Book Review: H&R Arms Co 1871-1986

H&R Arms Co 1871-1986 by W.E. GoforthHarrington and Richardson is not a particularly exciting gun company, and never has been. They didn’t make flashy and dramatic guns, or distinctive guns that because associated with military forces or battles (although they did make M1 and M14 rifles for the US Army). What H&R did was much more down-to-earth. They made affordable, practical guns for the common man – and they did it extremely well for over a hundred years. Even before the turn of the 20th century, H&R was producing more than 200,000 revolvers annually. In more recent memory, one of their staple products was the ubiquitous Topper (Model 158), a single-shot break action design that could be purchased with barrels in everything from .17 caliber to .300 Winchester Magnum, and smoothbore shotgun chamberings as well. Exciting they are not, but their durability, interchangeability, and affordability resulting in about a gazillion of them being sold over the years. Really, the same things applies to all of H&R’s other offerings.

All that being said, H&R products are not typically considered collectible in any significant way, and that meant that very little literature or research as available. Ask most gun gurus about the history of a particular H&R piece, and you would probably get little more than a brush-off about it being just an H&R, and not worth much of anything. Well, Bill Goforth didn’t meet that stereotype. He recognized the opportunity to study some of the less idolized American gun manufacturers, and initially wrote an excellent book on the guns made by Iver Johnson. He was a well-known authority on firearms of these sorts, happily helping educate their owners and enthusiasts on several online forums. His followup work on H&R was nearing completion in 2011 when he suffered a tragic and fatal heart attack – a lamentable loss to the firearms community.

However, thanks to several years of work by several other H&R collectors and his editor, the manuscript was completed and has now been put into print by Gun Show Books Publishing. Having obtained a copy of Goforth’s Iver Johnson book previously, I was excited at the prospect of an equally authoritative reference on H&R – and I am not disappointed. To start with, this volume is nearly triple the length of the Iver Johnson work – including appendices it comes in at 628 pages. It is set up with that same basic layout, divided first by firearm types (pistol, rifle, shotgun) and then by general category (ie, Early Top-Break Revolvers”), and finally by specific model numbers and their variations. Just the table of contents for the Handguns section is 4 pages long. With each specific variant, Goforth describes the general history of the model, and then the manufacturing dates of each variant, along with their unique characteristics, markings, and other information of interest to the shooter and collector (you can get a good visual feel for the layout by watching my Iver Johnson review video). Most of the illustrations are reproductions of original H&R sales sheets or catalog pages, which provide good images and as an added bonus, let us see what H&R themselves said about the guns when they were being made. Cool!

The largest section of the book is the Handguns section, although the rifle and shotgun areas are quite thorough as well. The one area that does get short shrift is H&R’s military production. The while Military chapter is a mere 3 pages long (and one of them is a full-page illustration. That is for the M1, M14, T48 FAL, Air Force survival rifle, T223 (HK G3 licensed copy), and all the different version of Reising SMG (experiments like H&R’s M1 Carbine trials submission are not even mentioned). Clearly, Mr. Goforth’s interest was on the civilian production guns and not the military ones. That is an oversight I can live with, considering the massive amount of information he has compiled on those civilian arms, and also because most of H&R’s military projects are well-researched by other authors. Those military arms generally overlap with more popular book topics, like the M1 and M14.

Bill Goforth’s H&R Arms Co 1871-1986 is not light reading material, unless you are a very serious gunnie nerd. Instead, it is a reference work, and an invaluable and unparalleled one at that. It’s publication may or may not spur more research into the history of H&R, but for now (and I suspect for a long, long time) it is by far the most complete and definitive reference on the subject. Really, nothing else even comes close. If you are interested in American firearms history, it is worth its weight in gold on the reference shelf – all the books in the world about Colt and Winchester and S&W won’t do you a bit of good in trying to distinguish between the (seriously) sixteen different versions of the Model 999 revolver made from 1932 to 1986. So head over to GunShowBooks.com and order a copy!

39 Comments

  1. Gilbert H. Harrington, co-founder of H&R, was the original inventor of the Top Break Revolver, which I still feel is a fantastic design, which should make a comeback. Modern engineering can easily address the use of powerful cartridges, but designing it to take longer cartridges, such as the .357 magnum, will be an issue due to their length, not their power necessarily. For example, a top break revolver could easily be made in 9mm, .40S&W, or .45 ACP and still auto eject.

    H&R was also the first company to produce an American-made semi-auto .22 Magnum rifle, the Model 700, based loosely upon the Reising SMG (which are pretty good guns, as long as you don’t mix up the parts). H&R also produced very limited numbers of M-16A1’s. I have always found H&R’s products to be excellent value and good designs. Certainly, their non-top break handguns are ugly, but they are functional and durable. Their rifles are uniformly excellent.

  2. I always appreciated the strength and practical simplicity of the late basic models of H&R .22 and .32 revolvers. I wish I still had a few. I assumed they would be around forever, price still hovering around a easy-to-justify $100. Sadly I was incorrect, and most of these excellent guns are still in the hands of their last owner, not because of low trade/resale value, rather, because they still serve their purpose so well there has been no reason to replace them.

    • “because they still serve their purpose so well there has been no reason to replace them”
      And don’t forget about sentiment! People don’t sell promptly say granddad revolver, ever if it has no great objective value.

  3. H&R’s work. I’ve hunted almost exclusively with H&R, then NEF shotguns for many years, unpretentious, but the work. I have also had Charter Arms, High Standard and Iver Johnson firearms. I should of kept a couple I let go, but that is life. I keep the ones I have because I like them, I use them and they are not replaceable.

  4. I like H&R’s. Might be because I kind of grew up around them. My dad wasn’t into guns until he was older, but had the standard ones that one would expect a non-hunting farmer to have. A .22 rifle, a handgun and a single shot shotgun.

    The handgun and shotgun were both H&R’s and they still are working well. My siblings and I all learned to shot handgun with it. My brothers and I all spent hours hunting with the shotgun when in our preteens.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with Matthew Groom, Jamezb, Matt and Martin. Although I have never owned an H & R revolver, I do have a couple of their single-shot break-open shotguns. Whether target shooting or hunting, there is an indescribable, wonderful feeling to these guns that is very much akin to hunting with an upland version of a good Ithaca, CZ, Stoeger, Purdey or similar double-barreled break-open shotgun. Traditionalists and purists will know exactly what I mean. Before anyone gets worked up about the allusion to the sacred and esteemed Purdey, please note that I am merely referring to the general feel, form and function, and NOT the numerous finer points and historical precedents that make the Purdey stand out head-and-shoulders above others. And, yes, I will vouch for the Rossi single-shot break-open shotguns and rifles, which also seem to impart the same indefinable feeling. While there are those who would disagree, all I can say is that, in my personal experience, the Rossi’s I have owned have been of good quality with excellent fit and finish, and have always been 100% reliable and quite accurate.

    • Every design can be “killed” by low quality standard. I suppose that everyone will agree that Browning’s 1911 is a good design, but the Khyber Pass 1911 is not reliable gun.

      Everyone can like another sort of guns, but we must remember that we can’t ultimately say “this or this” sort is only correct. Yes we can say semi-auto rifle can fires faster than cap-and-ball rifle but note that there are people which prefer last.

      • Thanks for the input, Daweo — it is much appreciated. Just to clarify, I am in agreement with your comments, and was only trying to impart in so many words that unique, marvelous feeling one gets when using a well-made single-shot, break-open shotgun or rifle.

  6. Interestingly for how little attention is given to H&R they hold the unique distinction of being the only firearms company to have made all three of America’s self loading service rifles since they and the Hydramatic division of GM were bought on to make M16’s during the Viet Nam war.

  7. My first M1 was an H&R, and far from being inferior to a Springfield or to a Winchester, the machining was very nice. Part of that (compared to the other two) would have been post-war production at a slower pace, but it was clearly proof they could make a gun just as well as anyone.

    Have a 1909 Sears catalog and in looking at the prices now, it sure would have been nice to go back then and buy a nice pre-war S&W or Colt. A Colt Single Action Army ran $13.90, a S&W side ejecting 38 ran $12, a Colt 32 automatic $15, and a Colt New Police $12.70. But the average worker made $16 to $25 a month back then. Meanwhile an H&R .32 ran $3.50 blued (or one could save 26 cents and have it in nickel),and an Iver Johnson .38 ran $3.24. That would be less than one week’s wages for most people back then. A 1933 catalog has a “Ranger” (Stevens?) 12ga single shot for $10.45 or an “Eastern Arms” (Savage?) model for $6.69…and a Browning Auto 5 ran $43.35. Back then my Grandfather, as a farm hand, said that he might have made a dollar a day. To the average working man it could have taken years of careful savings to have bought a “real” gun back then. If these companies were not producing what they did, only the well to do would have owned firearms, and even if they can’t be compared to a pre-war Colt or S&W, but that did not mean they did not work well.

    I wonder if it would not be appropriate to say that today’s offerings of revolvers from S&W and Ruger are not in the same affordable to every-man category that H&R and Iver Johnson used to fill, with the pre-war Colt and S&W role (skilled hand fitting, hours in front of buffing wheels, etc.) being filled by custom shops and specialty firms like Korth.

  8. I live in rural Northern CA and I see a lot of HR single barrel shotguns. A lot of them are “Barn Guns” with no finish to speak of after decades of use. They work and they handle well.

  9. Looks like an excellent reference book to have — thanks, Ian. I also think your comment in the review about H & R making affordable, practical guns for the common man were right on the mark. Any H & R gun I have ever examined has been simple, solid, workmanlike and well-made with a minimum of frills.

  10. I forgot to mention that one of my great-uncles was a police officer in a small town during the ’30-60’s. He carried H&R revolver when working.

  11. My (Great-) Uncle Dan worked for H&R for quite a long time, and I remember being taken in to see racks and racks of rifles ready for government acceptance, when I was a boy. I was very excited, but can’t remember now if they were M14s or M16s — I’m guessing M16s, because I’d have been 11 or so, and might have been too young to remember a visit in the M14 era.

    Some pictures of the plant are here:
    http://www.worcestermass.com/places/harringtonrichards.shtml

    Dan had a number of Reisings around the house, both the semi-auto version of the SMG and the .22 rifle. At the time, semi rifles in .22 were still the minority. Several of my relatives had H&R .22s, and that may have been Dan’s doing. The nine-shot revolver on the cover of the book is an excellent plinking gun.

    From time to time I encountered an H&R M16 in the service. The military contracts nearly killed the company, actually, but they were all proud to work on them. Springfield Armory and Colt provided a lot of information for H&R on the two contracts and there’s little difference between the firms’ output. H&R did leave forging flash in places where Colt removed it on M16 receivers.

    All the H&R guns were M16A1s and the company produced approximately 240,000 of them. They had a serial number block comprising the whole 2 million range, so they went from 2,000,000 to 2,240,000. There are three sets of H&R M16A1s in the NFA market: (1) US Property guns transferred to police or DOE contractors and then to citizen owners pre-1986; (2) H&R corporate-owned guns which were sold in the bankruptcy auction; and, (3) pre-86 rewelds from demilled guns. The rewelds are highly variable in terms of their quality.

    The 3,000,000 part range was assigned to Hydramatic Div. of GM. GM made almost half a million.

    I refer to my source here: http://weaponsman.com/?p=2318 but haven’t put it online, perhaps because I can’t remember where I got it and what I promised whom in terms of its confidentiality. And perhaps because it’s not OCR’d.

    • Not that H&R .22 semi-auto rifle (H&R Model 165) is untypical for .22 rifle. It is as big and as heavy as a full-power rifle unlike other .22 for example Winchester Model 63 or Remington Model 24.

  12. H&R, as a corporation, also offered two unusual lines.

    One was H&K’s first autopistols in the USA — they were the Oberndorf company’s first US importer, and imported a boatload of HK4 pistols, mostly with interchangeable .380 and .22LR slides and barrels. Some, at least, of these were labled as H&R guns but they were all made in the HK plant.

    I can’t remember if H&R imported the P9S as well, before HK USA was set up. ISTR there was another importer in between.

    And the other unusual line was a set of reproduction Springfield Trapdoors. I always used to think these came from the H&R factory, but now wonder if they were Italian imports. They were very nice, though, especially the Officers’ Model Carbine.

    But their bread and butter was always cheap DA revolvers in wimpy calibers, and those top-break single-shots.

    The brand is now owned by ROC, and they produce those shotguns still.

    Two questions about the book: is there much history of the company? Is there anything about its facilities, production, patents or innovations? Or is it pretty much a comparing-screw-heads catalog of sporting and self-defense arms?

    PS previous post is in queue limbo — maybe for too many links. -K

  13. One last point: H&R had at least two facilities in Worcester that I remember, the plant and the range. Both sites have been redeveloped. The plant was on premium real estate downtown when it was new, and a somewhat depressed area when it was torn down in 1986. It’s now valuable real estate again. The range was once open to the public. (S&W did the same at their plant until recently, but anti-gun politicians made them stop after a criminal was reported to have practiced at the range once).

    I believe the H&R Gardner, MA plant, about 45 minutes north, came about after the bankruptcy, but it might have been before as I thought the plant had been shuttered for a long time.

    There is still one gunmaker in Worcester, Kahr. Most of the others from Asa Waters in next-door Millbury to Hopkins and Allen and so forth are long forgotten.

    • Great historical information, Kevin — thank you. It is such a pity that so many of the manufacturers who made solid, high-quality guns have vanished from the great New England tradition for craftsmanship.

    • Kevin,

      I worked in Gardner, Massachusetts in the early 1980s–that is, before the H&R bankruptcy. As I recall, the H&R plant was located just to the west of town on Route 2A, near Kendall Pond. You could actually see it from Route 2. That part of Massachusetts is full of old factory towns that have fallen on hard times. Gardner is one of them. Worcester seems to be coming back, though.

  14. Harrington and Richardson and Iver Johnson were also called the “Armorer to the bedside drawers of America” A lot of people slept sounder because of them. I have a H & R ” Sportsman single action 6″ with target grips and sights That is a pure pleasure to shoot.

  15. Just a small correction: The H&R T223 was not a copy of the HK G3 which is a .308 Battle Rifle, but of the HK33 which was the G3’s not-so-popular little sister in .223Rem.

    As far as I know, but I won’t bet on that, the T223 was not made by H&R, but made by HK and imported by H&R. It was put on trial in vietnam on a small scale, but despite being popular with its users, it did not stand a chance against the US-designed and -made M16.

    In my opinion it could have been a rival to the M16 in terms of ruggedness and reliability, but also having some disadvantages like the weight and the missing bolt lock.
    But then, I could be a little biased since I own a HK33…

    • Good comments, Felix. The 5.56mm HK33 assault rifle was, unfortunately, yet another victim ( among countless victims ) of bad market timing, which was a real pity, because it is, like it’s larger 7.62mm G3 sibling, a solid, reliable and well-made gun. It was a much better-built weapon than the M16, albeit at the still-acceptable penalty of slightly more weight. As far as the trials with the U.S. Army were concerned, anyone who knows something of the convoluted politics associated with the adoption of the M16 will realize that the HK33 would be doomed to exclusion ( like every other competitor ) right from the beginning, even though it was, overall, probably the superior rifle where it mattered — on the battlefield.

      • There is no such thing as an assault rifle. It’s a bogus term created by the anti gun lobby in order to demonize semi automatic rifles with a military look.
        Assault is an action…a gun is an inanimate object that needs a person to operate it. No gun manufacturer makes or promotes any of its products as being..assault rifles.
        Did it ever occur to the anti gun lobby that a so called…assault rifle…could also be viewed as a..defense rifle.. to defend against an assault.

  16. I have recently come across a H & R Top Break Single Shot .22LR Experimental 2 Gun and was wondering what kind of value it might hold. It is exactly like their U.S.R.A single shot .22LR guns that are very expensive. It has a 10″ barrel no writing whatsoever on the gun except for the bottom of the handle has “Exper 2”. The guy that I got it from was a high end gun collector and none of his guns that he owned were cheap so it has me wondering….. Any info would greatly be appreciataed pa.cashcow@gmail.com

  17. I have a H&R Topper Jr. Model 88 20ga. 3″ Mod. Would like to know the AGE of this Shotgun and APPROX value. Patent #3988848 Serial # AT329016. Thanks for any help !!!

  18. I recently purchased a bag of parts for an old H&R Victor .22 short rimfire . There are several parts missing to completely restore it to working order. Is there an exploded view available for this gun and any parts available. I tried Gunscorp website but they really had little to offer. Any Ideas?

  19. I have a R93 Premier ,9 shot 22Lr double action ,It has a cylinder that flips out the side.
    A 6″ barrel w/ a raised rib on the barrel
    ( Not a break action )
    It is also stamped H & R. GARDNER MA.–serial #HM0022xx
    Does anyone know when it was built and the value ?

    • I can find no information regarding this gun. The serial# does not correspond with any H&R info i have. More info and double check serial#.

  20. I find myself in possession via my uncles estate, of an H&R model 258 with a 410 barrel and a 30-30 barrel. The serial number is BA461639. I’d love more information on it’s rarity and potential value. Any help will be appreciated! Thanks

  21. I, too, inherited an H&R. Mine is a .44 Webley double action “the american” which must date from around 1885(?), as it has a round barrel, and serial number 10.

  22. I am fortunate to have been issued or own all three of H&R’s USGI rifles. My DCM M1 is an H&R. My issue M14 was an H&R, as was my issue M16A1. Good rifles all!
    Cheers!
    Splice

  23. January 7, 2019
    I have a H&R 32 S&W CTGE Top Break revolver. Serial number 502705. It only functions by pulling the trigger. I am trying to find a owners manual on this pistol. I would like to know if there is a H&R 32 S&W pistol club that could help me trying to find out about the action!
    Thanks
    John E. Reif

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