Friday, October 21, 2016

The Myth of Early Gun Marketing

Both Bellesiles and Pamela Haag's new book. The Gunning of America, claim that there was really no civilian gun market until the big gun makers like Winchester and Colt created one.  Part of what the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund's research grant is paying for:

Among the pieces of evidence cited by Haag in defense of her claim is that, “A letter book in the archives of Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company reveals detailed, fractious bickering over how many guns the dealers should be expected to ‘push.’”[1]  She points to p. 174 of the Allies letter book.[2]  (Colt used the term “Allies” to refer to what were clearly distributors or wholesaler of Colt products.)  Examination of those pages reveals how Haag’s failure to read in context and her emotional desire to blame gun ownership on the capitalist class has led her astray from the facts.  The reference to “push” is: “We fail to see that the ‘facts’ warrant the closing sentence of the letter therefore do not concede all that is set forth in reference to the ‘Line’.  But as we do not propose at present to discust [sic] the merits and push of the Allies on the goods covered by the agreement, we rest.” [emphasis added][3]  The closing sentence of the letter to which this was a response is: “It is hoped that you will readily accede [sic] to our request, when the fact is conceded that the Line upon which we have the Discount, is not only smaller – but also, that notwithstanding our best efforts the sale of this class of Arms has decreased.”[4] Colt’s desire for its distributors to “push” its product is clearly referring to one particular product line whose sales were decreasing, and therefore the distributors were asking for a better profit margin.

Examination of other correspondence between Colt and its distributors and from Colt during this period suggests that there was no need to “push” the products. “[Proposed contract] [w]ould meet the unanimous consent of the allies & in the long run be more advantageous to the Colt Pat Fire Arms Co- The quantity should be 150 to 175 per month at the outside assorted viz.   22 cal [125]. 32 cal [30] 38 cal [5] 41 cal [15] with privilege of taking more of the larger or less of the smallest if demand required it.”[5]  The bracketed numbers were quantities of each revolver caliber requested per month written above the caliber.  A letter of January 24, 1874 from Colt to the Allies also shows that the quantities of revolvers under discussion, and the hardnosed pricing from Colt, do not suggest of a problem selling Colt revolvers: “[F]or we have between 4 & 5 thousand Pistols on hand and in the works.  The price named to the Allies (5.25 less 8%) is the lowest price we shall quote for them.   We have 1486 New Pocket BL [breech loading] Rim Fire and 408 do [ditto] do [ditto] pistols that we will sell to the Allies at 5.00 Each net 60 days.” [6]  A June 29, 1874 letter from the Allies to Colt: “Please accept this order from each of the subscribers for two hundred OM [Old Model] 7 Shot Revolvers at $2.99 each, weekly for one year.”[7]  Three Allies signed the letter, so this was an order for 31,200 revolvers a year.  On August 22, 1874 Colt confirmed an order from the Allies for “Ten Thousand (10000) new model 7 shot Pistols to be delivered within Twelve months from Sept 1st/74 at the net price of Five Dollars and Thirty five cents (%.35) each.  The first delivery of 1000 Pistols to be made in November 1874.”[8]  A December 30, 1874 letter to Colt ordered “Five thousand (5000) of the new 30 cal Revolvers.”[9]

[1] Haag, Gunning of America,  xv.
[2] Ibid., 408 n.10.
[3] Colt Collection, RG103, business file, box 11A, correspondence, Allies letter book, 1873-1880, from Hugh Harbison to Allies, October 30, 1877, p. 174 of letter book.
[4] Ibid., Willard and Seaver, Sec. [of Allies] to Hugh Harbison, October 17, 1877, p. 173 of letter book.
[5] Ibid., Colt Allies to Colt Patent Fire Arms Co., June 26, 1873, p. 15 of letter book.
[6] Ibid., Hugh Harbison to [illegible], January 24, 1874, p. 22 of letter book.
[7] [Allies] to Colt Fire-Arms, June 29, 1874, p. 25 of letterbook.
[8] Colt Fire-Arms to [illegible], August 22, 1874, p. 31 of letterbook.
[9] Hugh Harbison to Colt Patent Fire Arms, December 30, 1874, p. 39 of letterbook.

2 comments:

Texas TopCat said...

Gun makers and gun sellers are in a business and have exactly the same issues of any business. To stay in business you must move product and have a margin large enough to cover costs and provide for your employees.
Since guns owned by private citizens was mainstay that allowed this country to exist, it is silly to say that the "gun industry" created the civilian market. A true statement would be that the civilian market created the gun industry.

My opinion is that the gun industry is very different today because reason to own guns has changed from "hunting/recreation" to "self protection". When a very large number of people accept that the government/police have no duty or responsibility to protect any individual (as ruled by SCOTUS and numerous other high courts) the people that are responsibile started to understand that they were responsible for their protection. So, we have a new demographic made up of "ordinary citizens" as gun buyers. Women and minorities are the fastest growing demographic today. In the early years it was the "well off" (or at least upper middle class) that had disposable income for hunting trips and leases, hunt for the recreation and not for food. These hunters did and still do much for conversation, but are not the mainstay of the gun market today. Today, the handgun and long guns suitable for home and personal defense is where the action is.

Clayton Cramer said...

I am quite sure personal protection was an important reason then. I have lots of examples from the period. Haag claims increased demand as America urbanizes was irrational, because people living in cities had no need for guns.