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WILLIAM CHANCE & SONS NORTHWEST TRADE GUN LOCK – MADE FOR THE AMERICAN FUR COMPANY 1830’s – 1840’s – VERY RARE COMPLETE LOCK IN EXCELLENT CONDITION – COMPLETE AND MECHANICALLY SOUND:  This is a complete lock manufactured by the William Chance & Sons firm for the Northwest Trade Guns he supplied to the American Fur Company beginning in the early 1830’s.  The lock plate retains the fully legible maker’s name and the fully legible “Tombstone Fox” viewers stamp with the American Fur Company mark, “IA”.   

The American Fur Company was created in 1808 when the State of New York granted a charter to John Jacob Astor, a very prosperous young German immigrant.  With the outcome of the War of 1812 and the expulsion from United States territory the British traders who had been operating south of the border with Canada, the American Fur Company grew rapidly and began to absorb many of the smaller trading concerns.  While American gun makers were fully capable of manufacturing the classic Northwest Trade Gun, readily identifiable by the serpent side plate, the Indians to whom the guns were marketed had a decided preference for British-made guns because of their past experience with those guns during the years the British companies dominated the North American trade.   

As a close friend who was a successful trader on Wall Street once advised me, “when the ducks quack, feed ‘em”.  Astor was a wise business man and recognizing the market demand, he established strong relationships with the British gun makers.  From surviving American Fur Company records in the New York Historical Society, it is known that the Astor regularly ordered Northwest Trade Guns from British makers - among others, specifically the firm W. Chance & Son, of Birmingham.    

The Northwest Trade Guns made for the American Fur Company incorporated the same style “viewers mark” or inspector’s stamp in the center of the lock plate as were used on the guns made for the British Hudson Bay Company – that of a small rectangular recess rounded at the top like a tombstone of the period which contained a seated fox facing left. The only appreciable difference between the HBC viewers mark and the mark applied to the AFC guns were the initials below the fox.  The HBC viewers stamp included “EB” for Edward Bond, viewer for the HBC, and the AFC viewers stamp included the initials seen on this lock, “IA” for Jacob Astor.   In terms of survival rates, guns identified to the American Fur Company seem to have survived in far fewer numbers than those identified to the Hudson Bay Company, hence making the American Fur Company guns more difficult to find and more desirable. 

As a historical aside, “J’s” were commonly represented by an “I” simply because the lower hook of the “J” was difficult to fashion into the stamp and the fragile bend of the hook likely did not survive repeated strikes.  The simple straight line of the “I” was more durable and was accepted as representing a “J” in the common usage.  (As an example, the US Army omitted “J” from the company designations within a regiment, instead extending the lettering of companies to include “M” as the replacement.)   

This lock is in excellent condition - complete, fully functional, with a very crisp action.  The lock plate, hammer, and frizzen are overall smooth with no pitting.  There is some pitting to the internal surfaces, but nothing which affects the integrity or function of the lock.   

It is possible this lock is a survivor from a trading post supply of extra locks, provided so that the local traders could repair or replace broken locks on the guns the Indians brought in.  There is some evidence on the face of the frizzen that this lock was used, so it also possible that this lock was installed on a trade gun that saw use and it was replaced with a percussion lock when that technology became available on the frontier.  Trade gun locks are rarely found on the loose, so whatever the circumstances were that resulted in this lock being found separate from a full trade gun, that it has survived in the condition that it has is truly remarkable.     

This is an excellent replacement lock to complete your trade gun, or as an early Fur Trade relic to display in its own right, and this is very rare opportunity to acquire a major component for a Northwest Trade Gun.   (0210)  $2250 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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