Are we too strict about historical 'accuracy'?

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sooter76

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Not sure where this fits, so...

I know this is sacrilegious to some, but I've been thinking about it more and more. I have several WWII era Lee Enfields and they all differ from each other slightly. Not just between different makers but even among the same source within the same year. The same for my Mauser's. And I've seen a few 1903a4's with different bolt handle geometry, and these were all made by Remington on the same machinery. I mention these more modern firearms only because I have them at home to personally see the differences, and because they were mass produced on modern machinery.

With 18th and early 19th century firearms, even military firearms that were mass produced, these were made by hand. No two are exactly the same. Now I'm not talking about some wild deviation like a half stock gun from the mid-18th century or a doglock on an AWI gun, but variations in stock geometry and thickness and barrel length surely existed. I understand that there are few American made pre-AWI firearms still in existence (and relatively few unaltered guns from the AWI-early republic era), but despite this the collective 'we' seem to say that if a firearm Doesn't look just like one of these remaining guns we have it's not an accurate representation.

Now locks being imported and having very specific features between time periods I'm not talking about them. But I would argue that even from the same builder you would be likely to find differences in stock thickness and slight deviations in shape. It's unavoidable when talking about a completely hand carved and shaped stock. I can think of several reasons you might find iron furniture on a pre-independence firearm built in America. I've seen people say a Fusil-de-Chasse isn't accurate because the barrel is only 44 inches or the comb isn't 'right', but there are plausible and common reasons why a barrel might be shortened a few inches or the comb might be different. Even new made barrels could have slight variations in taper, profile, and thickness/length.

Basically I wonder if, in a time of mass produced and cookie cutter firearms that by model are identical, we don't, through mass accepted bias, say that if a modern made flintlock doesn't fit exactly one of the few remaining firearms we have from the 17th and 18th Century, it isn't historically correct.
 

Black Hand

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One can't prove a negative, therefore one should limit themselves to what is known to be fact. Speculation is all well and good (leading to creative ideas), but if it isn't supported by evidence, then it isn't anything more than speculation...
 

sooter76

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Black Hand said:
One can't prove a negative, therefore one should limit themselves to what is known to be fact. Speculation is all well and good (leading to creative ideas), but if it isn't supported by evidence, then it isn't anything more than speculation...
I'm not talking about proving a negative. I'm talking about saying a gun isn't historically accurate because the stock is slightly thicker than what is accepted as accurate, or another similar deviation.

Again, I'm not arguing for something outside the realm of plausible. I'm talking about physical variations that can and should be expected due to existing factors of the period.
 

Coot

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There are plenty of existing examples of things made in the 18th century that were made in matching sets - silverware, chairs, pairs of pistols, harness for a pair of horses, etc, etc. While these are handmade items that will be different if measured with a micrometer, to the naked eye, they are identical. Many items were made to conform to a set of gauges or to an approved pattern. Military inspectors acceptance marks indicated that the item was "close enough" to an approved standard. While it is fun to speculate on what could have been, based on then existing technology and materials, the danger is that it could just as easily not have been. To be completely honest & accurate, we must go with what is known to have been. The problem with making statements like "they could have done thus and so" is that the audience very often filters the message to not hear/remember the "might or could or similar" out an then goes on to spread a speculation rather than a fact.
 

Claude Mathis

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Sooter76 said:
Again, I'm not arguing for something outside the realm of plausible. I'm talking about physical variations that can and should be expected due to existing factors of the period.
I guess that would allow each of us to determine historical accuracy for ourselves, based on what we think was possible? :wink:
 

necchi

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The topic question;
"Are we too strict about historical 'accuracy'?"
I struggled with this same issue and it really boils down to a simple play on words.
There are many-many modern builders making guns using their own artistic expression that do indeed have some variations from originals that are fully acceptable within our "traditional" community and at many/almost all of our events without issue.
We call these a Contemporary build.
But as soon as you use the words "Historically Accurate" or Historically Correct",,
, well then it has to be held to those "Accurate/Correct" standards.

What the folks will argue as they have slightly here is we can't change the accurate part and still say "could be" or might have been".
It's either correct or contemporary.
 

pondoro

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If a rifle company was known to have been equipped with (say) 42" barrels then 42" they all must be. But if we have existing privately owned guns from a particular maker that run from 38" to 44" then 39" should be "plausible". But not 36". So I'm with you on variation to that extent.

If five people are reenacting a non-military group it would be odd for them all to have the exact same guns or knives. I'd go so far as to say it makes no sense. But none of the guns and knives should go outside the parameters of what is known to have existed in their location and era.
 

Black Hand

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pondoro said:
If five people are reenacting a non-military group it would be odd for them all to have the exact same guns or knives. I'd go so far as to say it makes no sense.
And if they had purchased the guns/knives from the same maker in a limited/local area...?
 

necchi

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Black Hand said:
And if they had purchased the guns/knives from the same maker in a limited/local area...?
Let's not go too far with it,, the OP is saying that no two guns are exactly alike,, with each from the same maker having it's own particular specifications,,
As example there are no two exactly alike original Hawken's rifles (or from any other originals makers of note)
Their shops where not Walmart
 

tenngun

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I have to say real live besses I have seen had variation. During the WTBS both sides had trouble arming their men and a company may be uniform but a regiment might not. During the AWI the French sent arms,not the 1777 Charlee but did they have any left over 17s that were sent?
We do have so many rifelmens shirts. A hand made Itam that today we stamp out "Shrits,Rifleman,1 each". Even though something is hc it's not always uniform. Then there are battlefield notifications. On Cornwallis retreat to Virginia I would bet a lot of the equipment was given repairs that threw uniformity out the window.
We are just little kids playing cowboys and Indians here. Even if we are putting on a show for a museum the general public won't notice the difference between a '70s Japanese Bess and a bench copy. We are the only ones that care. Folks will argue about details far on the edge.
We want to be 100% HC even though we know we can't get there. Or we don't,and are happy with close enough. I have a Centermark FTC, it's not a perfect copy of an original but it's my favorite gun. I try to get as close as I can to hc, my dream is if I had a time machine and I went back in time no one would notice me in a crowd. However I am limited by what's avalible,what I can afford and what I can use. And we live in the here and now, we don't have the mine set they did, most of us put in to the field with more stuff then the people we represent.
 

pondoro

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Black Hand said:
pondoro said:
If five people are reenacting a non-military group it would be odd for them all to have the exact same guns or knives. I'd go so far as to say it makes no sense.
And if they had purchased the guns/knives from the same maker in a limited/local area...?
As Necchi said, I expect local non-military stuff to vary. The military tried harder for uniformity. Sometimes they got close. But a local blacksmith or gunsmith? I'd expect similarity but not uniformity.
 

Black Hand

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pondoro said:
Black Hand said:
pondoro said:
If five people are reenacting a non-military group it would be odd for them all to have the exact same guns or knives. I'd go so far as to say it makes no sense.
And if they had purchased the guns/knives from the same maker in a limited/local area...?
As Necchi said, I expect local non-military stuff to vary. The military tried harder for uniformity. Sometimes they got close. But a local blacksmith or gunsmith? I'd expect similarity but not uniformity.
Except for the fact that a maker/school can be identified from visual characteristics, suggesting there was far more uniformity than similarity....
 

Artificer

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Spence has documented some Iron furniture on imported smoothbores, but (please correct me if I'm mistaken) not on American made rifles until after the AWI and then mostly on southern mountain styling. IOW, you would not have seen a typical Pennsylvania Style rifle with Iron furniture.

Now, if one wants to go with a rather wide range of variation, then composite guns and rifles made up during the AWI were probably the ones with the most variation. This due both to the fact that importation of gun parts became forbidden by the British and American makers used whatever locks and furniture they could get their hands on.

There were also some variations in guns built up from reclaimed parts from broken/unserviceable guns, but the stockers or gunsmiths still used their traditional stock styling they were comfortable with and could fit to the parts they had on hand or were given.

Gus
 

rich pierce

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Of course there were variations especially in work turned out in small shops. But if one thinks that brass and iron furniture of the same shape and form might appear on a 1750-1820 Pennsylvania rifle, that is extremely unlikely unless it is a barn gun with sheet metal guard and buttplate. Nobody in America outside maybe Philadelphia or other high end makers building for colonial barons was using forged iron furniture that was identical in form to cast brass furniture types used in that locale and time. Casting brass into complex shapes was a common skill swiftly executed. Forging and welding and filing to a form found on early PA rifles would take days.
 

sooter76

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Im not arguing that anything goes... Certainly you can say that specific stylistic patterns were contained to specific times and geographical areas. What I'm saying is that if I have a rifle with deviations from the accepted, it doesn't neccissarily mean it's wrong...

A barrel 2" shorter than what is accepted as 'right' for r a specific style may have been cut down due to crown damage. Iron furniture may have been reapproriated from an imported gun that was insalvagable. The comb on a Tulle may be off due to needed repair or because the end sanded it down to suit him. A stock may be thicker because the builder felt rushed.

I'm not arguing for putting a rifled barrel on a Fusil, I'm saying variances were bound to exist for a myriad of reasons, and strict rigid adherence to dimensions of examples we have on hand is probably not any healthier than saying Robert Rogers really did slide 400 feet down a rockface Lake George just because it makes a great story.

As one of my professors was fond of saying, "absence of proof is not proof of absence."
 

Zonie

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While there is little question about military guns made under contract with the government being "very close" to the same because they were built to a master pattern, the same can't be said about civilian guns.

That's why using the "school" method of classifying guns is used where guns from a local area all share some similarities in their stocks is about the best we can do.

For instance, the straight comb on a Lancaster Co. or the curved combs from Reading Co. are clearly different but most of the guns that have been traced to Lancaster Co. do share the straight comb style and most of the guns traced to Reading Co. do have a curved comb.
That's about as far as we can go in classifying rifles made guns in America.

Looking thru the various sections of "RIFLES of COLONIAL AMERICA" or THOUGHTS ON THE KENTUCKY RIFLE IN ITS GOLDEN AGE clearly shows some major differences between the guns made in any particular school.

I also chuckle when I read someone saying, "Oh! That can't be a "barn gun". Barn guns didn't have any buttplates!" :shocked2:

Hell. A barn gun was often just a assembly of parts scrounged from several old guns and the features it had were up to whoever put it together.

And talk about it being impossible to "prove a negative"?

Anyone who says something like, "The Mountain Men never carried a gun like that", has just ventured into that area if the gun being talked about is styled after a gun that is known to exist before the Mountain Man era.
 

necchi

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Sooter76 said:
one of my professors was fond of saying, "absence of proof is not proof of absence."
You mean they did wear togas and romantic sandles?
And have toilet paper?
 

Elnathan

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I'll begin by pointing out that mil-surp rifles usually have undergone rebuilding, perhaps several rebuildings, by the time they hit the civilian market, so bad analogy....

The problem is arguing that something "could have" existed is that these old guns weren't produced in a vacuum. What seems logical to us may not have been an option in the social or economic environment in which they were produced. I believe many, if not most, of the Fusil de Chasse were produced under government contract by French armories, and the French armories had very good tolerance control, IIRC. So there might be a very good reason for uniformity between fusil de chasse - if the royal contract called for barrels of 42 pouces then you had better be pretty close!. (I say this hypothetically, as I really don't know how this system worked. Someone double-check my history there!) You don't see straight barrels on 18th century firearms because there was just as easy to make a straight or tapered barrel with the manufacturing techniques of the time as it was to make a straight barrel, and the straight barrel made for an inferior gun. I doubt that anyone could have sold a gun with a straight barrel in the 18th century! When new manufacturing techniques that automatically produced a straight barrel came around in the 19th century, then they became common, because they were easier and cheaper to obtain (and swamped barrels hung around for quite awhile afterwards).

Historic rifle barrels, incidentally, were usually a bit heavier, sometime much heavier, than most of us would be comfortable with today, which makes a nice segue into another factor: original guns were used differently than they are today. Hunting techniques and ethics were different, target shooting was done differently, they were carried differently. How many people remember, when thinking about what "could have been done," that the longhunters made those long trips through the Appalachian mountain passes and wandered around Kentucky on horseback
? (Boone's "alone time" during his trip was on foot, IIRC, but it was something of an emergency situation and not typical procedure.) Forget that little fact, and your understanding what "could have been" could be way off base...


As for the "all handmade" argument, have a look at this, one minute in: Mughal Matchlocks

And, as I've pointed out before, while there are plenty of ugly old guns out there, the architectural errors exhibited are not the architectural errors we are prone to today. We live in a straight, regular, machine-made world that we see most of through 2d pictures. They lived an an irregular, natural world interspersed with hand-made objects, viewed firsthand in 3d. Our ugly guns look like planks cut out on a bandsaw, with a straight little barrel stuck on top and slab sides. Theirs are crooked, have awkward proportions and weird angles, but they don't tend to have huge lock panels, big tracts of forest between the barrel channel and ramrod (which screws up everything, as I can show you on my first build...) and the other problems we have today. Not on 18th century guns as far as I can tell, anyway.

So, no, we do not overemphasize historical accuracy. What we have is a bunch of people who tend to fall back on slavish adherence to the past simply because it is the simplest and most objective standard to counter the multitude here that will deny any standard of historicity at all lest they be forced to admit that their favorite semi-custom-marginally-less expensive-than-a-true-custom flamethrower with all the bells and whistles might not be the standard for perfection. Believe it or not, there are other forums out there in which one can have a calm, reasonable discussion about things like, "were does HC/PC end and interpretation begin?" These are places were the majority of participants are serious scholars and craftmen, and as such have a common base of knowledge from which to draw on. Once you know something about the old guns, and how and why they look they way they do, THEN, and not before, you can extrapolate and push the boundaries in the name of artistic license, or just make modern art (which is fine -even great - as long as you don't try to pass it off as a historical piece.) What I see happening time and time again, though, is people, rather than admit an error, dismissing decades of painstaking research that others have done in an effort to justify shoddy workmanship or a poor understanding of the past. I find that absolutely maddening.

In sum, I think a lot of the HC wars would go away if the other side would get a couple of good books and study the firearms, knives, whatever to understand the old stuff for its own sake and not just to try to justify that piece they already bought. Learning a bit about the craft of writing history wouldn't hurt either (and, I'll add in passing, some of the PC/HC brigade are bit, ah, mechanical in how they approach the evidence, and could learn a thing or two about how history writing is done in practice and not just in theory.)

Now I've wasted an evening and made everybody mad at me, but screw it, I had to say it sometime...
 
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