Hopkins & Allen rarities to treasure

Senior correspondent John Dunn

Writing about the two Hopkins & Allen rifles I have in my collection of single shots is one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for years but never quite got around to. That all changed last year when I spent most of the latter part unable to do any serious hunting and, being not much good at sitting around doing nothing, I passed time researching my single shot collection and in the process came up with information about Hopkins & Allen I didn’t even know I had.

Potted history

The Hopkins & Allen Manufacturing Company began producing firearms at Norwich, Connecticut in 1868, most of their early creations being revolvers. In the 1870s their entire stock was sold by Merwin & Hulbert who were the sole marketing agency for Hopkins & Allen. All revolvers carrying the Merwin & Hulbert tag were actually made by Hopkins & Allen and both names are stamped on some of them.

By 1890 H&A was also turning out shotguns and a single shot boys’ rifle called ‘The Junior’ which was based on the Bay State rifle but wore the Merwin & Hulbert moniker. In 1897 Merwin & Hulbert went into liquidation owing H&A $90,000, the latter receiving just 10c in the dollar as settlement. As a result they reorganised as the Hopkins & Allen Arms Company in 1899 and began selling firearms direct to the shooting public.

On February 4, 1900 their plant burned to the ground with the company suffering a loss estimated at $500,000 but, despite this, the concern reopened in new premises and soon was bigger and better than ever. James J. Grant in Boys’ Single Shot Rifles records that: “Around 1904-1905 the company was manufacturing 186 varieties of revolvers, rifles and single and double-barrelled shotguns which found a market all over the United States and Canada. The export trade included Australia, South America and Europe.”

At the start of World War One H&A ceased output of sporting arms to meet military contracts. Around 1915 the firm was taken over by the Marlin Rockwell Company and their plant used to pump out machine-gun barrels for the government.

Single shot rifles

Eight pages of the 1908 Hopkins & Allen Gun Guide and Catalog were given over to single shots and a rimfire magazine rifle produced by the company, prefaced by the following: “A small calibre rifle is a source of pleasure to all the family and can be very useful in training the mind and eye of the growing boy to accuracy and quickness of action.

“The next eight pages describe and illustrate the different Hopkins & Allen models and you will find among this large assortment just the rifle which suits your particular needs. There are rifles for the boy, the young man, the ‘grown up’ man and the hunter. The expert rifleman can also pick from among these the best gun for his purposes and we even make heavier calibre arms for those who wish them, as shown by our 25, 25-20, 32 and 38 calibres.

“From the smallest and cheapest to the largest and highest priced, each is guaranteed to the fullest extent for accuracy, reliability and durability. None but the best materials are used and the finished arm is perfect in every detail. Hopkins & Allen rifles have a worldwide reputation for accuracy and lasting qualities and this reputation is upheld by every rifle shown in the catalog.”

The 722

This was the cheapest and smallest of the boys’ rifles produced by H&A from 1903-1915. Weighing just 1.58kg (3½lb) it had an overall length of 86.3cm (34”) with a 49.7cm (19½”) gain twist rifle barrel that shot the .22 Short and Long rimfire cartridges, sights consisting of a bead front and non-adjustable open rear.

The blued, take-down barrel slip fitted into the receiver where it was secured by a screw through the bottom front section of the frame. Top of the barrel at the breech end is marked with the model designation and calibre and the word TESTED in small print. Forward of the rear sight the top of the barrel is stamped THE HOPKINS & ALLEN ARMS CO. NORWICH, CONN. U.S.A., also in small print.

The receiver was made from colour case hardened malleable cast iron and used a thumb operated rolling block-type action which was more than adequate in terms of strength to handle the .22 cartridges it was chambered for. Like the Remington rolling block rifles before it, the hammer of the 722 had to be cocked to open the breechblock and load the rifle.

The stock and forearm were walnut, the buttstock held between the tangs of the frame by a single screw from the top, the buttplate hard rubber with a chequered face. The forearm was secured to the barrel by a screw directly into the bottom of the barrel. In 1908 the 722 was advertised by H&A as “an up-to-date rifle made to shoot straight yet small enough in weight to meet with the requirements of a boy”. It cost $3.50.

The 722 example I have has had a fairly hard life. None of the colour case hardening is left on the now dark receiver and the barrel has light external pitting under what remains of the original blued finish. The barrel has been bobbed almost to the front edge of the fore sight dovetail and the bore is rough, the action still tight though the rifle doesn’t shoot particularly well. In the greater scheme of things that’s hardly an important consideration as it’s one of only three such rifles I’ve ever seen and accordingly is a valued part of my collection.

The 922, 925, 932 and 938 rifles

After the fire in 1900, the 9 series rifles were a reprise of the Junior rifle first made in 1890 ‑ take-down, lever-action falling block with rebounding hammers. They had colour case hardened receivers and were initially fitted with a 55.8cm (22”) blued, round barrel in .22 Long rifle, .25 and .32 rimfire as well as .38 Smith & Wesson centrefire, all with gain twist rifling. Around 1904 the barrel length was changed to 60.9cm (24”).

Standard sights were a bead fore sight and Rocky Mountain rear, step-adjustable to 182.8m (200 yards), Lyman Combination sights available on order as an extra for $4.50. The two-piece stock was walnut, fitted with a military steel buttplate, the weight listed as 2.38kg (5¼lb) and in 1908 it sold for $6. H&A advertising of the era described the rifles as “for experts; quick-acting, accurate, long-range rifles that cannot be surpassed at any price”.

My example of this model is a long barrelled 932, a bit rough around the edges. The wood work has been knocked around and the rear sight has suffered an application of soft solder somewhere down the line. As it often is with .32 rimfire rifles, the bore is in surprisingly good condition with sharp, clean rifling, the action still in sound working order with a five-digit serial number in the mid-20,000 bracket. Like the 722, examples of the 9 series rifles are hard to find these days.

Other H&A single shots

Hopkins & Allen made other single shot rifles as listed below.

The 822/832s

These had a finger lever operated rolling block action with the lever and breechblock in one piece. They could be loaded with the hammer on half cock, making them a safer boys’ rifle than the 722 and were also slightly heavier and larger than the 722. In 1908 they sold for $4.50.

The 1922, 1925, 1932 and 1938s

These were the same as the 9 series rifles except they had octagonal barrels, selling for $6.50 in 1908.

The 2922, 2925, 2932 and 2938s

These had the octagonal barrels of the 19 series as well as better quality walnut stocks with chequered forearm and wrist and cost at $7.

The 3922 and 3925s

Promoted as Schuetzen rifles, the 39 series had 66cm (26”) barrels in .22 Long Rifle and .25-20 calibre respectively. They were stocked in English walnut with chequered wrist and forearm, the buttstock fitted with a nickel Schuetzen buttplate. According to H&A advertising they were “intended for the finest target work and meet every requirement for the man who knows and wants a perfect rifle”. In 1908 they were advertised at $12 each with an additional $4.50 required if supplied with Lyman Combination sights.

As mentioned, none of the Hopkins & Allen rifles seem to be particularly common in Australia and even ordinary specimens are rare. Over the years I’ve seen no more than a handful or 722 and 922/32 rifles – the main reason I’m so pleased to have one of each in my strong room. Or perhaps I just haven’t been looking in the right places.

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