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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hi all! I have been studying Ropers for a while now. I thought there should be a thread for everyone to share what they know about Roper and his famous stocks. I know our member Kevin Williams has written an article and I have not had the opportunity to read it. I hope he will post here as well. I have a rather large amount of data and i will post it in pieces so I dont have one huge novel of a post. So here it goes.. Part 1

History
Walter F. Roper was a talented mechanical engineer who graduated from MIT. He was an expert pistol shot who believed a standard stocked pistol was inadequate and need improvement in order to get better accuracy. In his book “ Experiments of a handgunner “ he experiments with all methods of triggers and sites and of course what he was famous for, custom target stocks. In this book he shows many examples of his stocks in all shapes and sizes.

H&R wanted to produce the most accurate pistol in the world. They introduced the U.S.R.A single shot pistol sometime in either 1928 or 1929. Also referred to as the model 195 even though it was never marked so on the pistol. Evidently at this point Roper had made a name for himself and was hired by H&R in 1930 to help develop the 195. Roper was provided with adequate funding to do so. And according to my research he mostly worked on the trigger. I have seen evidence that he used a adjusting site allowing the shooter to change the sight radios closer as they eyes deteriorate with age. His work was a success at H&R as Major General Julian S. Hatcher (then a Major) won the British National Matches on the Bisley Ranges in the summer of 1931. He was shooting a proto type of the U.S.R.A given to him by Walter Roper. He shot a perfect score of 100 and the runner up shot a 98 using the same pistol.



Roper worked out of a small shop located at 458 Bridge Street in Springfield Massachusetts. Others say he worked out of his garage. One can only assume this is where he made his stocks and performed gun smith work. I don’t know if Walter did the gunsmithing work himself like installing his sighting system on an OMT and would like information on this. What we do know is that Roper himself did not make the stocks that made him so famous to collectors today. Though he tried Roper admits he was not good at it, he was a engineer a designer,business man, a marketing genius of his day in his industry. He found the right guy for the right job and hired a clock maker/ cabinet maker to make his stocks for him. Walter states in an article that few men in the workplace are capable of such talent as Mr Matheis Gagne. A true artisan who crafted the finest stocks ever made, then or now in my opinion. He has no equal. Keith Brown who has studied Gagne’s work and learned to copy it with modern materials and tools only copies him now. I see others posting on the forums of how Brown’s work is far better than Gagnes and that he uses far better wood. To this I can only say, it’s a copy of a Masters work. The Master from times long gone invented and created from his own inspiration. I personally like the wood and finish Gagne used over Brown and the beautiful ribbon jumps out at you and the slightly dull oil finish allows all details to come to life. Browns work is so polished and sharp that it looses the definition the Master intended. I’m sure I offended some in my remarks but its just my personal observations and no offense is intended.

 

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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
Part 2
Roper only mentions Gagne a few times as far as I know. This surprises many people. I for one am not. Why you ask? To me it’s simple, as a business owner myself. You market your business not your employees. That’s why when we are lucky enough to come across one of these treasured stocks collectors refer to them as “Ropers”. Have you ever heard them called “Gagnes”? I think not. I learned the hard way that if you market your employees sooner or later somebody would take them from you. And Roper knew it I assure you. Roper also hired WDH Nichols who was hired latter on primarily to work on automatic pistols.

Ropers Design

Gagne’s primary focus was revolver stocks. Walter puts it like this. First of all stocks should be the right size of the hand of every man that will use them. This, my friends is the beauty of Roper stocks. They are like snow flakes. Beautiful, elegant and NO two are exactly alike because they are hand made for an individual. (Though latter a machined option was offered but in this article we are talking about Gagnes work) Once you study these stocks, hold them, shoot them. Only then can you admire the beauty and design that Walter roper gave Gagne the task of performing.

Making a stock for a small hand Roper writes is harder to do than that of a larger shooters hand because the frame of the gun establishes the minimum size a stock can be made. To order a pair of stocks the shooter would trace an outline of the shooting hand keeping the index finger extended and separated from the other three. Roper had a formula and from the obtained data of the shooter hand could make a stock that when grasped properly, the heel of the hand overlaps the center line of the back strap ½ inch and the center of the trigger guard is directly over the second joint of the second finger. Then best results are obtained. Because Roper believed that a pistol should not be in line with arm, but the stock should. Walter designed his stocks so that the center line of the gun is aligned with the aiming eye when the arm and the wrist are held straight. He also made sure that his stocks were made so that to make the gun rest upon the second finger when the gun is held normally.

Therefore the ideal stock is one that fills the palm when held, the stock is in the center of the crotch of the hand, the trigger rests at the center of the end joint of the trigger finger, and the heel of the hand prevents the gun from slipping outward, giving the proper support for fast single or double action cocking.

H&R USRA 195 Roper Stocks


Sample of drawings to order Ropers
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
How they were made

In order to authenticate a genuine pair of Ropers one must know how they were made. Roper was the engineer but not the craftsman. We seem to know more on how Gagne checkered his stocks than we do on the tools he used to get to that part of the process. When the stocks were ready for checkering they were placed on some sort of jig that held them securely in place. Mr. Gagne would then apply his famous ribbon design and checkering using a plain V shaped chisel using NO guide of any kind. As he wrote “To see the this expert produce exquisite work without guides of any kind, leaves one with nothing but admiration for his skill. “
The stocks where placed on checkering saddle so they could be cut and checkered, they left tiny square and sometimes rectangular peg holes in the inside of the stocks. This is one good way to verify if a stock is a genuine Roper. But when we are trying to determine if a set of stocks are genuine Ropers we have to remember that because he never signed any of his work (excluding the machined ones) we must know what to look for.


Jig holes:

I own 14 pairs of Ropers at the writing of this and let me tell you what I have noticed about jig holes.

1. Gagne obviously had multiple jigs he used. Or maybe the jigs could be adjusted for each stock and that makes since to me. Every pair I own and even the ones in the same style for the identical model of revolver the jig hole spacing is different. I measured all of them with a micrometer.
2. It is not uncommon for they’re to be more than one jig hole on either end of the stock. Of the four I own two have this feature. I’m not sure if the jig was made with two prongs on one end or perhaps it was just a re-adjustment during the checkering process? I don’t know.
3. I have seen the jigs holes look very square and others have a long rectangular look to them. One can only assume it was a different jig used.




Squarish jig hole example


Rectangular jig hole example


Dual Jig hole Example
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Type of wood used

Gagne almost always used fine Circassian Walnut. From what I know it’s a good hard wood but its easy to cut and has beautiful wood grains in it when finished correctly. All the pairs I own show a feature under magnification that the walnut has almost a look of pours on it like human skin. No wonder they have been referred to as Organic. And it’s a beautiful feature that I have come to appreciate. I have seen examples of stocks also done in ebony. I know Roper would add any custom features for and added cost and I’m sure you could get a special wood if requested.

Finish.

Roper stocks are not super shiny high gloss finish. Quite the opposite actually. The stocks were finished with linseed oil with just a bit of shellac added. This gave them the effect that they were sealed and gave it a slight bit of shine. Color can range from Honey, to Red. And some have no stain that I can tell just the beautiful walnut shining through. You should also see a bit of excess mixture of this on the inside almost like the stocks were drying and the oil and shellac ran to the back side of the stocks and was left there because once mounted they were not seen. Evidence of this can been seen in the above post showing rectangular jig marks.



 

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Great reading and informative!!!
what would one expect to pay for a pair of ropers & what pistols/revolvers did he make them for ( most common )
 

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What an interesting article. Thank you for that!

I grew up with Ropers no longer available but seen in large numbers. There were Cloyce's and Herretts. This in the era of those oversized target stocks with heel rests and thumb rests to the point you sort of "put on" the revovler. Got to the point the USRA drew up restrictions of acceptable grips, or stocks, as Steve Herrett was adamant in his vocabulary.

Walnut was universal in its use for grips for most of the period, but then came Brazilian rosewood and ebony.

Bob Wright
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks Bob! I will be posting more information tonight. Didnt want to overload it. Stay tooned!
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
Part 4 of my article:

Ribbon


Probably the most famous characteristic of Roper stocks is his signature 3 arched ribbon pattern. This can be found on one side or the other and even on both sides. Again no Ropers are identical and it appears Gagne had no set pattern and each ribbon is slightly different in thickness or the length of the arches. It seems to depend on the stock size. These were cut while on the saddle and hand checkered on both sides of the ribbon. To do this Mr. Gagne used a V chisel tool. Not the typical checkering tools you see to make the job easier. It seems he had the skill to make single long cutting strokes to make the wonderful checkering. The amount checkering on top of the arch will always very in thickness to almost a single line in some cases. However not all ropers will have a ribbon at all. It is believed they are either very early or late examples of Gagne’s work.
The checkering LPI can very from course maybe 12 lpi to fine maybe 18lpi or more.


One of my favorite things about Ropers is the slight flaws. As Marilyn Monroe had a mole that was her beauty mark the same thing applies to Ropers. There will almost be without exception slight overruns and lines start and restart that cane be seen upon close examination.


Mr Gagne at work. Only known picture that I know of. Love the bow Tie.



Using the V chisel in the Checkering Saddle. Note the two handed grip and angle.


Close up view

Examples of hand work


More of Hand work
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
Part 5

Other markings and features.


Without exception I believe, all Ropers will flair out and the heel of the stock where it meets the frame. This keeps the hand from slipping down the stock during use. As Ropers are generally slim in nature this feature is very distinguished and adds beauty, style and flair. Roper believed a common mistake was to make Stocks to large. And if turn them over we should see tool marks that were made cutting out to make room for the frame. Some examples have this more than others but it needs to be considered when trying to determine if a set is genuine or not. Because some sets will have some of the features but not all. This is perfectly normal and should be expected.

In most cases the Stocks wont be dated or have the type of gun they are made for. I have seen pictures though that has such markings. We don’t know if they were done in the shop or by the owner once received. Even on the 30 pair I have you can see some numbers on just a few of them, maybe order numbers? I don’t know.

All Roper should have on one side or the other a diamond around the screw hole. And the escutcheons are always brass with no apparent outer teeth like you would see on colts for example. The diamonds can be complete or can run into the ribbon cutting of the bottom tip. Again, it’s a wonderful thing.








 

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One statement puzzles me. As to finish, the statement "linseed oil with a bit of shellac added." Seems to me linseed oil and shellac are not compatible, shellac having an alcohol solvent. Could it have been oiled, then sealed with shellac?

Bob Wright
 

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I've read and heard that very late production Ropers were actually machine checkered and you can tell them as they are different stylistically than those made by Mr. Gagne. Any info on this?
 
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