Romano's First Model Maynard - a Sharpshooter's Carbine

Strange as it may seem, one of the greatest 19th century American firearms innovators was a dentist who originally wanted to be a soldier. Edward Maynard, born in New York in 1813, dropped out of West Point due to ill health following his first year at the academy. Although he lived a long and presumably healthy life, Maynard never returned to the military. Instead, he rose to become one of the most prominent dentists in the United States, and counted the country's political elite, including congressmen and presidents, among his patients. Maynard's reputation as a Washington DC oral surgeon spread far afield, and it is reported that he was offered, but declined, a job as Imperial Dentist to Tsar Nicholas I.

Today, however, Edward Maynard's impressive career in dentistry is but a footnote to his role in the small arms field. Over the course of his life, Maynard was awarded 23 firearms related patents. He is best known for his first invention, a small arms priming system registered at the US Patent Office in 1845, which accelerated the rate of fire of a muzzle loading, percussion ignition gun by eliminating the need to place a percussion cap on the weapon's nipple for each shot.

Maynard's process involved a roll of caps, not unlike that used in today's cap guns, which were advanced from a magazine over the nipple as the gun was cocked. The invention as adopted by several commercial gun makers and, most notably, the United States government on its 1855 family of .58 caliber rifled arms. The Maynard priming system did not work as well in the field as expected, however, and was dropped in the 1861 version of the rifle-musket. Union Private Philip H. Smith, issued the Model 1861, believed it was a "far superior rifle altogether" to the Maynard primer equipped Model 1855. Smith thought "tape locks is played out, some likes them best but I can't see the edge. I have used them both and I know."

Maynard's rifle patent of 1851 would, in the end, prove far more long lasting than his priming system. His simple and effective single shot rifle was operated by a lever which, when depressed, opened the breech for loading by raising the barrel. After insertion of a cartridge, raising the lever closed the gun's breech. The loaded rifle was then cocked and primed by placing a cap on its nipple or simply cocked so that its Maynard priming system advanced a primer atop the nipple.

A significant feature of the new gun was its method of preventing gas escape at the breech, a prime concern of the externally primed breechloaders of the 1850s. The Maynard cartridge was brass, with a small hole in the center of its base so that the explosion of the cap could ignite it. The cartridge case also had a generous rim, which enabled its swift extraction by the shooter's fingers, and was reloadable as many as 100 times.

Springfield Armory manufactured a sample model Maynard carbine in .48 caliber, which was tested by US army Ordnance officers in May of 1856. The army fired Dr. Maynard's gun at ranges from 100 to 500 yards, and found it the best breechloader tested to date. Subsequently, the powder charge of the cartridge was raised from 30 to 40 grains of musket powder, loaded behind a 343 grain lubricated bullet.

In 1857, Maynard and some financial backers founded the Maynard Arms Company, and contracted with the Massachusetts Arms Company to manufacture breechloaders for sale to the general public, and, it was hoped, the military. Maynards were offered in .35 and .50 calibers, and could be had with interchangeable barrels to shoot shot cartridges. A second military test resulted in an army order for 400 .50 caliber carbines, with the original long-range aperture tang sight replaced with a barrel mounted open sight. The Revenue Cutter Service (Coast Guard) and Navy ordered smaller numbers of Maynards. The Maynard received rave reviews in frontier service, with Lieutenant Colonel B.S. Roberts of the U.S. Mounted Rifles commenting "…for light troops and skirmishers, the Maynard rifle is the most destructive war weapon that has ever been invented."

Despite the praise, few First Model Maynards saw Federal service. Arms historian John D. McAulay lists only four regiments partially armed with the gun between 1861 and 1863; the 1st (later 4th) US, 9th Pennsylvania and 1st Wisconsin Cavalry. Considering the pre-war enthusiasm for the Maynard, there is no doubt many more would have seen service. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts Arms Company factory burned down in January, 1861. The factory was rebuilt by 1863 and received an order for 20,000 of the simpler Second Model Maynard carbines that year. Deliveries of these guns began in June of 1864 and continued through May of 1865. Due to their late delivery, few of the Second Model Maynards actually saw service. Some did, however, in the hands of men of the 9th and 11th Indiana and 11th Tennessee Cavalry

More Maynards probably saw service with Confederate than Union forces. With war on the horizon, some Southern states purchased Maynards for their militia service in late 1860 and early 1861. Prescient southerners bought 90% of the 3,201 Maynards the factory saved from the fire. Most of these sales were to Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. The First Model Maynard was considered an official Confederate firearm, and was carried in Confederate ordnance manuals as such.

With a well earned reputation for long range accuracy, the Maynard, especially the tang sighted version, was not limited to cavalry use in the Confederacy. Rebel sharpshooters made good use of the Maynard, especially during the siege of Charleston. On one occasion in 1862, a Georgian perched in a tree near Savannah reportedly used his Maynard to shoot a Federal officer at a range of 600 yards.

Although unable to produce internally primed rimfire cartridges to fuel captured Spencers and Henrys, Confederate ammunition makers were able to make the relatively simple Maynard round until late in 1864, when a shortage of raw materials hindered production.

Easily adaptable to the new primed metallic cartridges, the Maynard was one of the few patent breechloaders to survive the Civil War. It continued in production as a highly regarded centerfire target and hunting rifle until 1890.

There have been reproductions of Second Model Maynards over the years since the N-SSA instituted competitive carbine shooting. Until now, however, there has never been a new First Model. Larry Romano (Romano Rifle Company, 551 Stewart's Corners Road, Pennellville, NY 13132. Tel: 315-695-2066), who brought the Spencer rifle and carbine back to life with splendid semi-custom reproductions, has turned his attention to the Maynard, however, and is making First and Second Model guns, both of which are N-SSA approved for carbine competition. Actually, Romano's guns look so good that I hesitate to use the term "reproduction," with its assembly line connotations, when writing about them.

Larry was generous enough to loan me a copy of his First Model in .50 caliber for some shooting tests. It is a dead ringer for one of the guns issued to the 1st Mississippi cavalry in 1861. The Romano First Model has all of the best features of the early Maynard arms, including a 26-inch barrel and a tang sight, which, combined, gives the gun a longer sight radius than any other carbine on the market. A longer sight radius means less aiming error and, consequently, more accurate shooting.

Romano's Maynard is indistinguishable from a mint condition original gun. The R. A. Hoyt barrel is finished with a lustrous blue, and the action, patchbox and buttplate are beautifully case colored. Larry has even milled in a Maynard primer magazine, although without internal parts as there are no primer tapes available today.

As received, the gun had a heavy trigger pull, a common trait forced on gunmakers in this litigious age. A brass shim reduced the depth of the full cock tumbler notch and dropped the trigger down to about 4 lbs.

Both brass and plastic cartridge cases are available for original and reproduction Maynards. I used both in my shooting tests and tried two loads; 30 grains Goex FFFG, a 350 grain SPG lubricated Ball Accuracy carbine bullet (RR#1, Box 241, Millville, PA 17846. (570) 458-3197. http://www. ball-accuracy.com), and a .50 caliber Wonder Wad™ in a plastic case, as well as the same powder charge and bullet with a card wad in a brass case. Maynard cartridges are available from most dealers and sutlers, including S&S Firearms (74-11 Myrtle Avenue, Glendale, NY 11385. (718) 497-1100. http://www.ssfirearms.com)

Like the originals, the First Model does not take a musket cap. At my first shooting session I found that CCI and RWS #11 caps fit the nipple and fired the gun, but failed to split and had to be pulled off with a pliers. Fortunately I had some old Remington # 11 and #12 caps in my shooting box. Both sizes split on firing and were easily removed with a flick of the fingernail.

After some offhand plinking at old beer cans to get the feel of the gun, I sat down at the bench to see what it would do on paper targets. My first serious group with the Romano Maynard scored a 48-3X (brass cases) on the standard N-SSA 50 yard target. A subsequent group scored a 47 (plastic cases) -- and I consider myself just a slightly better than average shot. Needless to say, "load development" stopped right there.

I can state unequivocally that there is no better outside primed breech loading black powder gun on the market today than Larry Romano's First Model Maynard. Needless to say, the same conclusion can be drawn about his Second Model. They aren't cheap, but they're worth every penny spent. The Romano Maynard fully lives up to its distinguished history. Somewhere, someplace, Dr. Maynard is flashing a satisfied, no doubt toothy, grin.

© 1998 by Joe Bilby

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