Antique Chassepot Rifles

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2015-06-26 11:15:36

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Antique Chassepot Rifles are French breechloading firearms developed from 1857 and that became the French service weapon in 1866.

Background & history of production

The Chassepot was developed by Antonie Alphonse Chasspot (1833-1905). From 1857 onwards, he experimented with breech-loading as a replacement to Minie ball muzzle-loading rifles. Many older muzzle loaders had been converted into breech-loading using the Tabatiere system of 1864. Chassepot’s rifle, a vast improvement on the existing military rifles, became the French service weapon in 1866 and marked the start of the modern bolt action breech-loading military rifle era. In 1867, the Chassepot inflicted severe losses on enemy troops, and it proved superior to the German Dreyse Needle Gun during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).

The breech was closed by a bolt mechanism. The 1866 Chassepot included a segmented rubber ring which expanded under gas pressure and sealed the breech as the shot was fired.

The Chassepot used a combustible paper cartridge with .43 lead bullet. There was an inverted percussion cap to the rear of the paper cartridge, hidden inside.

Ballistic performance and firing rates were fantastic for the time. However, burnt paper and black powder residue had a habit of accumulating in the chamber and bolt mechanism, and the shielded rubber ring eroded in action.

The Chassepot with therefore replaced in 1874, with the Gras rifle using a centrefire drawn brass metallic cartridge, but was otherwise identical.

Collecting guide

Virtually all 1866 model Chassepot rifles remaining in store were converted to take the Gras metallic cartridge after 1874.

150,000 Chassepots had been captured by the Germans in 1871, and large numbers of these were converted to Mauser metallic cartridges and shorted into carbines. In many cases the French receiver markings were erased.

Chassepots are very popular with collectors when they include original sword bayonet attachments.

Price guide and notable auction sales

Chassepots generally sell for a few hundred pounds/dollars.

  • French Chassepot Model 1866 Bolt Action Military Rifle, sold for $518 at Heritage Auctions in May 2012
  • French Chassepot breech-loading needle fire carbine, 1868, sold for £400 at Bonhams in April 2004.
  • French Chassepot Fusil Modele 1866 Infantry Rifle, sold for $650 at Phoebus Auction Gallery in February 2011.
  • Breech-loading Chassepot rifle and bayonet, sold for €650 at Czerny’s International Auction House in March 2010
  • French model 1886 Chassepot bolt action cavalry carbine, sold for $1,170 at Bonhams in November 2009.
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