Same Girardoni air gun carried by Lewis & Clark during their 1804 expedition
Fairfax, Virginia - There are historic guns and there are historic guns. In the National Firearms Museum, those topping the list include the Mayflower gun, a selection from the personal collection of President Theodore Roosevelt, and revolver recovered from the rubble of 9/11. Missing from the Fairfax museum is the Girardoni air rifle. Missing until now.
"We were able to obtain a second," smiled Senior Curator Doug Wicklund. "It's good to have her home again."
The first Girardoni to appear at the National Firearms Museum came courtesy of Michael F. Carrick. Finding a place of honor in the Prospering New Republic Gallery, it was later transferred to NRA's new National Sporting Arms Museum at the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield Museum. That left quite a hole in the exhibit. A hole that proved difficult to fill.
"It was definitely a popular attraction," explained Wicklund. "But as a sporting arm, it made sense to showcase the rifle at Bass Pro. Luckily we found a replacement."
Re-enter Mr. Carrick.
Word around the firearm community last fall was that a Girardoni would soon come up for auction. This was quite a big deal as less than 25 of these repeating air rifles are believed to still exist. That's when Senior Curator Philip Schreier reached out to Mr. Carrick with a proposal — what if you purchased the rifle and loan it to the museum. Mr. Carrick agreed.
Arriving late last month, a Girardoni can once again be seen in the Prospering New Republic Gallery. Along with the rifle comes a note from Mr. Carrick which reads in part:
This one that I just sent is an actual military 1780 gun as used by Meriwether Lewis. It is identical to the one that Dr. Beeman donated to the U.S. Army Museum. These are exceedingly rare. Dr. Beeman is just about finished with his book on these guns, and I think (don’t remember exactly) that he has found fewer than 25 in the world.
And, frequently the Girardoni serial number and the G on the receiver are buffed off. Yours had the G where the receiver meets the barrel and the serial number 1335 still intact. The G represents the inventor’s initial of Girardoni.
A .462 caliber Girardoni repeating air rifle was carried by Lewis & Clark as they made their historic journey across the United States. A demonstration of the 22-shot silent gun was performed for each native american tribe the expedition encountered. Upon seeing the Girardoni repeatedly penetrate a pine board at 100 yards, without the tell-tale signs of smoke or explosion, the tribes realized that it was good idea to permit Lewis & Clark safe passage.
The Girardoni came with detachable air reservoirs that required about 1,500 pumps to pressurize the reservoir. After being filled to 800 psi, the air rifle could fire up to 70 shots before losing power. A metal tube on the side of the barrel holds up to 22 lead balls that are fed into the firing chamber by a sideways push of a plunger.
So if you've been wondering what happened to the Girardoni in Fairfax then wonder no more. It's back. And it is a beauty.
For more on the NRA National Firearms Museum, visit their website at nramuseum.com