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Scarce Springfield Model 1870 .50-70 Trapdoor Rifle

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Scarce Springfield Armory Model 1870 .50-70 Trapdoor Rifle

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This is a scarce Springfield Armory Model 1870 Trapdoor Rifle in .50-70 caliber. While the American Civil War was predominantly an Infantryman's war using muzzle loading, percussion cap ignition rifles, the use of breech loading, cartridge firing weapons (principally carbines) left an indelible mark on both the US Army and weapons designers in the United States. The Army's experience during the Civil War left post-war Army leaders with two distinct impressions. First, the accuracy and long-range of modern infantry rifles made the linear, Napoleonic-style of infantry tactics obsolete. And second, the need for faster firing weapons was a necessity for modern infantry combat. The result was the formation of a special board by the War Department to select a new breech loading rifle. Once the board was formed, it developed a list of requirements for a new breech loading rifle and sent requests for submissions to all known arms manufacturers and to the National Armory at Springfield. The principal requirements of the new arm were straightforward: a breech-loading firearm chambered for a self-primed, metallic cartridge. When Springfield Armory received the request for the board, it assigned the responsibility for developing the Springfield design to Springfield's Master Armorer, Erskine S. Allin. Allin's design was both simple and practical. His design, oddly enough, involved the conversion of the earlier Model 1861 Pattern Rifle Musket that was used during the Civil War instead of the later Model 1863 and 1864 Rifle Muskets. Many thousands of these muzzle-loading rifles were on hand at Springfield after having been returned following the demobilization of the Union Army. Allin's design involved cutting a section out of the breech end of the standard Model 1861 .58 caliber barrel and fitting a hinged breech block into the cutout space. This was the "trap door" design that became the standard design for the US rifle for the next 25 plus years. Several foreign and domestic US designs were also submitted to the board in late 1865. The board ultimately chose Allin's Springfield-submitted design. Although many have opined over the years that one of the main reasons for the board's selection of Allin's design was its familiarity to the board's members (it looked very similar to the muzzle loading Model 1861), the real reason probably had more to do with the Army's tiny budget after the end of the Civil War and the relatively low cost of converting existing arms compared to procurement of an entirely new design. The War Department approved the board's recommendation and Springfield was directed to produce 5,000 Model 1865 breech loading rifles, which became known as the "First Allin" Rifle. The Model 1865 "First Allin" Rifles were finished in 1866 and issued to soldiers in the field. The Model 1865 fired a short, copper-cased, .58 caliber rimfire cartridge with a charge of 60 grains and a 500 grain bullet. Reports from these units identified several problems with the new rifles. First, the copper cartridge case had a weak case head that was often torn off during extraction, leaving the rest of the case inside the chamber. Ballistically, the .58 caliber round was also considered underpowered. And the breech system itself was considered too fragile with problematic extraction and ejection components. The problems identified were severe enough that Springfield made the decision to completely redesign the breech action and develop an entirely new round. The new cartridge that was designed was based around a .50 caliber bullet that had a more pointed tip than the earlier .58 caliber round. The case was also significantly different with a longer overall case length and a centerfire ignition system instead of the earlier rimfire design. The new case held 70 grains of black powder, giving the new round a significantly higher muzzle velocity than its predecessor. Springfield also designed a new breech that was stronger and had more robust components. The new design was, unlike the earlier Model 1864 "First Allin" Rifle, based on the later Civil War issued Model 1863 and 1864 Rifles. The concept was the same, however, in that the rear portion of the original barrel was cut away and the new breech block was hinged in the "trap door" style. The smaller diameter of the bullet necessitated a more radical change to the existing Model 1863 barrels. The .58 caliber rifled barrels were reamed out along the entire length to a diameter of .640 inches and then fitted with a .50 caliber liner or barrel insert that was brazed in place at the muzzle and breech. This new rifle was designated the US Model 1866 Rifle, also known as the "Second Allin" Rifle and it performed much better than the Model 1865 First Allin Rifle. The Model 1866 saw active combat service soon after it was issued and was considered instrumental in the Army's defeat of Sioux Indians under Chief Red Cloud at the Wagon Box Fight and Hayfield Fight, both occurring in August 1867 along the Bozeman Trail in the Wyoming and Montana Territories. While the Springfield Model 1866 Rifle had performed very well in service, Ordnance officials eventually decided that a new arm with a separate, reinforced receiver with a screw-on barrel was needed. This led to the design, production and fielding of the Springfield Model 1868 Rifle. It fired the standard .50-70 caliber centerfire cartridge used on the Model 1866 Second Allin Rifle and used the now-familiar trap door design, albeit with the breech block fitting into standalone receiver. In the past the US Model 1868 was often referred to as the "Third Allin" Rifle but this is an incorrect designation. The Model 1865 and 1866 were true "alterations" based on Erskine Allin's design. The Model 1868, on the other hand, was an entirely new Allin design as opposed to an Allin alteration of an existing model. Although the Springfield Model 1868 .50-70 Rifle performed satisfactorily in service with the US Army, politicians, private arms manufacturers and even some Army officers still thought a different breech loading design should be adopted. One of the loudest voices espousing this view came from Remington Arms Company, who thought its rolling block design was superior to the trap door design. Since the US Model 1868 Rifle apparently did not settle the matter of which design was going to be the US Army Rifle of the future, the Ordnance Department established in 1869 the Ordnance Board on Tactics, Small-Arms and Accoutrements, which was chaired by Major General John Schofield. The Board met at the St. Louis Arsenal and was charged with selecting the breech loading design that would become the standard for the US Army for the foreseeable future. Despite the industrial expansion in the United States following the Civil War, the stock market crash in 1869 and resulting economic malaise resulted in Congress mandating that one system and only one system would be used for future small arms. The Ordnance Department attempted to thwart the will of Congress by increasing production of the US Model 1868 Rifle while a new design was being considered but Congress discovered the Ordnance Department's plan and killed it by significantly cutting appropriations for Springfield Armory until the Board made its final recommendation. Schofield's Board received numerous submissions for a new breech loading rifle design and the Board recommended four of them for a one-year long field trial. The four arms selected for testing were, 1) Springfield's Allin designed Model 1870 Prototype; 2) the Remington Rolling Block Rifle Model of 1870; 3) the experimental Sharps Model 1870 Rifle; and 4) the Ward Burton experimental bolt action Model of 1871. Approximately 1000 rifles and 300 carbines of each design were ordered for the trial. Ultimately, Erskine Allin's design, the Springfield Model 1870 Rifle, was chosen. It was, in many ways, a curious choice since it was almost identical to the Springfield Model 1868 Rifle. While there were numerous changes made to the earlier 1868 design, the changes that resulted in the new Model 1870 Rifle were small and, some claim, insignificant - particularly since it was supposed to be an entirely new design for the future long arm of the United States Army. The principal changes in the Model 1870 Rifle was a shorter and stronger receiver and a newly manufactured, purpose built, .50 caliber rifled barrel. The rifle design of the future did not last very long, making this rifle rare today. Only 12,000 Model 1870 .50-70 caliber Rifles were manufactured at Springfield Armory from 1870 until 1873, and this number includes the 1,000 rifles initially manufactured as part of the rifle trial established by the Schofield Board. In just two years the future of the Army's "rifle of the future" was in doubt when another Ordnance board was established to develop a new more powerful and longer range cartridge. The round that was eventually selected was the .45-70 round and, coupled with support for the Ward Burton bolt action design by some in the Army, a whole new set of recommendations were made to the Secretary of War for a suitable rifle/carbine. Congress then appropriated $150,000 for Fiscal Year 1872-1873 to "manufacture arms at the national armory...PROVIDED, That no part of this appropriation shall be expended until a breech-loading system for muskets and carbines shall have been adopted for the military service." It was deja vu all over again and the Model 1873 design (also an Allin designed "trap door" rifle and carbine) was selected. The very short duration that the Model 1870 .50-70 caliber rifle was in service, and the very small numbers produced, make the Springfield Model 1870 Rifle very scarce and highly sought after. This particular Springfield Model 1870 Rifle is in original condition and is the later of several variations of the Model 1870. The Barrel on this rifle is in excellent condition. The exterior of the 32 5/8" long barrel exhibits its National Armory Bright finish on top with the majority of the dark oil quenched finish on the bottom, protected portion of the barrel. There are normal blemishes on the barrel from the breech to the muzzle from field use. The original rounded crown is present and exhibits moderate pitting. The bore is still shiny with strong rifling present and frosting in the grooves and would undoubtedly still make a great shooting rifle. The right, rear of the barrel has the correct witness line, which lines up with the witness line on the receiver. On the bottom of the barrel is the assembly number “5” and matching assembly number “5” on the bottom of the receiver. The Front Sight is the correct type short Front Sight Blade and Base that is brazed to the barrel. The Receiver retains the majority of its original blackened finish on the bottom with traces throughout. The term "blackened" as used in 1870 indicated an oil casehardened finish that left a very durable, nearly all black finish. This compares with the color case hardened finish that results in a multi-color pattern on the steel. The breech portion of the Receiver is shiny. The Ejector Stud appears to work perfectly. The Breechblock Cam recess in the breech is also very clean and shiny with no evidence of any corrosion. The Extractor is intact and the Extractor Spring is still very strong. The Breechblock on this Model 1870 Rifle is in fine condition. As Richard Hosmer points out in his definitive work on the .50-70 Springfield Rifles, "The .59- and .50-Caliber Rifles & Carbines of the Springfield Armory 1865-1872," by Richard A. Hosmer, North Cape Publications, 2006, some of the first 1,000 Model 1870 Rifles used in the field trials may have been provided with Model 1868 breechblocks. This Breechblock is clearly a Model 1870 Model Breechblock because the top edge of the Breechblock, when viewed from the side, aligns with the bottom of the hinge pin unlike the Model 1868 breechblock in which the top edge aligns almost exactly with the center of the hinge pin. The Breechblock markings on top are interesting because it has what has originally been thought to be a later Model 1870 breechblock marking. This breechblock has the work “MODEL” over “1870/eagle head facing to left/downward pointing crossed arrows/US,” and the markings are very crisp. The Breechblock is in very fine plus condition with 95% plus of the original blackened finish, to include the breechblock face. The Firing Pin Spring is still strong and the Firing Pin face is in great condition as well. The bottom of the Breechblock has a sub inspection, serif “H” mark. The Cam Latch is the correct rounded outside end type with squared inside end and it works smoothly both to open and close the Breechblock. The Breechblock is very tight both in battery and fully opened. The Lockplate is the correct Civil War Model 1864 Musket Lockplate that is marked "1863" to the rear of the Hammer and, in front of the Hammer, it has the spread eagle with large shield and "U.S./SPRINGFIELD," all still sharply stamped. The face of the Lockplate has a nice pewter patina with vivid original color case hardened finish in the Cam Latch recess and in the area protected by the hammer. The Hammer is the correct Model 1863/1864 type, modified with the flush nose and the still crisp knurled in a shield pattern on the thumb piece. The Hammer has a nice pewter patina with considerable dark portions of the original color case hardened finish on the central portion and it still works correctly in both the half- and full-cock positions with the original two-position tumbler. The Main Spring is still very strong. The original rounded top, single-slot Hammer Screw is present and the Hammer is secure with no wobble. The interior of the Lock is in fine condition. There are several sub-inspection stamps on the inside of the lock plate, including serif “P” and serif “N” stamps. The Tumbler has a serif “A” stamp. The Main Spring retains the majority of its original dark finish as does the Tumbler, Bridle and Sear. The Sear has a serif “U” stamp. The Sear Spring is still strong. All internal lock screws are in fine condition with single slots. The Rear Sight is the Model 1870 Style with the small, rectangular sighting notch with fine “V” notch, which was a change made to the earlier Model 1868 Rear Sight. The Rear Sight Base retains considerable original blued finish under the Leaf with the sides of the Base a mixture of bluing that has aged to a brown patina with the balance a pewter patina. The original spanner-head Rear Sight Screw is present and exhibits mars. The Leaf Spring also retains 95% of its original browned finish. The Rear Sight Leaf retains the majority of its browned (blued) finish with wear along narrow friction lines from the Elevation Slide and the Leaf is graduated on the front up to 900 yards. The Elevation Slide still has enough friction to maintain its position on the Leaf without rattling or moving at all. The Rear Sight Leaf Base is correctly mounted 7/16" forward of the Receiver and the top portion of the Leaf correctly rests on the front edge of the Receiver. The Stock is the correct early Civil War Springfield US Model 1863 Stock that did not originally have the inletting for the Band Springs. The Model 1868 and Model 1870 Rifles both used the Model 1863 stock slightly modified and it is in fine condition with only minor dings and scratches and its original oil finish. The left stock flat has the correct oval, script "ESA" cartouche from the Civil War, which stands for Springfield's Master Armorer, Erskine C. Allin, as well as a second “ESA” Allin cartouche when the stock was used to manufacture the Model 1870 Rifle. There is one other rounded edge, script cartouche but I am unable to discern the letters. The bottom of the stock wrist has a square cartouche with a single script letter. The original steel Nose Cap is present with a plum patina. The original Butt Plate is marked with a "U.S." on the tang and both Butt Plate Screws are the correct single-slot convex screws in very good condition. The Butt Plate exhibits a plum patina with numerous areas of old corrosion. The original Upper Barrel Band with Split Shank Sling Swivel is in very good condition. It exhibits a plum patina throughout on the exposed portion. The correct serif "U" stamp is on the right side. The Swivel is in very good plus condition and the Swivel Screw is also in very good condition and the Swivel still rotates freely. The Upper Band Spring retains traces of its original blued finish. The Lower Barrel Band is in very good condition and also exhibits a plum patina and the right side has the correct serif "U" stamp. The Lower Band Spring retains traces of its original blued finish in the protected areas. The exposed portion of both the Ramrod Stop and Ramrod Friction Retainer retain considerable original blued finish. The Ramrod is the latter double-shoulder type that is 35 3/8" long and it has the correct early type cannelures with rectangular cut out through the middle. The Ramrod remains in the white towards the rear and exhibits a plum patina on the exposed portion. The original Trigger Plate and Trigger Guard is present and it retains considerable original National Armory Bright finish with wear noted on the bottom of the Trigger Guard Bow and the assembly has a nice pewter and plum patina. Both original Trigger Plate single-slot Screws are present and are in fine condition. The original smooth Trigger is present and it retains 95% of its original blackened (blued) finish and it still rotates smoothly on the Trigger Screw and the Trigger still crisply releases the Hammer. The original Lower Sling Swivel is securely attached to the Trigger Guard Bow and retains a generally plum and pewter patina and it rotates freely. This is an exceptional, and scarce Springfield Model 1870 .50-70 Caliber Trapdoor Rifle and it appears to function perfectly.

This rifle is an antique and can be shipped to anyone. This rifle will also come with an historic writeup and a CD containing all of the photos in the listing. I accept Visa and MasterCard and charge NO FEES. Please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like additional photos posted.

 

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