Extremely Rare Suhl Contract US M1855 Socket Bayonet
- Product Code: EWB-2503
- Availability: Out Of Stock
Of all the imported arms utilized by the US government during the American Civil War, the SUHL Contract Model 1861 Rifle Musket and its accompanying German-made Model 1855 Socket Bayonet are probably two of the most desirable and most difficult to obtain for a collection. In fact, the authors of Firearms from Europe (2ndEdition) describe the gun as “one of the rarest of all Civil War weapons” and further note that “only a handful are known to exist”. The bayonets are even more rarely encountered, with fewer of the sockets known in collections than the muskets themselves.
The details regarding these handmade Germanic copies of the US Model 1861 Rifle Musket are not particularly clear, but it appears that the guns were probably produced by Christian Funk of Suhl, which was located in the German state of Thuringia. The guns were most likely imported by William Hahn of New York. According to US Ordnance Document records, Hahn delivered 481 “German Muskets, Springfield Pattern”, at prices that ranged from $14.50 to $16.50 each. The deliveries were made in two lots, with 179 being delivered March 7, 1862 and the balance of 302 being delivered on July 15, 1862. Schuyler, Hartley & Graham of New York delivered an additional 400 “Suhl Rifles” and “Suhl Rifle-Muskets” to the US Government between February 17 and March 10 of 1862. However, the pattern of these arms is not noted in the delivery documents. The majority of the rifle-muskets of Germanic origin that were delivered by Schuyler, Hartley & Graham were of the Enfield pattern, making it likely that these 400 guns of “unspecified pattern” were also of the Enfield pattern and not Model 1861 types.
The Suhl “Springfield” was essentially a handmade copy of the US Model 1861 Rifle Musket. It was a .58 caliber, muzzleloading percussion rifled musket with a 40” round barrel. The breech area of the musket had a large octagonal section; making is somewhat bulkier in that area than the standard US muskets. As the guns were handmade, they did not feature interchangeable parts, which meant that to the US Ordnance Department they were considered “2ndClass” arms, even though they were of the standard .58 caliber. The extant surviving examples of these rare gun are known with various markings, but the two consistent features on all known examples are the unique “Spread Winged Eagle” on the lock plate and the assembly numbering of the component parts of the gun. This assembly numbering varies in location and style between known examples. Some show the numbers on every single part, down to the necks of the screws, and some show less consistent numbering, with some variation as to exactly where the assembly numbers are struck. The fact that these numbers are assembly or batch numbers is proved by the fact that the numbers encountered are always rather low; under 50 to my knowledge, and the fact that I have examined two different Suhl M1861s that were numbered “19”, one of which I sold a couple of years ago. In examining two fine condition examples recently, one of which is offered here, I had the opportunity to fully disassemble the guns, including the removal of the 1858 pattern rear sights. I did this to confirm that that sights were assembly numbered to the guns. What I found was quite interesting. The gun that was assembly numbered “20” over its entirety was numbered “31” under the sight base and in the rear sight dovetail. That fact that the barrel, which was numbered “20” on its bottom, matching the other assembly numbers, was numbered “31” in the dovetail, as was the sight, suggested that maybe this was more of a serial number than an assembly or batch number. This was supported when I disassembled number “19” (the second gun I had seen with that number) and found that it was numbered “152” under the rear sight and in the dovetail. This proves almost conclusively that these markings relate the number of guns produced, rather than being a secondary assembly number. Some of the known examples are marked CH. FUNK / SUHL on their locks, while some bear no maker’s mark at all. In some cases, this same mark is found on the interior of the lock plate and/or on the bottom of the barrels. At least two styles of “US” markings on the lock are known, and proof marks vary among the handful of known specimens, with some marked externally and some marked under the barrel. All known examples are dated 1861 on both the lock and the top flat of the breech. Some are known with US inspectors’ cartouches on the stock flat and some are known with no such marks. At least one example is known with an “OHIO” stamp, but that would have been applied by the state of Ohio when it received several lots of surplus and second-class arms from the US Government in 1863-64 to recompense the state for arms it had provided to its volunteer troops at the beginning of the war. Authors have referred to the guns as having stocks made of “maple” or “light colored European walnut”. From my observations of a handful of extant examples, the guns were stocked in either the light European walnut, or more likely beech, which would have been the typical wood found in Prussian arms of the time. It is possible, however, that a contract to produce US pattern arms would have specified the type of wood to be used in the stocks. One interesting fact rarely noted is that most of the finer condition examples known retain at least some remnants of tin plating. When I first encountered this a few years ago I had assumed the plating was a post war addition, possibly from display in a Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Hall collection. Since then, I have examined a couple of other examples that show the exact same finish, suggesting that the guns, or at least a portion of them, may well have been delivered tinned.
The socket bayonets delivered with these muskets appear to have been produced by various Solingen makers, with some being maker marked near the ricasso with the letters E.W., some marked A.W. and others unmarked. A script lower-case g is also found on the bridge or ricasso of some of the examples, while some others bear a small, script t. The bayonets are usually marked on the rear face of the socket with a number that matched it to the gun, and some bear additional cryptic markings that have not been deciphered. The bayonets were tinned like the muskets with a couple of high condition examples known that retain much of that plating. Authors David Noe and Joe Serbaroli Jr., in their book European Bayonets of the American Civil War, reference the research of the late Dick Marsden, co-founder of the Society of American Bayonet Collectors on the subject of the Suhl made Springfield socket bayonets. Mr. Marsden managed to examine five different examples, which are listed as #3, #5, #13 (two different examples) and #16. I can add #20 to this list, as that is the number of the socket bayonet offered here.
While at first glance the Suhl-made US M1855 socket bayonets look essentially identical to the US-made examples, closer examination reveal some minor differences. The most obvious on a high condition example is the tinned finish. This is followed by the perfectly round locking ring stop pin that is also of a larger diameter than the US pin, which has three flat sides and one rounded side. The face flute of the Suhl bayonet is slightly shorter and terminates with a flatter arc to the curve at the base than on the US made bayonets. The flatter radius at the bottom of the flute is similar to Belgian made bayonet face flutes. Less difficult to see without the use of calipers is the very minor difference in socket diameter of the Suhl bayonets, which is typically around .782” (+/- .001), while a standard US bayonet socket has a muzzle diameter of .780”. It appears that currently less than ten examples of these scarce bayonets are known to exist, and they very rarely appear on the market for sale.
Offered here is a VERY FINE example of an extremely scarce Suhl Model 1855 Socket Bayonet. The bayonet is numbered 20 on the rear face of the socket, along with a series of six small, square dots in a circular pattern that resembles an asterisk. The face of the blade is stamped with the maker mark A.W. near the shank and a small script g mark is present on the blade face, closer to the base of the face flute. The bayonet is nominally 21” in overall length with an 18” blade and a 3” socket. The blade has a 15 ¼” face flute with sharper, less rounded radius at the base of the flute. The muzzle diameter measures .781”. The bayonet retains about 80%+ of its original tinned finish, which is thinning and shows some light wear and loss. The most noticeable loss is from the socket, shank and base of the blade near the neck. These were the primary points of contact and handling, so it makes sense that these areas would show the most wear and loss. The areas where the plating has worn has started to develop a thinly oxidized brownish patina. The balance of the blade shows some flecks of scattered surface oxidation, and the thinning tin plating has developed a slightly dull, milky patina. The bayonet remains quite crisp and sharp throughout. The markings are mostly clear and legible, with the “A” in the “AW” mark a little weak due to being poorly struck. The original locking ring remains in place and functions smoothly and correctly. Other than some minor finish loss, the bayonet shows only some scattered dings and minor impact marks, primarily around the neck and socket area. These are typical of socket bayonets that saw any degree of use.
Overall this is a really outstanding example of one of the rarest of the all the imported Civil War socket bayonets and is a bayonet that practically never appears on the market for sale. This is an absolute “must have” accessory if you have a Suhl musket and if you gun is batch numbered “20”, it would be the ultimate opportunity to reunite the two piece and display them together proudly.