We have attempted to put photos of a “typical” gun for each of the partnerships and grades within those partnerships. However, many Lefevers are unique and the features are anything but “typical”. The features for each grade evolved over the years with the general trend that later guns are more elaborate. The approximate date of production is listed to help place the grade in its historical context. Please feel welcome to contribute photos by emailing to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The photos are primarily from the files of Bob Decker. They have been collected over the course of 20 years and, frankly, it is not known where many of them came from. If there is any claim to copyright violation please let us know so that it will be corrected immediately.
Some of the photos have been reproduced from Bob Elliott’s “Uncle Dan Lefever- Master Gunmaker”. They are labeled as such and are used with permission form LACA Hall of Fame Member, Bob Elliott.
D. M Lefever Canandaigua, NY 1857-1861
Daniel Myron Lefever began his independent career by buying the gunshop of his mentor Robert Antis on June 10, 1857 in Canandaigua, NY. He married Sarah Stead the next day. All of the guns made in this period were muzzle loaders. Both “mule ear” (red background) and “rabbit ear” (green background) hammer locks were used. Nothing is known of the quantity of guns produced in this period. They were not serial numbered. The quality seems to vary. Whether the quality improved over time is not known. They are, indeed, rare.
Lefever and Ellis, Canandaigua, NY 1861-1867
Lefever joined with James Ellis of Canandaigua to form Lefever and Ellis in 1861. The pair first found fame with the production of .50 caliber telescoped sharpshooter rifles for a Company of Sharpshooters formed out of Rochester, NY to serve in the Civil War. Lefever and Ellis continued in the fashion of Dan Lefever with the production of muzzle loading shotguns, rifles, and combination guns in both “mule ear” and “rabbit ear” configurations.
D. M. Lefever, Auburn, NY 1869-1872
D. M. Lefever left Canandaigua sometime in 1869 for Auburn, NY. Here he began working on his breech loading suns. Very little is known of this period. It appears he was working alone. There are very few examples of guns from this period and production numbers are unknown.
Dangerfield and Lefever, Auburn, NY 1872-1874
D. M. Lefever joined with financier Francis Dangerfield to form Dangerfield and Lefever. The patent of 1872 which included the thumb push opener was issued in Dangerfield’s name but assigned to Lefever. This firm made breech loading guns both from scratch and by converting muzzle loaders. The firm ended after a fire in 1873. Again the number of guns produced is unknown. It appears most of them were conversions.
Barber and Lefever, Syracuse, NY 1874-1876
Lefever left Auburn for Syracuse, NY where he joined with Lorenzo Barber, a famed Civil War Chaplin and marksman. They continued to make breech loading shotguns and continued converting muzzle loaders to breech loaders. The quality of the guns continued to improve.It is not known how many guns were made in this partnership which lasted only two years.
Nichols and Lefever Syracuse, NY 1876-78 A Grade
D. M. Lefever joined with machinist and financier John Nichols to form Nichols and Lefever. By this time Lefever had nearly perfected his hammer gun design and had, for the most part, abandoned muzzle loader conversions. Early on they decided to Grade their guns and mark them as such to avoid retailers claiming that guns were graded higher than intended by the factory to increase the price.
Nichols and Lefever Syracuse, NY 1876-78 B Grade
Nichols and Lefever were very successful in marketing a superior shotgun design. They were rewarded for their efforts at the St. Louis Bench Show and Sportsman’s Association with Medals for “The Best Breech-loading Shotgun made in America” and “The Best Breech-loading Shotgun made in the World”. There are rumors ( perhaps stared by Uncle Dan himself) that the award was for his side-cocking hammerless shotgun. However, newspaper reports of the time report no such hammerless gun at the time.
Nichols and Lefever Syracuse, NY 1876-78 C Grade
During this time there is evidence that Uncle Dan Lefever was working on a hammerless shotgun which did not infringe on the European patents of Ansen and Dealy. However, there was a stipulation in the agreement between Nichols and Lefever that 50% of the profits gained through any patents for any invention relating to guns by Lefever be assigned to John Nichols.
Nichols and Lefever Syracuse, NY 1876-78 D Grade
The Nichols and Lefever guns all had the definitive features of Lefever’s unique designs including the adjustable ball and socket hinge mechanism, Doll’s Head rib extension, and thumb push opener. There were no functional differences between grades. Grading was assigned by the quality of the barrels and wood, along with the degree of engraving.
Nichols and Lefever Syracuse, NY 1876-78 E Grade
The price list for the Nichols and Lefever Guns from the only Nichols and Lefever catalog:
The total number of guns produced under Nichols and Lefever is estimated to be somewhat over 1,000 guns.
D. M. Lefever Sidecocker A Grade 1880-1883
After Uncle Dan left the partnership with John Nichols in 1878 he began work on development of a hammerless shotgun not dependent on European patents. His sidecocking hammerless shotgun was patented June 29, 1880. H
Lefever continued the custom of grading the guns, this time from AA to F. While double shotguns were far and away the most popular configuration the sidecockers were available in double rifle and 3 barrels drillings as well. Rumors of an AA sidecocker exist, however, I have not been able to find one to photograph or documented photos of one.
D. M. Lefever Sidecocker B Grade 1880-1883
One of the criticisms of hammerless guns was how was one to know when they were cocked. Uncle Dan Lefever solved this issue by including cocking indicators on all of his hammerless guns (until the DS and I grades).
D. M. Lefever C Grade Sidecocker 1880-1883
The hammerless sidecocker is considered the first commercially successful American hammerless shotgun. A total of about 750 of these guns were manufactured in the three years of production. Again production was halted due to a mysterious fire in the middle of the night in 1883.
D. M. Lefever D Grade Sidecocker 1880-1883
The sidecocker design was considered desirable enough that Charles Daly used the patent to produce clones of the Lefever sidecocker made by Prussian gunmaker H. A. Lindner marked “Lefever’s Patent”. It is the only American shotgun described in W.W. Greener’s tome “The Gun and It’s Development”.
D. M. Lefever E Grade Sidecocker 1880-1883
The price list from the 12883 catalog for the D.M. Lefever sidecocker:
AA grade $300 A grade- $250 B grade- $200 C grade- $150 D grade- $125 E grade- $100
Double Rifles- $125 Double Rifle and shotgun combined E grade- $115 Three Barrels Ranging from $- 150- $300.
Note: I am not aware of an example of an AA grade nor a double rifle/shotgun combination in the sidecocker. That is not to say they don’t exist, but if so would be extremely rare.
Lefever Arms Co. $1000 Grade Date Uncertain
The $1000 Grade Lefever Arms Co. shotgun was the most expensive American shotgun offered until the advent of the Parker Invincible in 1929. The number produced is unknown with reports of up to four being produced according to Elliott. The serial number s of two known are in the 23xxx range which would put them in the realm of 1895. The serial number of the shown gun is 24,993. However, the grade was not listed in a catalog until 1905.
Double Rifle- Ungraded Early (1888) .50-110 Caliber
Double rifles, drillings, and combination guns were offered by Lefever from very early in his career. However, they became more and more rare as time went on. This .50-110 caliber Special Order double rifle was made for LAC President A. A. Howlett.
Optimus 12 gauge early model 118xx (1889)
This gun has gold inlays on the trigger guard and lever opener only.
The Optimus Grade was first introduced in the 1889 catalog with a price of $400. The earliest serial number known is 10253. The gun evolved over time with the amount of gold inlaying increasing in general over time. It was initially offered in 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 20 gauges. The 14 gauge was eliminated by 1892. Examples of all other gauges are known.
Optimus 12 gauge late model 623xx (1909)
As time went on the Optimus grade, while remaining at $400, gained more gold as a rule. The barrels were either Whitworth fluid steel or Kilby Damascus. It is estimated by Bob Elliott that perhaps 125 Optimus grade guns were produced. Less than 50 are known today.
AA 10 gauge very early 93xx (1885)
Note thumb-pusher opener. This was the top grade at the time of production.
The AA grade was the highest grade offered initially in 1883. The price point was $300 for the entire run. The AA grade is rarer than the Optimus grade, with an estimated 85 made and less than 30 known.
A Grade 12 gauge early 9210 (1884)
A grade 12 gauge mid-range 38xxx (1901)
B grade 16 gauge very early 93XX (1885)
B grade 12 gauge mid-range model 249XX (1896)
C Grade 12 gauge Early model 109xx (1888)
C Grade 16 gauge late model 490xx (1907)
D Grade 12 gauge Early model 177XX (1892)
E Grade 12 Gauge Early 18XXX (1894)
E Grade 12 gauge Mid-range 369xx (1901)
E Grade 12 gauge late model 731xx (1915)
F Grade 10 Gauge Early 10xxx (1887)
Note Pivot Opener
G Grade 20 gauge mid-range 384xx (1901)
For years this was the lowest grade Lefever. The H Grade was introduced shortly before this gun. Later G grades are more elaborately engraved.
G Grade 12 Gauge Late 617xx (1909)
H Grade 12 Gauage Mid-range 367xx (1901)
Right at the introduction of the DS and I Grades before engraving was added.
H Grade 16 gauge late model 586xx (1906)
By this time the DS and I grades had been introduced so the H grade got a little more elaborate engraving