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Early Confederate Purchased Kerr Revolver

Early Confederate Purchased Kerr Revolver

  • Product Code: FHG-2266
  • Availability: In Stock
  • $4,250.00


The London Armoury Company Kerr’s Patent Revolver is one of the most distinctive and instantly recognizable of all Civil War era handguns. The side mounted hammer and removable lock plate were not common features in large bore handguns of the era and result is a unique silhouette. The Kerr patent revolver was invented by James Kerr, who was awarded two patents for improvements to Roberts Adams’ earlier revolver designs. Kerr had been a founding member of the London Armoury Company, which was established on February 9, 1856 and of which Adams was the Managing Director during the late 1850s. It is interesting to note that Kerr was Adams’ cousin and had previously worked with him at Deane, Adams & Deane as well. Initially, the London Armoury Company (LAC) focused on producing Model 1854 Beaumont-Adams patent revolvers, with an eye towards obtaining lucrative English military contracts for the handguns. When significant orders were not forthcoming, the company shifted its focus to manufacturing of the British Pattern 1853 “Enfield” rifle musket for both the English government and private commercial sale. This caused a rift within the company management that culminated with the departure of Adams from L.A.C. and the elevation of Kerr to the position of factory superintendent. With the departure of Adams, and the perceived need to offer some form of revolver for sale, the company purchased Kerr’s patent rights and started to produce the Kerr patent revolver in 1859. The first pistol was completed in March of 1859 and was tested at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock on April 25, 1859. The pistol was typical of large bore English handguns of the era, in that it the standard offering was 54-Bore (about .442 caliber) and had a 5-shot cylinder. The gun was manufactured with barrel lengths that varied slightly, with the earliest guns having barrels around 5 7/8” in length and the later pistols having slightly shorter barrels that varied between about 5 ½” and 5 ¾”. While the large majority of the pistols produced were in 54-Bore, a small number of very early and very late production pistols were manufactured in 80-Bore (approximately .387 caliber). Most the pistols used a single action mechanism, not a double action mechanism, as the trigger position makes many people believe. The hammer could only be cocked by pulling it back manually but pulling the trigger could rotate the cylinder. This was a byproduct of the cylinder locking system, which relied upon a pivoting arm that was actuated by the trigger. This arm locked the cylinder in place when the gun was fired. This was very different from the standard spring-loaded cylinder stop found in the frames of most American made revolvers. This system also eliminated the need to machine stop slots in the cylinder, as the rear face of cylinder was where the arm locked it into position. Only a handful of Kerr revolvers were manufactured as true “self-cocking” (double action) revolvers, and they are extremely rare today. The Kerr also featured a unique, frame mounted cylinder arbor that was removed from the rear of the pistol (much like on the Colt side hammer, aka “Root” designs), instead of the more common location at the front of the cylinder. This made the pistol easier and safer to manipulate when the cylinder had to be removed from the pistol. The early production Kerr revolvers had a small setscrew on the left side of the frame, forward of the cylinder that prevented the cylinder arbor pin from being withdrawn from the rear of the frame. The later production revolvers had a frame mounted spring on the rear of the left side, similar in appearance to the Model 1851 Adams patent safety, which retained the arbor pin. The earliest production revolvers had a wide groove in the topstrap, while the later production guns had a flat topstrap without a groove. The early guns also had a loading lever that pivoted on a screw located at the lower front edge of the frame, under the barrel. The later production guns moved this pivot point higher and closer to the cylinder, making it somewhat stronger and allowing more torque to be applied to the lever when loading tight fitting ammunition. It also improved the geometry of the lever’s angle of operation, making it less likely to bind up if over-inserted in the cylinder chamber. This minor redesign of the location of the loading lever screw helped to solve a problem with loading lever plungers breaking at the hinged connection to the loading lever itself. After the adoption of the new loading lever screw location, some of the older frames that had already been machined had the original pivot hole filled and a new one drilled in the new location. The engraved marking on the lock plate also changed with time, starting out reading London Armoury and eventually reading London Armoury Co. Most of these early features were phased out in the upper 2,XXX to middle 3,XXX serial number range, although some of the features appear somewhat randomly through about the middle of revolver production, suggesting that sometimes older parts were used to complete orders when time was of the essence. Two other small cosmetic changes occurred over time. The first was a change in the way in which the front of the grip was checkered. The early guns were generally checkered very close to the front strap of the frame. However, as the Confederate inspectors stamped their JS / {ANCHOR}acceptance mark in the front of the grip directly below the end of the front strap, it was often concealed by the checkering. Later production guns do not have this part of the grip checkered, leaving a smooth surface for the inspectors to apply their stamp. The other change was a reduction in the amount of decorative engraving. While never profusely engraved unless so ordered, the earlier guns often shows simple foliate themed boarders engraved around the periphery of the frame, while later Confederate purchased guns showed only simple boarder lines, or no engraved details at all.

 

Although the design was reliable and fairly robust, the London Armoury Company did not find any British military contracts forthcoming for their pistol. Between the introduction of the Kerr in 1859 and the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, only about 1,000-1,500 of the revolvers were manufactured, and even fewer were sold. Most of these pistols were sold commercially (both in Great Britain and in the US), with about 100 of them purchased by an English Volunteer unit – the 1st Sussex Artillery Volunteers

 

With the outbreak of the American Civil War, Caleb Huse (the South’s primary purchasing agent in England) engaged the London Armory Company to produce all the Kerr’s Patent revolvers that they could for delivery to the Confederacy. It is believed that nearly all of the L.A.C.’s output of Kerr revolvers from April of 1861 through the close of the Civil War was produced on contract for the Confederacy, with about 9,000 (and possibly at many 10,000) pistols produced and shipped to the south during that time. It is also estimated that the London Armoury Company produced about 70,000 Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle Muskets during the same time frame. The estimate regarding revolver production is based upon the extant examples with Confederate provenance or marks, which tend to exist in the 1,5XX to about the 10,XXX serial number range. However, a handful of legitimate CS inspected Kerr’s do appear in the 7XX to 1,5XX range, indicating that some of the earliest purchases were filled from already assembled revolvers on hand. To date, at least three separate Confederate government contracts have been identified for the purchase of Kerr revolvers. Two were army contracts, and one was a 1,000-gun contract for the Confederate Navy. The Naval contract was quite early, as reference to the purchase of Kerr revolvers by CSN Commander James D. Bulloch was made in a diary entry by Confederate purchasing agent Major Edward Anderson dated August 6, 1861. Many of the army contract Kerr revolvers were financed through the Charleston, SC based firm of Fraser, Trenholm & Company and delivered by their subsidiary John Fraser & Company. A minimum of 3,160 Kerr revolvers were delivered directly to Confederate arsenals by Fraser. In addition to the three government contracts, an unknown number of Kerr’s Patent revolvers were acquired speculatively for sale privately and to the Confederate military once they reached the south. This may account for the number of Kerr revolvers that exist today with unquestionable Confederate provenance, but without the JS / {ANCHOR} Confederate inspection mark. One of the standard indicators of CS importation and usage of a Kerr revolver is the presence of the JS / {ANCHOR}inspection mark that is found on the front of the wooden grip of the pistols, below the grip frame tang. This is the inspection mark of John Southgate, who acted as a “viewer” (arms inspector) for the Confederacy. However, the absence of this mark is not necessarily an indication that the pistol was not a CS purchase. As the information above outlines, the majority of Kerr’s over serial number 1,5XX and through the lower end of the 10,XXX range were produced on contract for the Confederacy. To date, the lowest numbered Kerr to bear the  JS / {ANCHOR} inspection mark that I am aware of is in the lower third of the 7XX range, and the highest verifiable mark is just under 10,000. Over the years, a number of Kerr’s with spurious JS / {ANCHOR} marks have been noted, often found on guns that did not have them when they were first documented during the past 20-30 years but have had them “magically” appear over the course of time. 

 

The best concrete documentary evidence of how high the CS used serial numbers of Kerr revolvers ranged is the Squad Roll of Lt. Julian Pratt of Company H of the 18th Virginia Cavalry. This document lists the pistols in possession of his squad of cavalry in July of 1864. On the list are seven Kerr revolvers that range between #9240 and #9974. Since the Confederacy would continue to import Kerr pistols throughout the end of the war (the last documented shipment was 8 cases in March of 1865), it is not unreasonable to extrapolate CS purchases into the low 10,XXX serial number range. It is interesting to note that two of the Kerr revolvers on the Pratt Roll are known to survive today, and revolver #9974 does not have a JS/Anchor mark. It is also worth noting that there is no indication that the revolvers were being delivered into the south in anything like numerical order. As the cargos were often transshipped from Great Britain to Bermuda or the Bahamas and then shipped to the southern coast in smaller vessels, the various warehouses were likely a mix of older and more recent deliveries. As the most recent arrivals from England would be in the front of the warehouses and older deliveries in the back, it seems reasonable to believe that often the guns with higher serial numbers arrived in southern ports before some of the lower numbered guns!

 

While very scarce today, a number of Kerr revolvers were imported with a complete set of accouterments and accessories that would have been included in a cased set. According to The Payne Ledger, some 900 Kerr revolvers arrived at the port of Wilmington, NC on October 31, 1864 (more than 3 months after Lt. Pratt’s guns were logged in his roll). These guns also had the following accessories: “Spare Nipples & Cloth Bags, 900 Powder Flasks, 900 Cleaning Rods, 450 Steel Nipple Keys, 180 Bullet Moulds, 180 Mainsprings, 180 Trigger Springs, 90,000 Skin Cartridges, 108,000 Percussion Caps”. The guns were delivered by the blockade-runner Hope and were part of the consignment purchased through John Fraser & Company. Five hundred of the guns and their associated accouterments were subsequently delivered the Selma Arsenal, and the other four hundred and their accessories were delivered to the Richmond Arsenal. The presence of accessories like cleaning rods, powder flasks, cloth bags and the combination gun tools (“steel nipple keys”), suggest that the guns were purchased as cased sets, and were subsequently repacked into the standard 20 guns per box lead lined cases that most Kerr revolvers were delivered to the Confederacy in. The powder flasks and cloth bags were certainly of limited utility for guns that were designed to be used with pre-made paper or skin cartridges. Bullet molds were typically delivered to the Confederacy at a ratio of 1 for every 20 long arms, but in this case, they were delivered at the ratio of 1 for every 5 pistols. The cleaning rods would certainly have been useful in the field, but this is the only report I can find of cleaning rods being purchased by the Confederacy for use with revolvers. All of this suggests that these accessories originated in cased Kerr revolver sets. It seems quite likely that additional cased sets were acquired on a speculative basis for delivery to the south as well. Today all of these accessories are extremely rare, most especially the special Kerr revolver combination gun tool and cone (nipple) wrench. 

 

With the conclusion of the American Civil War, the London Armoury Company quickly succumbed to the loss of its largest, and only, major customer. The company closed exactly one year after the end of the American Civil War, in April of 1866, and it is believed that the remaining factory assets and machinery were sold to a gun making company in Spain the following year. The Spanish had been producing an unlicensed copy of the Kerr since 1862, primarily assembling the guns from Belgian made parts. This had proved a somewhat unreliable system of production and made it difficult to obtain parts for repairs. By obtaining the actual machinery, it was possible to keep Kerr patent revolvers in Spanish service through the Spanish American War period, primarily as cartridge versions of the guns. James Kerr himself did remain in business for some time after this and assembled and sold Kerr revolvers from the existing stock of parts. This accounts for the post 11,000 serial numbered pistols occasionally encountered – occasionally in relatively nice condition. 

 

On a side note, collectors and researchers have long debated the correct pronunciation for James Kerr’s last name. According to Val Forgett Jr.; gun collector, researcher and current owner of Navy Arms, his extensive research indicates that even the British disagree about the pronunciation, but the most correct pronunciation would almost certainly be KARR, while the next most common pronunciation would be KARE. The Americanized pronunciation is CUR and is almost certainly incorrect.

 

The Kerr’s Patent Revolver offered here is one of the early production guns that was almost certainly intended for commercial sale in Great Britain but instead became an early CS acquisition. In fact, the serial number is low enough that it could have been part of Commander Bulloch’s early Naval contract for 1,000 revolvers. This is a Confederate inspected example, but the marking remains somewhat obscured because the gun has the fully checkered grip. The revolver also has the other early production features of the original loading lever pivot screw location on the lower front edge of the frame and the “London Armoury” lock mark without the addition of the “Co”.

 

The is in about NEAR VERY GOOD condition and is a gun that clearly saw some serious use. The gun has a deeply stamped Confederate JS / {ANCHOR} inspection mark that is mostly concealed by the checkering in the wood grip on the front strap. Upon close inspection the anchor is quite visible, with the “J” mostly present and the “S” almost entirely obscured by the checkering pattern. The gun is serial numbered 1897 on the right side of the frame, with the matching number engraved on the cylinder. The lock plate of the pistol is clearly marked with the earlier production LONDON ARMOURY. mark, without the addition of “Co” after the name. The right side of the frame is marked: KERR’S PATENT 1978. The left side of the frame is marked with the usual two-line oval cartouche that reads LONDON / ARMOURY. Alternating {CROWN} / V and {CROWN} / GP London commercial view and proof marks are also found between the chambers of the cylinder. The left upper flat of the full-length 5.5" octagonal barrel is marked near the frame with the commercial London view and proof marks of a { CROWN } / GP and {CROWN } / V reading from the muzzle to the frame, and with the L.A.C. mark on the side of the proofs closest to the muzzle. The pistol is marked with the typical London Armoury Company Arabic assembly numbers. The remnants of the assembly numbers are present inside the trigger guard, on the face of the cylinder and inside the top of the frame. Often the numbers on the face of the cylinder and inside the frame are obscured by erosive pitting and are illegible. This is the case with this gun, and the triggerguard assembly number is obscured as well. The original cylinder pin retention spring is present, which is nice, as this fragile part was often broken or lost. The action of the pistol does not quite function correctly. The problem appears to be the tip of the hand being broken off. Since the hand is a little short, the gun will not rotate and index correctly unless the cylinder is started by hand, rotating it past the first “click” on the cylinder ratchet for each chamber. Then the cocking of the hammer rotates the cylinder as it should and the gun fires and locks up as it should when the trigger is pulled. Since the hand is short, when the trigger is released the cylinder slips back past the locking ratchet on the rear of the cylinder, leaving it locked and unmoving when the hammer is cocked unless the cylinder is again turned past that first detent. A competent restoration gunsmith should be able to repair the damaged hand, if the new owner wants to have this done. The lower lock plate mounting screw is an old replacement that looks good and is not immediately obvious as a replacement. The original loading lever is present and functions as it should, but due to the early design is likely to get hung up in an empty cylinder chamber and lock up, something the later version of the loading lever does not do. 

 

As noted, the gun is in about NEAR VERY GOOD condition. It shows the heavy use of an early Confederate acquired revolver with heavy traces of fouling and oxidation in the chambers, moderate erosion around the rear of the cylinder and the cones (nipples) and a moderately pitted bore. The guns has a thickly oxidized and very attractive plum brown patina over most of the metal surfaces with flecks and minute traces of blue visible in protected areas, particularly where the barrel meets the frame. The metal is partly smooth, but shows scattered patches of oxidized surface roughness, some scattered pinpricking and some minor patches of light pitting. Most of the “roughness” is oxidized surface crust that could be cleaned but should be leaf alone as the pistol has a wonderful, untouched appearance. The lock plate has a darkly mottled smoky brownish gray patina with some hints of mottling The bore of the revolver remains about GOOD, with strong rifling its entire length. The bore is thickly oxidized, dark and dirty with evenly distributed moderate pitting and some small areas of more significant pitting. Like most Kerr revolvers, this one has a lanyard ring in the butt cap. The butt cap and lanyard ring have the same deeply oxidized patina as the balance of the gun. The original brass post sight is present on the end of the barrel near the muzzle and appears to retain all of its original height and profile radius at its end. All of the cones (nipples) in the cylinder remain in good, solid and completely usable condition. The one-piece checkered walnut grip is in about VERY GOOD condition as well and shows wear commensurate with the balance of the pistol’s condition. The grip is solid and complete and free of any breaks, cracks or repairs. The grip retains strong checkering over most of its surface, with some areas of light to moderate wear, and showing scattered bumps and dings and wear and some minor flattening to the points of the checkering. As noted, the deeply struck Confederate JS / {ANCHOR} inspection mark is present below the gripstrap but is camouflaged by the checkering. The anchor is easiest to discern, then from there you can work your way up the mark and see the “J” fairly clearly while the “S” is mostly concealed by the checkering pattern.

 

Overall this is a very attractive, untouched example of an early war production, early Confederate acquired Kerr’s Patent Revolver complete with a JS / {ANCHOR} inspection mark. The serial number is low enough that the revolver was likely delivered to the Confederacy by late 1861, and certainly by the spring of 1862. The pistol is in about Very Good+ to Near Fine “Confederate” condition, but only NRA “Good+ to Near Very Good” condition for gun collectors. It is essentially complete and correct with only the lock screw replaced and is a solid condition Confederate Kerr revolver that would be a good addition to any collection of Civil War period handguns.

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Tags: Early, Confederate, Purchased, Kerr, Revolver