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Chaffee Reece Model 1882: A Good Idea on Paper…

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Patented in 1879 by Reuben Chaffee and General James Reece, the Chaffee-Reece rifle is an excellent example of how an idea that seems good on paper can easily become untenable in a fielded rifle. The main design premise of the rifle was to have a tubular magazine in the buttstock which held the cartridge out of contact with other, as opposed to being pressed together by a magazine spring as in a conventional design. This would notionally prevent any possibility of recoil or other forces causing the bullet of our round to impact the primer of another and cause a detonation in the magazine.

In initial testing by the Army in 1882, the prototypes were appealing, and a field trial of 750 rifles was requested. Chaffee and Reece were unable to find a commercial manufacturer willing to take on the production (except Colt, which offered to make just 200, and at the cost of $150 etc), and they ultimately turned to the government-operated Springfield Arsenal to built the guns. A total of 753 rifles were made by Springfield in 1883 and 1884 (interestingly, not serial numbered) and delivered for testing.

That testing went quite badly. The magazine was a very complex system, using two sets of basically reciprocating racks to shuttle cartridges up the magazine as the bolt was cycled, without allowing them to contact each other. It proved very prone to jamming and breakage, and was both extremely difficult to keep clean and very susceptible to, as they would have called it at the time, “derangement”. It was handily beaten by the Winchester Hotchkiss 1885 pattern rifles (among others) in field trials, and that was the end of its potential for adoption. The rifles were eventually sold as surplus, and bought by the Bannerman company, where they remained in stock and available for purchase until at least 1907.

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