Sweet Inspirations

Sweet Inspirations

Borrowing from the past

By Dennis Adler

During the 1850s Colt produced .44 caliber Dragoon Models with detachable shoulder stocks. Although far from the first use of this combination to turn a holster pistol into a short barrel carbine, the Colt models from the 1850s through the 1860s are the most famous. Dragoons with shoulder stocks were generally fitted with a folding rear sight on top of the barrel lug (which you can see folded down). Accuracy with the stock attached was greatly enhanced and point of aim was more accurate than with the pistol’s hammer notch rear and half moon German silver front sight.

At the end of the article on the Crosman Backpacker Model 2289G I put in a picture of several Frank Wesson single shot .32 rimfire pistols from the 1870s which were fitted with shoulder stocks to make them into carbines. This shows that the concept for the Crosman was rooted in our past, but it is far more interesting than that. For so many of the very popular airguns we have today, the past is the source of their inspiration, like the early Gletcher Russian Legends, and Umarex Legends models such as the MP40 sub machinegun and M712 Broomhandle, among others. But this particular subject of making carbines out of pistols has its roots far more deeply planted in the past. Frank Wesson built his guns as simple, affordable single shot pistols, some with longer barrels that could be used to hunt small game and affixed with a metal skeleton shoulder stock to make the pistol more accurate, like a rifle, but removable for easier transport. In an airgun context the 2289G, Diana Chaser, shoulder stocks for any of the Crosman 1399 series models as well as other Crosman pneumatic pistols, even the shoulder stock for the Umarex S&W 586 (perhaps the closest relation to the Frank Wesson pistols) fall into this same category.

In the realm of carbine pistols, the Diana Chaser CO2 models raised the bar but not the price with combined pistol/rifle kits with detachable shoulder stock. The bolt action, single shot or rotary magazine fed (shown) pellet models are one of the best values in this class of airguns.

A good idea is hard to hold back and Umarex developed a pistol grip mounted adjustable shoulder stock for its finely made S&W pellet firing Model 586. A bit odd in appearance, looking more like something for a tactical rifle, it certainly makes for some improved accuracy. With the stock adjusted for length of pull and the cheekpiece at the right height, sight alignment is excellent for 10 meter accuracy with the 6-inch barrel length pistol.

Of course, Frank Wesson had adopted the idea from Samuel Colt who had started mounting shoulder stocks on his large frame .44 caliber Dragoons back in the 1850s, and thus converting them into revolving carbines for the U.S. Cavalry. Troops were issued a pair of the revolvers and a single shoulder stock to carry on horseback.

Samuel Colt patented a number of shoulder stocks for revolvers in the 1850s and in 1860. This is the patent for the design suggested by then U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis for a metal canteen design to be paired with the .36 caliber 1851 Navy revolvers carried by mounted troops. It is dated Jan 18, 1859, almost two years after Davis left office at the end of Franklin Pierces’s term as President in 1857.

The U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, (yes, that Jefferson Davis who was a U.S. Senator and then Secretary of Defense from 1853 to 1857 in Franklin Pierce’s administration) had the idea of adding the same stock to the military’s standard issue pistol, the Colt 1851 Navy, and further, making it out of metal as a hollow shell that could be filled with water and used as a canteen for mounted troops. Colt developed Davis’ design and patented it in 1859. Wooden stocks were also made for the 1851 Navy by Colt, as they had been for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Model Dragoons, and the procedure was continued in 1860 for the new lighter weight .44 caliber Army model. They were originally issued to the U.S. Cavalry during the Civil War in a set of two revolvers with a single shoulder stock, just as had been done with the Dragoons.

Not sure how the water tasted inside the pewter canteen, but Jefferson Davis’ idea for a canteen shoulder stock was patented and manufactured by Colt’s. The cap was threaded into the top of the stock. Some examples were built with a wood exterior covering the metal canteen to look more like a regular shoulder stock. The inside was large enough to hold a modest quantity of water for survival, though it is more likely many were filled with whiskey.

The final evolution of the Colt percussion models to be paired with shoulder stock was the 1860 Army. Early guns issued to the U.S. Cavalry, like this original pair, came cased with one shoulder stock and two pistols. The early guns had fully fluted cylinders, which proved to be occasionally deficient in the field (bursting) because of the elegant though thin walled design. They were replaced with the improved and much sturdier rebated cylinder which was interchangeable with the earlier design.

Even Samuel Colt had borrowed the idea for a shoulder-stocked pistol from various European percussion and flintlock pistols built in the late 17th and early 18th centuries like the German Kuchenreuter, built by Johann Adam Kuchenreuter, one of the most famous European gunmakers of his time. The carbine pistol was even copied by Springfield Armory in 1855 as a large caliber, single shot, horse pistol for the U.S. Cavalry.

In 1855 Springfield Armory produced a large caliber (.58 caliber) U.S. Dragoon Pistol with a detachable shoulder stock. Springfield Armory manufactured 4,021 of these distinctive weapons between 1855-1857. The Model 1855 Pistol-Carbine was intended to provide the U.S. Cavalry and Dragoon regiments with a weapon that could be utilized as a carbine for dismounted action when fitted with the stock and a pistol for use on horseback with the stock removed. Originals are very collectable and expensive (anywhere from $5000 to $9000). Dixie Gun Works has a few remaining reproductions made in Italy like the example shown.

The idea of the shoulder-stocked pistol originated in Europe in the 17th century, so it was only to be expected that the design would continue to evolve into the 20th century (and up to the present day). As early as 1896 Mauser had shoulder stocks for the Broomhandle model. In 1932 when the select fire Model 712 was introduced, it too could be fitted with a wooden shoulder stock. The modern Umarex Legends Mauser Model 712 is authentic in all the fine details and original Mauser stocks will fit.

The carbine pistol is a very old idea that has inspired gunmakers for centuries. That this has become a part of airgun manufacturing is no surprise. I am actually more surprised that it is not more prevalent, since air pistols do not fall under the same regulations as cartridge-firing handguns. Even with western guns, imagine a c.1876 skeleton shoulder stock for the Umarex Colt Peacemaker 7-1/2 inch model (Colt made them in the 1870s for the 7-1/2 inch as well as Buntline models), or a more affordable copy of the Mauser M712 wooden shoulder stock for the CO2 models (you can buy reproduction stocks of varying quality for around $150, which may fit but not always, while very pricey original stocks will fit).

If you want to take a real flight of fancy, imagine Umarex taking the P.38 model it has been making for years and redoing it as a full Man From U.N.C.L.E. P.38 model, which had a detachable metal shoulder stock (the Ideal Toy Co. made one back in the 1960s and there is a small custom gunmaker who has actually built 9mm copies of the television series guns from real P.38s!)

And just to make those of us who remember one of the coolest guns ever created for a television series, the highly modified Walter P.38s used for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. were not only working guns modified to fire blanks, they inspired Walther to build the snub nose P.38K, and custom gunmakers to build a handful of 9mm reproductions of the TV series guns. Ideal Toy Co. even made a full copy of the gun in the 1960s. If Umarex would ever do this gun, it would be one of the best-selling air pistols ever made. And they already make the P.38. Gotta dream.

A lot of this is wishful thinking for old men, (myself included), who spent their childhood in the 1960s, but what was appealing and practical back in the 18th and 19th centuries actually inspired the carbine pistol designs of the early 20th century, and they continue to do so to this day. Even with airguns.

2 thoughts on “Sweet Inspirations

  1. Here’s some of my wishful thinking regarding an air pistol, with or without a detachable stock.

    I like that Springfield Armory 1855 Dragoon pistol you have pictured above. There’s an appealing artistic flare to those old flintlock style pistols from 150 to over 200 years ago. If possible, I’d like to see some of those become new Umarex Legends CO2 pistols, even if it’s as a single shot model.


  2. Given today’s airgun technology if a manufacturer wanted to make such a gun it would not be too difficult as a CO2 model or even as an under lever pneumatic. The question that always has to be asked is “How many could they sell?” and I don’t know the answer to that, say compared to a select-fire pistol like the M712. Umarex, in particular, has the greatest number of platforms from which to expand pistol variations be it with Colt Peacemakers, Walters; the PPK/S as an improved model with full functioning features, self-contained CO2 BB magazine, variations of the P.38 like a P.38K which would simply be a barrel change (which is removable already) and adding a front sight to the top of the frame, and if they wanted to, a new model with self-contained CO2 BB magazine. These are ideas many of us has talked about in the past few years and nothing has come of it. Looking for a new Legends model from Umarex is of the highest expectations, but what and when is something you won’t get from them until it is ready for production, like the Cowboy Lever Action. It was a logical progression from the Peacemaker that fit into an already established market. I don’t see that for an 1855 Springfield pistol at present.


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