05 April 2008

Hilliard Target Rifle

A noted maker of fine underhammer pistols and rifles was David H. Hilliard of Cornish, New Hampshire. The Hilliard design bears a striking resemblance and similarity to the work of Nicanor Kendall, which bears similarity to the work of Asa Story. Because these men were contemporaries living almost within spitting distance of each other, one has to wonder who was copying whom!

It is not uncommon to find similarities in muzzleloading firearms coming out of a particular geographical area as it was the practice of an apprentice, once on his own, to replicate the designs and methods of the master from whom he learned the craft. And that is exactly why we find the similarities in the Story, Kendall, and Hilliard designs.

So far as historians have been able to uncover, Asa Story began making underhammer arms at the outset of the percussion era. Apprenticed to him was another noted New England gunmaker, Nicanor Kendall. Kendall hung out his own shingle in 1835 making arms very similar to those he had made while under the tutelage of Story. Kendall continued making his famous underhammers in Windsor, Vermont until 1842 when he sold the business to Hilliard who produced fine quality work until his death in 1877. Hilliard's son continued the business for some time thereafter.

Kendall later jumped back into the game with a partner who later gained fame of his own, Richard S. Lawrence. In 1844 S.E. Robbins joined the firm and the new name became Robbins, Kendall & Lawrence. They, too, produced underhammers of the Kendall design further adding to the confusion.


Hilliard made some minor changes to the lockwork and the hammer of the Kendall and to the design of the stocks on his pistols, but other than for minor changes, one really must look to the makers name on the barrel to tell one from the other.

As a side note, interestingly, all three of these makers used Remington barrels on their wares at one time or another as is marked on this specimen. Remington was originally a barrel maker who, as we all know, went on to create his own firearms empire.

Our thanks to Steve Philippy for sharing with us these great photos of his recently acquired Hilliard target rifle. While this specimen is missing the trigger guard, it does sport double set triggers and a sear engagement screw in the sear notch of the hammer. These features, combined with it's three-sight system, definitely brand it as a high-grade rifle.

Steve said he found a triggerguard which has since been installed. According to Steve, there are no provisions for attaching a forearm which is not uncommon among early underhammer rifles. In fact, most early underhammer pistols and even some rifles didn’t wear ramrods either!

According to measurement, the bore diameter indicates the barrel is .54 caliber, which seems to indicate that it may have been a dual-purpose rifle intended for filling the larder as well as for showing off one's shooting prowess at the range. We may never know for sure.

Thanks, again, Steve, for your contribution.


Randy said...

Hi. Thanks for a great blog. Obviously you have put a lot of effort and thought into sharing your information which I’ve never seen anywhere else on the internet. But, I must say that I believe you missed the mark by not talking about the advantages of underhammers. My brother is new to muzzleloading and shoots a Lyman Plains Rifle and thinks my Hopkins & Allen is pretty strange. I’m trying to convert him and thought your site might be helpful, but after reading your blog he still doesn’t see the light.

Not to be critical, but shouldn’t we be teaching our newbie shooters the basics, too?

Randy K.

Lou said...

I have a gun that is of interest to you also probably. I just happened to run accross your blog.
Here is a link to my blog.

e3nas said...

Hi i have a DH Hilliard under hammer black powder rifle and guessing it is a 32 or 36 caliber ?? just wondering how i would find out a value or more information on it. it is in pretty good condition and have everything except the ram rod all parts are stamped 2180 is that the number built ?? what year ?? e3nas@comcast.net

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About Me

Roger Renner

Hi. I've been a student, admirer, and designer/builder of underhammer guns for over 30 years. In that span I've built over 200 semi-custom underhammers exploring the possibilities from the ordinary to the exotic. In 1996 I founded Pacific Rifle Company to explore the market's interest in a high-quality underhammer rifle. Thankfully, that interest was, and still is, there. I sold PRC in 2006 but continue to craft high-end underhammers as I am truly afflicted with underhammeritis - which can be contagious!