Q: I came by a double-barrel 12-ga. shotgun made by Syracuse Arms Co.: Serial No. 11300. It is marked “Improved Damascus.” What can you tell me about the company and gun?
A: Your Syracuse Arms Co. shotgun was made in Syracuse, N.Y., the company being in business from 1893 until 1908. Its production actually ended in 1906, and it was bought by the Ithaca Gun Co. in 1908. The guns were made based on designs by Frank Hollenbeck, and his name appears on Syracuse Arms Co. guns made before Serial No. 10000.
Frank Hollenbeck was born in upstate New York in 1851; he was a machinist, inventor and master gunmaker. He was associated with Syracuse Arms, Ansley H. Fox, Baltimore Arms and Dan Lefever. He also made locks and bicycle seats. Ultimately, he formed the Hollenbeck Gun Co. to manufacture his patented three-barrel shotguns—which re-organized in 1905 as the Three Barrel Gun Co. Hollenbeck died in 1933.
“Improved Damascus” refers to one of several grades of Damascus or twist-steel barrels. Because Damascus barrels are made of twisted steel and iron, corrosion can invade the softer iron, causing undetectable voids and potentially leading to barrel failure. Because of its age and construction, this shotgun should not be fired under any circumstances unless it is certified safe to fire by a qualified gunsmith familiar with older firearms.
—John M. Taylor, Contributing Editor