FAQs

FAQs About Trapdoor Arms

This page is for readers looking for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. If the answers found here are not satisfactory, then go to the BULLETIN BOARD and present your question.
  1. WHAT DOES THE STAR MEAN AFTER THE SERIAL NUMBER?

    The star suffix (which occurs in several different styles, the most common of which looks like a five-petal flower) was used by Springfield to denote arms made with a combination of new and salvaged parts, to be held in reserve, or issued to and/or used by groups like the National Guard.

    An order was issued, in late 1879, for all arms below 50,000 to be turned in. Parts from those guns which were turned in, but having new receivers, barrels and stocks, are the starred arms. They are "interesting", but not rare, and no pricing premium is justified.

    Over the years, many theories have been advanced for the star, but the above explanation is now accepted as fact. The typical starred arm will be a carbine, in the 170,000 - 200,000 range, having an SWP/1881 or SWP/1882 cartouche, though rifles in the 140,000 - 170,000 range and a few cadet rifles are known. The starred arms were made in small batches throughout the 1881 and 1882 production periods. No "duplicate" numbers (starred and unstarred) are known to have ever been presented. The starred arms were NOT counted in the "new production" totals of arms fabricated at Springfield.

    As a sidebar here, NO feature(s) changed at 50,000! The receiver width had already been increased (Oct 1878 at 96300) long before the recall order was issued, so, the REAL mystery is - why did they not simply recall ALL of the narrow-receiver arms? We believe it was a cheap way to supply the National Guard with inexpensive arms. The funds for the starred arms program came from ARMING & EQUIPPING the MILITIA.

  2. I HAVE A MODEL 1878.....

    Despite appearances to the contrary, there is NO such thing as an "1878" marked breechblock. It is not known whether this phenomenon is due to excessive stamping pressure, a malformed die, variations in the breechblock metal, slightly thicker breechblocks, or some other cause. The marking truly IS "1873", and this can be verified, in all cases, with sufficient magnification, and proper lighting.

  3. HOW FAR APART MAY SERIAL NUMBER & CARTOUCHE DATE SAFELY BE?

    So far as general circumstances are concerned, the serial number SHOULD agree with the date (1877 and later, only) on the Master Armorerıs cartouche. The PRODUCTION DATA given on the home page of this web site gives the best correlation thus far presented. If your serial number is +/- 1500 digits from a designated final production number for a given year, that is considered acceptable because the serial numbering of receivers was to be about a month ahead of production. Thus, depending on which box of receivers was grabbed first, you can have variations of this order of magnitude.

    There are two notable exceptions to this rule, and both involve the final model of the trapdoor, the MODEL 1888 Rod-bayonet Rifle. A number (too many to be chance) of arms in the 97,000 - 145,000 range have been found, frequently in fine condition, in this configuration. Clearly, these represent "sweeping out the shop, or since there are so many, possibly disassembling the older model arms". Another group of "out-of-step" M1888 numbers (in the low 300,000 range) also occurs - these are the remains of the 1,000 Model 1884 Experimental Rod-bayonet Rifles, which were scrapped and rebuilt. This is further confirmed by the fact that original unaltered M1884RRB specimens are nearly nonexistent (far and away the rarest SA experimental arm, among those made in similar quantities).

  4. WHAT DO THE STOCK MARKING MEAN?

    This is one of the most often asked questions! A few such markings, such as DETROIT BOARD OF COMMERCE are relatively straightforward, but many combinations of initials have never been deciphered. The Regular Army did not so mark their weapons, however, a GREAT many trapdoors were used by State militias, National Guard units, volunteer troops, etc. during the war with Spain in 1898. Most of the markings which consist of a LOW number, over a letter, over a (usually) higher number, date from this period, and a marking such as 2/B/27 is generally construed to mean something like SECOND (fill in your choice of State) INFANTRY, Co B, RACK (rifle) #27. The problem comes in determining WHICH State, or group, is meant. This is a field ripe for research, but it will be a daunting task. One place to start, aside from OLD, well-proven, museum holdings, might be to attempt to contact the owners of SRS-lettered guns, where the number was attributed to a particular State, and see if any marking pattern can be established. Sadly, I suspect that, so long as the information itself was correct, different marking designs would have been permitted - even two companies of the same regiment may have had a different STYLE - there are many ways to mark 2/B/27, any of which would have satisfied the needs of the user.

  5. HOW MUCH IS MY (fill in type of gun) WORTH?

    To answer this question, without seeing the arm, is extremely chancy. Hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars can hinge on VERY small nuances. We need a complete inventory of ALL markings, on both wood and metal. We also need the barrel length, measured INside the bore. Standard rifles are 32-5/8", cadet rifles are 29-5/8", and standard carbines are 22". Several other lengths exist, but may be identified and/or confirmed by the serial number provided, as they occur in narrow ranges. We need the COMPLETE serial number - there is only ONE reason why an exact number is not given, and it should not be relevant here. Condition is also very important, except. for example, when dealing with, say, something like a "Custer range" carbine, where AUTHENTICITY is EVERYTHING. An estimated percentage of original finish should always be stated.

  6. WHO WAS ISSUED MY (fill in type of gun)?

    Much can hinge on VERY small nuances. To research the arm's history, We need a complete inventory of ALL markings including the COMPLETE serial number. Having a serial number that is "close" to a historical gun, means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Springfield did not manufacture, ship, or issue, guns in numerical order. Carbine 16572 could have gone to Montana in 1874, while 16573 could have stayed in a barracks in Connecticut! By knowing the serial number and the markings, some broad inferences may be drawn, but the odds of actually finding a historical citation for ANY given arm, working backwards, are no better than 1 in 20, sometimes MUCH worse.

  7. WHY DOES MY GUN SHOOT HIGH?

    The reason that all antique military arms shoot high is twofold. One, the modern loads available over the counter do not match the ballistics of the cartridge(s) for which the sights were designed. The other reason is that the lowest sight graduation (with leaf down) is often the "battle sight" setting, which, for the trapdoor and Krag, is approximately 250 yards. The .45-70, particularly, has a rather sharply curved trajectory, compared to modern arms. To be ON at 250 yards will put you WAY high at 100 yds, where many people start their shooting. There are two fixes for the later models which have removable front sight blades: (1) fit a 1/8" or 3/16" taller blade, and file it down until the gun is shooting where you want it, with the load you are using, or, if you do not want to modify the gun, do what shooters with solid front sights have to do - "stack" your targets. Center one bullseye about 12" above the other - aim at the low one, you will impact on the high one. Adjust center-to-center spacing until you get it just right. Of course, if you are just shooting for group size (and you have understanding friends) a nice tight cluster, even up in the white is OK!

  8. MY GUN HAS AN 1883 (or 1884) DATED LOCKPLATE . . .

    This feature indicates that you do NOT have a rifle produced at Springfield, though some of its parts were made there. Thousands of surplus parts from early 1873s were once sold as scrap. But, when SA discovered that the buyers were making up entire guns and selling them, the disposal program was summarily halted. Receivers were sometimes in bad shape. Some SA barrels were available, but others, often having five(5) grooves, were obtained from various commercial sources - and some were even made (contracted for) new, by the large firms such as Bannerman. Lockplates were always scarce (SA reused them on the starred arms) so they often had to be fabricated by the arms merchants. Other common "wrong" features of these "fraudulent" (as they were termed at the time) arms are odd rear sights, strange ramrods, total absence of a ramrod keeper, reworked musket stock with lined barrel channel, etc.

  9. WHY IS MY CARBINE SIGHTED FURTHER THAN MY RIFLE?

    The reason that a carbine sight is graduated to longer ranges than a rifle sight is due to simple proportional geometry, NOT because it will shoot further! Since the sight radius (distance between front and rear sights) is less on the shorter gun, a smaller movement of the rear sight slide is required to move the bullet strike an equivalent amount on the target, thus, there is ample room on the (same sized) sight leaf for MORE graduations!

  10. SHOULD CADET RIFLES HAVE SLING SWIVELS?

    Cadet rifles were, with one exception, originally produced WITHOUT sling swivels. That exception is the very last version, sometimes called by collectors the Model 1884 Type II, all numbered well above 500000, which utilized the one-piece milled trigger guard. That part was only produced WITH a swivel, thus, any arms made with it WILL have sling swivels.

    Those earlier .45-70 (and .50-70) cadet rifles found with swivels have had them added at a later date. IF a given arm were used in a unit, or at a location, which required slings (West Point did not) the presence of swivels MAY represent legitimate period use. However, the cadet bands and trigger guards can be difficult to find; thus, over the years, "assemblers" have had to use what they could get. The parts interchange easily, and as there is NO way to tell for certain whether a given arm is "correct" or not, MOST serious collectors choose to avoid the issue entirely by acquiring specimens WITHOUT sling swivels.

  11. I WANT TO SHOOT MY TRAPDOOR.....

    There is one book that is absolutely indispensable - it is called "Loading Cartridges for the Original Springfield Rifle and Carbine", by the late Spence Wolf. More information is available on the SHOOTERS PAGE section - see Home Page.

    Pressures should be kept well below 20,000 CUP. But, if the gun is in good, tight, mechanical condition, there is no reason why it should not be enjoyed at the range. If you have any doubts, seek the advice of a qualified gunsmith. Thousands of such guns are in regular use today. If you only want to run one box through the gun, just to say you have "done it", standard current commercial ammunition, available at most any large sporting goods store, may be used, so long as it is marked as being safe in Springfield arms. If you plan on shooting much more, or are looking for the best accuracy, you should seek alternate solutions, such as obtaining cartridges marketed for "Cowboy Action Shooting", which have lead bullets, or, best of all, reloading. The jacketed bullets of new "over the counter" ammo are (1) hard on the softer steel of old barrels, and (2) will NOT produce the accuracy of which the gun is capable, as they are undersize for most bores, and thus do not take the rifling well. With properly sized bullets, and good technique, 100 yard groups of under 2" are attainable! Reloading is great fun, very satisfying, and, if you shoot a lot, can be quite cost-effective.

  12. WHAT/WHO IS SRS?

    SRS stands for Springfield Research Service, a company founded in the 1970s by the late Frank Mallory. He, and a few helpers, spent YEARS of, literally, crawling through those records which were available in various repositories constituting the National Archives, looking for serial numbers of U.S. martial arms. As diligently as they searched, we have but a very small fraction of the actual production totals, in most cases well below 10%. This provides a tantalizing glimpse into earlier times, allowing us to make some assumptions, but only that. While a few numbers still occasionally trickle out, it is VERY unlikely that any large amount of data will be unearthed in the future, as they were routinely destroyed during period of use. Frank once told me that, when rechecking items, he was sometimes unable to obtain a record that he had found previously, so obviously, the loss continues. Fortunately, Frankıs pioneering work is being continued by long time friends Wayne Gagner, and Charles Pate.

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