In the Field A Visit to the Chiappa-Armisport Musket Factory in Italy

Joined
Aug 9, 2011
Location
Lockhart, Texas
I wrote a longer version of this article in 2007 for the Camp Chase Gazette magazine. Since Armisport muskets are still one of two main sources of reproduction Civil War muskets, I thought this might be of interest.
Enfields in Production at the Armisport Factory.jpg

My Visit to the ArmiSport Factory By Phil McBride​


Have you ever thought it ironic that most, if not virtually all, of the reproduction muskets and carbines we use in our uniquely American hobby are made in Italy? I don’t know the story of how that came to be, but in 2007, I was able to learn a little bit of it. In October, my wife and I toured the Armi-Chiappa arms factory in Brescia, Italy. The Chiappas are a very gracious Italian couple who produce the Armisport line of Civil War long-arms.

As we retired from our careers as public school educators, and when I was sure I couldn’t dissuade my wife from a retirement trip to Italy, I negotiated a deal with her. The trip had to include a visit a reproduction musket factory, if I could arrange it. She consented, and I e-mailed a message to the ArmiSport e-mail address listed on their company website. A Mrs. Chiappa responded promptly and positively to my request for a tour of the factory. As it turned out, Mrs. Chiappa is the daughter-in-law of the founder of the firm and is very active in its operations.

After visiting a medieval castle the day before our tour, I followed her driving directions through an industrial section of the large city of Brescia, in northern Italy. Mrs. Chiappa met us with European coffee that was strong enough for the toughest solders anywhere. We then spent a very educational and enjoyable morning with Mrs. Chiappa (who is quite fluent in English). We walked through the factory, pausing at many work stations to look closely at the machinery and watch the craftsmen. All the while, I was taking photos or asking questions. Out in the factory, we met her husband, and either he or Mrs. Chiappa answered my unending stream of questions. I was struck by their apparent candor, and impressed with their pride in the company and its products. I also had the strong impression that I was the first American reenactor to visit their factory. Here’s a quick list of some interesting things I learned from the Chiappas about the Armi-Chiappa Company:

  • The firm has been in business for 50 years, and was started by the current owner’s father, who passed away a few years ago. The company’s first and primary product line was modern non-firing replica weapons for the European market, which they still produce.
  • Mr. Chiappa, the son of the founder, now is the “hands-on” boss of the operation. He is a focused and successful businessman.
  • Armi-Chiappa employs about 35 workers (The only African-Italians I saw in Italy were working in skilled jobs at the Chiappa’s factory.)
  • The factory is a custom designed, very spacious four-year old building, complete with a 50-meter firing range to test weapons.
  • Their first Civil War weapon was the 1861 Springfield rifled-musket. The company was not making Civil War long-arms when they were asked by the person who became their American distributor (Taylor & Co.) to produce a musket for the growing Civil War reenacting hobby.
  • Today, the reproduction of the British Enfield is Armi-Chiappa’s best Civil War seller. (Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to ask if their first Enfield reproduction was based on their dissection of an original Enfield that was used in the Civil War, or was based on another company’s early reproduction, as I have read on internet forums.)
  • The 1861 Springfield is their second best seller, with the 1842 Springfield smoothbore being a strong third in popularity.
  • The Civil War reenacting market is declining.
  • Armi-Chiappa’s Civil War products are now being outsold by post-Civil War western firearms. In fact, during our tour, the first work-station we saw was a gentleman using a computer to scan and measure an original lever-action rifle’s components for future production.
  • Armi-Chiappa only makes a particular Civil War weapon when their American distributor has enough wholesale orders to justify the production run. Generally such runs are up to 100 weapons.
  • Armi-Chiappa does not make the wooden stocks for their weapons. They are subcontracted to another Italian firm and delivered without a finish to the Armi-Chiappa factory. (I’ve since been told that the same subcontractor makes the stocks for Euroarms muskets. If true, one wonders if they are identical stocks. It is also interesting to know that the Euroarms factory is also in Brescia, and that the owner of Taylor & Company, Armi-Sport’s American distributor, first worked for Euroarms.)
  • While Mrs. Chiappa speaks fluent English, Mr. Chiappa only speaks Italian. Neither has been to an American Civil War reenactment, but Mrs. Chiappa does attend American Civil War shows and gun shows to market their products.


Intellectually, I knew I would not see a room with four or five craftsmen sitting at their workbenches, using hand tools to shape each musket part, in some quaint 19th​ century village. Yet, emotionally, I don’t think I was prepared for the loud, modern, computerized manufacturing plant we entered. There were forklifts, but no wagons. I saw men in modern T-shirts using electric tools to put together 1853 Enfields. (At least people were doing the assembly, not robotics.) Just say that I was surprised at the combination of hand-work and computerized milling required to produce the many metal parts of a weapon. My photos really don’t do justice to the extent of the high-tech machinery involved and the multiple stages in a production run.

The morning of our tour, we saw a production run of Enfields going through final assembly and packing, and a run of Sharps carbines at the stage of component metal parts being milled and the raw stocks being finished.

My biggest realization of what should have been obvious, was seeing first-hand that the Chiappas are NOT Americans, are NOT reenactors, and are NOT Civil War historians. Moreover, they ARE the owners of a profit-driven company that has other product lines than our Civil War weapons. Our concerns about the “little” errors in their reproduction muskets simply are not a big issue to the Chiappas – as long as their weapons are selling. Our quest as reenactors for ever better authenticity in our impressions just doesn’t strike a chord with them. That surprised me, but in retrospect, it shouldn’t have. They work half a world away, speak a different language, live in a different culture, and are only involved in one small (albeit important) slice of the American Civil War reenacting pie..

I did ask some questions about things that bother us as reenactors in their two main Civil War products – the ’53 Enfield and ’61 Springfield. I didn’t hear much hope in their answers regarding big things like the right angle in the firing channel in the ’61 Springfield. On the smaller things like inaccurate hardware on the Enfield, I was encouraged by the Chiappas’ interest in improving their product – if it could be done without much expense. I suspect that if multiple American Civil War sutlers who buy ArmiSport weapons wholesale were insistent that some hardware corrections be made, it could happen. But our American sutlers need to hear from us, the end-user consumers who buy ArmiSport muskets from them. But, frankly, now that several American sutlers are selling “defarbed’ weapons at an additional price, they may not want to receive a more accurate product from the manufacturer.

Given that any replica long-arm is quite expensive, I asked if they anticipated a price increase anytime soon. The answer was yes, and as an American tourist paying twice what things cost in the USA, I understood why. The horrible drop in the value of the American dollar against the Euro is wreaking havoc. Mrs. Chiappa said their contracts for Civil War weapons are written in dollars, since the United States uses dollars. Consequently, they are paid in dollars, not the Euros the Italians use. However, it now takes 1 ½ dollars to match one Euro, and Italian production expenses are paid in Euros. Mrs. Chiappa said that most of their current American contracts were made when the dollar was only 1.1 to the Euro, not 1.5. That means Armi-Chiappa is receiving substantially less real revenue per weapon sold in the United States than when the contracts were signed. Therefore, as long as the value of the dollar is so poor against the Euro and dropping, we can reasonably expect price increases when contracts expire and new ones are written.

In summary, I found the tour and the conversation with the Chiappas to be fascinating. But, it was a reality check regarding the economics of manufacturing an expensive product for a “niche” market like Civil War reenacting. The Civil War reenacting hobby really has few options of where to buy our weapons right now. Most American and Japanese manufacturers have come and gone, and the new Canadian company doesn’t seem to have had much impact, or have the capacity for production at a scale needed to satisfy our hunger for new muskets. We absolutely depend on ArmiSport products to arm ourselves for our hobby, and they certainly enjoy our business. But at this point, for ArmiSport, it looks to me that we need their products more than they need our revenue. For now, we are married to the Italian muskets.
 

ShortSeb

Private
Joined
Oct 19, 2019
Location
Vienna/AUSTRIA
Here's my 1862 Richmond Rifle from Armisport/Chiappa:

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It's my first rifle from Chiappa. Before that I just knew some cheap spanish ones and, of course, Pedersoli. Pedersoli is more or less the finest and authentic muzzleloader stuff you can get here in Europe.

So, how's Chiappa?
What I feel, "as good as". Sure, the Chiappa one does not have a matchgrade barrel like the Pedersoli. But I think you don't need that for reenactment unless you are a competition shooter. For life fire plinking for fun the Chiappa barrel is great enough. I like the finish of the handoiled stocks more then the Pedersoli ones. Pedersoli for that has a little better stampings.

So, my conclusion about Chiappa:
Such as good as Pedersoli (except the barrel), much better than Euroarms.
 

ShortSeb

Private
Joined
Oct 19, 2019
Location
Vienna/AUSTRIA
And... maybe it sounds strange, but I think the Pedersolis are a little bit too perfect for me, especially for authentic civil war guns. So I would just say I prefer Chiappa over Pedersoli indeed.

And the prices for some Pedersoli are ridiculous at the moment. Pedersoli is trying to do some price dictatorship here in Europe at the moment. Not with me. Chiappa offers similar quality for reenactors, fine craftmanship too but for a better price.

Did I already say that I like Chiappa? 😄
 

byron ed

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 22, 2017
Location
Midwest
I was told that the first wave of Italian repro muskets were the 1863 Remington two-bander (nicknamed the "Zouave") for the reason that original 1863s were still in demand in Europe for match-shooting, and the war-surplus American supply of real rifles had run out. Consequently, because these "Zouave" repros were available they became a popular repro rifle for the first wave of CW reenactors in America, and even for National Battlefield staff demos.

That doesn't at all mean that it was the first type Armisport made, but only as background for the Italian repro CW rifle business generally.

As the reenacting hobby matured, and seeing as there was no specific record of the real 1863 Remingtons ever being issued during the Civil War, the market demand shifted to repro Springfield or Enfield 3-band repros. The "Zouaves" were then considered a bit unsafe in unit drill due to their shorter barrel and awkward sword bayonet when used in file with the more appropriate 3-banders. As a result the "Zouave" became derided generally, both for safety and for farbiness. Many were relegated to being amateur-modified to marginally pass as other iterations of the same pattern, such as the "Mississippi" or Confederate-manufacture iterations, the bayonet lug ground off etc.

Although the 1863 Remington repros are derided to this day (via "grizzled-veteran" advice to every newby ever), in fact the type represents a totally period-appropriate (if not battlefield-appropriate) rifle and some are fine match shooters. Firearm Historians say that the Remington 1863 actually represents the apex of CW-era muzzle-loading rifle design and manufacture.

I was told all that anyway.
 
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ShortSeb

Private
Joined
Oct 19, 2019
Location
Vienna/AUSTRIA
Don't forget there were 3 (!) different italian manufactures (now 2 after Pedersoli bought Euroarms). So there is not "the" italian reproduction.

There's
- Pedersoli
- Armisport/Chiappa
- and old Euroarms reproductions

(And Umberti vor percussion revolvers and some post-war rifles)
 

Craig L Barry

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jan 5, 2010
Location
Murfreesboro, TN
One thing for certain, the entries by Pedersoli (in the wake of Euroarms folding) into the US Civil War reproduction market has caused Chiappa to raise their game. They began to offer "de-farbed" or more historically accurate versions of their products. And somewhat humorously, they refer to their other models as "farbed."
 
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