Lovecraft and His Guns

The lore of hunting allured me, and the feel of a rifle was balm to my soul; but after killing a squirrel I formed a dislike for killing things which could not fight back, hence turned to targets …

‒ H.P. Lovecraft as quoted by L. Sprague de Camp in Lovecraft: A Biography (1975)

In 1903, aged 13, H.P. Lovecraft already owned at least one firearm, a revolver that made up part of his kit as an eager consulting detective in the Providence Detective Agency ‒ and it was “the real thing” (letter to August Derleth in 1931), unlike the water pistol and cap gun of his colleagues.

Howard_Phillips_Lovecraft_in_1915_(2) Source: Wikipedia Commons

When Lovecraft’s beloved grandfather Whipple Van Buren Phillips died in 1904, Lovecraft inherited his gun collection. His biographer Sunand Joshi claims this collection was “fairly impressive” (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft, p. 108), but we do not know its exact composition. In that year Lovecraft started acquiring his own guns, primarily “a long succession of 22-calibre rifles” (letter to Vernon Shea in 1933).

However, already from 1905 new interests combined with a need for money led him to give away parts of the collection, offering them for trade or sale in the Rhode Island Journal.

Around 1910, aged 20, he gave up shooting entirely, since his “eyes placed hell with my accuracy” (letter to Vernon Shea in 1933).

Eventually, the only gun left to him was a flintlock musket which he kept as a wall-hanger.

We can deduce that his collection included at least the following:

  • One revolver. This probably was a 7-shot in .22-calibre, although at the time many children owned revolvers in more serious calibres as well.

SD_Lovecraft_HR

  • One single-shot target pistol ‒ a Stevens No.43 Diamond Model in .22-calibre (made in 1888-1916). This had been bought for $5.00, possibly in the early 1890s, since it was offered by Montgomery Ward for $4.50 in 1895 and by Sears, Roebuck for $4.50 in 1897; Sears charged only $3.85 by 1902. Lovecraft put it in the classifieds in 1905, claiming it had been “only shot 2 or 3 times” (advertisement from 14-MAY-1905).
  • Several rifles in .22-calibre. These could have been single-shot rifles, pump-action rifles, lever-action rifles, bolt-action rifles, and even semiautomatic rifles, but single-shot or pump-action are probably the most likely, being very common at the time. For example, over 850,000 are made of the Winchester Model 1906 pump-action (1906-1932) (Investigator Weapons 1, p. 73).

SD_Lovecraft_Winchester

  • One single-shot rifle in .50-calibre. This was a genuine former US Army Sharps Model 1867 carbine (1867-1870) in .50-70 Springfield. It was to be traded for “astronomical goods” (advertisement from 07-MAY-1905) and, when no trade was forthcoming, offered for sale for $2.50 (advertisement from 08-OCT-1905). Sears, Roebuck was selling off these carbines in 1902 for just $2.90 while promoting their supposed value at $12.00. This is most likely where Lovecraft or his grandfather had acquired it. Given the weapon’s actual provenience as a converted military weapon then already over three decades old, it can hardly have been new, so Lovecraft’s claim that it was “new” must mean that he had never shoot it.
  • One flintlock musket. Flintlocks were obsolete by the 1850s and went out of use in America soon afterwards, so it’s unlikely this was still in shooting condition by the time Lovecraft acquired it.
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