Development of the famous Martini Henry rifle began in 1869, three years of continual testing and alteration were to shape the arm we recognise today. Originally, a long straight-sided .450 boxer cartridge was trialled but it was found to jam the action, this lead to Eley creating the bottle necked .577/450 which was to become synonymous with the firearm. Official production of the MkI began in April 1871 however significant alterations were still to take place over the next two years.
This scarce unaltered Martini Henry MkI rifle included in our August sale may look like so many other Martini Henrys we sell, a closer look however, reveals some differences. These include the cleaning rod which has the original sharp-shouldered form, this was changed on later versions to a smoother tulip shape, thought of as kinder to the bore when used. The polished breech block is stamped S B relating to the improved striker from earlier MKI variants which were prone to breakage. The breech block is held in place with a bronze axis pin. These bronze pins were prone to falling out and consequently, a split steel pin was fitted to most rifles from 1874 onwards and used on all of the later patterns. The butt stock has a sling swivel, a feature removed from 1875 onwards and is fitted with a chequered butt plate as opposed to the polished versions found on the MKII.
What makes this Martini MKI so special is the unaltered original condition we find it in. Almost all MkI rifles were upgraded and altered within a year of production. Many were even fully converted to MkII rifles and stamped accordingly. The condition of this rifle is also superb. So robust is the design that these rifles were reissued over and over again and frequently show signs of an extremely hard working life. The MKI included in our August sale is in excellent shape considering its 150 years on the planet and is expected to sell for £2,500 – 3,500.
STOP PRESS! A converted MkI to MkII has just arrived at the saleroom and makes for a great comparison.
The MkII shows typical signs of age that so many Martini Henry rifles do due to extremely long service lifes. Unlike the almost pristine MkI the MkII has a weathered worn overall patina which is still very pleasing to some tastes. The MkII is dated 1872 on the action, the numeral ‘I’ which would have been central to the stamped legend on the action now has another character added and is somewhat off centre making it read ‘II’.
The bronze pin has been swapped for a steel split pin. If you look closely at the action you can see a crescent shaped piece of steel inlet covering up the locking screw seen on the MkI action.
The butt plate on the MkII is smooth unlike the chequered one found on the MkI, the wood butt no longer has the sling swivel either.
A close up of the two cleaning rods illustrates the more rounded tulip form of the MkII. This was changed from the MkI due to complaints of the sharp edges damaging the rifled bore. It is also much easier to removed and lock back.
Should you have any items you would like to sell in one of our Firearms, Arms and Militaria sales we would be pleased to hear from you. For more information please contact Chris Large on 01270 623878 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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