140 yr old "plastic" grips


November 18, 2012, 03:56 PM
Here's some interesting trivia (well, maybe interesting):
I have a .31, screw barrel, single shot HERO made by the American Standard Tool Co. I've had it for a few years, even fired it a few times. What's strange about this gun is that it has what looks like plastic press-on grips.
I emailed Mike at the Manhattan firearms website and sent him some pics. He said it's definitely an authentic late model HERO, but he'd never seen one with plastic grips.
I did some research on plastic and in 1868-1870, a product called Celluloid was patented. It looks and acts like plastic and gun grips were made from it.
Based on what I've read, and by doing some basic tests, I'm pretty sure my grips are Celluloid. (I might be wrong - if anyone has any more info, let me know).
They have a greasy feel when you rub them.
The engraved lines are parallel and never intersect.
And, the biggy - it smells like camphor. Camphor is an ingredient in Celluloid and has a certain smell - they use it in Vics Vaporub and mothballs. I have a smelly gun.
Here's some more info on old gun grip materials.

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November 18, 2012, 04:16 PM
Celluloid didn't look much like that, at lest on early knife scales I am familiar with.

Might be Gutta-Percha.

S&W and other manufactures were big into that back then.



November 18, 2012, 04:24 PM
Might be Gutta-Percha
Could be, but there's that camphor smell, and the greasy feel.
Check out page 18 in the last link I posted.

November 18, 2012, 06:53 PM
They might have been added later on, it's not like once you put grips on a gun you can't change them. I mean it's not like a frame, so there's another possibility.
Isn't celluloid flammable? I remember ping pong balls smell like camphor, they go up in flames real easy. Heck, you could probably carefully use them as shotgun powder!*

NO, I am not advocating you chop up ping pong balls and use them instead of Titewad. There isn't any load data I know of for ping pong balls, don't load with them.

November 18, 2012, 08:09 PM
They could have been added later, but why celluloid? The late model HEROs had press on grips like these, and this gun was made around the time that celluloid was patented, so they could be the original grips. Right time period, right material. And it's really not a big deal, just interesting.

November 19, 2012, 01:37 AM
Celluloid is highly flammable. Try lighting a ping pong ball: it bursts into flame like smokeless powder. I would bet that if you took a few scrapings from the inside of the grips panel and lit them they would "whosh!" into flame proving they are celluloid.

November 19, 2012, 06:38 AM
I think I'll just go by the smell. The point of trying to figure out what they're made of was basically to prove they weren't plastic. I thought the gun might be a repro but apparently the repros did not have the markings, lettering, or coating (zinc, copper) that the originals had.

Here's an example of online info on celluloid:


November 19, 2012, 01:53 PM
Well, as stated it was used by many knife makers as well as gun grips.

"This synthetic material was widely used from just before the turn of the century until about 1940."

Source: http://www.oregonknifeclub.org/celluloid_02.html

Just FYI if interested...

November 19, 2012, 02:35 PM
Hellgate said:Celluloid is highly flammable. Try lighting a ping pong ball: it bursts into flame like smokeless powder.

Because they are almost the same thing.

A lot of smokeless powder is nitrated cellulose, aka guncotton better known as nitrocellulose.
Celluloid is made from nitrocellulose.
Simplified it is practically solvent melted smokeless powder with camphor.

Skinny 1950
November 20, 2012, 03:39 AM
Some guitar picks are made of celluloid,as were old movie films which were apt to burst into flames at any moment.
Does that gun shoot .319 balls that would be used in a Colt 1849 Pocket or a Baby Dragoon?? Just curious as Manhattan's tended to copy Colts designs I am wondering if they made their Boot Pistols in a common size.

November 20, 2012, 05:17 AM
Camphor scent may be a clue that the grips are celluloid, but if so I'm not so sure they'd be 140 year old grips then.

Camphor is added as a plasticizer, but it's also volatile. Because it is volatile, I'm not sure it would last 140 years and still be enough left in the celluloid to smell.

Food for thought.

Nice gun, by the way. I've never seen one quite like it.


November 20, 2012, 07:35 AM
That model gun was made from 1868-1873, and this is a late model gun. Celluloid was patented around 1870, so the time line fits. I don't know how long they actually made celluloid grips - I'm guessing they stopped due to its characteristics and the use of hard rubber (so they could be 140 yrs old). The condition of the gun had me thinking it was a repro (check out the finish), but maybe it was just stored away somewhere (they're not everyday shooters), which would have kept it from rotting away. I keep the gun in a closed display case and when I open the door the camphor smell is strong (or when I wash the grips).
Maybe they're gutta percha grips with a chest cold (Vaporub).
I'm kidding.
Like I said, if they were true plastic, I'd doubt the authenticity of the gun but they're definitely not plastic.
Knowing that they might be celluloid changes the way I'll store it. I probably won't shoot it again - imagine what the guys at the club would say if my gun burst into flames in my hand?

Loyalist Dave
November 20, 2012, 09:15 AM
Here is a photo of a celluloid doll (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:B%C3%A9b%C3%A9_cellulo%C3%AFd.jpg) from Wikipedia, and the stuff looks pretty similar to the grips.


November 20, 2012, 09:34 AM
That is one scary doll. It would make a good target.
As far as roundball size - when I fired it, I used O buckshot. I unscrewed the barrel, put some powder in the chamber (less than 10 grs FFFG), rested the ball on top, rescrewed the barrel over the ball and fired. I'm not sure if that is the perfect size ball but it worked.

November 20, 2012, 12:07 PM
Well the great part is if you have a cold then fondling that cute lil' derringer might actually help with the congestion! If they are celluloid it wouldn't be too good a time to have a spark land on the grip. I know that the grips aren't like the inside of the top strap of a gun, flame and spark hardly ever go near em'. But they are close to a bunch of burning blackpowder/lead styphanate (however it's spelled) and something probably happened at one point or another somewhere in history.

It would really be embarrassing to have your piece catch fire during a shootout! :D

4v50 Gary
November 21, 2012, 10:14 PM
Contact either the Smithsonian American History Museum or National Firearms Museum.

November 22, 2012, 12:36 AM
That gun looks pretty neat, can you hit with it? I just think it's a tad funny how the grips on a blackpowder gun are essentially made of smokeless powder. :rolleyes:

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