In the movie Glory, as Sgt. Maj. Rawlins (played by Morgan Freeman) hands out Enfield rifles to the troops, he calls out each gun’s serial number. A dramatic moment to be sure, but authentic Enfield rifles don’t actually have serial numbers. The reproductions used in the movie do.
Hollywood, television and books have never really been too keen on accuracy when it comes to firearms. You may be familiar with the “18-shot” six-shooter from vintage Westerns or the “automatic revolver” used by a fictional detective. These errors could stem from a lack of research, the rarity of the historically correct piece, budget constraints or valuing entertainment over accuracy. But hey, why let facts get in the way of telling a good story?
We’re a bit more grounded in reality here at SCHMIDT, and since we’re in the business of marking, we thought it’d be fun to give you some facts about firearms marking. Some of them are just as interesting as their fictional counterparts.
Firearms Marking Facts
- The London Gunmakers’ Company initiated proof marks on its firearms when it was first incorporated way back in 1637.
- Marking a firearm as government property was first adopted during the reign of King George I in 1714. A broad arrow was used along with the word “TOWER” marked on the lock plate of many of these arms.
- It wasn’t until the Gun Control Act of 1968 that all newly manufactured firearms produced in the United States or those imported into the United States were required to bear a serial number. What marks must appear on a firearm sold in America?
- Serial Number
- Name of Manufacturer
- Country of Origin
- Model Designation (if assigned)
- Caliber or Gauge
- Name of Importer
- City & State of the Importer
- Almost from the beginning, manufacturers in the United States serialized their firearms as a method of internal record keeping and control. In fact, most US manufacturers have serial number records available online or by request that will tell who originally ordered the gun and when. This is extremely useful for collectors. Some records go back as far as the mid-19th century. This is a great way to determine if Grandad’s old Colt .45 was really once owned by Bat Masterson (probably not).
- A final firearms fact. There really was at least one “automatic revolver.” The Webley-Fosbery .455 used recoil energy generated by each shot to rotate the cylinder and cock the hammer for next shot. Sometimes the movies actually do get it right!