Book Review: H&R Arms Co 1871-1986

H&R Arms Co 1871-1986 by W.E. GoforthHarrington and Richardson is not a particularly exciting gun company, and never has been. They didn’t make flashy and dramatic guns, or distinctive guns that because associated with military forces or battles (although they did make M1 and M14 rifles for the US Army). What H&R did was much more down-to-earth. They made affordable, practical guns for the common man – and they did it extremely well for over a hundred years. Even before the turn of the 20th century, H&R was producing more than 200,000 revolvers annually. In more recent memory, one of their staple products was the ubiquitous Topper (Model 158), a single-shot break action design that could be purchased with barrels in everything from .17 caliber to .300 Winchester Magnum, and smoothbore shotgun chamberings as well. Exciting they are not, but their durability, interchangeability, and affordability resulting in about a gazillion of them being sold over the years. Really, the same things applies to all of H&R’s other offerings.

All that being said, H&R products are not typically considered collectible in any significant way, and that meant that very little literature or research as available. Ask most gun gurus about the history of a particular H&R piece, and you would probably get little more than a brush-off about it being just an H&R, and not worth much of anything. Well, Bill Goforth didn’t meet that stereotype. He recognized the opportunity to study some of the less idolized American gun manufacturers, and initially wrote an excellent book on the guns made by Iver Johnson. He was a well-known authority on firearms of these sorts, happily helping educate their owners and enthusiasts on several online forums. His followup work on H&R was nearing completion in 2011 when he suffered a tragic and fatal heart attack – a lamentable loss to the firearms community.

However, thanks to several years of work by several other H&R collectors and his editor, the manuscript was completed and has now been put into print by Gun Show Books Publishing. Having obtained a copy of Goforth’s Iver Johnson book previously, I was excited at the prospect of an equally authoritative reference on H&R – and I am not disappointed. To start with, this volume is nearly triple the length of the Iver Johnson work – including appendices it comes in at 628 pages. It is set up with that same basic layout, divided first by firearm types (pistol, rifle, shotgun) and then by general category (ie, Early Top-Break Revolvers”), and finally by specific model numbers and their variations. Just the table of contents for the Handguns section is 4 pages long. With each specific variant, Goforth describes the general history of the model, and then the manufacturing dates of each variant, along with their unique characteristics, markings, and other information of interest to the shooter and collector (you can get a good visual feel for the layout by watching my Iver Johnson review video). Most of the illustrations are reproductions of original H&R sales sheets or catalog pages, which provide good images and as an added bonus, let us see what H&R themselves said about the guns when they were being made. Cool!

The largest section of the book is the Handguns section, although the rifle and shotgun areas are quite thorough as well. The one area that does get short shrift is H&R’s military production. The while Military chapter is a mere 3 pages long (and one of them is a full-page illustration. That is for the M1, M14, T48 FAL, Air Force survival rifle, T223 (HK G3 licensed copy), and all the different version of Reising SMG (experiments like H&R’s M1 Carbine trials submission are not even mentioned). Clearly, Mr. Goforth’s interest was on the civilian production guns and not the military ones. That is an oversight I can live with, considering the massive amount of information he has compiled on those civilian arms, and also because most of H&R’s military projects are well-researched by other authors. Those military arms generally overlap with more popular book topics, like the M1 and M14.

Bill Goforth’s H&R Arms Co 1871-1986 is not light reading material, unless you are a very serious gunnie nerd. Instead, it is a reference work, and an invaluable and unparalleled one at that. It’s publication may or may not spur more research into the history of H&R, but for now (and I suspect for a long, long time) it is by far the most complete and definitive reference on the subject. Really, nothing else even comes close. If you are interested in American firearms history, it is worth its weight in gold on the reference shelf – all the books in the world about Colt and Winchester and S&W won’t do you a bit of good in trying to distinguish between the (seriously) sixteen different versions of the Model 999 revolver made from 1932 to 1986. So head over to GunShowBooks.com and order a copy!