This is a rare Smith sporting rifle in 36 cal. with 22" octagon barrel. Most of us are familiar with the 30,000 military Smith carbines used by Union cavalry during the Civil War but this little rifle is commercial and is pre Civil War. The serial number is "81" which is found on several parts.
It is definitely not military so what is it? It's an early breech loading percussion sporting rifle. For lack of a better term, this rifle has a very 1850's New York style to it with its squared trigger guard. It looks like it was built by someone who made percussion sporting rifles as it has nicely figured checkered walnut stocks with a cheek-piece, octagon barrel, and a pewter nose cap on the forend. Even the hammer is in the percussion rifle style. It is not a post war military conversion because of the 1850's architecture and the fact that the serial number is 81. Left side of the frame is marked "GILBERT SMITH'S PATENT 1857" followed by POULTNEY & TRIMBLE BALTIMORE. MD.
The inventor, Gilbert Smith was from Buttermilk Falls, New York and received three patents in 1855, '56, and 1857 for his design. While there is no listing for this Smith Variant in Flayderman's Guide (Norman Flayderman was one of the foremost experts of early American firearms), we did find this in United States Military Small Arms, 1816-1865 that sheds a bit more light on the subject. It states:
A very few Smith carbines are known which, although they include most of the features of the standard arms described above, differ dimensionally in virtually all their parts. These may be considered prototype variations, and were never produced in quantity.....Messrs.Thomas Poultney and D.B. Trimble of Baltimore, MD became agents for the Smith carbine before the Civil War, and eventually contracted with the American Machine Works of Springfield, Massachusetts and the Chicopee Falls firms of American Arms Company and Masachusetts Arms Company to produce Smith carbines. Lowest recorded serial numbers indicate that the American Machine Works produced the first of the Smith carbines. A total of 30,362...were purchased by the government, with the initial order for 300 coming to Poultney & Trimble for trial purposes in 1860.
With this bit of information, we can pin down production as mostly likely taking place between 1857 and 1860 but by whom? The inventor Gilbert Smith or possibly American Machine Works who built the first trial guns? A research adventure awaits!
Overall Condition grades to NRA Antique Good as uncleaned. The metal surfaces an untouched mixture of original blue, patina, rust, and pitting from being stored in less than ideal conditions over many years. The mechanics appear to be sound and the bore is Excellent...bright and shiny with three groove rifling. The hammer has an old repair with some brass brazing. The stocks are made of select walnut with some nice grain past the comb of the buttstock. Wood is fairly sound with the exception a few hairline cracks that are not bad but could be addressed. Most of the original varnish is remaining and the checkering on the wrist is still nice and sharp. This rifle appears to have not seen a great deal of usage, just poor storage. The rear sight consists of a tall (to clear the breech spring) non-adjustable post with V-notch. Front sight is dovetailed to the front of the barrel just shy of the muzzle and appears to be original although its proximity to the end of the barrel suggests that the barrel may have been trimmed back. If so, it was a very long time ago as the surfaces match the rest of the rifle. This is a very special rifle and would make a fantastic addition to any advanced collection of 19th century American arms.