An Interesting Gun Made in Rhode Island Redux


A while back I wrote a blog about the U.S. Model 1941 semi-automatic rifle that was manufactured by Cranston Arms Company not far from the location of our auction gallery. A brief recap is in order, I guess.

Melvin Johnson was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1909. He joined the Marine Corps Reserve and in 1933 he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, and by 1934 had graduated Harvard Law School. In 1935 he was an observer for the Marine’s at Springfield Armory just as the U.S. Army was looking for a semi-automatic rifle to adopt and Johnson had a design in mind. At the same time, John C. Garand had designed the M1 Garand rifle which was accepted into service in 1936. That didn’t stop Johnson from working on his design. He continued designing and building a weapon he felt had some superiority over the Garand. It had a larger magazine capacity at ten rounds and could be easily loaded with a stripper clip in use with the U.S. Model 1903 bolt-action rifle. But the gun was a little more complex, prone to jam, and not as easily stripped in the field for cleaning and maintenance by the common soldier. It was accepted into service in limited numbers and used by the Marine Corps to some degree in the Pacific Theater of operations. It was manufactured and issued in limited numbers, and it is believed a total of around 30,000 were made.

Recently, I received a call from a person who’s relative had passed away and there were guns in the house that they wanted to be sold at auction. I took a trip over and went through each of the arms with them, what they were, and what they were not. They had a few cool things, a Smith carbine, Sharps, Spencer, all Civil War-era guns. There were some earlier flintlocks also of interest, and a few German K98 Mausers and other miscellaneous things including a Model 1941 Johnson rifle. After a nice chat with the consignors, I packed up and headed back to the office.

After unpacking at the gallery, I picked up the Johnson and looked it over. It has some very light wear, a few light dings, nicks, and stains on the stock, but it was in really nice condition. Then I looked at the serial number, S-10. I have seen Johnson’s with no prefix, as well as A and B. But never an S. I had to do a little snooping around, but it seems there are a few known starting with S-1 and ending with S-6. Since there has never been one found with a higher number, it was thought these are tool room samples and possibly the first made at the Cranston manufactory – making it a super rare piece of Rhode Island military history!

I texted a few of my historic arms collector friends and my phone began to ring with questions like “Is it for sale now?” and “Can I buy it?” The answer is yes, you can - when it comes up for sale at our next Historic Arms & Militaria auction!