Gibbs-Tiffany & Co. Underhammer Pistol
On November 24, 1826 Fordyce Ruggles was granted a patent for "inventions and improvements... in fire arms". Unfortunately the original patent was destroyed in the Patent Office fire of 1836, but is highly likely that Ruggles' patent was the first for underhammer style arms. Ruggles' design was very simplistic, relying on only four moving parts, and did not require complex machinery to manufacture. Their simplicity and ensuing low costs made the arms very popular in New England.
The Ruggles factory operated from December of 1825 to 1838 during which both Fordyce and his brother Adin were both accidentally killed in separate firearms accidents. In 1833, after the death of Adin, the company began leasing room in the factory to at least five of other individuals who made underhammer pistols on the Ruggles machinery.
In addition to arms made by others at the Ruggles factory, a number of other gunsmiths also made firearms based on Ruggles' patent. In an effort to raise more money for operations Adin sold the rights to manufacture patent underhammers to several individuals. Others, especially after Adin Ruggles' death in 1833, began manufacturing underhammer guns without license.
The pistol offered here is a classic underhammer pistol manufactured by Gibbs-Tiffany and Company of Sturbridge, Massachusettes. The company was established by Enoch Gibbs, who had apprenticed as a horn comb maker, and Lucian Tiffany, who had worked as a mechanic all his life. Gibbs-Tiffany and Company operated from approximately 1833 to 1838 during which several thousands of pistols and some "buggy guns" were manufactured.
The pistols manufactured by Gibbs-Tiffany and Company are typical of the majority of underhammer pistols. Two styles of barrel markings are found on the company's products. The differences are found in the shape of the eagle stamped on the top strap. The most commonly encountered variation features an eagle with spread wings as opposed to the folded wing variant.
This pistol is in overall very good condition. The grips have a few very slight grain cracks, but they are purely cosmetic, and do not retract from the overall look of the gun. The 4 inch barrel is roughly .25 caliber with a single band transition from octagon to round about 2.4 inches from the breech. The left side of the barrel is marked "Cast Steel". The top of the barrel is marked with the retailer stamp of E. Hutchingson & Co (over) Agents-Baltimore. Hutchingson and Company had been retailing underhammer pistols since 1833 when they had entered an agreement with Adin Ruggles. The underside of the barrel is marked 240, which appears to be a serial number, or at least a batch number.
The top strap is clearly stamped with Gibbs Tiffany & Co (over) Sturbridge Mass. Gibbs is struck lighter than the reat of the markings, but is still visible. The rear of the strap has the typical spread wing eagle marking found in Gibbs and Tiffany pistols. The sides of the strap have a vine style engraving with some additional leafy engraving around the strap screw. The rear of the top strap has a simple block-type rear sight. A simple brass blade front sight is soldered on the front about .155 inches from the muzzle.
Overall this is a really nice example of an early American underhammer pistol. Underhammer arms can be counted among some of the first truly American deigned arms, and are some of the earliest of percussion arms. Fortunately for the collector, these arms don't generally command lofty premiums, and as such they remain affordble for even novice collectors.
For size reference, the pistol measures about 6.75 inches from muzzle to the rear sight.