1884 Stevens New Model Bicycle Rifle

 

Joshua Stevens lived and worked among the great names of guns: Colt, Whitney, the Allens, the Warners, the Wessons, and many others. At one time or another in his life, Stevens worked with or for all these men. Unlike most of them, however, Stevens was not primarily an inventor. He was, first and foremost, a toolmaker and craftsman in the 19th century sense of the word. The patents he received were for relatively minor improvements in firearms, but his skill as a toolmaker caused him to be prized by many arms companies. In mid-19th century America the toolmakers were the key men in firearms production. It was their job to make the fixtures and gauges which were used by less skilled workmen to make the component parts of the guns. This was the heart of the ‘American system’ of interchangeable parts manufacturing.

Stevens skill as a businessman must have rivalled his skill as a toolmaker, however. He managed to start a company at a very bad time, with only two products, and yet see it grow into one of the largest gun makers in America …On 6th September, 1864, he received patent number 44,123 and with little more in assets than this patent, J. Stevens & Co was born in the fall of 1864. After 26 years working for other gun makers, Joshua Stevens finally had his own business.

Stevens pistols and pocket rifles were made from 1864 until 1942, a span of 78 years during which many changes took place. With only two exceptions, all Stevens pistols and pocket rifles are of the same tip-up design based on Joshua Stevens 1864 patent. Stevens had two models ready for sale when he started his company in 1864: the Pocket Pistol (later called the Old Model Pocket Pistol) and the Vest Pocket Pistol (similar to the Remington Vest Pocket Pistol introduced a year later).

 

In 1869 the line was expanded to include the first pocket rifle (above), which was simply the Pocket Pistol with a longer barrel, better sights, and an added butt cap to accept a detachable shoulder stock. In 1872, the larger ‘New Model Pocket Rifle, 1st Issue’ (below), was added, which could handle cartridges up to .32 caliber, and the Hunters Pet Pocket Rifle, which went up to .44 caliber.

The shoulder stock was now attached by sliding it into a dovetail cut into the butt, and a screw to the backstrap of the gun.

In 1875, the New Model Pocket Rifle (below) was substantially modified but retained the same name. It is now called the 2nd Issue. It was manufactured until 1896.

Its modification was the mounting of the firing pin in the frame rather than on the hammer.

The easiest way to tell the difference in profile between the two nearly identical models is that the 2nd issue (below) has a longer hammer, its top curving back.

‘Bicycle Rifle’ appears to have been added as an alternative title to market the rifle to cyclists.

1884 Stevens New Model ‘Pocket Rifle’ or ‘Bicycle Rifle’

Second Issue

.32 Rim Fire

12″ Barrel

ABOVE: 1898 STEVENS POCKET OR BICYCLE RIFLE

 

Firearms with detachable shoulder stocks have been made throughout much of the history of firearms. The pocket or bicycle rifle, however, can be considered a peculiarly American firearm. Popular from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of World War 1, these compact guns filled an important place in the history of American sporting arms. In contrast to the pistol with a detachable stock, which is primarily a military weapon, the pocket rifle usually has a barrel so long as to preclude effective use without the stock. Pocket rifles are, therefore, a distinct class of firearms. They are made, and used, as light, compact shooting rifles.

Usually furnished with a canvas or leather carrying case, they could be carried by the hunter as an auxiliary gun or by the fisherman as what we now call a ‘tackle box gun.’ One contemporary writer recommended that fishermen carry a pocket rifle to shoot snagged hooks out of the trees!

Significant numbers of pocket rifles were made by a number of manufacturers. The great majority, however, were made by Stevens. All of them were inexpensive single shot arms, selling, in most cases, for less than the light single shot rifles popular at that time.

The Stevens pocket rifles, in their many models, dominated the field from their introduction in 1869, until the passing of the last model during World War 1. A review of dealers’ catalogs of that period show very few listings of pocket rifles other than Stevens. Some of the larger dealers offered pocket rifles of their own brand. These were, however, nearly always Stevens made guns marked with the dealers’ brand name. This, of course, was common practice of the time.

- Stevens Pistols and Pocket Rifles, by Kenneth L. Cope, page 47

I bought this New Model ‘Bicycle Rifle’ without its skeleton stock, and we are currently making one in our workshops. Though it’s slightly different, we’re using my Smith & Wesson skeleton stock as a pattern. I’ll update the photos when it’s completed and fitted.

 

STEVENS FIREARMS ADVERTS

1891

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1902

 

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1902

 

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1906

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1909