Comparing Brown Bess Butt Plates

Discussion in 'Smoothbore' started by dave_person, May 7, 2019.

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  1. May 7, 2019 #1

    dave_person

    dave_person

    dave_person

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    Hi,
    As many of you know, I restored originals, reworked repros, and built Brown Bess muskets. I love the guns, and deeply respect and admire the craftsmen working in the ordnance system that produced them. One of our forum members, Rich Pierce, donated a Reeves Goehring casting of a butt plate from an original long land pattern Bess that I will use on a pattern 1730 Bess to be given to a British re-enactment unit to outfit a new member who cannot afford an historically correct firearm. It will save him from having to settle for one of the inadequate commercial repros. I took the opportunity of having a mostly correct butt plate to show how the commercially made repros fall short and do not really respect the Bess design. The photos below show the Goehring butt plate with a plate from a Miroku short land Brown Bess repro. The Goehring plate is correct in length but the bottom needs to be widened a little with a cross peen hammer. The original short land pattern muskets had butt plates about 5 1/8" from heel to toe and the earlier patterns were a little longer. As you can see the, the Miroku is much shorter and that is true of the Pedersoli butt plate as well.
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    The result of the short butt plate is that you can never make the architecture of a Pedersoli or Miroku Bess look historically correct. The butt stocks will always be too small and with the large lock, make the muskets look a bit like the ugly German Potzdam muskets. The Brown Bess is an elegant and beautiful gun. Unfortunately, no modern commercial makers do it the justice it deserves.

    dave
     
  2. May 8, 2019 #2

    Rifleman1776

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    Interesting. I just measured the bp on my ca. 1970s Navy Arms/Pedersoli and it is about 4 1/2". Still, I accept it as a pretty good representative of the Rev. era BB, albeit not perfectly accurate.
     
  3. May 8, 2019 #3

    Artificer

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    Very interesting, Dave, Thank you.

    Gus
     
  4. May 8, 2019 #4

    Jeff Kaufmann

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    This make me wonder concerning the companies that are making "historic reproductions". When we see inaccuracies like this, is it an issue of ignorance, did they just not do the research? Is it an issue of blatant disregard, even though they are aware of the short coming they just don't care enough to change it?

    It seems to me like an easy enough issue to resolve that there has to be a reason as to why these companies neglect this sort of thing. I can't imagine that it would be all that expensive or difficult to create a proper mold to cast accurate pieces from when you are in a manufacturing environment and that offering an HC alternative to the market would offset any expenses with an increased share of the market sales.

    I know that many of us take pride in hand stitching seams, hand made leather crafts, and just generally getting the details "right". It seems a bit like a slap in the face to me when the same attention to detail is not employed by the vendors catering to a niche market such as ours. If this is your chosen market then you owe it to your customers to research and manufacture a quality product. As I learned from a very young age, do it right or don't do it at all.

    Sorry Dave for the long post, I didn't intend to stray quite so far afield! I honestly started this post with just the questions concerning why, and I got a little carried away!
     
  5. May 8, 2019 #5

    Rifleman1776

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    Jeff
    When you are selling to a mass market you must offer what will appeal to the eye of the potential customers. It is possible their marketing department felt more 'modern' lines would look better to the contemporary market. Dunno, jest suppositioning. But, looking at mine while writing this, it struck me that a more slender overall stock could produce more blanks from a given tree than the larger original style. This just might have been a wood saving decision on the part of the designers.
     
  6. May 8, 2019 #6

    Artificer

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    Hi Jeff,

    That is basically the question/s I asked Val Forgett many years ago, while working at the "Navy Arms Booth" at the NSSA Spring and Fall National Championships. Val was a true expert on UnCivil War period cannon, but was not that knowledgeable on the Brown Bess. He purchased an original Bess and had it brought to Italy to copy, for what became the Pedersoli Bess. However, to keep production costs down, Pedersoli made some changes and that's what we got. After many years of making their Bess one way, they have never been interested in "correcting" it, as it would cost too much for the small market that wants them more correct. Until their old tooling wears out and until/unless someone makes a more accurate copy at the same price, I doubt Pedersoli will ever change them.

    Gus
     
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  7. May 9, 2019 #7

    Grenadier1758

    Grenadier1758

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    I have heard the efficiency associated with economy of stock wood by making the stock straighter and slimmer to lower production costs.
     
  8. May 9, 2019 #8

    dave_person

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    Hi Jeff,
    Boy do I sympathize with you but Gus and Rifleman1776 are right. Much of the scholarship on Besses that we benefit from today was not available to Val Forgett in the 1960s when he arranged for Pedersoli to make a repro Bess copy. Moreover, who knows how accurate the original prototype was. It might have been a musket that somebody cobbled together from original parts. I have no idea what was used to guide Miroku or any of the India makers. It is what it is, and because re-enactors probably have no economic clout, it will likely not be improved. I also wholly sympathize with you about how many living history students make wonderfully accurate clothing and accessories but have to buy these firearms that poorly represent the quality of 18th century trades and technology. It does those skilled 18th century craftsmen a great disservice. In addition, I do not believe that any India, Italian, or Japanese made repro Bess would have ever passed 18th century British Ordnance inspection. The barrels would but nothing else. I fully understand the needs of many re-enactors and understand why they buy Pedersolis, Mirukos, and India-made guns. I am not elitist, which is why I posted a tutorial on how to make a Pedersoli Bess more historically accurate and why I do that work for re-enactors, sometimes completely donating my time. However, I describe what is, not what some wish to believe and I work to better the living history community.

    dave
     
  9. May 9, 2019 #9

    Artificer

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    Excellent explanation, Dave,

    Though I tried to get more clarity from Val Forgett at the time, I too was never sure if Val picked out the "original musket" or if someone else picked it out for him (which is what I think happened) and I never found out the historic documentation they may or may not have used at the time in the 1960's. It is important to note that Dr. De Witt Bailey had not published even his first work on British Military Firearms when the "original" Musket was purchased by Val. There was some other documentation available in those days, but only by very advanced students/researchers and knowing Val even as little I did, Val would not have gone to that much trouble or expense.

    Val also was very concerned about what price he could get the repro muskets for, so he could make money on selling them. Since he did not know much about the Brown Bess, he accepted changes that did not seem like major things to him, but kept the costs down. Val was not alone in that.

    A few years later, I attended the SHOT Show in New Orleans as part of the Subject Matter Expert Team sent from the Marksmanship Training Unit at Quantico. I got most of my business done on the first day and finished early on the second, then I spent most of the rest of the next day looking for things outside my area, but would might prove valuable in other areas. About the time I was finishing that, I saw Sue Hawkins at the EuroArms booth and after getting a hug from her, she asked if I would like to meet Mr. Zoli of Zoli firearms? I was astounded and of course I agreed.

    I brought up the point very diplomatically that Zoli made some truly excellent modern guns and wondered why the quality of their repro's was not as good as the originals? Mr. Zoli was very kind and did not take offense, as I had brought it up so politely. He explained that of course with modern steels and manufacturing methods, they could make these guns BETTER than the originals, but they could never sell them, if they did. He further explained for example if he did that for a Model 1851 Colt Navy Revolver Reproduction, it would have to sell retail at $ 275.00. Then he mentioned a S&W Model 19 sold for much less than that and NO ONE would pay more for a repro cap and ball revolver than they would for the then highly popular M19 (that sold for about $225.00 retail at that time). As in tune with both NSSA and other competitors as I was at the time and was also doing UnCivil War Reenacting, I knew Mr. Zoli was absolutely right. At the "Navy Arms Booth" at the Spring and Fall Nationals, we sold the best cap and ball Italian Revolvers at Dealer Price (sometimes a little less) for an average price of $135.00 to $150.00 and many folks complained those prices were too high even though well below retail price.

    Further, Cad Cam manufacturing was not used by most of even the makers of modern firearms, if it even was invented/possible at the time. Many of the repro Italian guns were still being made up of parts from a cottage industry, pretty similar to the 18th century though using modern machinery of course.

    So in some ways, we are probably lucky to have gotten repro's that were even close to period guns, though like Dave mentioned, no where near most of the quality demanded by British Ordnance.

    Gus
     
  10. May 9, 2019 #10

    Rifleman1776

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    Interesting comment that reminds me of the time (early 1970s) I had my ml shop in Indiana not far from Friendship. Somehow I got on mailing lists from a number of different importers. The offerings, all European made goods of every kind, not just gun stuff, were always very inexpensive. One day I got a price list for just cap and ball bronze/brass frame revolvers. I recall, the most popular styles like Rem. Army and Colt Navy could be ordered at a gross minimum (144 units). The gross price broke down to a mere $4.00 per unit. That's right only FOUR DOLLARS per gun. I contemplated buying a couple gross each then going on the road selling them for about $50.00 each at gun shows. Didn't do it. Had a family at home to care for. But, I always wondered how much care went into making those if they could be sold by the importer for that little money. Not much, I'm sure.
     
  11. May 9, 2019 #11

    Grenadier1758

    Grenadier1758

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    In the 1960's, my bronze framed Navy Arms "Reb" revolver (Uberti) was $49.00. I bought it because the steel framed revolver was $89.00.

    Now back to talking about Brown Bess muskets.
     
  12. May 9, 2019 #12

    Artificer

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    That is very interesting. On my very first trip to the NSSA Spring Nationals, I had worked in the "Navy Arms Booth" that was actually owned by Bucky Malson. The main reason I was invited to come was to learn to do trigger jobs and other work on UnCivil War period guns and I did that, but also worked the booth in many other ways. I did not expect to be paid, because I was learning things, but Bucky gave me a Navy Arms Brass Frame Navy Revolver as a "Thank You." The distributor price then was $45.00 on that piece.

    I bought both my Pedersoli Brown Besses through Navy Arms and got the Distributor Price on both, as I spent many years working the booth. I bought the Carbine in the mid 70's and when I sold it to buy the "full length" Pedersoli Bess in the late 90's, I got most of the cost of the Distributor Price on the full length Bess from that Carbine, even though the Carbine was about 25 years old at the time. I sold that Carbine at Fort Frederick and I barely made it to the last Sutler in the row when a Sutler I had shown it to earlier on the row, came up and bought it from me.

    Gus
     
  13. May 10, 2019 #13

    FlinterNick

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    Dave, weren’t the butt stocks on the 1730’s Brown Bess’s made with the sharper dip at the toe ? The later Brown Bess’s 1740-1779 were all made with a buttstock that was a little higher with a raised comb?

    I had always thought that the British abandoned the ‘comfort’ style butt stocks for stocks that were straighter for being able to get more stock from a blank and also the 1730’s Brown Bess’s were considered delicate by the Ordinance, did they break many of them in the field ?

    I have a miruko Bess as well, the miruko butt stock is very similar to originals I’ve seen that were issued in the earlier Napoleonic war period, i had always suspected Miruko Bess muskets were patterned after the later period 1779 short lands and Liege made Brown Bess’s and Indian made Second Model Brown Bess Muskets. Miruko just decided to use the 1756 lock rather than the smaller lock with the thicker post.
     
  14. May 15, 2019 #14

    Eterry

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    I have a copy of the Black Powder Gun Digest, 2nd Edition. There's a really interesting (to me) article on Val Forgett and the founding of Navy Arms; starting with him being contracted to disarm the tons of ordnance at Bammerman's Castle.

    The author states, IIRC, before Val took an original Colt Revolver to Italy he and a group of collectors were concerned the repro's could be antiqued and passed off as originals.

    The group decided that a few cosmetic changes would be made so the professional collector could spot easily, but would still satisfy the general public.

    This could be true, or a cover story to account for modifications to copies of original guns.

    I think it could be a little bit of both.
     
  15. May 15, 2019 #15

    Artificer

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    FWIW, it probably was a bit of both, though I'm sure cost savings was the more important reason.

    Actually, since the Italian Made replicas would have had Italian Proof and Makers' Marks even if more accurate copies, and of course the screw threads were almost sure to be Metric, these things would have been the give away to anyone attempting to pass off the replica for the real thing.

    Gus
     
  16. May 15, 2019 #16

    Eterry

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    If someone is crooked enough to try and pass off an Italian repro for an Original im sure proof and maker's marks would be removed.

    IIRC, Elmer Keith once had a Walker Colt that was later conterfieted.
     

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