• High Caliber History LLC

Martin Fry's Flintlock Martial Pistols

Updated: Oct 11, 2020

While our country has had official arsenals for almost as long as we’ve been around (Springfield and Harpers Ferry were founded when George Washington was president), they didn’t always make all of the guns in-house. Often, the government contracted manufacture of the guns out to smaller, independent gunsmiths.

Such was the case with the Model 1807/8 martial pistol. For this particular order, seven different contractors produced a total of 1,802 flintlock pistols for the US Government in the M1807/8 configuration. (Eleven smiths won the contract, but four never produced a single gun.)

One of Fry's few surviving pistols (Firearm courtesy of NRA Museums)

But problems with the pistols arose immediately after the guns were delivered to the Schuylkill Arsenal. Upon inspection, almost all of them were rejected. And the problems weren’t confined to just one contractor. They were all guilty of submitting subpar products.

US marking on barrel (Firearm courtesy of NRA Museums)

Even early on, the government had “milspec” standards … and these guns didn't measure up. One government official quipped, “It would have been better to have thrown the whole amount of purchase in the river, than to have procured with it.” Nonetheless, the government had indeed purchased them to the tune of $5 per pistol. (Our tax dollars have apparently always been spent wisely.)

Martin Fry, based in Pennsylvania, was one of the seven ill-fated contractors who delivered guns for the order. In total, he produced 116 pistols, or 58 pairs. All but three, however, were rejected. Today, those three are all that remain of Fry’s short-lived time as a government contractor. 

Government barrel markings (Firearm courtesy of NRA Museums)

Two are in their original flintlock configuration and one was converted to percussion at a later time. As luck would have it, I happened to be able to handle the other flintlock pistol when it came up for auction in October 2019. Here's some photos of the other gun:

The stock bears the inspector's mark of Jacob Shough (1783-1861). The initials MZ are unknown.

In the photo below, notice that the eagle marking on this gun is facing to the left and is over the letter T, while the gun further up, on loan to the NRA Museums, has the eagle facing to the right and is over the letter P. If you know what the difference signifies, please let me know!

I'm delighted to say that I'm one of very few people who has ever held two of the three Fry pistols!

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©2020 by High Caliber History LLC.