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Posted by John on Thursday, 14 May 2009, at 12:56 a.m.
Dick- The "non-collector's" questions merely reflect a natural curiosity about their new found treasure, and a lack of understanding of the factors you pointed out.
Some new owners of trapdoors may have slight knowledge of M1903 or M1 Garand rifles, where the month is fairly easily discovered from the barrel markings (although often off by a few months or many years from the "actual") date of manufacture. Therefore they think maybe similar info is available for trapdoors.
While they are asking (basic) questions about the "hardware" what they really want to know (but don't know to ask about) is about history. Sorta like the old line about you don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle.
In reality they may be more interested in when and where their arms were issued, or at least they typical campaigns or places where similar arms saw action, since hard data on specific numbers is so scarce and inaccessible.
Probably they are not very enthused about slotted vice slotless screws (regardless of their indication of original or tinkered condition) or similar trapdoor trivia at this stage of collecting.
Most of us probably started (longer ago than we might like to admit) with a collecting goal along the lines of getting a representative example of most major U.S. military arms. A "trapdoor" was simply that. While many collectors who achieved that goal lived happily ever after, some of us discovered we might actually want a carbine and cadet rifle in addition to a "rifle." Further descent into the fanatical ranks inspired us to seek not just examples of a carbine, cadet and rifle, but one of each of them in Model 1873, 1877, 1879, and 1884. Then we discovered that we "needed" some of the experimental limited production models as well.
Dick's excellent book is a fount of accurate knowledge for collectors. Many collectors may also find John McAulay's Rifles of the U.S. Army more to their liking for the historical data, while using Dick's for technical matters. Of course, Al Frasca's monumental two volumes are indispensable for the seriously addicted, but probably intimidating and overwhelming to the "newbie" asking the sort of question that inspired Dick's posting.
Thus the incredible value of this forum, where the novice can seek help from the folks who hang around here. Hopefully our answers are keyed to the level of their questions, much like the difference between answers appropriate to a question from a very young child, one in high school, or a Ph.D. candidate.
Helping the beginner is vital to the promotion and perpetuation of our hobby. If someone expresses a glimmer of interest we need to encourage that in any way possible, as people are surrounded by anti-gun propaganda from all directions.
Anyway, that's my take on it.
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