History of the Baker Guns
History of the Baker Guns
The Baker evolution is complicated and our first word of the gunmaker started with the W.H. Baker doing gunsmith work in Greene, N. Y. in 1859. 1860 finds W. H. Baker in Marathon producing a variety of guns. In 1867 Baker is in Lisle, N.Y. making muzzle loaders, conversions, two and three barreled breechloaders, all of which were marked W. H. Baker until 1877. Then W.H. Baker & Co. was formed in Syracuse, and it was financed by L. C. Smith and his brother Leroy. This partnership lasted 1877-1880. Baker eventually went to Ithaca, N.Y. in 1883, and along with others in Ithaca established the Ithaca Gun Co. Leroy H. Smith soon followed from Syracuse.
Baker left Ithaca early 1887 and returned to Syracuse to work with his brother Dr. Ellis Baker at the Syracuse Forging Co., which soon became the Syracuse Forging & Gun Co. They manufactured a hammer gun which was called the "New Baker." After the factory in Syracuse burned in the summer of 1888, they moved to Batavia and later became the Baker Gun & Forging Co. At the time of the move W.H. Baker was ill with TB and/or silicosis and they brought in Frank A. Hollenbeck as plant superintendent 1890-1892. W.H. died Sept. 10, 1889. Frank Hollenbeck had three patents granted while he was in Batavia, and two were assigned to Baker Gun & Forging; October 13, 1891 and August 23, 1892 Nos. 461182 and 481327. Several different guns owe part of their designs to Frank A. Hollenbeck - Baker, Syracuse Arms Co., Baltimore Arms Co., Hollenbeck Gun Co., Royal Gun Co., and The Three Barrel Gun Co. Frank had earlier worked with Baker in Lisle, NY, and later with Baker and L.C. Smith in Syracuse.
Baker grades changed over the years, and the A and B grades were not marked on the frame after about 1896. Early Paragons and higher grades were usually not grade marked until about 1906; 'PKE' for Paragon Krupp Ejector. Later A and B grades in the 6000 range showed grade markings again. T, D, and S marks may be found on the hook indicating the barrel material; the meaning of 'H' sometimes stamped on the barrel flats is uncertain.
Early Baker Gun & Forging guns included the B grade with "London Twist" barrels, the A grade with "Fine Damascus", and the Paragon Grade with more extensive engraving, nicer wood, and finer Damascus barrels. About 1897, the $100 Pigeon Gun was added which was essentially a Paragon but with pigeons in the engraving and steel barrels. The Batavia 'C' grade was a hammerless boxlock, and the first of the Batavia grades. Later, the Paragon with Damascus barrels was called the P grade, with Krupp steel barrels the N grade, an even nicer Trap Gun was called the L grade. The Expert and De Luxe grades were added, too.
About 1906 the Batavia Special with "Homo-tensile" steel, S with "Fluid-Tempered" steel barrels [eventually replacing the B Grade], and R (eventually replacing the A grade) with Krupp or Damascus steel barrels were introduced. R Grade engraving changed to a single dog looking up at a single bird on each side. A high grade trap gun with "Holland Fluid Steel" and special engraving was also offered.
The Paragon Grade Model 1909 and a Baker Single Barrel Trap were introduced in 1909.
About 1915, the Baker bolting system was redesigned for the Paragon and higher grades to use a Greener style round cross bolt. The 1915 Dealers Price Schedule lists barrel lengths of 26-, 28-, 30-, and 32-inch for the Black Beauty ($18.85), Black Beauty Special ($34.85), Paragon ($60), Paragon-Ejector ($75), Expert ($137.50) and De Luxe ($260).
The first Baker hammerless boxlock, referred to as the C Grade, was made by Baker for Montgomery Ward in 1895, with Ward's name on the rib. It was offered by Baker about two years later with the Batavia name. Baker also produced 'trade named' guns under "New Era Gun Works" and "Clark's Imperial Omaha, Neb.", and a number of others. Most of these were sourced from the Batavia line.
Baker Gun & Forging Co. added a lower priced line of sidelocks called Batavia guns in 1903. There were several variations of the Batavia line in the 1909 "The Baker Gunner": the Batavia Leader with twist barrels at $25, the Batavia Special with steel barrels at $21.75, the Batavia Damascus at $28, the Batavia Brush with 26-inch Twist barrels and a straight-grip stock at $24, the Batavia Ejector with steel barrels at $35 and with Damascus barrels for $37.50. To reduce costs the Batavia line did not have the "firing pin block safety" or the "draw block" which passes transversely through the barrel lug and mates into recesses in the frame. The sidelock Black Beauty replaced the Batavia Special, Leader, and Damascus guns about 1916.
The Batavia Leader number series were from 75,000 to about 106,000; including the Batavia Brush in the late part of the series. There were also Batavia Leaders late in the Baker Gun and Forging production numbered in the non-exclusive 49,000-51,000 range. Batavia Specials were numbered in the 150,000 to 171,000 range exclusively. There are a small number of exceptions with guns in the 39,000 48,000 range which were probably finished late with whatever unused receivers, etc were available.
When Baker Gun & Forging sold their gun business to H.& D. Folsom in 1919, the guns were marked Baker Gun Co., a 20 gauge gun was offered, and the Batavia Leader was reintroduced as a steel barrel gun similar to the old Batavia Special. A bit of engraving was added to the Black Beauty and it was renamed the Black Beauty Special. Grades for the Folsom era Baker Guns were the Batavia Leader, Black Beauty Special, Paragon, Expert, and De Luxe. Folsom era catalogues listed the Black Beauty Special for $62 or $77 with ejectors, the Paragon Grade for $100 or $115 with ejectors, the Expert Grade for $215 and the De Luxe Grade for $385. In the fall of 1928, Folsom Baker magazine ads listed a 410 bore Batavia Leader, but it is unclear if any were actually manufactured. Folsom era Bakers usually have an F before or after the serial numbers 1- about 14,000. Most guns have a reinforcing wedge between the forearm loop and the flats.
H & D Folsom Arms Co. catalogs No. 23, 25, and 31 (1929-1930) only list the Batavia Leader and Black Beauty Special. Catalog No. 40 dated May 1932 has no Baker Guns.
Baker Gun Co. was closed in 1930, 41 years after the death of W.H. Baker, and the factory was converted to the manufacture of automobile parts. About 150,000 Baker guns were produced prior to the Folsom take-over; Folsom production numbers do not exist.