Author Topic: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned  (Read 4384 times)

Offline JohnnyFM

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"Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« on: August 11, 2017, 10:33:07 PM »
James Julia in the fall.
jamesdjulia.com/item/52461-1-397/






Offline The Rambling Historian

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2017, 12:38:34 AM »
I certainly find this one more appealing than the average Hawken rifle, but the patch box is kinda too much for my tastes. It reminds me of some of the finer Philadelphia rifles by the likes of Tyron. Isn't that exact same patch box on another gun out of Ohio or West Virginia? I can't imagine this is the most famous Hawken rifle by most people's estimation. The Bridger rifle is clearly more well-known among everyone I've spoken with, and I think I had only heard of this one once before. That is my own personal relevancy bias I'll own. The Medina rifle is probably better known too. What makes it the most important? Just that they its up for sale? I know it has some historical provenance, but Jim Bridger is more well-known as an individual than Atchison. Regardless of what I think, unless the seller has too high of a reserve, it will probably sell for an impressive sum.
"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. -John Adams during the trial of British soldiers for the Boston Massacre.

Offline Avlrc

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #2 on: August 12, 2017, 01:27:23 AM »
Looks like the " National Road " patchbox.  WV makers Applebay, Lewis and McCamant used the same patchbox. Ohio makers used it also. 
« Last Edit: August 12, 2017, 01:29:48 AM by Avlrc »

Offline Howard

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2017, 01:52:01 AM »
I saw this at the Cody Museum several years ago & it is outstanding.  This Hawkin is , in my opinion , the best Hawkin rifle that we know about. There is another great one at the Museum of the Ozarks.

Offline Avlrc

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2017, 02:27:05 AM »
It is a decent looking rifle &  historically maybe really important.  But a thing of stunning beauty I really don't see it.  I have always thought "Hawken Rifles" as utilitarian & made rugged for the mountain man.

Offline Arnie Dowd

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2017, 06:16:18 AM »
Yes, that's quite a rifle;  but I agree with the Rambling Historian that there are more famous & desirable Hawken rifles inc the those owned by Bridger and Medina.  Some of you may be already aware -  the Kit Carson Hawken is in a safe in the old Masonic Hall in Santa Fe and virtually impossible to get a look at; and then there is (one of my favorites as a Coloradoan) Tom Tate Tobin's Hawken rifle.  There is more than one photo of him with it.  If you google his name you'll find "his whole story".  In brief, Tom (1823-1904) left St. Louis at the age of 14 and came to the SW with his brother Charles.  He was a trapper, late Mtn Man, guide, US Army scout and bounty hunter.  His most infamous exploit was his tracking and killing the remaining two Espinosa's in 1863 with this rifle.  The 3 men (originally) had, in a little over a year, brutally killed over 30 people in southern Colorado.  There was $5500 bounty placed on them.  To prove he had killed them he put their heads in a gunny-sack and took them to Denver and rolled the heads out on the floor.  He did not get the reward but there is some info that suggests that his widow rec'd part of it later ?  A descendent gave the rifle to a Friar (Priest) at the Abbey in Canon City, CO.  back in the mid 1900's.  The good Father was a history buff and collector and had a small museum (mostly Indian) in the basement of the Abbey that was open to the public.  However, he kept the few guns he had in his office and was happy to show them and especially the Tobin Hawken if you knew of it and asked.  I saw it the first time about 35 yrs ago.  When they closed down the Abbey a few years ago it was given to Jim Gordon and is on display along with the Medina Hawken at Jim's museum in Glorietta, NM.  Also of interest -  Tobin's daughter, Pascualita, married Kit Carson's son, Billy and there is more to that story too !  As I said if you want the whole story and see the photos simply google his name.  I'm sure there are other great and historical Plains Rifles out there but these two (Medina & Tobin) are probably Colorado's "Best".

Offline T*O*F

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2017, 04:11:56 PM »
Back in 2000, I went to Washington to visit my Dad who was in the Alhziemer's ward in Ellensburg.  I knew then that it would be the last time I saw him alive.  While I was there, I visited the Clymer Museum.  They had a Hawken on display in a glass case, viewable from the front only.  There was no information about it and no one there knew any details.  I've often wondered why it happened to be on display there and if it had any association with Clymer himself.  Perhaps someone here knows something about it.

http://www.clymermuseum.org/exhibits.html


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Offline smylee grouch

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2017, 04:32:59 PM »
Every one has their favorites and will say that one is the greatest or most desirable or best looking, etc. IMHO the best is in the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, NB. It's a J&S Hawken with super nice curly maple and patch box. You can see pictures of it in Jim Gordon's book and also John Bairds books.

Offline Mike Brooks

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2017, 11:57:19 PM »
First off, I know nothing about this gun, never saw it before or heard of it before. As has been pointed out, that box is common in WV and ohio, NOT St. Louis. I don't know how this gun is marked, but is it possible this is a product of Sam and Jake's Pop? Or some other Hawken altogether? 
 You can call me dumb if it is appropriate under these circumstances..... ;)
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Offline rich pierce

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2017, 03:28:20 AM »
There are several Hawken rifles with ornate patchboxes and even some with engraved furniture.  It's somewhere between possible and likely that some of the hardware on the fancier Hawken rifles was bought not fabricated as highly similar furniture is found on rifles by other makers.
St. Louis, Missouri

Offline JohnnyFM

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2017, 09:33:36 AM »
I found this in the ALR archives from member Roger B dated 10 March 2015 in a thread titled "Silver Mounted Hawken".
Quoting:
"The Atchison Hawken also has some mother of pearl inlays in a nautical motif and is nicely engraved.  The Hawken brothers were classically trained Maryland gunsmiths after all.  The Museum has the name of the steamboat "Amaranth" misspelled as "Aramanthe".  There were actually a number of Amaranths, one of which was mentioned by Samuel Clemens as being in a Mississippi River drag race with another boat that blew up with terrible loss of life in the effort.  Such was the ego of a fledgling America that steamboat captains apparently routinely put the lives and limbs of their passengers, as well as their cargo, at risk in impromptu races.  Those riveted iron boilers could only take so much pressure, which was sometimes less than what their captains thought they could.  The amaranth is a flower and was also the name of Atchison's wife, a French beauty, whose grandfather may have been the engineer who built Fort de Chartres.  I have a picture of Captain Atchison, but was never able to get family permission to publish it.  Interestingly, there were three Hawken rifles all owned by St. Louis magnates who were associated by marriage.  Moses White (also a steam boat captain) & Captain Atchison both married daughters of Ferdinand Kennett (lead mine owner and operator of the St. Louis Shot Tower at one point) and all three had Hawken rifles built.  The Kennett rifle is in the Museum of the Ozarks, the White rifle is in private hands, and the Atchison rifle is in the Cody Museum as has been mentioned.  To my knowledge none of the owners ever went West, so I assume the rifles were essentially status symbols.  I did quite a bit of research on the Atchison rifle a few years back with the intent to write an article about it, but never did.
Roger B."
« Last Edit: August 13, 2017, 04:12:13 PM by JohnnyFM »

Offline Joe S.

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2017, 03:13:59 PM »
While far from an expert,I believe this box,national roads as well as the Medina show up on rifles from the east from more than a few different builders.These boxes and variants all point to a common supply or at least the same pattern,Tryon?

Offline Don Stith

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2017, 04:23:05 PM »
It has been almost 25 years since I held the Moses White rifle so details are a little foggy
  The owner let me fondle it as a wedding present,so the date is pretty certain
 My recollection is that the silver furniture was an overlay on iron as is sometime seen on North Carolina rifles and also by Teaff in Ohio
 I don't have first hand knowledge of the Atchison but it does not look like that technique was used on it. I hope some one that does will share with us

Offline Mike Brooks

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2017, 07:18:37 PM »
It has been almost 25 years since I held the Moses White rifle so details are a little foggy
  The owner let me fondle it as a wedding present,so the date is pretty certain
 My recollection is that the silver furniture was an overlay on iron as is sometime seen on North Carolina rifles and also by Teaff in Ohio
 I don't have first hand knowledge of the Atchison but it does not look like that technique was used on it. I hope some one that does will share with us
I figured you'd know all about this one Don. Now for more waiting to find out about this gun. Is this gun published anywhere? I really like the gun and would love to find out more about it.
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Offline Mtn Meek

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #14 on: August 13, 2017, 08:28:51 PM »
It has been almost 25 years since I held the Moses White rifle so details are a little foggy
  The owner let me fondle it as a wedding present,so the date is pretty certain
 My recollection is that the silver furniture was an overlay on iron as is sometime seen on North Carolina rifles and also by Teaff in Ohio
 I don't have first hand knowledge of the Atchison but it does not look like that technique was used on it. I hope some one that does will share with us
I figured you'd know all about this one Don. Now for more waiting to find out about this gun. Is this gun published anywhere? I really like the gun and would love to find out more about it.

The Atchison Hawken was written up in the April 1981 issue of Muzzle Blasts.  It was also discussed in a chapter that Art Ressel contributed to the book AMERICA The Men and Their Guns That Made Her Great, edited by Craig Boddington.  The Muzzle Blasts article has a good descritpion of the rifle while the Art Ressel piece provides some background research on G. W. Atchison.  He was a river boat owner and captain on the Mississippi during the 1830's through the 1850's.

The Atchison Hawken is special or unique in a number of ways.  Most obvious is the elaborate silver mounts and numerous silver inlays making it the fanciest Hawken extant.  It has a unique, at least for a Hawken, single set trigger as shown below.

81 04 MB J S Hawken GW Atchison 8" border="0

It doesn't have the typical long bar trigger plate, though the plate is long enough for two bolts from the long tang.  The trigger guard, in addition to being silver, shows the Hawken brothers roots back East.

81 04 MB J S Hawken GW Atchison 7" border="0

The lock plate is similar to the one on the Peterson Hawken, but the hammer is more robust and rounded.  The lock bolt does not pass through from the offside.  A bolt screws from the lock plate into the standing breech.

Atchinson Hawken B" border="0

"J & S Hawken" is engraved in script on a silver plate set in the top flat of the barrel.

81 04 MB J S Hawken GW Atchison 2" border="0

What makes the Atchison Hawken so important is that it is a dated rifle, and as far as I know, that date is not questioned like the Medina Hawken.  An inlay in the cheekpiece is engraved "G.W. Atchison" over "St. Louis" over "1836".

81 04 MB J S Hawken GW Atchison 4" border="0

I hear what several have posted saying other Hawken rifles connected to historical figures may be more desirable, but the Atchison is important for what it can tell us about the early J&S period.  If this rifle was dated 1826 instead of 1836, it would be lauded as the "transition" piece from the type of rifles Jacob and Samuel learned to build in Hagerstown to the classic mountain rifle they built in St. Louis.  Even with the 1836 date, it can shed some light on what the earlier rifles might have looked like.

The Atchison Hawken is a classic half stock mountain rifle in its architecture, but it is mounted and decorated in the style of an Eastern or Ohio rifle.  In 1836, this would be a retro rifle for the Hawken brothers.

There are other features such as the engraving on the rifle that is important as it relates to some other J&S Hawken rifles.  This rifle came to light after John Baird published his books, so he didn't have the benefit of studying it when he drew some of his conclusions.  One of those premature conclusions was that Jake and Sam weren't engravers like Tristam Campbell and that any engraved Hawken rifles were built after 1842, the date that Campbell is listed as working for the Hawken shop.  This rifle, with its 1836 date, negates that conclusion.  Jake or Sam, not Campbell engraved this rifle and some other J&S marked rifles with the same style and pattern of engraving as on this rifle.
Phil Meek

Offline Mike Brooks

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #15 on: August 13, 2017, 09:06:19 PM »
Interesting. That shotgun lock is certainly unusual choice, but it is what it is.
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Offline rich pierce

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #16 on: August 13, 2017, 09:09:26 PM »
I've got the Muzzle Blasts article by Bill Holm but am missing page 7.
In addition to information above:

Barrel is 37" long, about .54 caliber.  7 grooves and a twist of 1 in 48". The bolster is like that of the Leonard collection Hawken.  The lock is attached by a screw anchoring into the broad standing breech plate. 

Silver tests as fine silver (not German silver) and there are gold bands at breech and muzzle.
St. Louis, Missouri

Offline Mtn Meek

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #17 on: August 13, 2017, 10:07:41 PM »
Interesting. That shotgun lock is certainly unusual choice, but it is what it is.

The brothers used a similar lock on the Peterson Hawken described by Baird in Chapter 3 of his first book.

Peterson Hawken lock" border="0

They're probably both import locks from England.  The hooked breech & tang on the Atchison, and the method of securing the lock to the standing breech looks English to me, also.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2017, 10:10:26 PM by Mtn Meek »
Phil Meek

Offline Mtn Meek

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #18 on: August 13, 2017, 10:32:51 PM »
[I've edited my post to correct some errors that a friend pointed out in my statements.]

The Atchison Hawken also has some mother of pearl inlays in a nautical motif and is nicely engraved.  The Hawken brothers were classically trained Maryland gunsmiths after all.  The Museum has the name of the steamboat "Amaranth" misspelled as "Aramanthe".  There were actually a number of Amaranths, one of which was mentioned by Samuel Clemens as being in a Mississippi River drag race with another boat that blew up with terrible loss of life in the effort.  Such was the ego of a fledgling America that steamboat captains apparently routinely put the lives and limbs of their passengers, as well as their cargo, at risk in impromptu races.  Those riveted iron boilers could only take so much pressure, which was sometimes less than what their captains thought they could.  The amaranth is a flower and was also the name of Atchison's wife, a French beauty, whose grandfather may have been the engineer who built Fort de Chartres.  I have a picture of Captain Atchison, but was never able to get family permission to publish it.  Interestingly, there were three Hawken rifles all owned by St. Louis magnates who were associated by marriage.  Moses White (also a steam boat captain) & Captain Atchison both married daughters of Ferdinand Kennett (lead mine owner and operator of the St. Louis Shot Tower at one point) and all three had Hawken rifles built.  The Kennett rifle is in the Museum of the Ozarks, the White rifle is in private hands, and the Atchison rifle is in the Cody Museum as has been mentioned.  To my knowledge none of the owners ever went West, so I assume the rifles were essentially status symbols.  I did quite a bit of research on the Atchison rifle a few years back with the intent to write an article about it, but never did.
Roger B.

The quote above attributed to Roger B by JohnnyFM is essentially the same different than the information that Art Ressel wrote in "The Hawken Saga" chapter in the book AMERICA The Men and Their Guns That Made Her GreatArt Ressel writes, "On the same family tree with Moses White is Ferdinand Kennett...[Kennett] became acquainted with James S. White [Moses White's father] at Selma, and decided to locate there.  Subsequently he married Julia Dedrick, stepdaughter of James S. White."  Ressel says that Moses White married Miss Margaret A. Walker, daughter of Nathaniel Walker.  He gives Moses White's birth year as 1828 and Kennett's as 1813.  He does not mention when George W. Atchison was born or who he might have married.

Even though there is a family connection between the three two of the presentation Hawken rifles Roger B mentions, the Kennett Hawken is a S. Hawken while the Atchison Hawken and the White Hawken are J&S Hawken marked rifles.  The former is probably separated from the latter two by a decade or two.

The White Hawken is almost as elaborate as the Atchison Hawken with inlays and furniture.  Some references I've seen suggest that Art Ressel owned possessed it for a while.  He included a picture of it in The Hawken Shop Catalog #3 as well as "The Hawken Saga" chapter referenced above.

J S Hawken Moses White HS catalog" border="0

You will note from the picture that the White Hawken is just an extra fancy version of the classic Hawken mountain rifle.

[I also learned that the photo I pulled off the internet was not of Art Ressel.  Another example of the risks of relying on the internet.  Since I don't know who is holding the White Hawken in that photo or when and where it was actually taken, I've deleted it so as not to propagate the misinformation posted by the original source.]
« Last Edit: August 16, 2017, 08:52:23 PM by Mtn Meek »
Phil Meek

Offline Avlrc

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #19 on: August 14, 2017, 12:06:25 AM »
Pretty interesting stuff in these posts.  As to the ugly lockplate I have a couple WV/VA rifles that were made about 1825-35, that wear that ugly lock plate. They are very ornate rifles otherwise.  Some contributor on here said they was the earliest percussion locks, but can't remember who, he seemed to know a lot about locks.
 As to the popular WV/Ohio patchbox, Whisker may have the best opinion. On page 2 " Gunsmiths of Virginia" ( by Whisker),

"Wheeling was an important, early city in Western Virginia.  It's location on the Ohio River gave it a great trade advantage.  The early gunsmiths of the Northern Panhandle made most of  their guns for export.  Bills of lading  in Brooke County Historical Society  show McCamant  guns being sold to dealers all along the Ohio, from ST. Louis, Missouri, through New Orleans .  The " National Road"  open work patchbox may have orginated from this school  ( Wheeling-Northern Panhandle School).  The McCamant Family  had a brass foundry in Wellsburg and may have made these patchboxes  as ready-made  goods or may have sold brass patterns  to those who who made their own copies from sheet brass.



Offline Mike Brooks

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #20 on: August 14, 2017, 12:51:53 AM »
That patch box can be found all through that area, VA-WV, PA, OH and KY. It was very popular for a long time. You could say the same for that style of  trigger guard too. Makes me wonder how all of the influence of the VA-WV, PA, OH and KY area all of a sudden walked through the Hawken shop door. I mean if that gun didn't have the Hawken signature on it you'd expect it was built anywhere in the above mentioned  area, NOT St. Louis. I realize all of that influence flowed down stream but......
 That shot gun lock is still butt ugly no matter what rifle it's on, except a shotgun of course. Maybe they went apey over it and grabbed it out of the lock barrel at the hardware store  because of all the cool English engraving that's on it. ;)
 As an interesting side note, the owner of this gun was a river boat captain and the patch box upper finial just happens to have a ship's anchor engraved on it!
« Last Edit: August 14, 2017, 12:54:16 AM by Mike Brooks »
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Offline Avlrc

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #21 on: August 14, 2017, 03:56:10 AM »
  That trigger adjusting screw that looks like a miniature flint jaw screw, I had 3 rifles made by the same man that used same screw, except all of those rifles had double triggers. Not seen much , at least I thought mine were unique.  One of them had that ugly lock as well.

Offline The Rambling Historian

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #22 on: August 14, 2017, 07:32:08 PM »
Looks like the " National Road " patchbox.  WV makers Applebay, Lewis and McCamant used the same patchbox. Ohio makers used it also.

The Applebay rifle is the one I was thinking of. I looked it up earlier while looking into some other rifles. Thanks!
"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. -John Adams during the trial of British soldiers for the Boston Massacre.

Offline The Rambling Historian

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #23 on: August 14, 2017, 07:35:50 PM »
It has been almost 25 years since I held the Moses White rifle so details are a little foggy
  The owner let me fondle it as a wedding present,so the date is pretty certain
 My recollection is that the silver furniture was an overlay on iron as is sometime seen on North Carolina rifles and also by Teaff in Ohio
 I don't have first hand knowledge of the Atchison but it does not look like that technique was used on it. I hope some one that does will share with us
I figured you'd know all about this one Don. Now for more waiting to find out about this gun. Is this gun published anywhere? I really like the gun and would love to find out more about it.

The Atchison Hawken was written up in the April 1981 issue of Muzzle Blasts.  It was also discussed in a chapter that Art Ressel contributed to the book AMERICA The Men and Their Guns That Made Her Great, edited by Craig Boddington.  The Muzzle Blasts article has a good descritpion of the rifle while the Art Ressel piece provides some background research on G. W. Atchison.  He was a river boat owner and captain on the Mississippi during the 1830's through the 1850's.

The Atchison Hawken is special or unique in a number of ways.  Most obvious is the elaborate silver mounts and numerous silver inlays making it the fanciest Hawken extant.  It has a unique, at least for a Hawken, single set trigger as shown below.

81 04 MB J S Hawken GW Atchison 8" border="0

It doesn't have the typical long bar trigger plate, though the plate is long enough for two bolts from the long tang.  The trigger guard, in addition to being silver, shows the Hawken brothers roots back East.

81 04 MB J S Hawken GW Atchison 7" border="0

The lock plate is similar to the one on the Peterson Hawken, but the hammer is more robust and rounded.  The lock bolt does not pass through from the offside.  A bolt screws from the lock plate into the standing breech.

Atchinson Hawken B" border="0

"J & S Hawken" is engraved in script on a silver plate set in the top flat of the barrel.

81 04 MB J S Hawken GW Atchison 2" border="0

What makes the Atchison Hawken so important is that it is a dated rifle, and as far as I know, that date is not questioned like the Medina Hawken.  An inlay in the cheekpiece is engraved "G.W. Atchison" over "St. Louis" over "1836".

81 04 MB J S Hawken GW Atchison 4" border="0

I hear what several have posted saying other Hawken rifles connected to historical figures may be more desirable, but the Atchison is important for what it can tell us about the early J&S period.  If this rifle was dated 1826 instead of 1836, it would be lauded as the "transition" piece from the type of rifles Jacob and Samuel learned to build in Hagerstown to the classic mountain rifle they built in St. Louis.  Even with the 1836 date, it can shed some light on what the earlier rifles might have looked like.

The Atchison Hawken is a classic half stock mountain rifle in its architecture, but it is mounted and decorated in the style of an Eastern or Ohio rifle.  In 1836, this would be a retro rifle for the Hawken brothers.

There are other features such as the engraving on the rifle that is important as it relates to some other J&S Hawken rifles.  This rifle came to light after John Baird published his books, so he didn't have the benefit of studying it when he drew some of his conclusions.  One of those premature conclusions was that Jake and Sam weren't engravers like Tristam Campbell and that any engraved Hawken rifles were built after 1842, the date that Campbell is listed as working for the Hawken shop.  This rifle, with its 1836 date, negates that conclusion.  Jake or Sam, not Campbell engraved this rifle and some other J&S marked rifles with the same style and pattern of engraving as on this rifle.

This is making a lot more sense now. That does sound like an important piece, but I still don't think it can be fairly claimed to be the most famous since few of us had even heard about it before. As to your last point, we still don't really know that they engraved themselves as they could have had the engraving done by an engraver based in or near St. Louis, correct? It is not uncommon to find 19th century arms engraved outside of the makers' workshops.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2017, 07:40:41 PM by The Rambling Historian »
"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. -John Adams during the trial of British soldiers for the Boston Massacre.

Offline Mtn Meek

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Re: "Atchison Hawken" to be auctioned
« Reply #24 on: August 14, 2017, 08:26:54 PM »
...As to your last point, we still don't really know that they engraved themselves as they could have had the engraving done by an engraver based in or near St. Louis, correct?...

Technically, you are correct.  Since none of us were present in their shop when the rifle was built, we do not know who did the engraving on it.  But can't the same be said of Jacob Dickert, John Armstrong, Peter Berry, or any of the late 18th century and early 19th century gun builders? None of us witnessed their work either.

It's not known who Jacob and Samuel Hawken apprenticed with, but the typical training they would have received likely included learning how to engrave.  In fact, their training occurred at a time when carving was going out and engraving was the more common form of decoration on a rifle.  I think we can safely assume they knew how to engrave.  It seems silly to argue that they chose not to engrave.

A large number of their surviving guns do not have any decoration.  That reflects the preferences of their customer base.  On the other hand, there are a fair number of J&S Hawken rifles that do have varying degrees of decoration including engraving.  So they were willing and capable of adding whatever level of decoration, including engraving, that the customer wanted.
Phil Meek