Author Topic: Great Western Gun Works Rifle  (Read 17579 times)

MGretz

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Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« on: January 19, 2011, 05:52:58 AM »
I am posting these pictures for my friend and local gunsmith David Kaiser.  It is the second of two longrifles he acquired over 30 years ago when he lived in California - the other is being discussed in this thread http://americanlongrifles.org/forum/index.php?topic=14099.0

Mike Gretz
Montezuma, Iowa

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Admin Note: The following contributed by DR. James Whisker

Great Western Gun Works.  The Great Western Gun Works was founded by James Hampton Johnston, originally of Waynesboro, Franklin County, Pennsylvania.  James H. was a son of John H. Johnston (1811‑1889), well known gunsmith whose work is generously represented by surviving examples.  The first year that John H. Johnston was taxed as a gunsmith was 1832.  In 1834 John obtained a lease on land he later purchased on the southwest side of Main St., Waynesboro.  In 1850 the U.S. Census showed that Johnston had real estate valued at $1000 and was age 39 years, a gunsmith by trade. According to information supplied by his son, James, John had apprenticed with Henry Carlile of Shippensburg. The Waynesboro Village Record of 23 May 1889 carried an obituary for John H. Johnston, saying that he was in his eightieth year at his death.  James Hampton Johnston was a son of John H. Johnston and apprenticed with him.  His early years were spent in Waynesboro.  In 1866 he went to Pittsburgh and founded the Great Western Gun Works.  A second son of John H. Johnston, George B., joined James H. in the Great Western Gun Works enterprise, although far less is known of him and his influence on the firm's growth seems to have been minimal.





Johnston, James Hampton (-1915). His son, John A. Johnston, entered the firm about 1888 and took over management in 1896. John A Johnston continued the business until 1923. While the firm operated exclusively in Pittsburgh, its addresses changed periodically, as shown by entries from period directories: Great Western catalogues show guns ranging in price from a low for plain guns of $7.50 to a high of $55 for fancy sporting rifles. He also sold small cannon and handguns. The better Great Western Gun Works firearms can compete with the better guns made in cottage industry shops. The lower priced items compete with poorer grade arms made by inferior workmen and the workaday guns made by any of the individual craftsmen. We have not seen any carved guns made by Great Western. The principal objection collectors have to Great Western products is that they are formula arms, all basically the same. Superior grade arms are simply the plainer grade guns with a bit of decoration and engraving added.

 1866‑68, corner Penn & Wayne Sts

 1868‑74, 179 Smithfield St

 1874‑77, 285 Liberty St.

 1877‑83, 169 Smithfield St.

 1884‑89, 621 Smithfield St.

 1889‑95, 706 Smithfield St.

 1895‑1905, 529 Smithfield St.

 1908‑23, 639 Liberty St.

Occasionally, other addresses are encountered.  Perhaps the manufactory and the office used different addresses. Pittsburgh in the Centennial Year compiled by George H. Thurston said that in 1876 a gun barrel factory employed 20 hands and made products valued at $40,000.  In 1881 Thurston reported in Pittsburgh As It Is, or Facts and Figures, that gun manufactories in the city employed 59 gun makers and turned out guns worth $257,000, a goodly portion of which was the production of Great Western Gun Works.

 

This important industry of Western Pennsylvania was founded by James H. Johnston in 1866, in a small building at the corner of Penn and Wayne Sts., Pittsburgh.  The founder being a practical gun maker and possessing natural business qualifications, his venture proved a success from the start.  Two years later, in 1868, his little establishment was destroyed by fire, and the proprietor lost almost everything, having little or no insurance.  However, with that energy born of a determination to make his way in the world, he recommenced operations at 179 Smithfield St. and soon recovered from the shock.  Here business so prospered with him that he was compelled to seek more commodious quarters, and he moved his manufactory to the four story building at 285 Liberty St., in 1874.  To give an idea of the rapid growth of the Great Western Gun Works, it may be stated that the first year's business, in 1866, amounted to only $2500 in value; in 1874 it reached over $150,000.  The proprietor finds his chief difficulty in obtaining skilled labor, and for this reason is compelled to have some of his finer stock manufactured in Europe.  He employs on an average 25 men, all skilled workmen, and obtained after careful selection.  He attributes his success to his practical knowledge of gun making and strict attention to the wants of the trade, especially in sporting firearms, for which class of goods he has a constant demand in every State and Territory of the Union.  The establishment is devoted exclusively to the manufacture and sale of firearms, and the proprietor gives his undivided attention to the business.  He is the largest manufacturer and dealer in his line in the State west of the Alleghenies.

                            [Manufactories and Manufactures of Pennsylvania, pp. 313‑14]

 

[James Hampton Johnston] founder and sole proprietor {of the Great Western Gun Works} was born in the town of Waynesboro, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, December 16th, 1836. He grew to manhood in his native place, and there learned the trade of gunmaker. Just previous to the beginning of the late {Civil} War, in 1860, he moved to Pittsburgh, and was appointed Master Armourer at the Arsenal there. In this position he served with credit until the close of the war, a period of five years. In the following year, with a small capital, he established the Great Western Gun Works, one of the most rapid and surprising business successes in the great manufacturing city of Pittsburgh. From a business of $2500 in 1866, in 1874 it had grown to the proportions of $150,000 annually and is still increasing. Nor is this success the result of mere chance and a few speculative ventures; it has been the fruit of methodical business habits and that reliance which, with strict integrity and honesty of purpose, distinguishes the character of all self-made men.

                                  [Manufactures and Manufactories of Pennsylvania, ­314]


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« Last Edit: January 19, 2011, 04:00:24 PM by nord »

MGretz

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2011, 06:23:37 AM »
I just found this finished gunbroker auction for a similar rifle.  http://www.gunbroker.com/Auction/ViewItem.aspx?Item=201202128
Very similar.

Offline Curt J

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2011, 06:38:48 AM »
Very similar indeed!  The biggest difference that I noticed is that this one has a drum rather than the "snail" bolster on the one on the auction.

38_Cal

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2011, 07:18:27 AM »
Thanks times two, Mike!  Yep, that rifle's a brother to mine all right.  I have a copy of Satterlee's book, 10 Old Gun Catalogs, that included the 1871 Great Western catalog.  It appears that my rifle may be a No. 15, where the one on Gun Broker is a No. 17, the difference being the patent breech.  My rifle came from the same shop as the TN rifle shown earlier, bought at the same time.  From the excellent photos that Mike took, you can see the repair to the tang and the screw repair to the stock to the left side of the tang.  And yes, the ancient percussion caps were in the cap box when I bought it.

David Kaiser
Montezuma, IA

MGretz

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2011, 03:55:50 PM »
David,

In the photos you can definitely see a strong hint of "tiger stripe" under the dark varnish on your gun.  Underneath that varnish your rifle might be just as spectacular as the stock on the gunbroker gun.  Do you reckon that guy cleaned his somehow?  I that something to consider for yours, or as they say on Antiques Roadshow "Don't clean it!"?

Mike

Levy

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2011, 06:57:39 PM »
I have one very similar that is marked Enterprise Gun Works on the barrel and has the number 160 stamped at the muzzle.  I believe it equals .32 cal. or 160 balls to the pound.  Mine doesn't have the forward finger hook on the triggerguard.  It has a capbox and the finish has a reddish tint.

James Levy

38_Cal

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2011, 07:21:39 PM »
Thanks for the added information on Great Western Gun Works!  I had (erroneously) remembered reading somewhere that the company had gone out of business in the 1870's, so this is good stuff to know. 

I haven't decided yet how to proceed with this rifle, if I want to repair, restore or leave it as is.  I'm leaning towards repair to shooting condition on it, unless someone can convince me that one of the other options would make more sense.  Yep Mike, under that nasty dark varnish the wood has pretty good figure. 

Levy, Mike Gretz pointed me to a website this morning, http://www.american-firearms.com/american-firearms/IE-others/START-other.html , that lists your Enterprise Gun Works as also being located in Pittsburgh at the time my rifle was made.  I would guess that it was a pretty standard pattern of rifle.

David Kaiser

Bull Schmitt

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2011, 11:57:03 PM »
Last Fall I acquired a percussion half stock rifle that was in serious need of repair/restoration.  The stock had numerous cracks, splits, and old repairs that had failed. The barrel is marked J. H. Johnston, Great Western Gun Works, Pittsburgh, Pa. It has a J Golcher lock and the stock is walnut. The grip is checkered. The butt plate, trigger guard, entry thimble and patch box are brass as are the sights. The escutcheons around the wedge are silver and there is a small silver oval piece on the bottom edge of the butt stock. The nose cap is also silver.   Ramrod thimbles on the barrel are iron. It is 40 caliber and the bore is very good. It appears to be very similar to the others mentioned here.

Here are several photos of the rifle.








Bull
« Last Edit: February 23, 2011, 12:32:00 AM by Bull Schmitt »

38_Cal

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2011, 06:42:26 AM »
Nice rifle!  Looks like they are variations on the same theme, with yours being a more deluxe version. 

David

Offline T*O*F

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2011, 11:09:53 PM »
Here's a page from their 1871 catalog.  Yours appears to be a #14.

Dave Kanger

A dedicated person with just a pocketknife can accomplish more than a lazy person with an entire toolbox.

Bull Schmitt

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2011, 02:19:13 AM »
Thanks fellows for your comments and info. I suspected it might one of the higher quality models. I am puzzled by the brass from and rear sights.

Bull Schmitt

Offline jim meili

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2011, 11:03:10 PM »
I got parts from a busted up rifle and used the original lock in a new rifle. It was a replacement for an original flint so he sold locks to the market or it came off another gun.



J.H. Johnston, Pittsburg PA
« Last Edit: February 25, 2011, 11:04:56 PM by jim meili »

Relic2maggie

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Re: Great Western Gun Works Rifle
« Reply #12 on: July 16, 2014, 02:13:40 AM »
Maybe this thread is still alive. I recently became the "caretaker" of a family heirloom. It is a J H Johnston, GreAt Western Arms rifle. I googled and found this thread. I know nothing about rifles and would appreciate any information. It looks very much like the ones pictured above with J H Johnston on the side of the plate behind the hammer assembly and is marked on the top of the barrel as the above photos. Any idea of value for insurance purposes?