Description[Maynard Rifle]. Archive of Letters to Edward Maynard from William P. McFarland of the Massachusetts Arms Company. A large and unique archive of 126 autographed letters signed, dating from March 14, 1857 to December 21, 1865, including 125 from William P. McFarland to Edward Maynard, and 1 from J. E. Larkin to A.A. Kickhoefer regarding a Maynard rifle. Also included are 50 canceled postal covers (49 in which stamps are removed). Most of McFarland's letters are written from Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, average two to three pages in length, and are 5" x 7.5" in size. Almost half of the letters date from 1858 and 1859.
Edward Maynard (1813-1891), born in Madison, New York, was a noted dentist and firearms inventor who designed a breech loading percussion rifle, the Maynard Rifle, which was used by the British in the Crimea War and the Confederate cavalry during the Civil War. Although Maynard is best known for his firearms inventions, he practiced and taught dentistry from 1835 almost until the time of his death. The holder of twenty-three firearms patents, Dr. Maynard, who lived in Washington, D.C., had contracted the production of his breech loading system to the Massachusetts Arms Company, which manufactured his rifles.
William P. McFarland served as an agent for the Maynard Arms Company and worked for the Springfield Armory (Springfield, Massachusetts) and was superintendent of the Massachusetts Arms Company.
The Maynard Arms Company was founded in April 1857 in Washington, D.C., to promote Maynard's breech loading carbine, and in August of that year contracted with the Massachusetts Arms Company, located in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, to produce 5,000 carbines with steel barrels under the direction McFarland, the company's master machinist and superintendent. The Massachusetts Arms Company was incorporated in 1850 to manufacture firearms and firearm-related products, and founded by Joshua Stevens, Horace Smith, and Daniel Wessen, the latter two subsequently founded Smith & Wessen. The company early on produced a revolving pistol under the Leavitt & Wesson patents until 1851, when a claim of infringement was lodged against the company by Samuel Colt, the manufacturer of a similar pistol. The courts decided in Colt's favor and, as a result, the company looked to manufacture other patent firearms, including breech loading arms, particularly those invented by Edward Maynard. During the Civil War, the company worked on large contracts for the U.S. Ordnance Department. After the war the company continued to manufacture the Maynard carbine as a conventional center-fire rifle until 1890. The company was in operation until the early 20th century.
McFarland's letters to Maynard, all addressed formally to "Dear Sir," begin in March 1857, with him offering advice to Maynard concerning the latter's intention of establishing a company, possibly in Washington, D.C. Writing on April 14 from Worcester, Massachusetts, where he lived, McFarland, probably at the time working at the Springfield Armory (Springfield, Massachusetts), responded to Maynard's letter of April 9. "It seems by your letter that you are anticipating doing a very large business at gun making in Washington at some future time. Now it appears to me that I am not getting the Model along as fast at [as] you would like, although I am doing all I can with the conveniences I have for making it. Now if you are sure of building an armory you will of course want tools to put in to it, & I have thought it would be best to get enough at once to start a Model Shop as you will probably want a number of samples made for you company to exhibit. Would it not be best to hire a room with power where we can control our own works, hire a few good workmen & work upon that which will advance your manufacturing to the best advantage [?]" In an April 24 letter, McFarland offered a list of machines and prices for equipping a model room and responded to Maynard's impatience with the lack of progress on a model gun. "I will give you an estimate of the amount of Machinery for our Armory for turning out 5000 Rifles a year as soon as I can. It will take some little thought & figuring before I can do so. I am getting on with the Model as fast as I can alone. You must explain to your Company the difference between making a gun & a Model Gun. As you know that to get up a model to work by & get up tools by it is very necessary it should be exactly right in every particular."
In a May 11, 1857 letter McFarland informed Maynard that it would be difficult to find a company to produce one thousand rifles and, as a result, suggested contracting the work to the Massachusetts Arms Company. "I think it would be very difficult to find anyone to be willing to engage to make that number for any price your company would be willing to pay. My opinion is that the wisest course you can take, is to give the Mass. Arms Co. the Contract for 5000 at once. They are in better condition to commence upon them than any one else. I think you will find that if you attempt to contract for any less number you will be obliged to pay more than you wish." In a postscript to this letter, McFarland addressed Maynard's plan for a Washington, D.C. Armory. "If your company intend to put up an Armory in Washington they had better communicate soon, as it will take at least 18 months to get everything ready to manufacture guns."
In August 1857 Maynard's company had contracted with the Massachusetts Arms Company to produce Maynard's rifles and had hired McFarland. In an October 3, 1857 letter, McFarland wrote Maynard that the company was "ready for me at Chicopee Falls and, accordingly I started the next day for that place found they...were ready to commence upon the tools for the Rifle. I want to work fitting up my room ready for work on Saturday of the same week." In the same letter, McFarland mentioned the possibility of the company employing Maynard. "I hope the Co. will decide to employ you, and do it at once for now is the time to have everything correct before the tools are completed & it can be done with much less trouble if you are here than it could if you are not."
In late September 1857, a West Point committee visited the Massachusetts Arms Company to review the Maynard Rifle as part of a national breech loading rifle competition. West Point ended up choosing the Burnside Rifle, designed by General Ambrose Burnside, over 17 other carbines. McFarland, in an October 17 letter Maynard, was angered by the decision. "I cannot see the grounds for the decision of the West Point Commission in favor of the Burnside Gun as they say in their Report that there are other guns of much more merit & if so, it must have been through Bribery, favoritism, or something of the kind. I think the Secretary of War is not bound to accept of any such report." By the end of the year, however, favorable reports of the Maynard carbine reached the U.S. War Department, which resulted in the Ordnance Department in December ordering 400 carbines at $30 each from the Maynard Company.
McFarland's letters, many containing great detail regarding experiments and producing firearms and related parts, primarily consist of progress reports relating to his work at the Massachusetts Arms Company on Maynard's designs, particularly concerning the Ordnance Department's order. For example, his letter to Maynard of January 4, 1858 provided an update on new samples of the rifle. "We are at work upon four new samples, but shall finish one in advance of the others. I have two men at work with me now who, I suppose, will remain with me while the guns are finished....I have just received your letter of the 31st Ult. in regard to appendages for the Rifle etc. You ask me to inform you how the Sample Shot. I did not try it at a target at all. I fired it only six or eight times from the shop window. I have no fears in regard to its shootings however, but think it would be well for you to try it before exhibiting it if you can."
On March 24, 1858, McFarland reported on progress made on the carbine, and sent cloth targets to show Maynard how well the gun shot "at ranges from 300 yds. to 800 yds. using .35 grs. of Powder & Balls such as I send you. I have even tried 40 grains of Powder with a larger Ball such as I send to you....I think I did the best shooting in this very decidedly. I do not send the targets to you for exhibition, it was made while I was graduating the sights. I am sure I could do much better if I were to try again now. I thought the targets would show you how the gun had performed better than I could do by letter. I was obliged to go about 2 ½ miles from here to shoot as I could not get long range enough here." By June a problem had arisen that prompted McFarland to send a "private" note to Maynard on June 2, 1858. "There is one thing that I am a little fearful about and that is the sticky[ness] of the cartridges in the Barrel. I have found this to be the case after firing many times never till the last two or three days, however. It seems to be near the flange where it upsets and seems to swell-out so as to make it stick so that I could not pull it out without the aid of my knife. If this should happen in action it would prove to be the ruin of the gun for government use, but I think this can be remedied by attaching a fixture which will start the cartridge when the Barrel is thrown up." By June 14, the problem was apparently solved, since McFarland reported to Maynard that he was sending "by Express the sample carbine for government with all the appendages necessary for its use....I fired about 25 charges in it on Friday to get the sights adjusted. I think it is near right for any shooting at 200 yards, as I can get it."
In addition to working on Maynard's guns at the Massachusetts Arms Company, McFarland in July 1858 traveled twice to West Point to demonstrate the carbine against several models from rival companies before an ordnance selection board. In an August 16, 1858 letter to Maynard, McFarland enclosed a clipping from the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican that carried the news that the ordnance selection board decided that none of the breech loading carbines possessed the essential qualities the board required. McFarland reported on what he understood were the gun's flaws according to what was conveyed to him by board members. Nevertheless, in early September the Maynard Arms Company was notified by the Ordnance Department to send it 40,000 metallic cartridges at $27 per 1,000, which were related to the original 1857 order of 400 carbines.
In his first letter of 1859, dated January 4, McFarland complains to Maynard about the management of the Massachusetts Arms Company and the practice of pulling labor from Maynard Company work. "I find that this is the way that everything has been conducted in this establishment and all for the want of good management. The Foreman has been in the habit of taking any and all kinds of work which the workmen would bring to him. This has been the great thing I have had to contend against ever since I have been here. Had I known this before the contract was given, I should never have been in favor of their having the contract. I have had some pretty plain talk with Mr. Carter as well as some of the workmen. I still live in hopes there will be a change here before long, but it takes forever for them to do anything." Apparently McFarland ruffled a few feathers at the company; his letter of February 3, 1859, alludes to a possible visit by Maynard "if the Co. think best to get you to come on here as Mr. Carter thinks I am too exacting in some points. Still I do not know as it is necessary unless he should make a complaint to the company. I think I know what your idea of good work is and I intend to have the guns made as near to it as I can."
McFarland worked on Maynard guns other than those made for the U.S. government. He was involved with orders from individuals and other companies. For example, in an April 24, 1859 letter to Maynard, McFarland mentioned that he had "Mr. Thomas' Rifle in the works and will be able to finish it next month I have no doubt." In light of his recent criticisms of the Massachusetts Arms Company, McFarland stated that Maynard arms could be produced in a more efficient way. "When the Co. gets a shop of their own started, they will be able to do better work than it is possible to have done here. We might then be able with such a sett [sic] of workmen as we could select, to make Rifles so nearly alike, that they might be graduated totally accurate...but under the present arrangements we shall never arrive at that point of perfection."
In July 1859 the U.S. Treasury Department ordered 100 carbines for its revenue cutter service. The following November they ordered an addition 100 carbines. In a November 24 letter to Maynard, McFarland noted that he "was very busy at present getting the 100 Rifles ready for the Treasury Department." In early 1860, as some Southern states warned of secession and began to look to build up their supplies of arms, McFarland suggested to Maynard that this could be beneficial to the company. In a March 2, 1860 letter, McFarland suggested an angle Maynard could use to get business from the State of Virginia. "I see by the papers that Senator Mason states that Virginia has sent to Europe for estimates of Arms: 'and would be very cautious how she bought Arms in the northern section of the Country.' Perhaps you may throw in a bid now upon the grounds that the Maynard Company is a Southern Institution." As it turned out, the Maynard Arms Company did sell guns to several Southern militia companies formed in Mississippi, Florida, and Georgia in the several months following Abraham Lincoln's election as president.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the demand for arms of from both North and South increased dramatically. In a May 6, 1861 letter, McFarland expressed to Maynard his hope that "some arrangement will soon be made to go to manufacturing the Rifle. Colt's Armory I learn is to be doubled in capacity for manufacturing his arms, and the Sharpe Rifle Co. will also increase their works very considerably and as you have a better Rifle than either of theirs. It seems to me that arrangements should at once be made to manufacture it....If this is not done soon, some other Rifles will be manufactured to take its place in the market. I think every day lost is a great disadvantage to you as well as to the Co. who might be manufacturing them." Weeks later, in a May 25 letter, McFarland reiterated this point. "It is a wonder to many persons in this section of the country why the Maynard Arms Co. are not doing something about manufacturing more Rifles, especially than when known the most about the merit of them. There is no doubt in my mind that the demand for firearms will be great for some years to come and an establishment started upon the plan we have talked over many times would do a good business."
McFarland's concerns were probably related to the troubles that hit the Massachusetts Arms Company on in late January 1861, when it was destroyed by fire, and by the fact that all of the Maynard arms had been sold by June 1861 to the federal government, Southern militias, and individuals. As a result, there were only a few parts being produced. Although the Massachusetts Arms Company eventually reopened, McFarland's work appeared to be dedicated primarily to firearms other than Maynard's. By the end of 1862 McFarland, then working on a large contract for Smith carbines, expressed hopes of making Maynard's carbines again. In a November 11, 1862 letter, McFarland wrote that he was "continuously receiving orders for them & have not one left to sell. It is an unpardonable sin to drop the manufacture of them as it has been, when guns are so much needed & such immense numbers of inferior ones are being made and taken as fast as made. I hope to see them manufactured again soon. If you should not succeed in forming a new company to your liking, perhaps you could sell the patent to the Massachusetts Arms Co." Many of McFarland's letters around this time addressed the issue of reviving the production of Maynard carbines, either through another company or with the Massachusetts Arms Company.
Based on McFarland's letters, the Massachusetts Arms Company was back making Maynard's rifles by the summer of 1863. In a July 29, 1863 letter to Maynard, McFarland reported that "We are getting started upon some parts of your guns. The contracts for making nearly all the parts are not yet completed but we are getting them so nearly into shape that we can make the forging tools & many of the finishing fixtures." In a January 21, 1864 letter to Maynard, McFarland mentioned that he was "taking charge of an Establishment in Pittsburgh," but could not talk about it "until your 20,000 Rifles are made here." The 20,000 Maynard carbines McFarland referred to were ordered by the U.S. Ordnance Department in June 1863. McFarland never again mentioned the Pittsburgh position in his remaining letters. After the war ended, demand for Maynard carbines for non-military use was low. In an August 30, 1865 letter, McFarland mentioned that "We are not receiving any orders at present for guns, but I live in hopes still." He claimed in an October 23 letter that "orders for the rifle are increasing but is yet very limited. We have not yet sold over 100 sporting rifles."
This is a large and impressive archive that provides a detailed look inside a firearms company and the production of one of the leading breech-loading carbines in the years leading up to and during the Civil War.
Condition: All the letters are housed in individual sleeves in a three-ringed binder. Overall condition is excellent, with gentle toning, flattened folds and bold ink.
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