Smoke Signals

Mar/Apr 2011




Staff Writer


Hunting Pouch












John Hall (1781-1841)

Early life

Hall was born in 1781 in Portland, Maine. He worked in his father's tannery, then set up shop as a woodworker, machinist, and boat builder, but turned to the making of guns.


On May 21, 1811, Hall patented a single shot, breech-loading rifle in collusion with Washington, D.C. architect, Dr. William Thornton. Seven years later, Hall adapted his breech loading design to the “uniformity principle,” widely known as interchangeable parts. Hall earned a contract for 1,000 of the "Model of 1819" Hall rifles from the War Department with interchangeable parts being the chief condition. To fulfill it, Hall spent more than five years (and $150,000 of government funds) at Harpers Ferry Arsenal, where he occupied an old sawmill on a small island in the Shenandoah River called Virginias Island.

Hall's methods were novel for the time period. Hall transferred waterpower through a system of leather belts and pulleys to power his machines with unusual pace, greater than 3,000 revolutions per minute with efficiency, while most artisans used hand cutters and files. Like his contemporary Simeon North, Hall began using this mill power to run machine tools and achieve the dimensions necessary for interchangeable parts. He employed metal-cutting machines attached with cutters and saws in the place of the standard heavy labor, made from cast-iron frames to ensure structural integrity and minimize vibrations from the mill’s belts. These machine-cut surfaces would then be hand filed to ensure fit and interchangeability, verified by a gauging system Hall had designed.

When a three-man committee deployed by the US Ordnance Department to verify Hall’s process in fulfilling his rifle contract visited Harpers Ferry, his results, and especially the machines floored them. They lauded Hall’s “system, in the manufacture of small arms, [as] entirely novel,” and one which could yield “the most beneficial results to the Country, especially, if carried into effect on a large scale”. His rifle works design worked so well as to undergo minimal change through the end of the Model 1819’s run in 1853. By 1842, 23,500 rifles and 13,682 Hall-North carbines had been produced, most at Harper's ferry, earning Hall nearly $40,000 in royalty and patent-licensing fees.

Hall's cutting machines were designed for simplicity, to the point that “activity [was] more necessary than judgment” and young boys or “common hands” could successfully run them. They both “functioned without any manual guidance but evidently ceased operation once the work piece had been finished,” allowing the worker to operate several at once. Hall himself even claimed, “One boy by the aid of these machines can perform more work than ten men with files, in the same time, and with greater accuracy”.

Hall's innovations in construction, tools, controls, stops, and gauges all were advances in milling iron and machine tools. Together with Simeon North and other Armorers, Hall contributed to the adoption of interchangeable parts and the American System as a whole.


The Hall rifle offered a significant increase in rate of fire over muzzle-loading rifles and muskets. However the design suffered from a gas leak around the interface of the removable chamber and the bore, resulting in the necessity of a heavier powder charge that still produced much less muzzle velocity than its muzzle-loading competition. No serious efforts were made to develop a seal to reduce the loss of gas from the breech. The penetrating ability of its .52-caliber ball for the rifle was only one-third of that of the muzzle-loaders, and the muzzle velocity of the carbine was 25 percent lower than that of the Jenks carbine despite having similar barrel lengths and identical 70-grain powder charges.

Hall died in February 1841 in Moberly, Missouri.

Various breech-loading flintlocks were developed starting around 1650. The most popular action has a barrel, which was unscrewed from the rest of the gun. Obviously, this is more practical on pistols because of the shorter barrel length. This type is known as a Queen Anne pistol because it was during her reign that it became popular (although it was actually introduced in the reign of King William III). Another type has a removable screw plug set into the side or top or bottom of the barrel. A large number of sporting rifles were made with this system, as it allowed easier loading compared with muzzle loading with a tight fitting bullet and patch. One of the more successful was the system built by Isaac de la Chaumette starting in 1704. The barrel and could be opened by three revolutions of the trigger guard, to which it was attached. The plug stayed attached to the barrel and the ball and powder were loaded from the top. This system was improved in the 1770s by Colonel Patrick Ferguson and 100 experimental rifles used in the American Revolutionary War. The only two flintlock breechloaders to be produced in quantity were the Hall and the Crespi. The first was invented by John Hall and patented c. 1817. It was issued to the US Army as the Model 1819 Hall Breech Loading Rifle. The Hall rifles and carbines were loaded using a combustible paper cartridge inserted into the upward tilting breechblock. Hall rifles leaked gas from the often poorly fitted action. The same problem affected the muskets produced by Giuseppe Crespi and adopted by the Austrian Army in 1771. Nonetheless, the British experimented with the Crespi System during the Napoleonic Wars, and percussion Halls guns saw service in the American Civil War.

Flintlock weapons were commonly used until the mid 19th century, when they were replaced by percussion lock systems.


Your probably wondering why I shared this weapon with you. For One; I have been around antique firearms since I was born in 1940 (my father was a true "gun-nut"). Being an officer in the "Ohio Gun Collectors Guild" I got to travel all over the East coast looking at some pretty neat guns.

I have handled four of these Hall Breechloaders (flint & converted to percussion). All of them were broken through the wrist, a few poorly repaired. The few seen in the bigger museums were all in 60% or less condition.

This gun on the left appeared in one of Cabelas Gun Libraries, I saw it the day it went on the Internet, called the Library Manager to ask about it. Fifteen minutes later I had "shot my wad" per say, the gun was on its way to me. It took about 3 minutes to make up my mind when looking at a 98% untouched Hall Breech Loading Flintlock. SOLD $4.500.00

I'm dead when the wife finds out, anyone have a spare bedroom cheap.


My new "Toy" as its called by my "better half" has been excepted, won't need different quarters for now. That may change down the road with new "Toys"????

Here's what we have and what has been found on this weapon since purchasing.


CHRISTIE’S London, King Street - 21 March 2001 Auction

Lot 304


Price Realized $4,041 Estimate $1,433 - $2,150

Lot Description:


No serial number visible
Second Production specification, manufactured by Harper's Ferry Armoury under J. H. Hall's patent, dated '1833', the flintlock breech-loading action with sprung breech and release-lever, walnut stock with iron mounts and brown lacquer finish, sling-swivels, the barrel with open-sights 33 in. barrel, with ram-rod and bayonet.

Specification: On the top of barrel with collector's numbers, on the right side stamped NWP. Top of breech marked U.S. over S. North over Middltn Conn, and dated 1833. Walnut stock with three barrel bands and springs. This rifle was part of the famous Cook collection that was donated in 1929 to a Midwestern museum. Sold in a group of items to make room for additional displays through Christie's - New York -  London 21 March 2001.

Condition: All metal has a nice grey patina with some mild brown staining with no pitting. Wood has nice opened grained look with some nicks and dings. A very nice sharp cartouche of "NWP" in an oval. Bayonet is very sharp and crisp with a little brown staining.





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