Benjamin Haviland, George P. Gunn and the “Morse” Air Pistol (1872 to c. 1881)

In this article, we will follow the life and career of one of the late 19th-century American airgun pioneers as well as that of his business partner. We will discover how his ingenious and unwaning passion helped to pioneer the way ahead for our airgun heritage with his earliest designs still commonly in use today. We may also discover why George Gunn’s repeating “Gem” style air rifle was, perhaps, never realised. It could be said that Haviland and Gunn’s, or perhaps just Gunn’s influence on spring airgun development could be considered so significant that they could be called the fathers of the modern spring airgun. After all, their designs are the basis of all break-barrel airguns and can still be seen in airguns that are made today. How’s that for a legacy?

We have come across Haviland and Gunn in a few Jimmie Dee’s Airguns articles so far. They have made appearances in the Henry Marcus Quackenbush Model 1 air rifle article, the Eisenwerke Gaggenau “MF” air pistol article and the Mayer and Grammelspacher “MGR” air pistol article. Now they have the honour of an article dedicated solely to themselves along with an air pistol which I now believe we can confidently call the Morse air pistol!

Benjamin Haviland

Benjamin Haviland, named after his grandfather, was born on December 7th 1823 in Athens, Greene County, New York. He first appears in official records in the United States 1850 Census at the age of 25 along with his mother Nancy (60), his wife Mary (20), his daughters Juliett (3) and Anna (0) and his siblings George (22) and Savina (18). George worked as a boatman and Benjamin was a farmer. [1][2]

Benjamin’s father, John Tripp, died in 1833 when Benjamin was just 8 years old. In those days, he would have been the heir to his father’s personal estate with any property bequeathed to his mother as a dower. Women, thus his sisters, were expected to marry and be supported by their husbands. Any brothers had to make their own wealth and inherited nothing of their father’s estate. Of course Benjamin would have been too young to be given the responsibility for his inheritance and it was probably placed into trust if there was anything of worth at all. [1][3][4][5]

By 1855, Benjamin and his family moved to New York City where he worked as a grocer. His daughter Anna had died sometime earlier. Also, there is no further sign of his brother George or sister Savina that I can find. Who knows what may have happened to them all in just 5 years since the 1850 census. The family probably rented their home as neither were recorded as the landowner. Yet his mother now had a personal estate of $2,000 whilst Benjamin had only $300. Living with them was Francis Wilbur who I expect was Benjamin’s brother-in-law as his wife’s maiden name was also Wilbur. There were two other people living with them, husband and wife, who were probably lodgers. [6][7]

The United States 1865 Census showing Mary Haviland as the landowner.

Sometime between 1855 and 1860, the Havilands moved to Hudson. Benjamin is now an accountant and according to the 1860 census, the land on which they live is owned by Benjamin’s wife. The 1865 census record shows the beginning of a tick to indicate Benjamin as the landowner yet there is a full tick in the landowner box for Mary. I can imagine Mary exclaiming to the official “No, no, no! I own the land!”. Considering the land was valued to be worth $6,000 I wouldn’t be surprised and I suspect she obtained it through inheritance. [8][9]

Benjamin Haviland’s “Improvement in Chucks” patent

Later in 1865, Benjamin’s mother died at the age of 77. She was buried in Athens, Greene, probably alongside her maternal family, the Tolleys. [10][11]

Three years later, in 1868, Benjamin Haviland is granted a patent, U.S. Patent 81,500 “Improvements in Chucks”. This patent described a new or improved lathe chuck which he called “The Self-Centring and Screw-Cutting Chuck”. I very much doubt that Benjamin developed this invention by himself. After all, he did not have an engineering background. It’s far more likely that he bought the invention from someone with experience in this field. Perhaps Benjamin had decided to use any inheritance from his mother to fund business investments and elevate himself and try to secure his family’s future. It won’t come as a surprise that the 1870 census shows Benjamin’s occupation as an inventor. [12][13]

George Peck Gunn

The other half of the Haviland and Gunn partnership was George Peck Gunn. George was born on October 27th 1827. The earliest census record I could find for George was the 1850 United States Census which showed that he was living in Saugerties, New York on the Hudson River. He was a gunsmith at the age of 22, married to Hannah and had a daughter, Caroline, a newborn baby. [14]

By 1855, George and Hannah had a second daughter, Mary, and had moved approximately 100 miles due west to Tompkins, Delaware. He was still pursuing a career as a gunsmith. [15]

The next census in 1860 shows George and his wife had been quite busy. They now have three more children. That’s five so far! They were also now living in Callicoon, Sullivan County, New York about 40 miles southeast of Tompkins. This time George is listed as an engineer. [16]

Five years later, in 1865, George and his family have moved to Herkimer, 120 miles north of Callicoon. I’m sure you have heard of Herkimer before. This is where Henry Quackenbush lived and where his factory was later located. However, at the time, Henry was working for Remington in Ilion, just a few miles away across the river. George was now a gunsmith again and also working for Remington. Sadly for George and his wife, their daughters Mary and Delia appear to have died. However, they had another daughter, Annie who was 2 years old. [17][18][19]

At around 1870 or 1871, I suspect that George developed some ideas of his own. Rather than hand them over to Remington, he may have decided to use them to start his own business. All he needed was a partner to provide financial backing. Enter stage right, Benjamin Haviland.

start of a lifelong friend and partnership

We know that Benjamin was now interested in acquiring patents so it isn’t much of a leap to consider that he was on the hunt for suitable inventions to purchase or to invest in. Somehow, the two met and George presumably presented Benjamin with some of his ideas. Perhaps not too dissimilar to the television series, “Dragons’ Den” or “Shark Tank”.

Clearly, an agreement was reached and the two set up a business together. To begin with, they rented workshop space from Remington and on April 18th 1871 they were granted their first patent, U.S. Patent 113,766, “Improvement in Parlor Air-Pistols”. [20]

Haviland and Gunn “Improvement in Parlor Air-Pistols” patent – the first break-barrel airgun!

This was by no means an insignificant design for it was the first break-barrel airgun design upon which all break-barrel air pistols and rifles descend from. Just like all modern break-barrel air pistols and rifles, the barrel was hinged on the underside of the breech. A lever or push bar connected to the barrel would push the piston rearwards until it latched on the spring-loaded sear. Uniquely, the push rod passed through a slot in the trigger. As was fairly typical of parlour guns of the period, a volute mainspring was chosen.

Haviland and Gunn’s design differed from other designs of the period which used cranks or separate levers to compress the mainspring. The crank arm would be removed once the spring is compressed and could have been considered by Haviland and Gunn as a point of failure. If not the crank arm, then perhaps the crank socket or gears could break. Certainly, these types of guns were complex and their various parts would have added to production costs increasing their retail price.

Edward Linder’s break-barrel but separate cocking lever spring air pistol design

Other designs used levers such as the one patented in 1862 by Edward Lindner. Haviland and Gunn’s design (I really shouldn’t mention Haviland as I do not believe he had any significant role in the design of their airguns) is very similar. They both use volute springs. They both have hinged break-barrels. Yet Edward’s design has a separate cocking lever that is stowed around the grip once the gun is cocked. Whereas Haviland and Gunn’s design utilised the barrel as a cocking lever. [21]

Unfortunately, there are no known examples of Haviland and Gunn’s break-barrel pistol. However, they did make air rifles using this design and, according to the book Air Guns by Eldon G. Wolff, a presentation Haviland and Gunn rifle was made for one of the Remingtons. A photograph of the rifle can be seen on page 66 of Eldon’s book. [22]

Haviland and Gunn’s cylinder-in-grip pistol design

Just a year later on May 21st 1872, Haviland and Gunn were granted U.S. Patent 126,954 “Improvement in Toy Pistols”. This design was the first air pistol to incorporate the cylinder, piston and mainspring in the grip. Unbeknown to Haviland and Gunn, this was to be their second influential airgun patent. [23]

Their design used a cocking rod that, quite strangely, extended from the top of the pistol. It also formed part of the trigger mechanism. A second smaller rod acted as the trigger. At the exposed end of the smaller rod was a button which when pressed would release the cocking rod. This in turn allowed the piston to be forced upwards under the pressure of the mainspring.

A projectile would be loaded in the breech of the barrel which is closed using a pin-seal. However, unlike pin-seals that we are accustomed to, this one did not include a screw thread. Instead, it would be pushed into the breech and then rotated half a turn to lock a flange into a groove just behind the breech.

However, just as was the case with their break-barrel pistol patent, their cylinder-in-grip pistol as shown in their patent was probably never produced as no examples are known to exist.

Alfred A. Morse

Trade card of the Morse Air Pistol

In September 2014, a trade card showing an air pistol similar to the Haviland and Gunn design appeared at an auction. The card was addressed to “The principle Dealers in Sporting Goods of Marblehead Massachusetts“. It was a promotional card by Alfred A. Morse and his “Morse’s Patent Improved Air Pistol“. The pistol is almost identical to the Haviland and Gunn design but moved the cocking rod to the underside of the grip and added a normal trigger and a cocking aid hook to the end of the pin-seal. Unfortunately, only the month and day is marked on the card making it difficult to accurately date it. [24]

According to the 1880 U.S. census, Alfred was a merchant. Prior to this in 1870, he was a grocer and the 1872-73 Business Directory lists Alfred as a bookseller. The 1875 U.S. census does not list his occupation but the 1865 U.S. census suggests he may have been working in hardware such as in a hardware store or supplier. He certainly was not a gunsmith. [25][26][27][28][29]

Perhaps Haviland and Gunn selected Morse as their distributor and perhaps Morse suggested some modifications resulting in the pistol that is shown on the card. This could explain why he referred to it as “Morse’s Patent Improved Air Pistol”. Certainly, from surviving examples of the Morse pistol, we know that they are stamped with the grant date of Haviland and Gunn’s patent. There are also no patents granted to Alfred Morse that I have been able to find.

Air pistol patent advertisement in The New York Herald, August 26th 1874

In the August 26th, 1874 edition of The New York Herald is a small advertisement offering an “air pistol patent” for sale. It does not give any details of the pistol but provides a mailing address of “box 420 Post office, Little Falls, N.Y.”. The reason stated for the sale is “failure in business”. Could this be from Alfred Morse of Little Falls? Could it be his business that was failing? I doubt it was Haviland and Gunn’s as early as 1874. If it was Morse’s business, this would indicate that he believed he was the owner of Haviland and Gunn’s patent which they may have transferred to him as part of a contract rather than a patent re-assignment via the U.S. patent office. [30]

the Quackenbush connection

The United States 1875 Census

Haviland and Gunn’s patent indicates that Benjamin was now residing in Herkimer. This is also confirmed by the United States 1875 Census records. In fact, a close inspection of the records shows that Benjamin was living two doors up from George and his wife. Between Benjamin and George, lived Benjamin’s daughter and husband! Now if that wasn’t interesting enough, living next door along from George is a family headed by a man called Leslie R Quackenbush. When I discovered this, alarm bells rang out loud. Could Leslie be related to Henry Quackenbush? Without any hesitation, I searched earlier U.S. census records for a household that contained both names and matching ages. [31]

The results appeared on my monitor and sure enough, there was a full match in the United States 1860 Census! As you will soon read, this may have been influential in Haviland and Gunn’s later years. [32]

At about the same time as the grant of their second patent, Henry Quackenbush left Remington to start his own business. A business that propelled him to become one of the most important figures in our airgun heritage. Not only did Henry leave Remington, but at some point, Haviland and Gunn, although not working for Remington, moved to their own premises at the Ilion Depot on the New York central railroad. [18][33]

Haviland and Gun “combined” rifle 1876 advertisement [35]

In the article that I wrote about Henry Quackenbush, I credited him with the invention of the “Gem” air rifle. It seems this is not the case. Quackenbush appeared to have raised and was granted the “Gem” style patent, U.S. Patent 370,817, on October 4th 1887. Yet there is an 1876 advert in the catalogue of James Brown & Son of Pittsburgh that clearly shows the rifle as a Haviland and Gunn product. [18][34][35]

In fact, the advert lists the rifle as able to use cartridges, darts or shot just as described in Quackenbush’s patent. I believe there is a possible explanation for this as I will discuss later. But suffice to say that it does indeed appear that Haviland and Gunn are the true inventors of the Gem air rifle.

The advert also shows another rifle by Haviland and Gun with a wireframe stock. This was called the “Parlor” airgun and is cocked by pulling on a handle inside the wire stock rather than using the barrel as a lever. The “Parlor” airgun was a pure air rifle that would only shoot darts or shot.

The combined rifle was available in three models. Each mostly differed in the type of barrel which was made by Remington & Sons. The first was probably a rifled steel barrel and would allow the use of .22 rimfire cartridges, darts or shot. You are probably wondering how can an airgun also use rimfire cartridges? It’s quite simple and ingenious really. A firing pin is inserted in the transfer port and instead of forcing air into the barrel, the piston would strike the pin which would, in turn, strike the cartridge. Unfortunately, the rifle did not sell particularly well. It’s not surprising with a price tag of $25! That might not sound like a lot today but back in 1876, a typical salary for a labourer was just $2 a day. It may also have been far cheaper to buy a regular .22 rifle. For example, the Remington Model 2 breech-loading .22 sporting rifle was $20 in 1877. [36]

The second model cost $22. It had a smoothbore barrel and could only shoot darts or shot. The third model had a brass lined barrel and was cheaper still at $20. Whereas the parlour airgun cost much less at $7.50.

Haviland and Gunn’s 1876 “Improvements in Locks for Pistols” patent

When you compare Haviland and Gunn’s brass barreled rifle with Quackenbush’s Model 1 in the same advert, it’s clear that they were up against some tough competition. Smith states in his book that Quackenbush began manufacturing Haviland and Gunn’s combination rifle in late 1876 under his own name and personally handled marketing of the rifle in the U.S., Great Britain and Germany. I wonder if this was under an agreement with Haviland and Gun or whether some skullduggery was at hand considering no such patent existed at the time. [35]

Certainly, it was clear that the writing was on the wall for Haviland and Gunn and by 1880 their business was on its knees. Haviland and Gunn had run out of ideas. They released a new “improved” combined rifle in 1880 and had raised only one patent between 1876 and 1881. This was for a single shot derringer style pistol which Remington manufactured either for them or on license. [37][38][39]

With their business floundering, George Gunn met with Henry Quackenbush on a number of occasions in 1880 in an attempt to persuade Henry to buy his business. I wonder whether Henry’s brother, Leslie, had any dealings with this. We know Leslie was living next door to George so it is possible that the two met regularly and discussed life and business. Maybe Leslie suggested that George approach Henry or perhaps he introduced them to each other. There is nothing documented to actually suggest that this happened but I would be amazed if the two lived their lives in complete ignorance of each other. [40]

Haviland and Gunn “Improved” 1880 rifle – courtesy Amoskeag Auction Company Inc [41]

As a short side note, do you remember I mentioned that Benjamin’s mother was buried with her maternal family, the Tolleys, in Athens, Greene? The 1850 U.S. Census showed Benjamin and his mother was living next door to three households of Tolleys which were most likely her brothers and nephew. The 1880 census shows Benjamin, now 56, and his wife Mary had adopted a young girl of 11 years called Katy Tolley. Katy, or Catherine, was Benjamin’s great-niece. Her father, William, had set off for California in 1849. He, like the rest of the Tolleys was probably a farmer. Katy’s mother, Jane, followed on the Oregon Trail in 1851. It appears that the family had undergone a tremendous tragedy. Her parents and two of her four siblings are assumed to have died. She and her two remaining brothers returned to the east coast where Benjamin took her in but not her younger brothers. [11]

the Quackenbush buy-out

Haviland and Gunn produced their last catalogue in 1881 and in 1882 Quackenbush eventually succumbed and agreed to purchase some of Haviland and Gunn’s patents, parts and equipment related to gun and slug manufacture. George, now 54, went to work for Quackenbush. It is not really known what Benjamin did with respect to the rest of his career and there are no further patents registered in his name that isn’t associated with Gunn or Quackenbush. [42]

Haviland and Gunn “Process of Manufacturing Felted Slugs” patent assigned to Henry Quackenbush

Although Quackenbush bought out Haviland and Gunn in 1882, it is a matter of record that the reassignment of Haviland and Gunn’s cylinder-in-grip pistol patent began was filed on December 14th 1880. It took nearly two years for the reassignment to be approved on September 26th 1882 which is an inordinate amount of time for a reassignment to be processed. It’s very possible that there was an intellectual property rights dispute between Alfred Morse and Haviland and Gunn that delayed the re-assignment to Quackenbush. [43]

With the transfer of machinery and equipment completed and Gunn now working for Quackenbush, Henry wasted no time capitalising on his investment. On October 25th 1883, Henry applied for U.S. Patent 290,230 “Process of Manufacturing Felted Slugs”. Haviland and Gunn were listed as the inventors and remarkably may not have considered that they could have licensed their invention to other airgun and ammunition manufacturers. Had they done so, their business may not have been so ill-fated! [44]

Quackenbush’s “Gem” patent copied from Haviland and Gunn’s “Improved 1880” combination rifle

Quackenbush took Haviland and Gunn’s “Improved 1880” combined rifle and marketed it as his Model 5 in 1884. However, it wasn’t until 1887 that Quackenbush filed for and was granted a patent for his Model 5 design. Perhaps Henry had not considered protecting his rifle as it had been previously produced by Haviland and Gunn which he may have considered “prior art“. Yet he must have realised that he needed some protection before attempting to license the design in Europe and may have been the catalyst for him to apply for a patent. Considering that Haviland and Gunn had signed over their designs to Henry, it probably wasn’t too arduous for Henry to persuade the patent office to grant it. This must have been quite a kick in the teeth for George as neither he nor Benjamin was mentioned on the patent. Quackenbush went on to successfully license “his” design to many European manufacturers which became known as the highly popular “Gem” air rifle. [45]

George Gunn’s “repeating Gem” patent assigned to Henry Quackenbush

Whilst working for Quackenbush, Gunn must have been secretly working on a new variation of the “Improved 1880”. This design incorporated a magazine and would load lead shot into the breech each time the rifle was cocked. The magazine was ingeniously hidden within the barrel of the rifle. The design utilised the same lever that would push the piston back against the mainspring such that it would also activate the mechanism to allow a single lead shot to be loaded into the breech.

George filed his repeating patent on August 12th 1885, which, coincidentally, was also the last day that he worked for Quackenbush! Perhaps George considered he was onto a winner and rather line Quackenbush’s pockets further, he would once again take control of his own destiny. [46][47]

The period between 1885 and 1890 is somewhat vague. Some sources suggest that Gunn left Quackenbush to establish the Atlas Gun Company with former Haviland and Gunn employee Gilbert W. Warren. Yet another source states that the Atlas Gunn Company was not formed until 1890. It has also been suggested, by the same source that states the Atlas Gun Company was formed in 1890, that Gilbert purchased the factory, machinery and patents of Haviland and Gunn and renamed the factory “The Atlas Gun Company”. Considering we know from the records of the Quackenbush Company and records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that it was Quackenbush that purchased all but the premises, I am inclined to believe that George established the Atlas Gun Company with Gilbert in 1885. [48][49]

the Atlas Gun Company

The Blue Book gives further credence to this with its listing of the 1886 Atlas “break-open repeater” air rifle. The description states it was marked “Atlas Gun Company, Pat. Mar. 9 1886 USE B.B. SHOT. Ilion, New York, Patent applied for”. The key piece of information here is “Patent applied for“. This is somewhat strange as George’s repeating “Gem” style patent, U.S. Patent 337,395 “Air-gun”, was also granted on the same date.  Without further information, you could draw the conclusion that George, or Gilbert, filed a new patent on the same date but subsequently was not granted as there are no records of an airgun patent filed on that date. Unless this is an error by Atlas when stamping the rifle or an error in the Blue Book of Gun Values, it would indicate that the Atlas Gun Company was formed as early as 1886 if not perhaps in 1885. [50][46]

Not too long ago in December 2016, a Gem style repeating rifle matching the description of George’s 1886 patent appeared at an auction in England. Whether this was of the same design or of American or European origin is not known. However, it may well be the only one of its kind as the magazine was hidden within the barrel in the same manner as the patent. [51][46]

George Gunn’s breech-loading cartridge rifle patent

In 1889, George filed U.S. Patent 421,492 “Breech-Loading Gun”. It was granted on February 18th 1890. This wasn’t for an airgun but a .22 cartridge rifle and was called the Atlas “Junior”. It is a break-barrel design in which the hammer is automatically cocked when the barrel is opened to be loaded. The first model of this rifle had an 18″ barrel whereas the second has a 20″ barrel and was made by the Sears Roebuck Company in 1906. The rifle is marked “ATLAS GUN CO. ILION N.Y. PATD FEB 18, 1890”. [52][53]

George’s next two patents were not associated with airguns or firearms at all. One was U.S. Patent 502,435 “Combined Metallic Tie and Track-Fastening” which was granted on August 1st 1893. Half of this patent was assigned to the Atlas Gun Company. The patent was a design for a fastener associated with railroad tracks. Perhaps he gained inspiration from his regular walks home along the railroad from the Ilion Depot. [54]

The next, as strange as it seems, was U.S. Patent 512,371 “Mettalic Fence Post” [sic] which was granted on January 9th 1894. This patent was granted in George’s name only. Perhaps it was another invention he may have pondered on his way home in the evenings. [55]

George Gunn’s final patent

George’s final patent was U.S. Patent 541,085 “Air-Gun” and was filed on October 5th 1893 shortly after the filing of his fence-post patent. It was granted almost two years later on June 18th 1895. For reasons unknown, it was wholly assigned to Gilbert Warren rather than the Atlas Gun Company or part-owned by George. [56]

The patent described a design of air rifle that contained the cylinder, piston and mainspring within the “barrel” of the rifle. It was actually contained within a metal sheath just in front of the barrel. Within the metal sheath were two or more rods that acted as a gravity-fed magazine. The rifle was cocked by using the stock and barrel as two levers that pivoted at a point behind the trigger guard. A rod was anchored at the front of the stock and the other end of which was attached to the piston. Releasing the barrel and pushing the stock and barrel together would cause the piston to be pulled back and compress the mainspring.

It is possible that this design is similar to the “applied for” patent that may have been filed on March 9th 1886 but perhaps was not granted. The “Victor”, which was manufactured from 1899, may have been designed from this patent. Yet there is a significant six-year gap from filing to manufacture. It just doesn’t add up. [50]

Unfortunately, just like the 1886 model, there are no documented examples of the 1899 “Victor” that I have been able to find in order to try to further clarify the mystery.

George W. Weaver’s spiral magazine air rifle design

Between 1892 and 1900, Atlas released a series of gravity-fed magazine air rifles which are said to have been designed by George W. Weaver in 1890. They were similar in design to Gunn’s break-barrel air rifles except that instead of breaking the barrel to cock the rifle, the trigger guard is used as a cocking lever. The trigger guard lever caused another lever on the top side of the grip to rotate rearwards. Attached to this lever was a similar arrangement of wire rods as described in the 1893 break-barrel patent which pulled the piston back and in turn compressed the mainspring. The first two models of this design were called the Dandy and New Dandy. [50][57]

Interestingly, a message on the American Vintage Airgun forum refers to New Dandy air rifle which is marked with “Atlas Gun Co. Pat Mar 9 86. Use B.B. Shot, Ilion N.Y.” I now believe this to refer to George’s repeating “Gem” style patent. After all, this patent is specifically about a magazine mechanism rather than the appearance of an air rifle. This could also explain why there are no known Atlas made examples of a “Gem” style repeating air rifle. [58]

However, the only patent that I have been able to find of Weaver’s is U.S. Patent 421,793 “Air-Gun” which was filed on September 18th 1888 and granted on February 18th 1890. This patent is also for a lever-action air rifle but in this design, the lever operates in the opposite direction. However, the patent was focused only on the invention of the spiral magazine which, I think, was intended to increase the magazine capacity of the rifle. Of course that’s not to say that Weaver was not involved with Atlas and I do not know if Weaver’s spiral magazine was used in any of the Atlas air rifles. Although it does appear to be a rather complicated method of increasing capacity.  [59]

In 1900, the Atlas Gun Company released their final rifle, the “Atlas” which was also a lever-action repeating air rifle. [50]

Atlas 1900 lever-action repeating air rifle – courtesy Amoskeag Auction Company Inc [60]
Gilbert Warren’s air rifle magazine patent

Gilbert Warren filed a patent of his own on November 4th 1903, U.S. Patent 830,121 “Air-Gun”. Warren’s patent took Gunn’s final patent and improved the magazine. Instead of using two or more rods to form a magazine, Gilbert realised that he could utilise the space between the barrel outer sheath and the “true” barrel to store the lead shot. His invention added a stop or barrier that had a slot to allow lead shot to pass. The lead shot would then be fed into the breech of the air rifle using a runner that was part of the “stop”. [61]

It is said that following the death of Gilbert Warren’s wife in 1905, Gilbert sold his air rifle patent to Daisy which was granted on September 4th 1906. It appears that Daisy was not interested in manufacturing the Atlas airguns but instead simply keen to eliminate their competitors. The cartridge rifle patent and the factory was sold to Meriden Firearms Company, a subsidiary of Sears Roebuck, who then made the second model of the Atlas cartridge rifle as mentioned previously. [62][63][61]

No further designs are known to have been manufactured or patented by George or the Atlas Gun Company following the 1900 “Atlas” air rifle. George may have retired between c. 1900 and 1905 as the 1900 census shows his occupation as “landlord” whereas the 1905 census states his occupation as “x”. He died at the age of 78 on March 1st 1906 when he was struck by a train whilst walking home from the Central Depot in Ilion. His wife died two years later and is buried beside him in Oak Hill Cemetery, Herkimer. [64][65][66][63]

But whatever happened to Benjamin Haviland? Following the sale of their company to Quackenbush and perhaps to Gilbert Warren, there is no further mention of Benjamin that I can find other than in the census records. The 1990 U.S. Census shows that Benjamin, now 77, and George, 73, were still living just four households from each other. They remained in the same residences for the rest of their lives. In 1900, both Benjamin and George’s occupations were listed as “landlord“. Perhaps they remained the owners of their old premises at the Ilion Depot if they ever owned it at all. [67]

Benjamin lived to the remarkable age of 96! He died on April 23rd 1920 following a brief illness. His wife died eighteen years earlier in 1902. The two are also buried together in Oak Hill Cemetery, Herkimer. [68]

Haviland, Gunn and Morse’s cylinder-in-grip air pistol – the Morse

Now then Jimmie, what about the Morse pistol that Haviland, Gunn designed and manufactured and Morse perhaps influenced?

The actual pistol that was manufactured has the rather awkward-looking cocking rod moved from the top of the pistol and placed such that it emerged from the base of the grip. It was firmly attached to the piston such that when retracted, it would pull the piston down against the force of the mainspring. A double lever spring-loaded sear and trigger was added to form a typical trigger.

Fabricated pin-seal

The pin-seal was almost identical to the patent design. However, a hook was added to the rear of the pin and became a cocking aid when inserted into a hole in the bottom of the piston rod. Of all the examples that I have seen, only one still has this hook pin-seal. The others are missing the pin-seal altogether.

The example in Jimmie Dee’s collection has a pin-seal that appears to be fabricated from a screw. Part of the thread remains intact and engages with a thread cut into the breech. The rest of the screw thread has been filed or turned down to form the pin and a washer has been pressed into the slot of the screw to form a handle. Whilst not original, it works remarkably well.

The traditional Jimmie Dee strip-down of the Haviland and Gunn air pistol!
Wire trigger guard threaded at one end

The pistol is constructed from a single iron casting with the barrel and compression cylinder drilled and honed out. Somewhat unusual for the period, the barrel is .177 calibre whereas most pistols of the period tended to be .21 calibre. The barrel is smoothbore and approximately 10cm / 4″ long. The trigger slot and breech locating slot are also finely machined out.

The trigger guard is a simple wire arrangement with one end threaded and the other pinned in place. The thread is very delicate and, should you be lucky enough to own such a pistol, I would advise that you do not remove it!

Piston with leather seal

Interestingly, the piston head consists of a leather washer held firmly in place by two steel washers and probably a rivet. Remarkably, the original leather seal is still in place on this example. The inner washer may be an integral part of the piston rod with the outer washer a separate item. The only other pistol design of this period that I am aware of which included a leather piston seal was in the Bedford “Improved” air pistol patent. Bedford’s patent also described “leather or other semi-elastic material sandwiched between two circular discs”. However, all known examples of the actual pistol that was manufactured omitted this feature. [69]

Brass spring retaining disc with the patent inscription

The spring, which is round section compared to the flat ribbon-style springs used by Pope, Quackenbush and Bedford, is held in place by a thin brass disc. The disc is threaded along its circumference which enables it to be screwed into the base of the grip. The disc is also stamped “PAT’D MAY 21. 1872”, the date of Haviland and Gunn’s patent.

The breech end of the barrel is octagonal whereas the fore section of the barrel is round. Overall, the pistol is smooth except for the chequered grip. There is a known example that has a smooth rather than chequered grip. [40]

The rear sight is an integral part of the casting with a notch cut out of the vertical blade. The front sight appears to be made from a cylindrical rod that has been shaped to form a blade and inserted into the top of the barrel.

All known examples of the Morse air pistol appear to be finished in Japan black lacquer of which this example has remarkably retained most of its original finish.

Being only 13½cm / 5½” long, 9cm / 3½” high and 360g / 13oz, you can understand that it is a very compact pistol. Whilst .177 darts will fit into the breech, the “feathers” cause too much friction and make it too much of a snug fit for the pistol to be able to fire them. But the old girl still fires Lane’s Cat Slugs or The “Prince” Air Gun Slugs out of the barrel. Of course with such a small compression chamber the power is so pitiful that the pistol could only ever be considered a child’s toy.

ongoing inspiration

At least two other manufacturers drew inspiration from the Morse air pistol. In 1878, Michael Flürscheim of Eisenwerke Gaggenau, Germany, designed his larger and rather ornate “MF” air pistol. Then, in 1892, Mayer and Grammelspacher also from Germany which was rebranded as the hugely successful airgun manufacturer Diana, designed their “MGR” air pistol based on Michael Flürscheim’s “MF”. Then again, in 1924, Diana produced the tin plate Diana Model 1. Some say Haviland and Gunn’s design could also be considered the basis of the Lincoln Jeffries 1911 “back-strap” and 1921 “barrel-cocking” air pistols as they too had the piston and spring contained within the grip. However, I think that the cocking method is so dissimilar that they could be considered unique or at the least an evolutionary step which, whether they were aware of it or not, combined Haviland and Gunn’s break-barrel and piston in grip patents into a single air pistol design. Finally, there is the 1953 Walther LP53 air pistol which is very similar to the Lincoln Jeffries albeit using just the trigger guard as a cocking lever. [70][71]

Haviland and Gunn’s piston and cylinder-in-grip pistol with some “Prince” airgun “slugs”

Hopefully this article has shed some light on the life and careers of Benjamin Haviland and George Gunn and how their pistol became known as the Morse. At the very least it has combined many sources of information into one place of reference. Perhaps it also raises more questions and doubts to keep the mystery alive. After all, if we had all the answers there would be nothing left to discuss and debate. One such question is whether George was actually an employee or whether he jointly owned the Atlas Gun Company. Or perhaps he just sold or licensed his patents to various interested buyers.

Before I sign off, credit and thanks must be given to John Griffiths, author of the Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, for his ear and information during the final stages of writing this article that has perhaps led to the definitive naming of the Haviland and Gunn as the Morse air pistol.

Until next time, happy shooting!

Jimmie Dee


  1. John Tripp Haviland, Find A Grave
  2. Benjamin Haviland, United States Census, 1850, FamilySearch
  3. Benjamin Haviland, Find A Grave
  4. United States: Inheritance Laws in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Library of Congress
  5. Inheritance and Wealth in America, Pg 106, Joan R. Gundersen
  6. Benjamin Haviland, United States Census, 1855, FamilySearch
  7. Mary Jane Wilbur Haviland, Find A Grave
  8. Benjamin Haviland, United States Census, 1860, FamilySearch
  9. Benjamin Haviland, United States Census, 1865, FamilySearch
  10. Nancy Haviland, Find A Grave
  11. William and Jane L. Tolley, Query, Ancestry UK
  12. U.S. Patent 81,500, “Improvements in Chucks”, Benjamin Haviland, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  13. Benjamin Haviland, United States Census 1870, FamilySearch
  14. George P Gunn, United States Census 1850, FamilySearch
  15. George P Gunn, United States Census 1855, FamilySearch
  16. George P Gunn, United States Census 1860, FamilySearch
  17. George P Gunn, United States Census 1865, FamilySearch
  18. Henry Marcus Quackenbush and the Quackenbush Model 1 Air Rifle (mfd. 1876 to 1938), Jimmie Dee’s Airguns
  19. Haviland and Gunn (G.P. Gunn Company) George Gunn, Blue Book of Gun Values
  20. U.S. Patent 113,766, “Improvement in Parlor Air-Pistols”, Benjamin Haviland and George P Gunn, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  21. U.S. Patent 37,173, “Improvement in Air-Guns”, Edward Linder, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  22. Air Guns, Eldon G. Wolff, second printing, Milwaukee Public Museum Publications in History Part 1.
  23. U.S. Patent 126,954, “Improvement in Toy Pistols”, Benjamin Haviland and George P Gunn, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  24. Alfred A. Morse trade card, c. 1873, Daniel F. Kelleher Auctions L.L.C.
  25. Alfred A. Morse, United States Census 1880, FamilySearch
  26. Alfd  Morse, United States Census 1870, FamilySearch
  27. 1872-73 Business Directory, Little Falls, NY, Herkimer County NY GenWeb
  28. Alfred A. Morse, United States Census 1875, FamilySearch
  29. Alfred A. Morse, United States Census 1865, FamilySearch
  30. The New York Herald, August 26 1874, Pg 8, Image 8, Library of Congress
  31. Benjamin Haviland, United States Census 1875, FamilySearch
  32. Leslie R Quackenbush, United States Census 1860, FamilySearch
  33. Haviland and Gunn (G.P. GUNN COMPANY) Benjamin Haviland joins George Gunn, Blue Book of Gun Values
  34. U.S. Patent 370,817, “Air-Gun”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  35. Gas, Air, and Spring Guns of the World, Pg 35, First Edition by W.H.B. Smith
  36. James Bown & Son’s Illustrated Catalogue and Price List, Twenty Ninth Annual Edition, 1877, Hathi Trust Digital Library
  37. Haviland and Gunn (G.P. GUNN COMPANY) Rifles, Blue Book of Gun Values
  38. U.S. Patent 187,375, “Improvements in Locks for Pistols”, Benjamin Haviland and George P Gunn, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  39. Haviland and Gunn Single Shot Gallery Pistol, Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values, Pg 339
  40. The Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, John Griffiths, ISBN 978-0-95595-160-2
  41. Haviland and Gunn Improved 1880 Air Rifle, Amoskeag Auction Company Inc.
  42. Haviland and Gunn (G.P. GUNN COMPANY) Haviland and Gunn History, Blue Book of Gun Values
  43. U.S. Patent RE010,210, “Improvement in Toy Pistols”, Benjamin Haviland and George P Gunn, Assignor Henry M Quackenbush United States Patent and Trademark Office
  44. U.S. Patent 290,230, “Process of Manufacturing Felted Slugs”, Benjamin Haviland and George P Gunn, Assigned to Henry M Quackenbush United States Patent and Trademark Office
  45. U.S. Patent 370,817, “Air-Gun”, Henry M. Quackenbush, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  46. U.S. Patent 337,375, “Air-Gun”, George Peck Gunn, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  47. Haviland and Gunn (G.P. GUNN COMPANY) Quackenbush Takes Over, Blue Book of Gun Values
  48. Haviland and Gunn (G.P. GUNN COMPANY) Atlas Gun Co., Blue Book of Gun Values
  49. American Boys’ Rifles 1890-1945, Jim Perkins, ISBN-10: 0891451307
  50. Atlas Gun Co. Rifles, Blue Book of Gun Values
  51. Lot 626, December 2016, Holts Auctioneers
  52. U.S. Patent 421,492, “Breech-Loading Gun”, George Peck Gunn, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  53. 1890s Atlas Gun Co. Jr. Rifle found in 19th Century Barn, National Gun Forum
  54. U.S. Patent 502,435, “Combined Metallic Tie And Track-Fastening”, George Peck Gunn, Assigner one-half to Atlas Gun Company, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  55. U.S. Patent 512,371, “Mettalic Fence Post” [sic], George Peck Gunn, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  56. U.S. Patent 541,085, “Air-Gun”, George Peck Gunn, Assigned to Gilbert W. Warren, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  57. Atlas, A Concise Dictionary of Guns & Gunmakers, Inventors, Patentees, Brand Names and Trademarks, John Walter, Archiving History
  58. Old BB gun Atlas New Dandy Need info, American Vintage Airguns
  59. U.S. Patent 421,793 “Air-Gun”, George Walter Weaver, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  60. Atlas 1900 Lever Action Repeater Air Gun, Amoskeag Auction Company Inc.
  61. U.S. Patent 830,121 “Air-Gun”, Gilbert W. Warren, Assigned to Daisy Manufacturing Company, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  62. # 11690 – Atlas Gun Company .22 Rifle,
  63. Atlas Gun Co., Blue Book of Gun Values
  64. George B Gunn, United States Census 1900, FamilySearch
  65. George O Gunn, United States Census 1905, FamilySearch
  66. George P Gunn, Find a Grave
  67. Benjamin Haviland, United States Census 1900, FamilySearch
  68. Benjamin Haviland, Find a Grave
  69. The “Eureka” (1876 to circa 1893) by Augustus Bedford and George A. Walker, Jimmie Dee’s Airguns
  70. The Eisenwerke Gaggenau MF (1878-1900) by Michael Flürscheim, Jimmie Dee’s Airguns
  71. The “MGR” Air Pistol (1892 – 1914) by Mayer and Grammelspacher, Jimmie Dee’s Airguns

4 thoughts on “Benjamin Haviland, George P. Gunn and the “Morse” Air Pistol (1872 to c. 1881)

Add yours

  1. Thank you for writing this article. I might like to add that I currently reside in Benjamin Havilands Home. It is located at 4330 State Rt 5 Frankfort, NY 13340. He might have built the home.He is the first name on the deed along with his wife. My daughter bought the home next door, and I did see the deed once, and the name was Gunn. However there was a home next door that burned and was rebuilt. When you mention Herkimer, we are in whats called the township of Herkimer. Although, there is a village of Herkimer about 4 miles East. We are about 3/4 of a mile from the old train depot that was located across the river from Ilion, ny home of Remington Arms. The NY Central railroad still operates beyond our back yard. Interesting enough is the fact that many of the homes that once made up what we call north Ilion(north side of Mohawk river) were torn down for a new bridge ,and on ramps going to Ilion over the Mohawk. The 3 still existing are those I mentioned. Thank you for you reseach. You may contact me if you wish at the below address……….Michael Hall

    1. Wow! That is amazing! Also that your daughter is living next door in Gunn’s old house! Wow. When I started research for this article I never imagined that I would find out so much about Haviland and Gunn. I you found my article whilst researching the history of your home? Now you will need to find yourself a Haviland and Gunn air rifle. Would you believe that I bought one at auction last month and will be collecting it on Wednesday! Watch out for an email from me….

  2. Mr. Dee ,
    After reading your article I wanted to let you in on an experience of mine.
    Back in the mid 1980 ‘s I was hunting just outside of Sedalia Mo. In Pettis Co. As I walked along a gravel bar next to a stream I noticed a rusty metal carcass of what looked like a child’s toy gun. I picked it up and kept it some unknown reason.
    30 years later a friend of mine was visiting me in my home and noticed the piece on a shelf in my family room. After asking about it , we decided to examine it a little closer . That’s when I noticed the bore size in the barrel was similar to a B. B . gun or pellet gun. I then went online to further research it.
    I came across an article and picture of a pistol talking about the Havilland and Gunn original patent . That’s when I realized what I had found many years ago.
    It is in such poor condition that I would consider it as more of a relic than a gun but still appreciate the history of it.
    If only I knew the story of how it got there . Brian Herbert

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