This is a very nice and complete example of the French Le Fusil Chassepot Modele 1866, or more simply the Chassepot rifle. The Chassepot was France’s first “modern” bolt action rifle, and was adopted in response the Prussian adoption of the Dreyse “Needle Gun”. Both rifles were in fact “Needle Guns”, with very long, thin firing pins that penetrated a self-contained, combustible paper cartridge to detonate the primer. Both rifles had a reputation for being somewhat fragile, as the needle firing pins were easily broken in service. The Chassepot did have three primary advantages over the Dreyse design. The first was the location of the primer at the rear of the cartridge (allowing for a shorter needle), instead of the in the middle of the cartridge. The second was the use of a smaller diameter bullet that contacted the rifling directly, instead of using a papier-mâché sabot as the Dreyse design did. The final improvement was the use of internal obturation. This was in the form of an expandable India rubber gasket that sealed the chamber completely during firing and reduced gas leaks. The obturator was somewhat fragile and needed to be replaced on a regular basis to insure that the breech was securely sealed. The Chassepot was an 11mm rifle (about .44 caliber), making it one of the first nationally adopted military rifles to adopt a modern “small bore” caliber. By contrast the Dreyse Needle Gun used a 13.6mm cartridge (about .535 caliber). The Chassepot was the standard French military long arm from its adoption in 1866, through 1875, when it was replaced by the metallic cartridge M-1874 Gras rifle. The Chassepot served as the premier French military rifle during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, but there were simply not enough of the rifles available for the French forces and many of them fought the war with obsolete percussion muzzleloaders or breech loading altered percussion muskets. The French eventually produced about 1.5 million of the rifles during its service life.
The M-1866 Chassepot rifle offered here is in VERY GOOD+ condition. The gun is 100% complete, original and correct. The serial number F 33545 is marked on the left barrel flat, forward of the breech. This same number is also marked and on the top of the bolt handle, on the saber bayonet lug and on the cleaning rod. The last two numbers of the serial number 45 appear on the bottom of the bolt handle and on the cocking piece. The F prefix to the serial number indicates that the rifle was manufactured at the Imperial Armory at St. Etienne. That armory used the pre-fix letters F through Q. Other armories used other prefixes. Including A-C for Châtellerault, D and E for Mutzig, R through T for Tulle and U & V for Cahen-Lyon. The right side of the breech is marked with the date of manufacture, S 1867 - the second year of production. The right side of the breech is also marked with the initials M I, for Manufacture Impériale, indicating the rifle was manufactured under the rule of Napoléan III. After 1870 (and the end of Imperial rule), the mark was changed to M A for Manufacture d’Armes. The action of the rifle is 100% complete and correct. The needle is in place and unbroken, and the original India rubber obturator is in place as well. Both of these items are usually damaged or missing on Chassepot rifles. The action of the rifle works perfectly and is mechanically excellent. The rifle retains both of its original sling swivels, as well as the original long-range rear sight. The rear sight ladder is slightly bent, and this should be evident in the pictures. This does not detract in any way from the rifle and is mentioned for exactness. The metal parts of the rifle have a wonderful, deep chocolate patina that is completely untouched. The metal is almost universally smooth, with only some light scattered peppering and pinpricking. There are a couple of handling rubs and scratches along the barrel and furniture where some of the thick brown patina has been removed. The metal is in ATTIC FINE condition, with the previously mentioned untouched patina, crisp, sharp edges and strong marking throughout. The bore of the rifle is in about FINE condition and remains bright with crisp rifling along its entire length. There is some light frosting scattered across the length of the bore, and the only real pitting present is some light pitting and minor roughness in the last 1”-2” of the bore, near the muzzle. The stock rates about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD. The stock is full length and free of any breaks, cracks or repairs. The original boxwood French government ownership insert is in place in the middle of the right side of the buttstock. The stock has been lightly sanded over its entire surface, and the ordnance and storekeepers markings that would normally surround the wooden stock insert are no longer present. The stock retains a fine military oiled finish, and shows a handful of bumps, dings and rubs from handling and use over the years.
Overall, this is a lovely and complete example of a very early production French Le Fusil Chassepot Modele 1866. The rifle retains both its original needle and obturator, and has all matching numbers. The metal has a lovely, untouched appearance and would be a nice addition to any collection of early bolt-action rifles. It is a very interesting transitional military arm that bridges the gap between percussion and early breech loading conversion muskets and truly modern metallic cartridge bolt action military rifles.