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M1868 Papal States Remingtons

(Fusil D’Infanterie M1868)

(Italian:  Fucile Da Fanteria Remington Mod.1868)

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The Nagant manufactured M1868 Papal Remington infantry rifle

Photo Credit: Michal Novotny

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The Westley Richards manufactured M1868 Papal Remington infantry rifle

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

   It is difficult for 21st century westerners to appreciate that the Pope in Rome, for a considerable period of Western history, was not only a religious leader but also the secular ruler of significant political territory.

 

   The fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 400s AD fractured Italy into numerous small states. During the Middle Ages there was considerable power concentration, but no state was powerful enough to consolidate the entire Italian peninsula.

 

   Until Italian unification, Italy consisted of a loose association of republics, territorial states, city-states, and various independent entities.  The most prominent of these larger Italian States included the Venetian Republic, the Republic of Genoa, the Republic of Florence, the Duchy of Milan, the Kingdom of Naples the Kingdom of Sicily and, for our purposes, the Papal States, who’s secular “monarch” was the then sitting Pope himself.  While Venice and Genoa were powerful enough to expand beyond Italy proper, they were not able to subjugate the other independent Italian states. 

 

   The Renaissance saw Papal-controlled territory expanded greatly.  It was during this period that the Pope’s authority as a secular ruler, in addition to religious head, came to fruition.  In this period the Pope developed into was one of the most important state rulers on the Italian peninsula.  It was also during this period that the Papal States expanded to their greatest territorial reach, extending to most of the modern Italian regions of Lazio (encompassing the city of Rome), Marche, Umbria and Romagna, and a part of Emilia.

 

   In the first half of the 19th Century both Austria and France (very Catholic countries) sought to influence the papacy politically and support it militarily.

 

  In 1850, the Pope (Pius IX, the sitting pope throughout this period) oversaw the formation of the Guardia Palatina d'Onore (the Palatine Honor Guard).

 

  To resist being swallowed up by the new Kingdom of Italy, French General Moriciere organized a new military unit made up of French and Belgian volunteers to defend the Papacy.  This is the origin of the Papal Zouaves (the name comes from their colorful uniforms, a then-trendy style originating from North Africa).

 

   In 1861, the Italian state of Piedmont became the Kingdom of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was proclaimed King, and Rome was declared the capital of the Kingdom and the famous Italian nationalist, Giuseppe Garibaldi (a vigorous opponent of papal secular rule) continued efforts to unify Italy.  It could not however, take control of Rome because the Papacy and its holdings had been guaranteed by Napoleon III and were protected by a French garrison in the city. 

 

  At this time much of Italy was controlled by Austria, but by now most of the Pope’s territory had been conquered by the developing Kingdom of Italy, leaving only Lazio as the Pope's secular holdings.

 

   In 1866, the Kingdom of Italy went to war against Austria (The Third Italian War of Independence) which was then already engaged in war with Prussia (The 1866 Austro-Prussian War).  Austria’s loss resulted in Austria conceding significant parts of Italy to France(!), but these territories were later annexed by Italy following a popular plebiscite.  This annexation significantly increased the Kingdom’s power and momentum toward complete Italian unification.

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The Papal States and Italy, showing the progression of the Kingdom of Italy’s annexations.

  In July, 1870, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War forced Napoleon III to recall the French garrison, leaving Rome without its French protector and thus vulnerable.  In September,the Kingdom of Italy marched against Rome and after light resistance (to make clear that Rome was taken by conquest and not voluntarily) the Pontifical forces surrendered.  The Italian troops entered Rome and the governmental entity known for hundreds of years as the Stato Pontificio (Papal States) effectively ceased to exist on September 20, 1870  Through an amenable treaty, the Pope retained St. Peter's Basilica, the papal residence and holdings in the Vatican quarter of Rome. 

 

   Thousands of Remington Rolling Block rifles became war booty of the Italian army.  These were issued to light infantry units, the Berseglieri (See USE BY OTHER COUNTRIES, below) until replaced by the also excellent M1870 Italian Vetterli rifles.  The Swiss, Palatine and Noble Guards all retained small numbers of their Papal Remingtons and continued to use them as their standard rifle into the early 20th century.

 

   In 1929, Mussolini and the Pope negotiated the Lateran Treaty in which the Pope renounced most all of the former Papal States but Italy recognized the sovereignty of the Holy See over a newly created city-state within the city of Rome.  This became Vatican City, the city-state in place today.

DEVELOPMENT

  During most of the 18th and 19th centuries the papal army was armed with a variety of muzzle loading rifles, first flintlock and then percussion, but none of these ever became standard rifles of the Papal army.

 

   While by the 1860s Papal troops were armed mostly with rifles of their French allies, the Italians were beginning to be armed with M1844/67 needle-fire Carcanos.  In response, the French provided some Papal troops with limited numbers of the linen cartridge, needle-fire Mle,1866 Chassepot rifles.

 

  But a significant event in the history of the Papal Army occurred with the appointment in 1865 by then Pope Pius IX, of General Hermann Kansler as the overall commander of Papal forces.

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General Hermann L. Kansler

  General Kansler was an energetic German officer and graduate of the German military school at Karlsruhe.  He resigned from the German Army in 1844 and entered the Papal Army in 1845 as a captain. He fought against the Austrians during the First War of Independence and became Papal regimental commander in 1859 after the second war of independence.  He was subsequently promoted to General and in 1865 was appointed Supreme Commander of the Papal forces. He is singularly responsible for reorganizing virtually the entire Papal Army in the Years leading up to 1870.  It was Kansler who sought to standardize the Papal army with the most modern weapon available, the newly developed metallic cartridge loading rifles. 

 

  By 1860 the Papal army was a shadow of its former self consisting of some 600 poorly trained and poorly drilled men.  However, between then and 1867 the army had been aggressively recruited, retrained, and was being re-equipped, and it now numbering some 13,000 men.  These included local Roman men but also substantial numbers recruited from all over Europe, including the Papal Zouaves volunteers.

 

   In August, 1866, Rome solicited 2,000 Mle1866 Chassepot needle fire rifles from a Belgian “Committee for the defense of the Holy See”, a Catholic organization dedicated to protecting the papacy in the face of strong anti-Papal attitudes in much of the Kingdom of Italy.  But it wasn’t until more than a year later that this order was placed with the Belgian brothers of Emile and Leon Nagant, operating the firm E.M.& L. Nagant in Liège, for the manufacture of those 2,000 rifles.

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The Mle 1866 French Chassepot (from which the M1874 French Gras was derived)

  In the meantime, the Remington (the prize-winning rifle at the previous year’s influential Paris Exhibition) and its associated cartridge were now perceived as the “cutting edge” of the day’s technology, and being then adopted by three different Scandinavian states (M1867 Norwegian Remington, M1867 Swedish Remington and M1867 Danish Remington) as well as Spain (M1868 Spanish Remington) and other countries.

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An 1867 Remington-produced M1867 Swedish Remington

   The Nagant/Chassepot order was cancelled by General Kansler before delivery and he requested that the Papacy be furnished with 5,000 of the new Remingtons in lieu of the Chassepots, subsidized by the Belgian Catholics.

 

   The French counterpart to the Belgian Committee also offered to supply an additional 5,000 new Remingtons but refused to do business with the Nagant brothers (they were Belgians!) and therefore their order was placed with Westley Richards of Birmingham, England.  The Westley Richards rifles arrived in Rome in the first part of 1868 but were considered so poorly finished as to be unserviceable.  Gunsmiths from Liège were brought in to repair and service them.

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The Mle 1866 French Chassepot (from which the M1874 French Gras was derived)

  The 5,000 Nagant rifles arrived in September of that year and an additional 1,600 Nagant rifles arrived between then and the end of the year.  An additional 2,000 rifles paid for with Papal government funds were delivered in 1868.  In 1869 2,000 short rifles were delivered.

It is unclear when the artillery carbines were delivered.

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Credit:  Antonio Wancolle

   A batch of 80 Deluxe carbines intended for the “Noble Guard" which were delivered likely in the first part of 1870, 78 of which remain in the Vatican Museum to this day, but these arms did not take any direct role in the subsequent struggle for the Vatican.

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A Papal Remington Carbine, with stocks heavily decorated.  Although not likely to be a “Noble Guard Deluxe Carbine.”  The Noble Guard “carbines” might actually be short rifles, the records are unclear.  This actual artillery carbine is rather likely one of the privately purchased gift carbines for select Vatican VIPs.

  After the surrender of the Papal forces, the royal Italian Army seized practically all of the Papal Remingtons except for 150 rifles and 80 deluxe (carbines or short rifles, it is unclear) that were allowed to remain with the Vatican.  In 1871 the seized rifles were issued to the Bersaglieri, an elite, high-mobility, light infantry unit of the Royal Italian Army, which unit still exists today.  The remainder of the Italian Army adopted and was supplied with the M1870 Italian Vetterli rifle.

GENERALLY

 This early Remington Rolling Block is a copy of Remington’s M1867 which was built under license by both Westley Richards in Birmingham, England and by the brothers Emile & Leon Nagant in Liège, Belgium.  It is very close in both dimensions and cartridge to the M1867 Swedish Remington and M1867 Norwegian Remington Rolling blocks.  It was made in small quantities for the Papal States (the Vatican, which was autonomous at the time) prior to its absorption into Italy and Italian unification in 1870 after the defeat of the Vatican forces in the battle at Porta Pia in Rome.  Many of the captured rifles were re-issued to the Italian Army and later, after the widespread fielding of the M1870 Vetterli, most were issued to Italian allies in North Africa, accounting for the scarcity of these rifles.

 Papal Remington Rolling Blocks were manufactured in three versions by two different manufacturers: a full length infantry rifle (two), a short rifle and an artillery musketoons (carbine).

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 A M1868 Westley Richards Papal Remington Infantry rifle (top);  A M1868 Nagant Papal Remington Infantry rifle (second from the top); A M1868 Nagant Papal Remington Mousqueton de Gendarmerie short rifle (second from the bottom);  and (bottom) a M1868 Nagant Papal Remington Mousqueton D’Artillerie artillery carbine.

   They are serially numbered in a single sequence suggesting that the numbers were likely applied after the rifles arrived in Rome, as the serial numbers of the British rifles, which had arrived first but were not put into service until later, after repairs, appear in the middle of the entire sequence.

 

   Interestingly, Layman suggests convincingly that the letter prefixes may have been applied in Belgium since the British rifles don't carry them at all, and the prefixes make sense in French, but not in Italian.  (E.g., Infantry Rifle in French is “Fusil d’Infanterie” (F.I.) and in Italian it is “Fucile da Fanteria.”)

 

   Like most early cartridge military rifles, all versions of the Papal Remingtons were finished by having all parts polished and left in the white, neither blued nor case hardened.

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OPERATING MECHANISM

  In terms of operation, this rifle is a fully representative Remington Rolling Block of the era and operates as such.  The rifle is substantially identical in operation to other Remington patent rifles produced in the late 1860s as described in detail under Spain.  See:  M1868 & M1870 Spanish Remington

 

   First, set the rear sight to the appropriate range.  To load, the hammer is pulled all the way back to the full cock position, the breech block is rolled fully open, a cartridge is thumb pressed into the chamber and the breech block rolled fully forward.  The rifle is now ready to fire, but can be placed in a safe position by carefully lowering the hammer to the half cock detent. When preparing to fire, re-pull the hammer all the way back to full cock, take aim and squeeze, (don't jerk!) the trigger.

 

   Extraction is accomplished by forcefully rolling the breech block back to the full open position, but ejection must be done manually with the thumb and forefinger.  (Be careful, the case will be hot).  The rifle is now ready to reload.

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 A Nagant Papal short rifle showing its hammer cocked and open breech with early extractor

Credit:  Oscar Groppo

DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS

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  This rifle, the Nagant manufactured version and the Westley Richards version, both produced during the height of M1866 French Chassepot production going on all over Europe, is a French Chassepot in all but rear sight and Remington’s action.  Its stock, even though being Remington thus two-piece, is nevertheless Chassepot, from its buttplate to comb, to forestock fitted with a single, large, spring-retained barrel band and topped with an equally large nosecap.  A literal French Chassepot cleaning rod (as Nagant is reputed to have had an excess of Chassepot rods in inventory and used them for this rifle) is fitted through the nosecap and along the bottom of the stock, secured via a strong, sharp shoulder hooking into the nosecap itself, the Chassepot system.   The butt plate is flat rather than curved as American Remingtons of the period were. 

  Sling swivels are located below the barrel band and very low along the lower edge of the buttstock (compare with the M1866 Chassepot).

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A Mle 1866 French Chassepot infantry rifle

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A M1868 Papal Remington infantry rifle

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Shoulder of the Papal rifle’s cleaning rod fitting into the nosecap, exactly as the French Chassepot rod

Credit:  Antonio Wancolle

  The (again French) Yatagan sabre bayonet (see below) is mounted on a substantial “Chassepot” bayonet lug and tenon, with a small auxiliary bayonet guide lug on the opposite side of the barrel.     What is not French is the Remington action and rear sight.

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Rear sight of a Mle1866 French Chassepot (left) juxtaposed with the rear sight of a M1868 Papal Remington (right).

Note that both rifles are aimed toward each other.  Both sight leaves are hinged in the front and elevate up and forward.

  The Papal Remington action is a quintessential Remington rolling block of the time (1866-1869).  It is fitted with Remington’s early bar extractor secured with a transverse screw through the upper left side of the receiver.  The breech block is concave, like all European rolling blocks licensed at the time that the Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Spanish Remingtons were being produced.  The firing pin is also screw-retained.  The upper and long lower tangs secure the buttstock via screws and their clamping action.

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Views of a Papal Remington showing the bar extractor, the extractor retaining screw (it’s the one on the upper left of the receiver) and the firing pin retaining screw in the breech block.

 Beyond all of that, this rifle’s MARKINGS (see below) are also dispositive as to identification.

 

   We should note that the M1868 Papal Mousqueton de Gendarmerie short rifle is distinguished by it being shorter than the infantry rifle, of course, but also that its rear sight is further back than the rifle, just slightly ahead of the chamber octagonal section (knoxform) (see photo of all versions above).  The barrel band is proportionally closer to the receiver as well.  Also the short rifle, and only the short rifle, has no bayonet lug, nor tenons, accepting a more conventional socket bayonet.   Markings follow the pattern of the Nagant infantry rifle.

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Left: A M1868 Papal Remington infantry rifle Right: M1868 Papal Mousqueton de Gendarmerie short rifle

The M1868 Papal Mousqueton D’Artillerie carbine is shorter yet, but otherwise a “miniature” of the infantry rifle in all respects but for length and sight placement as with the short rifle.

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A photo illustrating the different placement of the rear sight and barrel band comparing the rifle (top) with the short rifle and carbine placements (bottom).

Photo Credit:  Christie’s Auctions

  On Dec 14, 2014 Christie’s sold at auction two Papal Remingtons, a Westley Richards rifle and an exceedingly rare Nagant Artillery carbine (distinguished from the more common short rifle by the distance between rear sight base and barrel band).  The listing reads:

WESTLEY RICHARDS & CO., BIRMINGHAM, SERIAL NO. 9335, CIRCA 1868

With 36 ¼ in. (92 cm.) sighted barrel struck with the crossed keys of St. Peter mark at the breech, Birmingham proof marks; together with A RARE PAPAL STATE 12.7mmX45R 'M.1868' REMINGTON PATENT ROLLING-BLOCK MILITARY CARBINE, BY E.M. & L. NAGANT, LIEGE, SERIAL NO. 526, CIRCA 1868, with 24 ½ in. (62 cm.) reblued barrel with rubbed inscription 'PIO NONO ARMORIGI FIDELLS'

('PIO NONO ARMORIGI FIDELLS' . . . Latin meaning “Faithful to Pius IX”)

   The price realized was GBP 1,125.  (I cried when I saw this.)

 

   While the serial number listed for the carbine is “526”, it is unclear (1) that this is not the patent number (a very common mistake) nor (2) does it represent numbers of carbines, as the carbines, short rifles and the infantry rifles were serially numbered at the Papal States by manufacturer, not as they were produced (see MANUFACTURING DATA below). 

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MARKINGS

  Markings relating to the Papal rolling block rifles can be disconcerting about which to make broad statements, as there are not that many examples to review, and of those, all are slightly different, with different combinations of markings.   No matter what the statement, it seems that an example exists which illustrates an exception to what should be the rule.  Thus, statements regarding Papal rifle markings apply in general only, and not without exception.  With this caveat in place, nearly all markings, on both Belgian and British production runs, are distinctive to this rifle and differ somewhat from each other.

 

   In addition, those markings present are distinctive to this rifle series and are dispositive.  Most especially will be the Papal States ownership markings consisting of St. Peter’s two "crossed keys" on the chamber flats of the Westley Richards rifles, and a similar but different Papal Seal stamping “Crossed keys under the Papal tiara” found on the top flat of the Nagant rifles.  No other rifle carries these markings.

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Westley Richards simple “Crossed Keys”, left;  Nagant “Crossed Keys and Tiara (center & right)  

Photo credit Rifle FI 11831:  Michal Novotny

  Like most all military rifles manufactured in the 2nd half of the 19th Century, the Papal Remingtons are well and even profusely marked, the Nagant rifles even more so than the Westley-Richards, but all can be easily identified by their markings alone.

The Nagant Papal Infantry Rifle, Gendarmerie Short Rifle, and Artillery Carbine:

  The Nagant produced rifles (including short rifle and carbine) are all marked with clear, sharp, patent royalty markings on the upper left of the receiver.  These consist of the word “BREVET” (meaning “patent”) above the word “REMINGTON” above a factory patent number in series, akin to a serial number but not an actual firearm serial number which was applied later (if at all).

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The first batch of Nagant Remingtons to be delivered were marked simply ELM ahead of the serial number area on the left barrel chamber flat and again on the upper left of the receiver.  These rifles are marked “EM  &  L  NAGANT      A  LIÈGE”, but on the undersid of the barrel which would not be visible without the forestock being removed.  All later, higher Brevet/Patent number high serial number Nagant Remingtons are NAGANT marked  on the lower left side of the receiver above the trigger guard

  The left receiver of later produced Nagant Remingtons are further marked along the bottom “EM&L NAGANT      A. LIÈGE”

Across the top of the receiver will usually be found Belgian proof marks such as the well-known ELG in an oval above a star, a mark in use from 1846 to 1893 denoting final acceptance.  The “Peron” inspection mark came into use after 1853.  Similar proofs will be found along the left chamber barrel flat.

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Credit:  Antonio Wancolle

  The right side of the receiver usually exhibits “Crown over S” and “Circle V” inspection markings, which are also often found on other parts such as on the underneath of the forestock, side of the barrel band and sometimes buttplate tang.  Sometimes “Crown over N” and “Crown over U” are found on different rifles, but these do not predominate.  Such crowned letters are the countermark of a controller, used by Liège inspectors between 1853 and 1877.

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Photos Credit:  Michal Novotny

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Buttplate Tang Photo Credit:  Kyle Barrett

  There are also numerous Liège proofs on the barrel and about the action in addition to very likely a cartouche on the buttstock.  The most numerous of the Belgian made rifles’ buttstocks are embossed with a roundel on the right side consisting of a circle in which St. Peter’s crossed keys below the papal tiara.  Below that is the date 1868, all of which is surrounded by the words: “CATHOLIQUES BELGES”

 

   Note that the buttstock may also contain donors’ cartouches, but these are not especially common.  There are numerous markings under the barrel as well, but these would not be seen unless the forestock were removed.

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Photo Credit:  Kyle Barrett

  Serial numbers on the rifles usually, but not always, consist of the prefix letters “FI” (which might look like “F1”) followed by a serial number.  This appears on the upper left Barrel flat, left side of the receiver ring and left side of the trigger guard just below the receiver where the “FI” may not be a prefix but may appear below the longer digits of the serial number itself.

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Photo Credit: Antonio Wancolle

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Photo Credit:  Oscar Groppo

  We have only become aware of a single M1868 papal Remington which has been deeply serially numbered on the lower right side of the buttstock.  This was a common marking method applied to the M1870 Italian Vetterli rifles, so this number may have been applied by the Italians after surrender to make recordkeeping uniform.  We do not know.

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Photo Credit:  Oscar Groppo

  The Mousqueton de Gendarmerie (short rifle) and the Mousqueton d’Artilliarie (artillery carbine), all products of the Nagant brothers, are generally marked just as the Nagant rifle.  Serial numbers appear in the same locations but the former usually carries the prefix “MG” and the latter simply the prefix “M”.

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Serial Number prefix “MG” on a Papal Short rifle and “M” on a Papal Carbine

Photo Credits of the short rifle:  Oscar Groppo

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  The upper tang is devoid of markings on all of the Nagant production versions.  (Note: There are exceptions to everything!  See below under Artillery Carbine)

“BREVET REMINGTON” Numbers:   The Westley Richards produced Papal Remingtons are marked on their Tang "REMINGTON’S PATENT" indicating that the rifles were made under license from Remington.

   The Nagant made rifles acknowledge this somewhat differently. “Brevet” in French (Belgian) means “patent” and the markings on the left side of the Nagant Papal Remingtons which say “BREVET” and “REMINGTON” above a number indicate Remington's patent and the royalties to be paid to Remington under Nagant's manufacturing license.  Although marked in series, the patent royalty numbers do not correspond with the rifles’ actual serial numbers but were used to calculate royalties due from Nagant to Remington.

The Westley Richards Papal Infantry Rifles:

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  Westley Richards produced papal Remington rifles (only infantry rifles were manufactured) are also profusely marked, but quite differently than the Nagant rifles.  Nevertheless, their markings are also dispositive as to identification.  (The sight base of the Westley-Richards is slightly longer than that of the Nagant, and its buttplate tang is slightly narrower, but these differences are negligible.   Otherwise they are nearly indistinguishable and markings are the surest way to differentiate them.)

 

   The barrel between the chamber octagonal and rear sight base is deeply stamped “WESTLEY RICHARDS & Co BIRMINGHAM“ reading left to right when the rifle is pointed to the right. Along the left side of the barrel “above” the maker’s mark when reading the same way, are proof marks with the numbers 40 and 38.

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These are Birmingham markings showing preliminaryh and final proofing and the rifle’s bore (gauge) as measured.

  The numbers “40” and “38” are bore gague markings, common on Birmingham commercially produced (“for the Trade") rifles of the time.  A 40 gauge bore would indicate about .49 inch calibre and a 38 guage bore would indicate about a .50 calibre.  These measurement are believed to be taken land to land.  Grove to grove measurements would, of course, yield larger diameter results.

 

   On this example on a British (Birmingham) commercial Enfield, we find both preliminary and final proof acceptance marks as well as the numbers “25” indicating a 25 gauge bore, which would become a .577 rifled bore.

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  The left barrel octagonal flat carries a raised “A” in a circle preceding a deeply stamped serial number, followed by Papal “crossed keys.”    The same deeply stamped number is marked into the left upper left of the receiver above its corresponding Birmingham proof mark.

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  The upper tang, as where Remington manufactured rifles are identified, is marked “REMINGTON’S PATENT” clearly and deeply. There are inspection marks on the lower forestock and the serial number is carried along the bottom edge of the buttstock together with a Circle A (or perhaps Circle V depending on how it’s read).

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  Like the Nagant produced rifles, the Westley Richards manufactured rifles have a prominent Cartouche on the buttstock denoting a somewhat differently styled Papal keys and tiara in a circle, below which is the year 1868, very likely denoting the French Catholic Association that procured the rifles.

 The wood itself is walnut.

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  But for very minor differences, in all other respects the rifle is identical in dimensions with the Nagant Papal series.

EXCEPTIONS:

   Bear in mind that not all Papal Rolling Block rifles are either serial numbered or carry the Papal Keys.  The breathtakingly short time during which they were in service to the Papal States, coupled with manufacturing delays and quality control problems left a number of these rifles, short rifles and carbines manufacturer-marked, but not necessarily Papal marked, before the fall (and disarmament) of the Papal States as an independent, political, governmental entity.

 

   The Papal Remingtons exhibit a fair number of exceptions to all of the Markings indicated above.   Some with serial numbers do not indicate the “FI” prefix.  Indeed, not all Nagant Papal Remingtons indicate a prefix across all models.

 

   Many Remingtons donated to the Vatican’s defense by private parties will have carried donors’ markings on the buttstocks, but these could easily have faded or been sanded away and may no longer be present, or if present, unreadable.

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Example of a Nagant produced infantry rifle that does not carry the “FI” (Fusil d’Infanterie) prefix, but rather the initials “ELN” (Emile Leon Nagant) preceding the serial number, while being unequivocally a M1868 Nagant Papal Remington.

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A second example of a Nagant Papal Infantry Rifle prefixed simply with “ELM”  We note that it too is a low serial number rifle, before the Westley Richards series.  Perhaps the “FI” denotation was applied only to rifles serially numbered after the Westley Richards numbers?

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This clearly Nagant-produced Papal carbine has no serial number on the barrel nor on the chamber flat, nor is it Papal property marked with the Crossed Keys and Tiara of the papacy.  Yet it is “correctly” both “M” marked and serial numbered on the left side of the lower trigger guard/tang as are virtually all Papal Remingtons.

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SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA  (INFANTRY RIFLES)

Nagant Infantry Rifle and also Westley Richards Infantry Rifle (Fusil d'Infanterie M1868) Italian: (Fusile Da Fanteria M1868)

  • Overall length: 1,311 mm (515/8 in)

  • Barrel length: 920 mm (36¼ in)

  • Rifling:   5 equally spaced right-twist lands & grooves

  • Sight:  Ramp and ladder denominated 200, 300, 350 & 400 (meters) on the left base;

  •     4 to 10 (400 to 1000 meters) on the leaf.

  • Bayonet:  Yatagan blade saber

  • Cartridge:   12.7x45 Remington-Pontificio

  The rear sight base and leaf of the Papal Remington series rifles, short rifles and carbines, is mounted “reversed” as was the case of the Mle 1866 French Chassepot well as the contemporary Egyptian Remington rolling block rifles, with the sight ladder pivoting at the front edge, away from the shooter, the range graduations beyond 400 meters being on the “underside” of the slide when the sight ladder is raised.

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Photo Credits:  Oscar Groppo

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SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS

Gendarmerie Short Rifle (Mousqueton de Gendarmerie) (Italian: Carabina da Gendarmeria M1868

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  We have referred to the Gendarmerie rifle as a short rifle notwithstanding that it is also referenced on the rifle itself as a “mousqueton” (“MG”), a term that denotes a carbine, in order to distinguish it from the even shorter Mousqueton d’Artillarie carbine and also because of the role that Gendarmerie long arms play generally in a national force.

 

   Perhaps the Italian nomenclature for this rifle Carabina da Gendarmeria M1868 is more accurate, with “carabina” here, exactly like in French, being the term for “short rifle” and not the English term for “carbine.”  Its dimensions do though approach the artillery carbine more closely than they do the infantry rifle.

 

   This long arm is in most respects a shortened version of the rifle.  It is literally identical to the rifle from the front of the receiver back. The forward section of this version differs from the infantry rifle only in a few regards:  Barrel length (obviously also resulting in a shorter overall length); ranging and position of the rear sight, and the short rifle being issued without a bayonet whatsoever, or with an as yet unidentified angular socket bayonet locking on the front sight, like would be found on a great many rifles of the time.

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A juxtaposition of the three rifles that took part in the last chapter of the Papal States:  the M1844/67 Italian Carcano arming the Italian forces (top); the Remington infantry rifle (center) and the Remington Gendarmerie short rifle (bottom).  (We have no information on the participation of the artillery carbines specifically, although they were issued to the papal artillerymen and likely would have been on the field at the time of the fall of the Papal State)

Note the position of both the rear sight and barrel band on the rifle vis-à-vis the short rifle.

Photo Credit:   Oscar Groppo

Remember!  Exceptions abound!

 

   This short rifle is marked with the “MG” prefix, but it is not marked with papal keys nor a stock cartouche either:

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Top chamber flat showing absence of the “crossed keys” Papal property mark and serial number.  Yet this rifle is in all ways a papal Remington.

Gendarmerie Short Rifle Data:

Overall length:  1073mm  (42 ¼ in)

Barrel length:  686mm  (27 in)

Rifling:   5 equally spaced right-twist lands & grooves

Sight:  Ramp and ladder denominated 200, 300 and 350 (meters) on the left base; 4 to 7 (400 to 700 meters) on the leaf.

Bayonet:  angular socket

Cartridge:   12.7x45 Remington-Pontificio

  After the defeat of the Papal States, the short rifles were reissued to the Royal Italian Army.  It is reputed that a new bayonet lug and tenon was welded to the short rifles’ barrels so that they could mount the yatagan bayonet of the infantry rifle, and that these modified short rifles were then additionally cartouched on the right side of the buttstock with the armory making the conversion, for example an “oval with crown above the royal cypher” around which might be marked “RIPARAZE” and “TORINO 1871”).  This royal Italian cartouche, meaning restored or reconditioned, with various year markings, is regularly seen on the buttstocks of M1870/87 Italian Vetterli rifles.

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Here is an example of an Italian Vetterli-Vitali infantry rifle bearing a typical Italian “RIPARAZE” (riparazione) buttstock cartouche.

  Such recondition cartouches are reportedly sometimes seen overstamping the original cartouche of Remington rifles, but these features have not been confirmed,  and do not appear on the short rifles illustrated here.

Artillery Carbine (Mousqueton d’Artillarie) (Italian:  Mousqueton d’Artiglieria M1868

  The carbine continues the barrel and forestock shortening seen with the short rifle, being shortened only from the receiver forward. From the front of the receiver back, the carbine is substantially identical to the infantry rifle and gendarmerie rifle.  The butt of the carbine can be seen in the photo above from the Christie's Auction as distinct from the highly carved buttstock and stylized butt plate of the presentation carbine pictured here.

 

   The carbine’s barrel is 2¾ inches shorter than the gendarmerie rifle but the rear sight is identical. Unlike the short rifle, but yet exactly like the infantry rifle, the carbine is fitted with a bayonet lug and tenon as well as an auxiliary tenon on the left muzzle to mount the saber bayonet.

 

   The only example of the M1868 Papal Remington Artillery Carbine that we were able to locate for the purposes of examination and photographs is one which has a very elaborately carved buttstock and forestock.  This suggests that this particular carbine was intended not as an adjunct to artillerymen but rather as a gift or ceremonial piece either to pontificial guards or high-ranking administrators in the Vatican.

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  This Papal carbine’s patent royalty number is in the middle of the Papal order suggesting that it, or at the very least it’s receiver on which royalties would have been due, was produced along with the production of infantry rifles.  It has no Crossed Keys mark of Papal ownership, nor is the barrel or receiver serial numbered; only its “BREVET REMINGTON” patent royalty number of 5355, and a distinguishing actual serial number on the left side of the trigger guard/lower tang, as are all other Nagant produced rifles.

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  But perhaps the most astonishing of all feature of this clearly papal Carbine is that it is not marked with the near universally seen  “EM & L NAGANT   A. LIÈGE” markings along the bottom of the left face of the receiver, but rather, this same inscription, with the same spacing suggesting the same dies was used, on the upper tang(!) as Remington uses for its rifle manufacturing marks!

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Alternative placement of the Nagant manufacturing mark.  We have no explanation.

Artillary Carbine Rifle Data:

 

Overall length:  991mm  (39 in)

Barrel length: 62mm  (24¼  in)

Rifling:   5 equally spaced right-twist lands & grooves

Sight:  Ramp and ladder denominated 200, 300 and 350 (meters) on the left base; 4 to 7 (400 to 700 meters) on the leaf.

Bayonet:  Yatagan blade saber

Cartridge:   12.7x45 Remington-Pontificio

B

BAYONETS

  For all practical purposes, the M1868 Papal Bayonet, adopted concurrently with and to mate with the M1868 Papal States Remington is a M1866 French Chassepot bayonet.  This near-exact style bayonet was immensely popular throughout mid-19th Century Europe, having evolved from its first iteration, the French M1840 yatagan bayonet.  The M1866 redesign was being adopted for use with rifles as disparate as M1867 Norwegian Remington and Brazilian Comblains.  Even most of an entire book has been the focus of this widely-adopted bayonet type (The History of the French Bayonet by Steve N. Jackson).

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A bayonet for the Nagant produced M1868 Papal Remingtons exhibiting the identical Liege inspection markings found on the rifles.   The “MA” mark on the butt of the handle suggests that this bayonet may have been earmarked for one of the Mousqueton D’Artillerie carbines.

Photo Credits:  Oscar Groppo 

CARTRIDGE

12.7x45R Papal Remington (aka 12.7 Remington-Pontificio)

   

   Layman makes a strong case that the cartridge adopted for use in the Papacy’s new Remington rifles, the 12.7 x 45 mm Remington Pontificio, was strongly influenced, if not directly copied, from the recently adopted .50-70 U.S. Government cartridge.

 

   In this period, during the early days of metallic cartridge rifles, the development of a functional, dependable cartridge was not always assured.  Very recent experience with needle-fire cartridge rifles, a genuine advance over muzzle-loaders but still having much to be desired, meant that countries and arms makers were serious about the cartridge with which to equip any new rifle.  Also, this was an age in which patents mattered also.  Thorough testing was called for.

 

   But the Vatican and General Kansler in particular, were very much aware of the precariousness of their situation.  The ever-increasing strength and belligerence of the relatively new Kingdom of Italy was very worrisome.  Equally concerning was the tenuousness of the French Garrison in Rome.  Although ostensibly committed to maintaining the independence of what remained of the Papal States, it was not under Papal control, but rather under far-away France’s control, and could be withdrawn at any time.  Rearmament with modern rifles and ammunition simply had to be accomplished quickly.

 

   While there exist satisfying stories of Samuel Remington directly fulfilling the Vatican’s desire for a “unique” cartridge but presenting the 12.7x45 as “new” while it being “nothing but a U.S. Govt. .50-70", the fact is that the Papal cartridge was tested and adopted independent of, but surely highly influenced by, the M1866 American cartridge.  The same can be said of the 1867 Norway-Swedish 12x42 cartridge. 

 

   Presumably lower-powered ammunition should have been produced for the artillery carbine if not for the short rifle as well, but we are unable to discover if such was ever actually produced.

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This cartridge is identified as a M1868 Papal Remington cartridge.  It utilizes a is paper wrapped brass case with separate head.  The notes indicate that it employs the patent ignition system of von Bachmann in Brussels.   Layman relates that the Belgian Catholic Committee (responsible for the initial acquisition of the Nagant Papal Remingtons) engaged the firm of Bachmann & Cie., to develop the new cartridge, and that ultimately Bachmann received an order for two million of the new cartridges.  We don’t know any more about this cartridge’s internal design, but it seems that it was not simply copied from the Col. Boxer-primed cartridge adopted by the US.

Photo credit:   http://www.sammlermunition.de/patrone_des_monats.htm

Cartridge Specifications:

 

   This cartridge is nominally a 12.7 mm (0.50 caliber) centerfire cartridge utilizing a rimmed, straight-walled case, sometimes seen with a Mauser type “A” base, made of either drawn brass or earlier of coiled brass and paper construction.

 

   It was also manufactured by Italy after the acquisition of these weapons by the Italian army.

 

Overall Cartridge Length:  58.6mm

Case length:     44.5mm

Bullet length:   25mm, flat nose w/3 grease grooves

Bullet weight:  30.5 grams (480 grains)

Nominal bullet diameter:  12.72mm

Maximum bullet diameter:  13mm

Powder weight:   4.55 grams  (70 grains) (some sources indicate 4 grams / 62 grains)

Total Weight:    44.30 grams

Packed in boxes of 8 cartridges

.50-70 U.S. Government Cartridge photos and specifications for comparison:

 

Overall Cartridge Length: 57.15mm

Case length: 44mm   

Bullet length:  12.7mm

Bullet weight: 27 grams (425 grains)

Bullet diameter: 13.081mm

Powder weight:   4.5 grams (70 grains)

Total Weight:    

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MANUFACTURING DATA

  All serially numbered Papal Remingtons, of whatever manufacturer or model, carry numbers applied by the Papal armorers, after receipt of the rifles, in a single continuous series:

 

Serial numbers 1 - 6,600 are Nagant arms, including rifles, short rifles and carbines.

Serial numbers 6,601 - 11,000 are Westley Richards manufactured infantry rifles.

Serial Numbers 11,001 - end of production:  Again Nagant produced arms.

 

   We do not know what the last of the serial numbers might actually be.  The highest numbers we have encountered are 12568 and 12608, appearing on Nagant infantry rifles.

 

   Total production is at least 5,000 Westley Richards rifles, 8,600 Nagant Infantry rifles, 2,094 Nagant (Mousqueton de Gendarmarie) short rifles (either standard rifles or deluxe versions furnished by Nagant and bought by Belgian and Austrian Catholic committees or acquired directly by Rome, some for use by the Pontiff’s royal house guard) and 267 Nagant artillery musketoons. However these numbers may not include the 80 Noble Guard “mousquetons” (which might be short rifles), nor do they include an unknown number of Remingtons purchased as gifts by individual Catholics throughout Europe to aid the papacy.  Layman suggests that the total could be in excess of 16,000.  For example, it is known that that 300 Papal rifles and 50,000 cartridges still in transit to the Papal States when it surrendered in September 1870 (in the middle of the Franco-Prussian War) were transferred to the armory of the National Guard of Paris.  It would be unlikely that such rifles would have Vatican serial numbers and Papal seal, although they would still have Liège proof markings, and perhaps an F.I., M.G., or M. designation if rifle, short rifle or carbine.

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UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES

Italy: After the surrender of the papacy, the captured Remington's were distributed to select light Infantry regiments of the Italian army (the Bersaglieri regiment), 720 rifles to soldiers and 97 short rifles to the non-commissioned officers per batallion.  These replaced the Carcano needle-fire conversions of earlier muzzleloaders.  But this distribution was quite short-lived as upon final unification Italy adopted the m1870 Italian Vetterli, almost certainly retiring the Remingtons from Italian service before too long.

 

 

 Ethiopia: In 1881, 5,000 Papal rolling blocks were sold off to Ethiopia.  Additional Papal rolling blocks also appear to have been sent to Ethiopia between 1883 and 1889 but as too few were available to fully equip Ethiopia’s army, it turned to Remington produced rifles chambered in 43 Egyptian.  Nevertheless Ethiopian orders placed in Europe for 12.7x45 mm Remington Ponteficio ammunition continued into the 1920s.

 

    Ironically the Italians faced these very rifles again (along with the Egyptian Remingtons) during their Ethiopian colonial campaign in 1896, at the climactic battle of Adwa during the ill-fated (for the Italians) First Italo-Ethiopian War. The Ethiopian forces defeated the invading Italians on Sunday, March 1st of 1896, near the town of Adwa.  Some 4,500 Italians were killed.  Even more ironically, the Italians faced the Vatican (and Egyption) Remingtons yet again during their much berated Ethiopian campaign of 1935.

PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES

Predecessor Rifle: 

   Prior to the M1868 Remington, there was not a standard Papal rifle.  Rather, the Papal States predecessor rifles were a hodgepodge of various muzzle-loading rifles from across Europe, none of which seem to have left a historical mark to which we could point to regarding an true predecessor.  If anything could be called a predecessor rifle, it would be the Mle1866 French Chassepot with which Papal Zouave forces had been recently equipped.

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The Mle1866 French Chassepot (from which the M1874 French Gras was derived)

Follow-On Rifle:

   The end of the Papal States in 1870 literally meant the end of the Papal Army.  No standard rifles followed in the wake of the surrender to the Kingdom of Italy.   Indeed, the approximately 150 rifles hidden in the Vatican at surrender, as well as 78 of the 80 “Noble Guard” carbines, still remain in the Vatican to this day.  The rifles were later issued to the Palatine guard and continued to be utilized well into the 20th century.  The “Nobel Guard” carbines remained the property of the Pope’s household where they continue to reside.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We gratefully acknowledge the most kind assistance of the following friends in helping us with this webpage:   Oscar Groppo, Michal Novotny, George Layman, Antonio Wancolle and Kyle Barrett

REFERENCES

Remington Rolling Block Military Rifles of the World, George Layman, Mowbray 2010

ARMI PORTATILI E MUNIZIONI MILITARI ITALIANE 1870-1998,  Ruggero Filippo Pettinelli

 

"Papalin-Bersaglier-Negussita Rolling Block", 3 pp. in May (1996??) diana Armi (in Italian) probably about a Remington rolling block in the service of Pope Pius IX.

 

"Remington Rolling-Block Gewehre der päpstlichen Truppen" Ulisse Gobbi, 4 pp, German, in Dec.1995, issue of Internationales Waffen-Magazin.

I moschetti di Liegi per la Guardia Nobile Pontificia, De Vita, C. & Jean Puraye (Monumenti Musei e Gallerie Pontificie. Bollettino, Suppl. 1). Roma 1986, 8°, pp. 10, 67 ill. b.n. n.t. Br.   Typografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1986.

(available at:  http://www.libreriaromaelazio.it/word.asp?starting=GHI )

The Pope's Remingtons, Alfredo Bartocci, in:   Held, Robert (ed.), Art, Arms and Armour: an International Anthology vol. 1 1979-80. Aquafresca Editrice: Chiasso, Switzerland. 1979.

Un'Arma Un Personaggio da Liegi a Roma Due Remington Per Kansler, Alfredo Bartocci, Cesare Calamandrei.  diana-ARMI ppg 20-27

Papalin-Bersaglier-Negus(?) Rolling Block, Livio PierallIni, diana-ARMI pgs ~84-86?

 

Due Nemici a Porta Pia, Oscar Groppo, Grigio Verde

Italian edition:  Armi Portatili Dell'Esercito Piemontese ed Italiano, 1814-1914, Alfredo Bartocci

(Small arms of the Savoyard and Italian Armies 1814-1914)

Armamento individuale dell'esercito piemontese e italiano, 1814-1914 / Alfredo Bartocci, Luciano Salvatici

[Firenzre] : Edibase, 1978-. v. ; 34 cm  Ed. di 500 esempl. num. piu 30 esempl. f.c

 

R 91090 ( ARMAMENTI ) BARTOCCI-SALVATICI , A.L. : ARMAMENTO INDIVIDUALE DELL'ESERCITO PIEMONTESE E ITALIANO 1814-1914 . Edibase , 1987 . Prima edizione . Rilegato . Pag. 303 , 35x25 . Perfetto stato . Bel volume in grande formato che descrive l'armamato dei corpi di Fanteria, Bersaglieri,Artiglieria, S.Maggiore, Piazze e Servizi Amm. Del E.Piemontese - Centianai di disegni e spaccati a piena pagina - Rarissimo - 130,00 euro

A MOST UNUSUAL Papal Remington Rifle

 

   We have no recollection regarding how these photos of a most unusual Nagant produced (apparently) Papal Remington-patent rolling block rifle came to us.  These are the only photos of it that we have.  If anyone can enlighten us, we would be most appreciative.

   It is marked as would be expected for a Papal Remington, but without the Papal ownership “crossed keys & tiara” nor with any serial number prefix.  Although its serial number is in the early Papal range, such Remingtons were not serialized with a leading “0”.  Also, it lacks any markings exposed on the left lower tang.   

   The finger spur, also, suggests that this was either a kind of early pattern rifle, or simply not part of the papal order at all.  While the M1870 Italian Vetterli rifle was adopted with a finger spur as part of the trigger guard, it looks nothing like this much straighter trigger guard.

   We would really like to know more about it.  Please get in touch if you can help.

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An interesting final footnote

 

   The British Martini-Henry Marks I & II featured in the great 1964 British movie Zulu and the M1871 German Mausers playing a prominent role in the Tom Cruise historical drama The Last Samurai are not the only examples of historical firearms which can be found on the silver screen.  Extraordinarily, while watching the Ron Howard directed 2009 American mystery-thriller film Angels & Demons, I noted that several of the scenes which ostensibly take place in the Vatican (beginning @ 16:20 minutes and again @ 21:18 minutes) have Tom Hanks walking by a significant rack of …. Papal Remington rifles!

 

   Of course, since the film was not actually filmed at the Vatican the rifles depicted are not actual Papal rolling blocks (wrong bayonet, brass nosecap and a few outside hammers and locks can just barely be seen) so I suspect that the body doubles are Sniders.  Still, a worthy effort to represent what still exists in Rome to this today.

Page built May 29, 1997
Revised September 16, 1999
Revised May 7, 2000
Fully Revised, August 28, 2003

Updated: Nov 6, 2021

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

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