Book Review—Volcanic Firearms: Predecessor to the Winchester Rifle

posted on January 14, 2015

Volcanic firearms, some of history’s first repeaters to use a self-contained cartridge, represent a profoundly significant, yet often overlooked, stage in the evolution of firearms development. The origins of the short-lived Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, and of the guns it designed and manufactured, have long been shrouded in mystery, hearsay and poorly-sourced apocrypha—until now.

In their book Volcanic Firearms, authors Edmund E. Lewis and Stephen W. Rutter go a long way toward dispelling the misinformation and confusion surrounding these guns through meticulous research of the erstwhile Volcanic Repeating Arms Company and of the major players behind its innovative designs. And a glut of historically noteworthy names, like B. Tyler Henry, Lewis Jennings, Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson, were involved in the development of the Volcanic guns.

So nicknamed because their rate of fire was said to be comparable to that of an erupting volcano, particularly in relation to their contemporaries, the Volcanic designs utilized an early lever-powered action, which would later be refined further in the Henry Rifle—which itself served as precursor for the renowned Winchester Rifle.

Throughout the book’s 160 pages, the authors guide the reader through the entire history of the Volcanic design, from its inception in Walter Hunt’s Volition Repeater to its culmination in the Winchester. Along the way, the book catalogs with 340 color illustrations the many, many variations of the guns that were produced. Indeed, the book’s fine photography, offering beautiful example after beautiful example of these innovative guns, serves as one of the highlights of the work.

While Volcanic Repeating Arms Company has been defunct since 1866, its contributions to the gun world live on today in the designs it produced and the gun designers that it brought together. Anyone interested in the history of early repeating arms, 19th century American gunmakers or the lever-action rifle in general, will find Volcanic Firearms well worth the price of admission. Price: $50. Contact: Mowbray Publishing, 54 East School St., Woodsocket, RI 02895; (401) 597-5055;


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