Antique Martini-Henry rifles
Antique Martini-Henry rifles are single shot breech loading lever-actuated rifles adopted by the British Army in 1871 and used by them for 30 years.
Background & history of production
The Martini-Henry developed out of the Peabody rifle’s dropping-block action, improved by Swiss designer Martini to bring the cocking and striker mechanism within the receiver. This was then combined with the polygonal barrel rifling designed by Scotsman Alexander Henry.
The Martini-Henry entered army service in 1871, and eventually replaced the popular Snider-Enfield. The Snider was the first breechloader firing a metallic cartridge in regular British service, however, as a muzzle-loader converted to the cartridge system, it was overtaken by the Martini, designed from the outset as a breechloader.
The Martini-Henry was the firearm of the British Empire. There were four models of the Martini-Henry, marks I, II, III and IV. There was also a carbine version in 1877 and smaller versions designed as training rifles. Production ended with the Mark IV Martini-Henry rifle in 1889, however, the guns remained in service until the end of the First World War.
The Mark I rifle was 49 inches, with heptagonal barrel with seven grooves. The Mark II Martini-Henry was used in the Zulu Wars. It was sighted to 1,800 yards. While it was state of the art, it was not suited to the African climate and often overheated, fouling the barrel.
Mark IV Martini-Henrys were used in World War I to shoot down German Zeppelins dropping bombs on London.
Many Martini-Henrys have somehow ended up in the possession of Afghan tribesmen and the Taliban, as found by U.S. troops that recovered them in the last few years.
The models were poorly imitated on a vast scale by the North-West Frontier Province gunsmiths, so make sure to ascertain that a gun is the real thing.
As with all antique firearms, the value of a piece rises with an interesting historical association.
Price guide and notable auction sales
Martini-Henry rifles generally sell for between several hundred and a few thousand pounds or dollars, unless particularly rare or interesting.
- Enfield .577/.450 Martini-Henry Rifle, sold for £956 at Christie’s in November 2002.
- Rare unmodified third model .577/.450 Martini-Henry Mark I service rifle, 1873. Sold for £1,920 at Bonhams in July 2008.
- Rare .450 Martini-Henry Long Chamber Trials rifle, 1869. Sold for £3,360 at Bonhams in July 2008.
- Rare European Gold and Silver wire-inlaid Martini-Henry sporting rifle, sold for £18,750 at Sotheby’s in October 2009.