Savage 1863 muzzleloader - What's it worth?


October 14, 2003, 06:22 PM
I've recently come into possession of a Savage muzzleloader from 1863 and would like to know what the gun may be worth (if anything) and/or if it has any historical value.
The markings on the gun are as follows:
1863 Savage R.F.A. Co. Middletown, Ct. U.S. w/a picture of an eagle that has a shield on its chest and arrows in its talons. The barrel is stamped 1863 VP and the number 31 is stamped on the stock. If anyone has any info on this gun or can point me in the direction of same, I would greatly appreciate it. I know very little about guns, so my apologies if I've left out or overlooked anything.

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Jim K
October 14, 2003, 10:44 PM
The Model 1861 rifle-musket was the most common U.S. infantry weapon of the Civil War, with about a million made by Springfield Armory and a number of contractors, of whom the Savage Revolving Firearms Company was one. Savage made 25,520 of them at $18 each; yours is standard.

As in most U.S. wars, the Federal army was ill-prepared for war in 1861. Many of its arms were in southern hands, and the two armories (Springfield, Mass., and Harpers Ferry, Virginia) could not make the standard rifle-musket fast enough to supply the huge army required. Further, Harpers Ferry was captured by Virginia troops early in the war and the machinery sent south, so it was lost to the U.S. forever as an arms factory.

The result was that the Union turned to contractors. Most did their best to manufacture a good weapon, but for some their best was not good enough. Others took a lot of money but never produced any guns. Still others produced quality weapons at reasonable prices. Savage, which also made revolvers for the government, was one of the latter. (As far as I can determine, the Edward Savage of the Savage RFA Co. was not related to the Arthur W. Savage who was the principal founder of the Savage Arms Corp., which is still in business.)

Inevitably, there were congressional hearings, investigations by the Secretary of War, accusations of bribes offered and taken, charges of fraud and shoddy goods, etc. Sound familiar?

The gun has significant historical value, especially if there is any documented record of use by a specific unit or in a specific battle. Barring significant association with an individual, value depends on condition. In average good condition (no parts missing or broken, stock not cut, barrel not cut, rifling not reamed out, no heavy rust or deep pits), value runs around $700-800. In fine to excellent condition (seldom seen) with all the above plus a fair amount of original finish on the metal and stock, value can go to $2200+.

The guns were not serial numbered, so the "31" is most likely a unit marking of some sort. Civil War guns were often used in the post-war period by military academies and the like, or even shipped to foreign armies, so the origin of the number probably will never be determined.

The source of most of the above is Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms, which is available through the on-line book dealers and in most book stores.



October 15, 2003, 11:23 AM
Thank you very much for the detailed information. Based on your info, I'd say that the gun's worth is in the 700/800 dollar range. I live close enough to both Antietam and Gettysburg that should I decide to sell I'll probably be able to find a buyer. I'm curious, should the gun be cleaned by a professional or would that devalue its worth from a buyers perspective?
Again, I appreciate the research effort. It helped me out considerably!

October 15, 2003, 11:34 AM
First, make sure it ain't loaded. 1. Measure ramrod alongside bbl to see how far end projects past muzzle end of bbl when ramrod head down by the nipple. 2. insert ramrod into bbl until it stops. 3. Should be inserted to about the length you measured it to. 4. If it's protruding significantly, you may have an old load in the bbl. 5. Get a gunsmith to pull it out if you don't know how.

Jim K
October 15, 2003, 09:17 PM
Good advice about checking the load. A lot of battlefield pickups were loaded.

As for cleaning, I suggest doing nothing until you have it checked out by a knowledgeable person. As with any antique, some cleaning may enhance the value, but the wrong kind will destroy it. ("I cleaned up some Sheraton chairs last week. I used the belt sander like always and didn't take off more than a quarter inch.")


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