Bøssemaker Hans Larsen
Bøssemaker Hans Larsen (1823-1907)
Norway’s perhaps best known and most pronounced gunsmith was Hans Larsen from Drammen. He was immensely creative and established business in Drammen and Kristiania (Oslo) in Norway and in Liege in Belgium.
He designed revolver-rifles in the late 1850’s, breech-loading rifles (kammerladere) and drillings with twin-barreled shotgun + rifle barrel in 1860, wonderful “tennstempel” rifles with firing needle in 1865 and repeating rifles in 1875. It is the high quality falling blocks (tendstempel rifle) he probably is best known for today.
The b&w pictures on this page are “stolen” from Mr. Marquard W. Hauerbach’s article about Mr. Larsen in Drammen museums yearbook from 1969-1973. The colour pictures are taken of rifles in my personal collection.
Larsen rifles are really not all that difficult to get hold of. There were made rather many of the shotguns and the less expensive tennstempel rifles. Some of these show a lot of wear and tear, but the prices are fairly modest. The experimental rifles and the truly beautifully carved pieces in perfect condition do, however, tend to cost a neat bundle.
Hans Larsen is probably best known for his tennstempel rifles today, but really was a true entrepreneur of his time. He finished his training as gunsmith in 1845 and established his own business in Drammen in 1846. In 1858 his first genuine designs start appearing and in 1865 the first of the tennstempel rifles was made (he also invented things for the railroads, for loading ammunition etc).
Related to firearms, Larsen was of the right age to be in the middle of the transition period. He started out with muzzle loaders and through his ingenuity he set a number of standards for cartridge firing weapons. In these fairly few years from the early 1860’s to the late 1880’s most of the mechanisms we still use for hunting and target weapons were invented. Larsen’s single shot tennstempel design from the mid 1860’s was still “The Rifle” long after the Krag Jørgensen repeating rifle was introduced in the late 1890’s at a much lower price. The first tennstempel rifle with a falling block was made as early as in 1867.
Larsen also made a number of designs for seal and polar bear shooting in the ice. These were rugged rifles that would shoot well under any condition. The revolver rifle was designed for this use.
Hans Larsen was one of Norway’s best marksmen at the time, something that might help to explain why his rifles were so popular. In 1862 he became national “skytterkonge” (shooting king) with an average of 7,5 for 139 shots at 250 Norwegian yards. At “Landsskytterfesten” (the national shooting party) in 1868 he was a clear winner in rapid shooting and was also awarded a trip to the International Shooting Contest in Vienna with 15 000 marksmen.
Here he won a total of 15 medals with his own single shot tennstempel rifle (falling block). Emperor Frantz Joseph was so impressed by his unbelievable achievements that he wanted to see Hans Larsen shoot. Larsen fired 53 shots in 3 minutes(!) and all shots hit. He was acclaimed the World Championships “finest marksman”.
Percussion drilling with two shotgun barrels above one rifled barrel from 1860. three separate locks, two fairly conventional percussion lock for the shotgun barrels and one almost identical to the kammerlader lock for the rifled barrel. Two triggers, the front one for the right shotgun barrel, the rear one for the left and both at the same time for the rifled barrel.
A very early “tennstempel” rifle, probably from before 1865, where the mechanism swings up like on a kammerlader. I have a seemingly identical rifle, but that one is a falling block for paper cartridge.
Hans Larsen was very focused on trying to design arms for the Norwegian Military forces, something evident from the number of different obviously military designs he made. Although Larsen knew Ole H. J. Krag (later to become the managing director at Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk) from the late 1860′s and Erik Jørgensen (Krag Jørgensen) had been one of his apprentices, Larsen never managed to get military approval on any of his designs.
In 1876 Larsen established a subsidiary in Kristiania (Oslo) and in 1877 another one in Liege, Belgium. Rifles from his Belgium branch are usually marked “H. Larsen & Fils” or “Larsens’s rifle Co”.
The Kristiania subsidiary was sold off after only ten years.
Although the Larsen rifles were superior shooters, they became too old fashioned and way too expensive. The first civilian Krag Jørgensen’s were assembled from parts rejected from the military and were very inexpensive.
Later Norwegian authorities made the Krag Jørgensen rifle more or less mandatory for “Det frivillige skyttervesen”, something that really hurt Larsens business.
As so often with great men of vision, Larsen died alone and in near poverty. This man with all his success and ingenuity was not able to provide well for his last years. One does not really know what happened with the Belgium company and the Drammen workshop closed in 1908, only a year after his death.
There was an article in “Norwegian Sports Magazine” in 1881 about Hans Larsen. The final words in the article read (shortened down): As rather a good description of these two main emotions he expressed, pride and humbleness, he truly appreciates the common nicknames he is known by: “The Shooting King” and “Old Larsen”.
Repeating rifles for military use was the big thing in Norway in the early 1870′s The Norwegian Navy was the first armed forces in the World to adapt a repeating rifle, and Larsen did his best to design it – the rifle approved was the Krag Petersson.
All three of the above repeating rifles from 1875 have a lot in common with the Krag Petersson, but non of them were accepted.
Tennstempel rifle from 1879 with a falling block, the Larsen speciality. The one below is from 1883.