Roper Repeating Shotgun at RIA (Video)

Sylvester Roper was a great example of the classic American inventor – he had a wide range of interests, and impacted technological development in more than one industry. This shotgun is a design he patented in 1866, which uses a 4-round magazine of the 12ga or 16ga shells (in its earliest versions, it used percussion-fired reusable chambers like an early Gatling gun). It has an unusual mechanism which fires from an open bolt. This particular example is missing its magazine internals and has a broken bolt, but is the first actual Roper I have come across.

Roper went on to work with Christopher Spencer developing the pump-action shotgun, although he is best known for his work on motorcycles (which he was actually the first inventor of, according to some).


  1. It’s the first Roper I’ve even seen.There are distinct differences between it and the other revolving longarms like the Billinghurst and Browning (designed by John M.’s father).

    BTW, the Sharps & Hankins carbine under it is a U.S. Navy issue. The leather cover over the barrel was to protect it from spray and salt corrosion.



  2. Do you know what the purpose of the slot in the top of the receiver/ chamber is? or has it been very cleanly de-milled?

    • The bit you refer to nick, is made reference to in the patent which strongarm provided the number of below. It says: “There is an open space, j, between the magazine or cylindrical case B and the barrel, completel y separating the barrel, in which the cartridge is exploded, from the magazine. This affords a protection against fouling and premature explosion of cartridges in the magazine in case of bursting of the cartridge-flange, as may sometimes occur.” Which may indicate a potential problem with the design, perhaps it could fire without fully chambering the cartridge because fouling caused it to stick thus stopping it abruptly with the primer resting against the fixed firing pin “which I think it had” which I think would mean it wasn’t locked, so presumably this gap would enable the cartridge to split and a fire up a shower of sparks etc vertically instead of sending the bolt flying back at the user.

  3. US Patent Nr. 53881. A glorious design of “Toggle Lock” application. The front hinge is middle of breechbolt, second on the hammer connection and third, the one
    functioning as hammer axis. The broken section seems the rear part extending back from the first hinge pin. Hammer rotation at back unlocks the toggle and locks when falls as securely retaining the case back at instant of firing. A rotating magazine feeds the barrel at each hammer rolling back. Loading gate is at the top formed as a hinged plate.


      Very interesting strongarm thanks.

      I wondered how it locked, I think the bit that is missing from the bolt to the hammer must have been a sort of tuning fork shape with the lever thing in the middle, maybe making it a bit weak that’s why it snapped over time and is missing… The toggle, ever thing folds doesn’t it, is is that it? So in order for it to open the hammer has to move back, sort of a Pedersen rifle idea maybe.

      • Apart from you thumb the hammer back, bet he was thinking about it doing it itself though via a flywheel or something he he…

  4. Very advanced that for the 1860’s I reckon, be worth having that rifle in the auction as a conversation piece. Chat about it, and the inventors demise on a steam powered velocipede etc.

  5. You welcome Pdb. If taken seriously, you would be a very fertile designer(No joke). Toggle connection of this shotgun is like Winchester Model 1866 rather than Pedersen’s. The front arm of toggle connecting to the front of hammer which forms the rear arm of toggle, carries the middle hinge pin of engegement as taking underside of line crossing through front and rearmost hinge pins as locking when hammer is down and, taking much over of that line as unlocking the system when hammer is cocked. At Pedersen’s, the middle pin is never drops down the line with front and rear pins. It is everytime at over and, Pedersen’s genious managed to create an engagement as carrying this “Near To Locked” position with a variable front pin or support, rising from down to an upper position when the initial recoiling motion occurs. Thanks your sincere interest Pdb.

  6. I suspect the gun was damaged by firing a smokeless powder shell. That is how Damascus barrel shotguns got a bad rap.

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