Not a great deal is known about the man who designed and patented what was to become one of the finest single shot actions made in the United States. His name was Charles H. Ballard, born in 1822 in the town of Sterling, Massachusetts. C.H. Ballard's occupation was that of a machinist. On November 5, 1861, he obtained a patent for a firearm that was to make the name "Ballard" a household word to riflemen for many years to come. After receiving the patent C.H. Ballard sold his interests to Warren Williams of the firm Ball and Williams. Ball and Williams was the first of many different firms to manufacture the new Ballard rifle in quantity.
The Ballard action patented by C.H. Ballard was manufactured by many different firms most notably Ball and Williams, R. Ball and Company, Merrimack Arms Company, and Brown Manufacturing Company. These firearms were mainly chambered for rimfire cartridges of the era and Civil War contracts figured heavily in production runs. The Ballard single shot most recognized by today's single shot enthusiast did not come along until Schoverling and Daly of New York, then holders of the Ballard patent, made arrangements with John Malon Marlin to work over the old patent and begin production in his plant.
The first Marlin-made Ballards made their debut in 1875. Between the years 1875 and 1891 J.M. Marlin and the later Marlin Firearms Company offered over twenty different models of the Ballard single shot rifle. These are the single shots that established the fine reputation for accuracy and reliability that the Ballard enjoys to this day; at many of the most prestigious rifle matches of the era, the Ballard was the preferred rifle among expert shooters. Riflemen of the day recognized the advantages of the "pull-rod" system of attaching the buttstock and the excellent Ballard set triggers. The Ballard action also provided for a camming action of the breech block, a center hung hammer for fast lock time, and the internal parts were contained in the breech block, protecting them from dirt and fouling. Ballard rifling was also recognized as being superior especially when shooting grease-groove bullets. The many different buttstock styles and barrel weights offered meant that the competition shooter could tailor a rifle to his specific needs. Indeed, many first generation Ballards are literally custom rifles.
The original guns were made by John M. Marlin, New Haven, Connecticut (1879-81) or the Marlin Fire Arms Company, New Haven, Connecticut (1881-89). They shared the same dropping-block action; barrels were generally rifled with six concentric grooves twisting to the right.
Typically about 45.25 inches overall, weighing 8.05 pounds and fitted with a standing-block sight, this was introduced in 1876 in .44 rim- and centre fire only. The first Marlin made Ballard rifles were advertised with a round barrel (26-30 inches), a blued frame, a Marlin-patent automatic extractor, and a special reversible firing pin for rim or centre fire ammunition. The original rifle was renamed "No.1" when additional patterns appeared, and a .45-70 chambering was used in addition to .44 Ballard Long and Extra-Long.
Chambered for .40-63 Ballard or .45-70 Government cartridges, the 1879-vintage No. 1½ was a No. 1 with an extra-heavy wrought iron frame. A typical rifle was 47.30 in overall, with a 32 inch round barrel, and weighed 10.07 pounds. A rifle type butt plate and Rocky Mountain sights were standard. The No. 1½ lasted until 1883.
Introduced in 1879, for .40-65 Ballard Everlasting or .45-70 Government rounds only, this was a minor variant of the No. 1½ distinguished externally only by its double set trigger.
Dating from 1876, this model, subsequently known as the "Perfection", was intended for hunting in .38, .40, .44, .45 and .50 center-fire, and usually had open Rocky Mountain sights.
So called "Everlasting Shells", specifically intended for reloading, were recommended for the No. 4. It had an octagonal barrel (26-32 inches) and an extra-heavy heavy case hardened receiver.
By 1881-82, guns had been chambered for the proprietary .32-40, .38-50, .38-55, .40-63, .40-65, .40-70 and .44-75 Ballard cartridges, plus .44-77 Sharps and .45-70 or .50-70 Government patterns. In 1883, however, Marlin had reduced the options to .32-40, .38-55 or .40-65 only.
A typical .40-63 example, with a 30 inch round barrel, was about 45.35 inches overall and weighed 9.95 pounds unladen.
Announced in 1878, No. 4½ had a pistol-grip butt and a half-length fore end, woodwork being extensively checkered. The barrels were half- or fully octagonal, and an improved peep-and globe sight system was fitted. A typical .40-90 example was about 40.5 inches overall, had a 30 inch barrel and weighed 10.25 pounds. Chamberings included .38-55 Ballard, .40-70 Sharps, .40-90 Ballard, .40-90 Sharps, .44-75 Ballard, .44-77 Sharps, .44-90 Sharps (2.63 and 2.88 inch cases) and .44-100 Ballard, plus .45-70 and .50-70 Government.
The No 4 A.1 rifle of 1879 was a minor variant with a fine English walnut half stock, Marlin's improved vernier back sight (graduated to 800 yards), and a wind gauge front sight with bead and aperture discs. The frame was engraved, the optional shotgun or rifle-type butt plate was rubber, and every part was "finished in the best manner". The frames usually displayed "Mid-Range A.1" (in Old English letters) in an engraved panel. Production continued into the mid 1880s.
This 1876-vintage rifle was a modified No.4 (q.v.), with an extra-heavy iron frame, a heavy octagonal barrel (30-32 inches), double set triggers, and, unlike other Ballards, a cleaning rod beneath the muzzle. Rocky Mountain sights were standard.
New .40-85 and .45-100 options were announced in 1882. Weights ranged from 10 pounds for the .38-55 version to 12 pounds for the .45-100 type. A typical 32 inch barrelled .45 example was 47.30 inches overall.
Production continued until 1889, by which time rifles had been chambered for .38-50 Ballard, .38-55 Ballard, .40-63 Ballard, .40-65 Ballard, .40-70 Sharps, .40-85 Ballard, .40-90 Ballard, .44-40 Winchester, .44-75 Ballard, .44-77 Sharps, .45-70 Government or .45-100 Ballard.
Made only in 1882-83, this was essentially a heavier No. 5, generally found with a ring-tip breech lever instead of the normal spur patterns and chambered for the .45 Sharps cartridge (2.88in case). Rifle or shotgun-style bun plates were supplied to order. A typical gun was 47.15 inches long, had a 30 inch barrel and weighed about 13.6 pounds.
Known as the "Off-Hand Model" when introduced in 1876, this was intended for European-style target shooting popular in the eastern USA. Originally chambered only for .40-65 and .44-75 cartridges, it had a half-octagonal barrel and weighed up to 15 pounds. A double set trigger system was standard. Most guns were fitted with Marlin's short or mid-range vernier peep back sights, graduated to 800 yards. Hand made straight-wrist "German" (Swiss) style butts, with a cheek piece and a nickel plated hook-pattern shoulder plate, were standard fittings.
By 1883, the chambering options, which had included .32-40 Ballard, .38-50 Ballard, .38-55 Ballard, .40-65 Ballard and .44-75 Ballard, were restricted to .32-40 or .36-50. A typical .38-50 example, with a 30 inch barrel, was 48.05 inches overall (including the butt-plate hook) and weighed 14.11 pounds.
Also known as the "No. 6½ Rigby", this was introduced in 1876. It was similar to the standard No. 6, but had a modified "German" pattern walnut butt with a chequered pistol grip and a Farrow shoulder plate. The barrels, measuring 28 inches or 30 inches, were bought from John Rigby & Company of London. Marlin mid-range (800 yard) vernier back sights were standard and a wind-gauge pattern front sight was fitted. The receivers of most rifles were engraved with scrollwork, though differences in pattern are known. A typical 28 inch barrelled rifle measured 44.50 inches overall and weighed 10.12 pounds.
About 50.5 inches overall with a 34 inch barrel and a weight of 10.25 pounds, the 1876 vintage No. 7 Long-Range model, chambered only for the .45-100 Ballard cartridge, had a half-octagon barrel and an improved vernier back sight graduated to 1,300 yards. The wind gauge front sights were supplied with bead and aperture discs, plus a spirit level. Hand made pistol grip butts were standard, with scroll engraving on the action, chequering on the pistol grip, and a schnabel-tipped fore end.
The No. 8 also had a pistol grip butt, though much plainer: No. 9 was simply No. 8 with a straight-wrist butt. Production ended in about 1882.
Announced in 1877 and made until 1880, No. 7 A.1 rifles were deluxe variants of the No.7, with Rigby barrels, special "extra handsome English walnut stocks", rubber shoulder plates, and vernier sights of the finest pattern.
Some No. 7 A.1 Extra rifles were made in 1879 with high-quality engraving and wood selected for its outstanding figuring. And finally, in 1885-86, a few rifles were assembled as the "No. 7 Creedmoor Model".
(No. 8 [new] and No. 9 [new] patterns). Introduced in 1884, to compete in the medium-price target rifle market, these were offered with half-octagon barrels (28 inches or 30 inches) and pistol grip butts with cheek pieces. A nickeled Farrow "Off Hand" butt plate was usually supplied. Double set triggers and peep and globe sights were standard on the No. 8, the otherwise similar No. 9 being made with a single trigger. Looped finger levers were common on rifles sold after 1887. A typical gun with a 30 inch barrel, chambering the .32-40 Ballard round, was 46.50 inches overall and weighed 9.65 pounds.
Offered only for the .32-40 or .38-55 Ballard cartridges, this 1884-vintage target rifle, often fitted with a short butt, was essentially the same as the No. 8 Union Hill pattern described previously. However, it was fitted with a heavy octagonal barrel and had a vernier type Mid Range (800 yard) back sight. A typical .32 example was 48.50 inches overall and weighed 11.85 pounds. Its barrel measured 32.00 inches.
The Red Willow No. 1½ had a 30 inch barrel, an S-type lever and a single trigger.
The Red Willow No. 5 Pacific rifle had a 30 inch octagonal barrel and a ring-pattern operating lever. A double trigger system was a standard fitting, and a typical rifle could weigh as much as 11.5 pounds.
The Red Willow No. 8 rifle had a 30 inch half-octagonal barrel, and a double set trigger mechanism. The walnut butt had a cheek piece, a pistol grip, and a nickel-plated "Off Hand" shoulder plate. It weighed 10 pounds.
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