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MODEL 1842 PERCUSSION PISTOL – H. ASTON, dtd 1847 – MODIFIED BY A FRONTIER GUNSMITH:  Manufactured by Henry Aston of Middlebury, Connecticut in 1847, this Model 1842 Pistol was produced early enough to have been carried during the Mexican War and the subsequent modification and wear in displays strongly suggest this pistol was a personal favorite of a trapper, settler or Indian on the American Western Frontier.  

Whether to make the pistol more handy to carry by reducing its length and weight, or due to a damaged muzzle due to firing an improperly loaded charge, the barrel was shortened from the original 8 ˝” to 5 3/8” in length, which also resulted in eliminating the captured iron ramrod and swivel assembly.   

The shortening of the barrel was well done, being square to the axis of the bore, however upon close examination there are several indications that the barrel was cut using a method known to have been used by Indians, as well as frontiersmen with limited access to tools, and that has been noted on a number of surviving frontier associated firearms.  That is, by using the edge of a flat file, or a triangular file, to make repeated strokes on a line perpendicular to the axis of the barrel, turning the barrel slightly after each pass of the file.  This manner of cutting the barrel resulted in a beveled groove rather than the flat cut that would be left by a saw blade.  In some cases, particularly on heavy walled barrels, the groove would be cut down through the wall of the barrel all the way around the barrel’s surface to a point more than that half the thickness of the barrel wall.  Then the barrel was wedged in a space such as a tight fork of a tree or a crevasse in a rock and the remaining metal broken by applying sufficient pressure, thus saving the time necessary to complete the cut with the file.  Once broken off, the remaining roughness could be smoothed off (or not) as the owner decided was necessary.  Barrels cut in this manner have a visible bevel to the muzzle of the barrel and upon close examination, show spots where the metal immediately around the bore has been “torn” out rather than cut – a result of breaking the last thickness of metal.  The muzzle of this pistol still retains file marks, shows the bevel rather than having a square profile, and the edge of the bore shows several spots where the metal was torn out rather than cut, leading me to believe this barrel was cut in the manner described above.  

In addition to shortening the barrel, front and rear sights were added.  A simple fixed iron single leaf buckhorn rear sight was inlet into the barrel tang behind the tang screw.  The front sight, or to be more accurate - sights, represent considerably more effort as the owner attempted to perfect the pistol’s aim.  In what appears to have been a progressive process, first, a copper front sight was inlet into the barrel just behind the muzzle.  When that did not perform adequately (looks to have been too high), the copper sight was filed off flush and superseded by a silver sight inlet into the top of the brass barrel band.  This too, proved to be a failure and was filed off and replaced by a small albeit bright, silver sight inlet into the rear edge of the same brass barrel band (see arrow in photograph below).  This third, silver sight inlet into the edge of the barrel band is not readily apparent until you sight down the barrel over the rear sight.  It is only then that the bright silver sight contrasts with the notch in the rear sight and provides a natural sight picture, and the barrel appears to level in accurately on the target.  All of these sights were installed with certain degree of skill and a developed understanding of gunsmithing, and all of them contribute significantly to the overall flavor of this historic piece.   

The iron metal surfaces to include the lock plate, hammer, barrel, and screws all have an even aged patina with light scattered pitting as is to be expected.  In spite of the aged surface of the metal, the stampings on the lock plate - “US; H. ASTON” forward of the hammer; and “MIDDTN; CONN; 1847” behind the hammer – and the stampings on the barrel – “US; JH; P” - are all still present and legible.  The .54 caliber bore is dark and worn, with only traces of the rifling present – further evidence of the pistol’s hard use.    The lock is strong and tight with no play, and the lock and trigger have a crisp action.    The brass barrel band, side plate, butt cap and back strap, and trigger guard have a nice aged, unpolished pleasing patina.  The brass side plate and back strap both retain the Ordnance Department inspector’s stamps, The stock is full form and while showing the expected signs of wear, is in overall very good condition with a rich aged patina and is very sound with no cracks, splits or other damage.  The left flat of the stock has the vestige of a cartouche, but it is no longer legibleThe ramrod appears to be a later replacement, but is in keeping with the style of rod one would expect to find in such a pistol.   

In a class by itself, and certainly a one-of-a-kind example, this Model 1842 Pistol exhibits modifications and use far beyond the commonly encountered straight military issue specimens, and as such is infinitely more interesting and evocative of the American West.  Beginning as one of the primary percussion pistols issued to the Dragoons during the Mexican War, this piece continued to serve someone well on the far reaches of the frontier.  $1575



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