What’s a Whit Worth?

OK, it’s really “What’s a Whitworth Worth?” But we can’t resist wordplay sometimes. In any event, Fred Ray pinged us earlier this week, notifying us of a post of his on the TOCWOC blog about two Whitworths that have come up for sale. These two Whitworths were very interesting; while neither had Confederate provenance, both were in staggeringly good condition, and were for sale on GB by an estate liquidator. There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, and before we could post on Fred’s find, the guns were gone, so we regret the tardiness, if any of you were serious buyers for these firearms.

On the plus side, we now can record what these Whits were worth! So, there is that. 

Take it away, Fred. Let’s start with a rare and beautiful target rifle.

Couple of very nice period Whitworths have come up for sale recently, and the outfit selling them has been kind enough to allow me to post the photos of them.

First up is target model. Whitworths were the rifle to beat in 1860s long-range matches and were competitive well into the 1880s in Britain, and longer than that in the Empire.

You can see here the tang sight for fine adjustment, as well as the pistol grip. Note the beautiful workmanship and checkering.

A look at the business end shows Sir Joseph’s distinctive hex bore, and since this is a target rifle, the globe sight with adjustable windage.

For a muzzle loader it’s often easier to do a quick windage adjustment at the muzzle, since you have to upend it anyway to load. The folks selling it did an unusually good job of photography, and there are many more here, which you may enjoy for a while until the link goes bad.

via A Whitworth of One’s Own — TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog.

The auction seller has this to say about the target rifle:

“Deluxe wood.” He’s not kidding.

Scarce Whitworth rifle with signature hexagon bore and deluxe wood is listed for your consideration.  One of the last ever made in the “F” serial prefix.

Bore: Very good condition with hexagon bore.  Bore is smooth and well cared for by previous owner(s).  See photos for more complete details.
Barrel: Barrel exhibits a majority of its blue finish.  Surface is fairly smooth and bluing at an average of 80% or better.  There is some surface spotting extending the length of the barrel.  We believe this finish to be original.  Pleases view photos for more details.

Barrel top has the rare, late Whitworth logo stamp.  See photos for more details.

Stock/Grips: Stock may show some light surface dents, dings and scratches.  We cannot confirm if the wood has been professionally refinished at some point, but we ask that you study the photos and come to your own conclusions.  We did not find any chips or cracks in the wood stock.  We were unable to locate any other significant signs of damage.  See photos for more details.
Receiver: Excellent condition with some color case hardening color present in the appropriate locations.   Stamping/maker marks are crisp and clear.  See photos for more detials.
Other Parts: Well checkered butt plate with what appears to be a varnish/laquer stains  Rear barrel flip-up sight is not included (only base included).  No case or other accessories included.  Please view photos for more details.
Mechanicals/Action: Rifle was not tested with live ammunition nor is any ammunition included.   Due to the age of the rifle, it would not be unusual for small parts, including springs and other delicate mechanical parts, to need replacement/repair.

There is also a military rifle, but not a Rebel one. You see, the Whitworth was also used by the British Army’s rifle units, engaged in the Crimean unpleasantness and various colonial wars in this period.

There’s also a very nice Whitworth in military configuration. By that we mean not for the Confederacy but for the Rifle Brigade of the British Army, which used it briefly. What makes this rifle a bit unusual is that it was made by Whitworth rather than by the Enfield factory, which made the rifles used by the army. It may have been a special order for a private customer.

The rifling is in remarkable condition, and there is no mistaking the Whitworth profile.

This one has military sights, three barrel bands, and a lug for a sword-style bayonet, which seems a bit excessive.

The auction seller adds this about the military rifle:

Scarce Whitworth rifle with signature hexagon bore and chained nipple protector.

Military Whitworths were often used by the very best sharpshooters during the Civil War. We are unable to track the history of this rifle, but we are certain that this rifle is in the military configuration.  Whitworths are still considered among the most accurate percussion rifles in the world.  This rifle is 100% original.

Bore: Very good condition with hexagon bore.  Bore is smooth and well cared for by previous owner(s).
Barrel: Barrel exhibits a majority of its blue finish with a gradual change to patina.  Surface is fairly smooth with signs of handling.  There is some light surface spotting extending the length of the barrel.  We believe this finish to be original.  Pleases view photos for more details.

Barrel top has the “Whitworth Patent” stamp.  See photos for more details.

Stock/Grips: Stock may show some light surface dents, dings and scratches.  We cannot confirm if the wood has been professionally refinished at some point, but we ask that you study the photos and come to your own conclusions.  We did not find any chips or cracks in the wood stock.  We were unable to locate any other significant signs of damage.  See photos for more details.
Receiver Excellent condition with some color case hardening color still present in the appropriate locations.   Stamping/maker marks are crisp and clear.  See photos for more detials.
Other Parts: Butt plate is mostly blue with some wear in high areas and patina.  Rear barrel flip-up sight is complete and in fine condition.  Hammer and trigger work well.  No case or other accessories included.  Please view photos for more details.
Mechanicals/Action: Rifle was not tested with live ammunition nor is any ammunition included.   Due to the age of the rifle, it would not be unusual for small parts, including springs and other delicate mechanical parts, to need replacement/repair.

Perhaps the rifle would need small parts or repairs to be ready to fire, but you’d need your head examined to have anybody take a tool to this old survivor. Both of these rifles, indeed, seem to be in a condition indicative of very little firing. The characteristic pitting around the nipple, for example, is not present. Instead, these guns show signs of painstaking care over a span of nearly two centuries. The bluing remains; the case-hardening colors remain. The military rifle lacks the fine checkering and stock figure of the target gun, but both are uncommonly rare and beautiful, and firearms don’t stay that way without systematic and sustained caretaking.

You wouldn’t want to mess that up.

Fred has many more insights about the two rifles, so do Read The Whole Thing™ as well as catch the seller’s auctions of the military rifle and the target rifle for the month or so that GunBroker will keep them live. There are dozens of pictures of each! The pictures of the rifles may last longer on the seller’s Photobucket: target rifle and military rifle respectively. Or they may not.

So, what did they go for?

Target rifle: $8,550.00

Military rifle: $9,125.99.

Like the boys say, they’re not making any more of these. Imagine what one would go for with documented Confederate provenance.

10 thoughts on “What’s a Whit Worth?

  1. whomever

    I’m baffled how you would cut that hex recessed muzzle crown accurately. You could make one that was cosmetically good with a file, but I dunno about accuracy. Today you could EDM, but I don’t thing they had that quite yet :-). Anyone have any guesses?

    I know people were good with files Back in the Day – the apprentice making the 1 inch cube and all that – but it still seems challenging. Among other things, the tip of the file would be hitting the far side of the bore after a very short stroke.

  2. Looserounds.com

    that target rifle is superb.

    nothing makes my heart beat faster than a finely made vintage target rifles of any era and M1911s and that one is a real work of art

  3. LSWCHP

    So you can’t resist wordplay *sometimes*? Nice understatement there. Sometimes I think you must have some Aussie background. :-)

  4. staghounds

    I was on the target one for a while. There probably aren’t five hundred Whitworth rifles on earth. They are historically significant even outside the world of firearms. There are quite a few currently machine made made guns that cost in the $5-10,000 range. A crummy new FN 249 semauto is more than the Whitwort, and a new-made BAR and FG-42 would have left change.

    It is surprising the historic and rare guns that one can buy under five figures.

    And, for an article- I’m sure that Julia’s, RIA, and Amoskeag have some interesting spreadsheets on the numbers of guns they sell in the various price ranges. The flatness of gun price bands has always intrigued me. I noticed at a little gun show I went to recently that there were very few guns over $1000, and the variety that you could have taken home for that was pretty wide.

    1. David

      There’s quite a few more than 500 surviving Whitworth rifles, but they’re still rarities. Fine rifles, but by the late 1860s they’d had their day and were being supplanted by the likes of Gibbs-Metford and Rigby rifles using shallow depth rifling and hardened bullets, in the hands of long range riflemen. They had various troop trials the results of which were published at the time.

      David

  5. Fred Ray

    Parker Hale made replica guns in England in the 70s and into the 80s, many from the original patterns, that were of very high quality and are highly sought after today — in fact, they have become collectable in their own right (and thus expensive). I am fortunate enough to own a Volunteer, which is the same thing except with a round bore.

    The Rifle Brigade used the WW briefly in the late 1850s but to my knowledge never fired them in combat. Whitehall decided, quite sensibly, that they were too expensive to justify, and that the extra accuracy was wasted on the average soldier. Sort of like issuing sniper rifles to line grunts. Strangely, they never seemed to consider the idea of giving some to designated sharpshooters, where they would have done the most good.

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