The Curtis rifle is a prototype British rifle.
The rifle was designed in 1866 by William Joseph Curtis and is quite possibly the first bullpup fireram, predating most other designs.
The rifle never advanced beyond prototype stages and would have most likely been forgotten if not for the Bannerman vs. Winchester lawsuit in the 1890s, where Francis Bannerman called Winchester to the bar, claiming that the recently produced Model 1890 and 1893 directly infringed on patents the former owned.
In response to this, Winchester dispatched George D. Seymour to Europe to find patents for similar actions to what was used by Bannerman that predated his design. Four patents were found: one by Alexander Bain, another by William Krutzsch, a third by M.M. Magot and Curtis' patent.
Claiming that these earlier designs invalidated Bannerman’s patent claims, Winchester constructed working models of all four designs, with their lawyers submitting them to the court as evidence, even offering a firing demonstration; the court declined the demonstration and later ruled the suit in favor of Winchester.
The working prototype constructed by Winchester is now on display at the Cody Firearms Museum.
Design DetailsEditThe rifle uses a variety of design elements that would not see widespread usage until World War I at least. The rifle is striker fired and is one of the first examples of such a design, and is also one of the first to use a drum magazine.
The rifle is held similarly to how one might hold a bazooka, with a "butt hinge" folded out meant to be propped against the user's shoulder, along with a leather strap meant to be placed in the shoulder pocket to aid in "shouldering" the weapon; how the weapon is supposed to be held is to grasp the loop near the muzzle with the support hand and the trigger and bolt handle with the other hand.
The weapon is pump-action, with the pump being the bolt handle-like contraption; it is slid back and forth to chamber a new round and apparently needs to be jerked back at high speed. The weapon's drum magazine is not detachable, is made of brass and holds twelve or thirteen rounds (or possibly more) of .32 WSL ammunition according to the patent drawings of both Curtis and Winchester. The trigger linkage of the weapon is connected to the striker by a long cable.
Curtis’ patent describes how "small punches" on the bolt face pierce the cartridge base during firing, enabling the spent case to be extracted once the action was cycled; this does not appear to be the case on the Winchester model, where a simpler extractor assembly is used on the seven-o'clock position of the bolt face. The weapon apparently could have also been adapted for gas operation according to the patent, although it is unknown if Curtis tested the concept out.