem, Diana and various other airgun manufacturers may never have survived. It is also possible to consider that our whole airgun sport and hobby may not exist today if it were not for Henry Quackenbush. Oh, and don’t forget, the next time you crack open a nut with a nut cracker, or use your extension ladder, you probably have Quackenbush to thank for that too!

 

Until next time, happy shooting!

Jimmie Dee

 

References:

  1. The Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, John Griffiths, ISBN 978-0-95595-160-2
  2. Air Guns, Eldon G. Wolff, second printing, Milwaukee Public Museum Publications in History Part 1
  3. History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925 Henry Marcus Quackenbush, Schenectady Digital History Archive
  4. U.S. Patent 47,707 “Improvement in the Cylinder-Pins or Revolving Fire-arms”, W. H. Elliot, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  5. U.S. Patent 50,232 “Improvement in Many-Barreled Fire-arms” [sic], W. H. Elliot, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  6. Remington Arms, Wikipedia, English Edition
  7. U.S. Patent 70,016 “Improved Extension Ladder”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  8. Henry Quackenbush, Lemelson-MIT Program
  9. Four Bicycling Firsts from Pierre Lallament, Forgotten Stories
  10. U.S. Patent 59,915 “Improvement in Velocipedes”, Pierre Lallement, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  11. U.S. Patent 115,638 “Improvement in Toy Guns and Pistols”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  12. Scientific American, Vol. XXV, No. 11, September 9th 1871, Pg. 174
  13. U.S. patent 122,193 “Improvement in Toy-Pistols”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  14. Quackenbush Guns, John Groenewold
  15. U.S. Patent 156,890 “Improvement in Air Guns or Pistols”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  16. U.S. Patent 145,238 “Improvement in Toy Pistols”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  17. A rare Quackenbush pistol comes to light, Tom Gaylord, Airgun Academy
  18. U.S. Patent 145,682, “Improvement in Steam Generators”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  19. U.S. Patent 159,354, “Improvement in Air-gun Darts”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  20. U.S. Patent 173,341, “Improvement in Projectiles for Air-guns”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  21. 1875 Pope Brothers Rifle Air Pistol, Century Columbia & 1892 Chicago Expo Worlds Fair, The Online Bicycle Museum
  22. U.S. Patent 178,327, “Improvement in Spring Air-Pistols”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  23. Blue Book of Airguns, 10th Edition, by Beeman, Allen and Fjestad, ISBN 9781936120239 / 1936120232
  24. U.S. Patent 188,028, “Improvement in Spring Air-guns”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  25. U.S. Patent 195,689, “Improvement in Toy Building-Blocks”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  26. The “Eureka” (1876 to circa 1893) by Augustus Bedford and George A. Walker, Jimmie Dee’s Airguns
  27. U.S. Reissued Letters Patent 10,210, “Toy Pistol”, Benjamin Haviland and George P. Gunn, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  28. U.S. Patent 244,284, “Air-Gun”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  29. U.S. Patent 290,230, “Process of Manufacturing Felted Slugs”, Benjamin Haviland and George Peck Gunn, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  30. U.S. Patent 358,984, “Apparatus for Manufacturing Projectiles”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  31. U.S. Patent 302,283, “Spring Air-gun”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  32. U.S. Patent 307,799, “Target”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  33. U.S. Patent 336,586, “Breech-Loading Gun”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  34. U.S. Patent 404,016, “Nut Cracker”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  35. U.S. Patent 426,063, “Target”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  36. U.S. Patent 370,817, “Air-Gun”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  37. U.S. Patent 113,766, “Improvement in Parlor Air-Pistols”, Benjamin Haviland and George P. Gunn, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  38. U.S. Patent 337,395, “Air-Gun”, George P. Gunn, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  39. Henry Marcus Quackenbush – The Inventor, All Things Quackenbush
  40. U.S. Patent 841,815, “Air-Gun”, Paul H. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  41. Henry Quackenbush, Wikipedia, English Edition
  42. U.S. Patent 896,044, “Nut-Cracker”, Paul H. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  43. U.S. Patent 410,209, “Kaleidoscope”, Paul H. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  44. U.S. Patent 416,396, “Garment Hanger”, Paul H. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office

 

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