1848 Zürich Prototype Federal Carbine

  • Country: Switzerland
  • Ignition System: Percussion
  • Calibre: 10,4mm (.41) Minié/Compression

Presented here is a bit of a mystery carbine.  Aside from the crest of Canton Zürich and rack number on the top of the barrel, it bears no proofmarks or gunsmith’s mark or signature.  In the absence of the crest, the carbine would very well have been passed off as just another Swiss target rifle modelled after the 1851 federal carbine, but luckily I was in possession of the excellent reference book “Bewaffnung und Ausrüstung der Schweizer Armee seit 1817- Eidgenossische Handfeuerwaffen” by Hugo Schneider and Michael am Rhyn, which on page 82 shows this exact same carbine under the title “Schärfschützenstutzer, Zürcher Ordonnannz provisorisches Modell 1848”.  This carbine thus predates the 1851 carbine!  Aside from the physical description of the carbine, the book is unfortunately very sparse on the origins of the rifle.  No maker is mentioned, only that they were manufactured by a private gunsmith.  What little can be gleaned is that the rifle was developed to equip a small number of Zürich sharpshooters while discussions on the creation of a standard stutzer were taking place at a federal level (see 1851 carbine article).  On the 9th November 1849, comparative tests were conducted between a “Federal model” and the Zürich carbine, which ultimately concluded in 1850 with the creation of the final 1851 federal stutzer design.  Viewed side by side, the similarity is striking; however, on closer inspection the 1848 carbine has the following different features:

– The barrel is fully octagonal.

– The tumbler has a half-cock notch and fly.

– The hammer is retained on the tumbler by an easily removable nut.

– The rear sight leaf is adjustable by means of a rack and pinion mechanism.

– The ramrod has a captive brass muzzle guide.

– The barrel has a stepped target crown.

– The stock is slimmer and has a raised cheek rest on the left side of the butt.

When one considers the above list of features, it becomes obvious that they are largely frivolous features that are nice to have on a target rifle but not necessarily on a service rifle, in other words the 1851 rifle is a simplified and more soldier-proof 1848 carbine, not to mention cheaper.

The octagonal barrel and stepped crown are nice features to have but clearly not necessary.   I noted during shooting that the top flat of the barrel produced a lot of glare making aiming difficult in sunlight. 

The fly, which consists of a little flap in the tumbler, which blocks the half-cock notch on the tumbler when firing.  It is a feature associated with the finest target flintlock and percussion firearms and results in a smoother let-off and clearly an unnecessary luxury, so much so that they even removed the half-cock altogether in the ’51.

The curious hammer retention nut is just inviting the soldier to fiddle with it or worse loose it. 

The use of a rack and pinion to adjust the rear sight leaf is actually quite clever but it requires precise machining and it is very fragile, on this carbine for example, the tiny teeth of the pinion have simply worn away.

The sliding rod guide, which is essential in a target piece to protect the rifling, also clearly has no place on a military gun.  After some range testing, I found it a hindrance to loading at speed and under stress. The rim of the rod guide fits snugly in the barrel crown.

Concerning the stock design I think the ‘48 design is better; certainly, the cheek rest provides a more comfortable head position.  I can only assume that cost cutting and general strengthening of the stock resulted in the slightly bulkier ’51 design. On the left side of the stock is a silver plaque engraved “H.Fürst”, no doubt a former proud owner.

The bayonet fitting is identical to the ’51 so it is assumed it would have used the same bayonet. 

The barrel has six groove rifling and a twist rate of 1:48” with a calibre of 10,5mm.  There is unfortunately no load data available for the rifle but it is assumed that the bullet design and load was very similar to the ’51 carbine.

This carbine is number 29.  The highest number known is 77.