The period between the
percussion era and the metallic cartridge era was time of great
experimentation. All sorts of ideas for improving the muzzle-loading
type of firearm were put forth. Some of these ideas are still with
us today in one form or another. Others barely saw the light of day.
All were innovative.
The repeating rifle was the goal for many, but it was the natural outgrowth
of the single-shot rifle. Before the repeater could become reality a
reliable and safe breech-loading mechanism had to be developed. Many ideas
for a breech-loading mechanism were tried over the years starting with the
flintlock rifles, with varying degrees of success.
While there were a number of ingenious
ways employed in developing a breech-loader, in this article we concentrate
on lever-actuated designs. We are Leverguns.Com after all.
There were a number of lever-action
designs for opening the breech. Some were of the "tip-up" or "break open"
design. Others slid the barrel forward while still others were of the
"falling block" type. Some were of the "rising breech" design and there were
also various "pivoting breech" designs. Within each of these types there are
variations that make all of them very interesting. Some of these ideas are
still with us in modern single shot rifles while many others just could not
make the transition to the new higher-pressure smokeless powders that were
introduced by the early 1900's.
I need to explain the following list:
First, it is not complete. I am
no expert on the subject and am simply reporting on what I have found. I am
sure I have overlooked or missed some.
Second, it only covers those single-shot breechloaders
that are lever-actuated AND that were made before 1900. There
are a number of lever-actuated single-shot rifles, carbines and shotguns
that have been made since that time. I have not made an attempt to list
them. That will have to wait for another day.
Third, the list is not in order of manufacture. The
firearms/makers are listed alphabetically.
Called an "open frame", the
entire right side of the receiver was exposed. A unique design, made in
- When the lever was pulled down the breech
tilted down at the front. Ballard's were produced by Ball & Williams,
Merrimack Arms & Brown Mfg., Dwight, Chapin & Co., R. Ball, and finally
after 1875 by Marlin. They were made with many variations and in a large
number of calibers. Photo
- A falling block design that was produced in many types and variations in
calibers .32 rimfire to .50 centerfire.
- A falling block design, made in 54 caliber, the Burnside had a
unique tape priming system to fire it's copper or foil cartridges.
Photo Action Open Side
- Produced in .52 caliber, it was made in two designs. One was a falling
block and one was a pivoting block.
- Made in various calibers, the Farrow was a
falling block design similar to the Ballard and in fact, was an
improvement upon the Ballard.
- A .50 caliber, the barrel slides forward when the lever is lowered.
- Made in .52 caliber, the barrel slides forward when the lever is
Gwyn & Campbell
- Called the "Union Carbine" or the "Grapevine Carbine", a falling block
design made in .52
Photo Action Open
Maynard - Produced in a very large
variety of models and designs from Boys Rifles to Sporting rifles in a
wide variety of calibers. When the lever was lowered the barrel slid
Peabody - Produced
in many models, calibers and variations, the Peabody-Martini is one of
the most well known.
Perry - Made in .54
caliber, when the lever is lowered the breechblock pivots upward.
- Made in .32 and .38 rimfire, when the lever is lowered the barrel
slides forward. Frames were made in both brass and iron.
- Produced in Virginia for the Confederacy, this unique rifle used a .54
cal. paper cartridge. It is unsure who built these.
- A needle-fire gun and cartridge, when the lever is lowered the barrel
- One of the more recognizable/recognized single-shot lever actuated
firearms, the Sharps was produced in many models, variations and
calibers, all of the falling block design. The first was the Model 49, a
percussion rifle. The design remained very much the same into the
- A copy of the Sharps percussion rifles, made for the CSA in Virginia.
- produced in .54 caliber percussion and .52 caliber rimfire, lowering
the lever lowered the breechblock and allowed it tip backwards.
Stevens - This
company produced a very large number of single-shot lever actuated
designs, both in break open and falling block types. Two main categories
were (1) Boy's Rifles and (2) Ideal Rifles.
The Boy's Rifles include the Marksman in .22 rimfire -
break open -
Maynard Jr. - .22 rimfire,
action similar to the Maynard rifles.
Favorite - .22 rimfire, falling
The Ideal Rifles were all of the falling block design and include the
famous Walnut Hill Series. The Ideal Rifles were produced in various
rimfire and centerfire designs and were noted for their extreme
Symmes - .54
caliber, lowering the lever raises the breechblock and allows it to
pivot backwards, exposing the chamber.
- .44 rimfire, lowering the lever raises the breechblock.
- .44 rimfire and 20. a "hammerless" design. The action was weak and was
noted to blow open at times.
- Model 1885, made in 2 frame types: High Wall and Low Wall. A Browning
falling block design that is still with us, it was produced in a very
large variety of calibers (at least 45 different calibers) and options.
High Wall Photo Low
I am sure I have missed some. There were a great many obscure
gun-designers who were trying to get their ideas produced.
As I said, these were all BEFORE 1900!
Since that time there have been quite a few single-shot lever-actuated designs
marketed both in rifle, carbine and shotgun types. Interestingly the leveraction
repeating shotgun is not dead. Why I do not know, but there still seems to be
some market for them. These and the single-shots we will cover at a later date.