COWBOY CLASSICS: .41 RIMFIRE
Created on 14th May 2009
DEREK LANDERS looks at the history of the .41 Rimfire, produced for almost 70 years
TELEVISION AND the movies will tell you that the West was won by the Winchester rifle and the Colt Single Action Army revolver, but we now know that this was not the case. While these two stalwarts doubtless played a role in shaping the history of that great continent from 1873 onwards, their relatively high prices would be a barrier to ownership for many. Much more common among the working people were shotguns and small, cheap pocket pistols including derringers and ‘suicide specials'.
Although the patent owned by Smith & Wesson effectively gave the company exclusive rights to manufacture breech loading revolvers until 1869, there was no control over the production of single shot cartridge pistols. As early as the beginning of the Civil War the Moore's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company was making a single shot derringer chambered for a .41 calibre Rimfire cartridge. In 1865 Moore was taken over by the National Arms Company of Brooklyn, which in turn was acquired by Colt in 1870. By the time that Colt had bought this company it is estimated that some 6,000 of the all-metal derringers had been produced. Colt continued production of this model, known as the National No. 1, along with the National No. 2 model, under its own name. It also introduced another example patented by Alexander Thuer, known as the Colt No. 3 derringer. Around 1871 the Colt House and Cloverleaf revolvers made their appearance, both chambered for the .41 Rimfire cartridge, and shortly afterwards the New Line revolvers were also offered in this calibre.
The single-shot derringers proved to be a very popular option for the .41 calibre and as well as those already mentioned, examples were produced by Remington, Marlin, Ballard, Forehand & Wadsworth, Starr and Williamson. This latter model could also accept an auxiliary percussion chamber. The Southerner was made by both Brown Mfg. and the Merrimack Arms Co. and examples will be found with one of these names on the side of the barrel. The XL Derringer was manufactured by Hopkins & Allen although the company name does not appear on the guns.
Perhaps the most famous of the .41 Rimfire derringers is the Remington Model 95 or over-and-under model. Some 150,000 units were turned out in a production run of almost 70 years, ending in 1935.
The .41 short Rimfire, as used in the single-shot derringers, was an extremely low-powered round. The relatively large bore size was presumably seen as a deterrent rather than an actual danger, although at point blank range it is possible that it could cause serious injury and perhaps death. A quote from Barnes' Cartridges of the World states that: "Fired from the average derringer at a tree or hard object 15 to 25yd away, the bullet will often bounce back and land at your feet". Barnes states that the original loading was a 130gn, outside-lubricated lead bullet in front of 13gn of black powder. The overall length of the cartridge was less than 1".
The Colt revolvers mentioned above, along with numerous ‘suicide special' revolvers, more than likely used the .41 long Rimfire cartridges. This was merely an elongated case with a different bullet and/or powder charge. Winchester's .41 long used the same 130gn bullet with 16gn of powder while the Union Metallic Cartridge Co used the 13gn powder charge behind a 163gn bullet.
The .41 Rimfire has been obsolete for over 60 years although some short runs of ammunition have been made in the United States since World War II. Weapons chambered for this calibre can be bought here in the UK without any form of licence although you will need a firearms certificate with a variation for "obsolete calibres" should you wish to buy any ammunition. I have seen individual rounds for sale at UK arms fairs for as much as £10 each, while a rare unopened box of 19th century manufacture will fetch several hundred dollars in the USA.
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