Some of the notable individuals associated with the Meriden Firearms Company.
Albert James Aubrey
Albert James Aubrey was born in Meriden, Connecticut on February 23rd, 1863 to John Aubrey and Mary McKenna. In the 1880 census John was working as a silversmith in Meriden, and A.J. was working in a factory, perhaps Parker Brothers.
From 1890 until its closure in 1895 he was plant superintendent for the Wilkes-Barre Gun Company in New York. Aubrey is credited for increasing the quaility of the firearms Wilkes-Barre produced. By late 1895 he is the sole proprietor of the Elmira Arms Company. There are a series of entires in Sporting Life that outline this period of time:
By 1900 he was living in New London, Connecticut and employed as a ‘gun maker’. In 1902 (and 1904) he was listed as living in Norwich, Connecticut and Assistant Superintendent at Crescent Fire Arms Company.
One of Aubrey’s early patents (859,477) filed on Decmeber 8th, 1904 claims he is a resident of Hopkinton, MA which was the location of theAndrew Fyrberg & Sons plant which shortly thereafter had its assets moved to Meriden, Connecticut to form Meriden Fire Arms Company.
In 1906 A.J is the VP and general manager of Meriden Fire Arms Company and in 1908 A.J. is company president. The 1909 Sears Catalog (#118) described the Aubrey Engraved Hammerless as “12-gauge double barrel, full engraved, hammerless, quadruple lock action, (extractor), breech loading shotgun made by the Meriden Fire Arms Company of Meriden, Connecticut, a factory owned, controlled and operated by us, designed, modeled by and built under the direct personal supervision of Mr. A.J. Aubrey, vice-president and general manager of the Meriden Fire Arms Company, and maker of the highest grade double barrel breech loading shotguns made in America.”
During his time at Sears, A.J Aubrey filed for and received 8 patents related to firearms.
A.J. Aubrey left Meriden Firearms Co. in 1909. However, contrary to popular belief ‘Aubrey’ branded firearms remained in Sear’s product offerings after his departure.
Fred Biffar was the president of the Meriden Fire Arms Co from its inception till about the same time A.J Aubrey left the company. Biffar was a friend of Richard W. Sears and told a story of visiting Mr. Sears in 1890 at his home in Minneapolis. During this visit Sears brought down his fist with an enthusiastic bang on the Montgomery Ward catalog and exclaimed “That’s the game I want to get into — The biggest game in the United States today!” Biffar traveled for an importer and wholesaler of firearms and later became manager of the Sporting Goods Department at Sears, Roebuck & Company.
Biffar is also recognized for his Chicago based business: Fred Biffar & Company. Fred Biffar & Co was a retailer of sporting goods that sold firearms produced by various manufacturers under numerous trade names. One of the manufactures that supplied Fred Biffar & Co was Meriden Fire Arms Co. Identifying these firearms can be somewhat confusing for a several reasons. For instance, pistols made by Meriden were sold through Fred Biffar & Co under the Howard Arms Co. tradename, however, shotguns sold through Biffar & Co bearing the Howard Arms Co. name were produced by Crescent Firearms of Norwich Connecticut. Another example of the complexity of understanding these products is that Fred Biffar & Co sold pistols under the “Secret Service Special” trade name. These revolvers were made by the Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works under its less expensive “U.S. Revolver” trademark, Harrington & Richardson, Hopkins & Allen and Meriden Fire Arms Co.
Biffar also had a patent assigned to him that appeared on the revolvers his business distributed (including those made by Meriden). The invention by Prospero Donadio was for a simple safety mechanism for pistols. This feature, along with a “Pat. May 1917” stamping can be found on some Meriden revolvers. One interesting point is that Biffar was no longer with Meriden Fire Arms in 1917.
Biffar was and representative for the H. & D. Folsom Arms Company of New York in the late 1890’s as evident by entries in 1896 and 1898 issues of Sporting Life. This may be his connection to A.J. Aubrey. Crescent Fire Arms Company of Norwich, Connecticut was purchased by H. & D. Folsom in 1893. A.J. was listed in the 1900 census as a ‘gun maker’ in New London, Connecticut and later in both the 1902 and 1904 Norwich, CT directories is listed as Assistant Superintendent at Crescent Fire Arms Co.
The Meriden Fire Arms Co. was operated under a charter obtained in the state of Illinois which entitled it to capitalize at one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. The stock was held by Sears, Roebuck & Co., the only partners being A.J. Aubrey, the general manager and F.A. Stephani, the treasurer of the local concern.
In the 1907 Meriden directory Stephani is listed as ‘removed to Chicago Illinois.’ John K. Williams replaced him as treasurer.
Stephani also served as a member on the Industrial Parade committee during the 1906 Meriden centennial celebration
Alfred John Aubrey
Alfred was Albert’s brother. Prior to Meriden Fire Arms Company Alfred served as a Universalist minister and a postmaster in Fulton, New York (nominated in 1894). Alfred became the superintendent of the pistol department at Meriden Fire Arms Company but only held that position for a short time. In the 1907 Meriden directory Alfred is listed as ‘removed to Brooklyn.’ There he became a reporter/newspaperman for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He died at his home in Brooklyn, NY, Sunday, April 9, 1933.
William H. Gough
William Gough was an engraver for the Aubrey and Meriden shotguns. Gough also engraved for Parker, Remington, Colt and AH Fox. His father, Harold, was a Birmingham Gun trade engraver that came to the US and worked for Parker Bros in Meriden. William Gough apprenticed under his father at Parker Bros. About 1912, he went to the A.H. Fox Gun Co. and was head of their engraving department. He designed the bolder engraving styles Fox went to in the 1913-14 time frame. Even though he was head of the Fox engraving department, most ot the work he did was commission work from others (Winchester, Colt, Marlin, etc.) and a few high-grade Fox guns. Once the gun company part of their business was sold to Savage, and the production of the Ansley H. Fox gun was moved to Utica, NY, this outside commission work didn’t sit well with the Savage executives and Gough opened his own engraving shop in Utica, and continued engraving into the 1950s. From the Utica newspaper dated August 24th 1954, William Gough “…took commissions in special engraving jobs from many parts of the country…he worked on engravings for Aubrey Guns, then manufactured by Sears Roebuck Co.; for guns turned out by Norwich Arms Corp., and Hollenbeck guns manufactured in Virgina.”
Alfred Gough, the son of William, also engraved guns for Parker Bros. in the 20’s and 30’s.
Eric Johnson was the 1926 National Gallery Champion and the 1929 National Small Bore Champion. Eric Johnson grew up in Orebro, Sweden a short distance from Stockholm. At the urging of a close friend he moved to America in 1904 and joined that friend at Fyrberg & Son at Worcester, Massachusetts. When Sears acquired the company’s assets and moved the operation to Meriden, Johnson also relocated. By 1907 Eric was the assistant foreman in the Meriden Fire Arms Company barrel shop and by 1908 he was the foreman. At this time Johnson was also a known marksman competing with the Second Infantry rifle team.
Johnson remained with the plant through its acquisitions and worked on Colt barrels for the BAR (Browning automatic rifle). In May of 1923 Frank Hoffman offered Johnson a job as barrel maker for the Hoffman Arms Company. Eric Johnson took the job and brought his friend John Dubiel with him to Cleveland, Ohio. After his time with Hoffman he partnered with Dubiel in producing custom rifles. He eventually returned to Connecticut always specializing in small bore barrels.