English Trade Gun

AllenClapp

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For anyone engraving the old stuff, Engraving Historic Firearms by John C. Schippers (available on atFEGA.com and engraver.com websites and other places) is a great resource. It is full of photos of both original and reproduction engraved firearms and includes instruction on how many of the cuts were made. Great book! Get two: one to sleep on and one to cover up with. It is that good.
 

Buck Conner

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Nov 26, 2021
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I'm sorry but I keep re-reading the comments here (enjoying the questions and the replies). You gentlemen have some good information.
Colonial Clonial Frontier Guns by T.M. Hamilton printed by The Fur Press 1980 Chadren Nebraska

On page 66,67 showes a number of serpent sideplates .Eight plates on that page five of which are flat,I quote here from paragraph A.(1736-1743) the writing "The outer faces still show the ripples left on the surface as the brass cooled apparently in an open mold " & paragraph D."from Fort Frederica 37 C above theise show how the ENGRAVER (capitals mine) could change the direction& character of the head at will." also Paragraph E." A stanard Type G sideplate. All of the above (A.B.C.D.& E.) were made flat brass ,presumably cast in an open mold, but the exact technique is not known.
Over the years my family has owned a number of these guns, back in the '40s and '50 they were the cheapest gun a kid could buy, they were as plentiful as some of the odd ball WWII guns. The best place we found were the antique stores (they would buy an estate sale and had to take everything in that sale). Old muzzleloaders would end up in a corner of the antique store. In some cases when looking - your looking at the butts of guns stuck in large wooden barrels. When a NW gun was found they were in many cases in poor condition from years of service. Sorry just wanted to share my experiences with finding these guns ....

I had the good luck of meeting T.M. Hamilton along with Curly Gustomski and Charles E, Hanson, Jr. at the Denver Antique Collectors show, they came to my table and Charlie was asking what NW guns I knew about for sale in the area - late '80s. At that time we talked about some of the side plates we have seen. Will go find those pages on the side plates we had seen at this tim, be back in a bit.
 

Buck Conner

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Nov 26, 2021
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book (2).jpg

The Serpent Sideplate

Next are a number photos of “serpents” on different contract firearms, most are typical in shape, size and style. Note the direction of the “dragon’s” head and fins as well as how the size of the loop and screw holes change from one period in time to another.

After talking to several knowledgeable people on the subject, I was informed that many of the surviving arms found where missing brass butt plates, trigger guards and serpents. The Native Americans liked brass and would make other items out of the mentioned pieces rather than have it go to waste on the firearm. After hearing this I have found several old photos of Indians wearing serpents around their necks and butt plates tacked on chests. As well as trigger guards flattened straight and used to hold the side of a trunk together.

book (4).jpg

WHATELEY side plate by Charles E. Hanson, Jr.

For more material see "The Evolution of the Serpent Side plate" an article by Joel L. Shiner (Hamilton 66, 67), good descriptions and pictures of side plates recovered at several Forts and sites in North America.

The serpent side plates are very true to the design stated in the government orders or plans of the trade gun. You would think with the large number of contractors supplying arms the serpent would have had many different styles or faces. In Mr. Shiner’s article he shows early side plates recovered at Fort Frederica (1736-1743), the examples are of the flat casting, probably done in an open mold with very simple engraved lines and design, three holes for the lock and attaching screws. Later side plates from the Rock Turtle, Fort Prince, and Michilimackinac sites (1753-1760's) show the three attaching holes. As do older ones recovered, with a more rounded body and more detail in the castings seen in the later period arms. The heads of the serpents have clean details, as good as any seen on modern reproduction guns of today.

book (5).jpg

BARNETT side plate by Charles E. Hanson, Jr.

book (6).jpg

Blackfoot with breastplate of NW gun dragon side plates.

[Blackfoot Reserve, Alberta, Canada; circa-1889]

Notman Collection, McCord Museum, McGill University, Montreal, Ontario, Canada.​

Some researchers like Hamilton and Hanson have written that many of the NW Guns have not survived, because the local Indians used as many of the pieces as possible from damaged guns for a variety of uses. Usually locks where used for spare parts, but brass was turned into a material for decoration as seen above with this gentleman’s breastplate (even today many of the surviving NW Guns are missing their serpent-dragon side plates and butt plates). Barrels were ideal for making pipe tomahawks and fleshing tools by traveling blacksmiths, only one’s imagination controlled the usage of the damaged trade musket.

book (7).jpg
Early “Serpent” side plates:

• Queen Ann Dog lock 1707 (sometimes marked as a tradegun plate in collections).
Colonial (early side plate seen on tradeguns).
Early tradegun side plate.


book (9).jpg
HAMILTON NW GUN, c.1710-20.

Note the flatness of the side plate.

book (10).jpg
KETLAND NW GUN, c.1715.

Note the flatness of the side plate.

book (11).jpg
KETLAND NW GUN, c.1718-22.

Note the flatness and lack of detail on side plate.

book (10).jpg
GRICE NW GUN, c.1775.

Note the flatness of the side plate.

Later “Serpents” sideplates:
cont.
 

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Buck Conner

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Later “Serpents” sideplates:

1638307425453.png

RICHARD WILSON NW GUN, c.1790-1800.

Note the more details with scales, turned head and fins.

1638307443219.png

ROBERT WHEELER NW GUN, c.1800-10.

Note the more details with scales, turned head and fins.

1638307457730.png

WHATELY NW GUN, c.1810.

“Tecumseh Gun”


Note details with scales, turned head and fins.

1638307477031.png
ROBERT PRITCHETT NW GUN, c.1819

Note the more details with scales and smaller size of loops.


WORKS CITED:

Photos gift to the author by Charles E. Hanson, Jr.

Hamilton, T. M. "Firearms on the Frontier: Guns at Fort Michilimackinac 1715-1781". MI: Trikraft Print 1976

Hamilton, T. M. "Early Trade Guns":1625 -1775. OK: Museum of the Great Plains.1968

Shiner, Joel L. "The Evolution of the Serpent Side plate" (Hamilton 66,67),

Hanson, Jr., Charles E., "Smoothbores on the Frontier" Book of Buckskininng IV. TX: Rebel Publishing,1994.

Hanson, Jr., Charles E., “The Northwest Gun”, Lincoln , NE : Nebraska State Historical Society,1955.

_____________________________________________________________________

Thank you for your time.

Later
 

Chujybear

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Haida Gwaii
I was in the Pitt rivers museum in oxford and was excited to find numerous instances of a feathered serpent carved in argillite. I thought that we had stumbled across some potential evidence of contact between South America and the NWCoast. Shortly after my little brother was directed to these trade guns by a lady from one of the Irish museums. Slight let down, but always fun to have a mystery solved
 

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