The "Rifle Volunteer Corps" was born out of necessity. While England maintained a sizeable military throughout the entirety of the 19th Century, the dawn of France's Second Empire period in 1852 caused the British government to become increasingly concerned of an invasion by the new French Emperor. As a result, the "Volunteer" movement was born. Like most "movements" the Volunteer corps began in the Universities, with the first Rifle Volunteer Corps founded at Cambridge 1859, followed by Oxford shortly after. One might consider the Volunteer movement as an almost prototypical ROTC - members would be trained in military disciplines and tactics, but were encouraged to focus most of their efforts on their studies; with the decision to join the "actual" military left to members until graduation.
As a quasi-military organization, one of the primary focuses of the Volunteer Corp was marksmanship, and the British Government would eventually allocate funds to Volunteer Units for the procurement of rifles for use in marksmanship competitions. These competitions took place in multiple shooting categories; the primary of which was the Military Match Rifle class, which required the use of arms that were essentially of current British military configuration, and in the standard British military .577 caliber. There was a large amount of latitude in the features that were legal on the firearms used in the Military Match Rifle target competitions. Other than the requirement that the gun essentially follow a standard, current military pattern, be able to mount a bayonet and be .577 caliber, almost anything that could enhance the accuracy of the gun was allowed. These features could be minimal, such as checkered stocks to enhance the shooter’s grip on the gun and competition quality locks, often with a fly on the tumbler, an enhanced trigger pull and a highly tuned action. More significant equipment upgrades could include precision adjustable sights and patent rifling patterns in the .577 caliber bores to enhance accuracy.
These competitions became extremely popular, and big prizes were often offered up to the winners. These trophies ranged from an engraved silver cup, to fine sets of pistols, or even a target rifle. This particular offering was one such Volunteer Rifle Corp shooting competition prize. This fine set of target pistols was made by gunmaker John Venables, and presented by the 9th Oxford Rifle Volunteer Corps as a First Place prize to a Private "Eccles" for his winning target scored at "29 Points" on November 28, 1861.
The pistols are set in a "French fit" mahogany case complete with a silver plate set in the lid and engraved with "Private Eccles" score and the date of the match. We have not been able to uncover any additional information regarding the identity of Private Eccles, but further research may prove fruitful.
The pistols are both in excellent shape. were made John Venables, a gunmaker who operated at 21 St Aldate's St, Oxford from1846 to 1863. The feature beautiful English-style scroll engraving on the receivers, hammers, trigger guards, and butt caps. They also feature slide safeties (one of the pistols is missing this feature) and .54 caliber smoothbore barrels.
The handles are made from one piece of finely checkered English Walnut, with a silver "thumb plate" neatly inlaid in the slope of each grip. The grips on both pistols are in excellent condition with no cracks, chips. Each pistol also features a finely engraved "cap box" that features a small compartment for storing percussion caps.
The barrels of each gun are made from a fine twisted, damascus steel. The original twist pattern is faint but can still be seen, especially in protected areas. A single bead sight adorns the muzzle of each pistol, although the bead has been lost from one the guns. Both guns feature bores with some light pitting; concentrated near the muzzles of each pistol (likely a result of poor storage - this is common with cased sets).
The actions of both guns are excellent with crisp half on full cocks, and excellent triggers.