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Fine Cased Kerr Revolver in the Confederate Pratt List Serial Number Range

Fine Cased Kerr Revolver in the Confederate Pratt List Serial Number Range

  • Product Code: FHG-3536-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $5,950.00

The London Armoury Company Kerr’s Patent Revolver is one of the most distinctive and recognizable of all Civil War era handguns. The side mounted hammer and removable side plate were not common features in large bore handguns of the era and result in a unique silhouette. The Kerr patent revolver was invented by James Kerr, who was awarded two patents for improvements to Roberts Adams earlier revolver design. Kerr had been a founding member of the London Armoury Company, which was established on 9 February 1856 and of which Adams was the Managing Director during the late 1850s. It is interesting to note that Kerr was Adams’ cousin and previously worked with him at Deane, Adams & Deane. Initially the London Armoury Company (LAC) focused on producing Model 1854 Beaumont-Adams patent revolvers with an eye towards obtaining lucrative English military contracts. When significant orders were not forthcoming, the company shifted its focus to manufacturing the British Pattern 1853 “Enfield” Rifle Muskets for both the English government and private 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 was 54-Bore (about .442 caliber) and had a 5-chambered 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 5/8”. 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). 

The majority of the pistols used a single action mechanism, not a double action mechanism as the trigger position in the center of the triggerguard implies. 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 on 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 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 “self-cocking” (double action) revolvers, and they are very 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 1855 Side Hammer “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 left side, similar in appearance to the Model 1851 Adams patent safety, which retained the arbor pin. Adams would use a similar arbor pin retention spring on the frame of his 1854 patent revolvers.  Early production revolvers had a wide groove machined 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. 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. 

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 the revolvers being 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 of 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 were produced on contract for the Confederacy, with about 9,000 pistols produced and shipped to the south during that time. It is also estimated that the London Armoury Company produced about 70,000 Patter 1853 Enfield Rifle Muskets during the same time frame. The estimate regarding revolver production is borne out by the extant examples with Confederate provenance or marks, which tend to exist in the 1,500 to about the 10,500 serial number range. 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 a 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 3 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 enigmatic JS/{Anchor} that is often located 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 that the majority of Kerr’s over serial number 1,500 and below 10,500 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 30-40 years but 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 about the 10,500 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. This indicates that this gun was a speculative purchase and not a government contract purchase, which would have received the JS/{Anchor} inspection mark.

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. 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. 500 of the guns and their associated accouterments were subsequently delivered to the Selma Arsenal, and the other 400 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 (listed as “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 “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 customer. The company closed exactly one year after the end of the American Civil War, in April of 1866. It believed that the remaining factory assets and machinery were sold to a gun making company in Spain the following year. 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, usually 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 and Old Western Scrounger, 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.

The Kerr’s Patent Revolver offered here is an extremely scarce, cased example in FINE condition. The revolver retains some of its original accessories, including the extremely scarce and delicate “cloth bag” in which the spare percussion cones were contained. The gun is serial numbered 9571 on the right side of the frame and on the cylinder. Interestingly I have previously owned another cased Kerr Revolvers close to this one, number 9620. Both of these guns are well within the range of known Confederate acquisitions, and within the range of Kerr numbers listed on the Pratt list, which runs from 9240 to 9974. Like #9974 on the Pratt Roll, neither of these guns are marked with a JS/{Anchor} inspection mark, suggesting they were speculative purchases rather than a government contract revolver. While most Kerr revolvers are marked on the side plate with the legend LONDON ARMORY Co, this one is unmarked. Unmarked lock plates are found occasionally during Kerr revolver production and like the scarce 80-Bore revolvers, are found during early and late production. One example is known in the 8XX range with most examples appearing in the latter part of the 9XXX range and appearing through the early 10,XXX range.

The right side of the frame is marked: KERR’s PATENT 9571. The left side of the frame is marked with the two-line oval cartouche of the London Armoury Company and reads: LONDON in an arc over ARMORY, which is arched in the opposite directly. The left upper flat of the octagonal barrel is marked near the frame with the initials L.A.C. along with the commercial London view and proof marks of a {Crown}/GP and {Crown}/V. Alternating {Crown}/V and {Crown}/GP proof marks are also found between the chambers of the cylinder. The pistol is also marked with the typical London Armoury Company assembly numbers. The assembly number is 318 and the number is present on the face of the cylinder, inside the trigger guard, and inside the bottom of the frame. These assembly numbers are often illegible due to wear at the face of the cylinder and inside the frame, and only the number in the triggerguard typically survives clearly readable. The original cylinder pin retention spring is present and secure, and the action of the pistol works perfectly. The functions as correctly as a single action revolver, and time, indexes and locks up as it should. The original loading lever is present and functions smoothly also. The gun retains about 30% of its original blued finish overall. Most of the surviving bright blue is present on the frame, with some bright blue on the rear portion of the 5 5/8” barrel. Most of the finish loss appears to be the result of flaking. Most of the metal that shows finish loss has developed a moderately oxidized mottled brown and gray patina. The metal of the frame and barrel is primarily smooth with some scattered areas of minor surface roughness. The cylinder has a mottled patina that is a mixture of some flashes of blue, oxidized brown metal and some dull pewter gray metal. The cylinder shows more moderate oxidation and somewhat more heavily scattered patches of light surface roughness. The color casehardened lock, hammer and loading lever have a rich, dusky tobacco patina with some muted mottling that suggests the original case colored finish.  The fire blued small parts like the arbor pin retention spring and the loading lever retention spring retain some nice, vibrant blue color. All of the edges and markings of the pistol remain extremely sharp and crisp. Like most Kerr revolvers, the gun has a lanyard ring in the butt cap, and it remains in very good, completely functional condition. The ring and butt cap have a rich, uncleaned dark brown patina. The original brass post front sight is present on the end of the barrel near the muzzle and remains full height with the original crowning to its end. The bore of the pistol is in FINE condition and remains quite bright and sharp. The bore retains very crisp rifling and shows only some lightly scattered oxidation and frosting in the grooves. The one-piece checkered walnut grip is in FINE condition as well. It retains extremely sharp checkering over most of its surface, with only the most minor indication of handling and light use. The grip is free of breaks, cracks, chips, or repairs, and has a rich brown color with some nice figure to the grain.

The pistol is contained within its original English casing and is complete with a number of accessories. The casing is typical English oak design with “Bible” hinges and a brass lock on the front. The case is in NEAR VERY GOOD condition and shows moderate wear, some warping, and the beginnings of some joint separations. The brass lock and escutcheon are present at the front of the case and the key is present as well. While the key appears to fit and operate the lock, it does not do so reliably, and the lock may have some internal issues. It is recommended that the case not be locked as there is the potential it will remain that way. The interior compartments are lined with a faded green baize that shows good age and wear and is of the correct color and style for other known Kerr revolver cases. The case is in solid condition with no serious weakness to the structure itself or the interior compartment dividers. There is no retailer label inside the case lid, and no indication that there ever was one affixed to the lining in the lid. The case is loaded with a number of English revolver accessories, all of which are contained in compartments. Like other Kerr cases, there is a fabric strap inside the case lid that was intended to secure the combination tool that was included with these sets. The strap is broken, and the very rare combination tool is missing from the set.

All Kerr revolver accessories are extremely scarce, rarely do any of the correct ones appear in surviving cases. This one does contain a couple of correct original Kerr accessories, which include the following:

1) Powder Flask in about FINE overall condition. The small bag shaped flask is of copper with an adjustable brass spout and top. The body of the flask retains much of its original protective varnish and shows only a few small bumps and dings. The polished brass top is clearly marked in three lines JAMES DIXON/& SONS/SHEFFIELD. The original fire blued closure spring is in place on the top of the flask but is broken, so the stopper does not operate correctly.

2) Leather Bag in VERY GOOD condition, containing six spare percussion cones (nipples). These bags were specifically mentioned in the Payne Ledger at the beginning of the list of accessories that were imported and are referred to as “Spare Nipples & Cloth Bags”.

3) Cleaning Rod in FINE condition. The wooden cleaning rod, apparently of rosewood, is in very nice condition and shows only light handling marks, with the rich patina on the jag head showing the rod saw at least moderate use. Typically, these rods have a removable brass jag for cleaning the bore, and a mounted steel ball extractor concealed by the jag for unloading the cylinder. It is not clear if this rod does not of a removable head or if the head is frozen, as it will not unscrew. The appearance of the rod is completely consistent known examples of cleaning rods in cased Kerr revolver sets.

The additional accessories are of the correct period and general style but are not necessarily completely correct for Kerr revolver. They include:

4) Dual 54-Bore Bullet Mould in VERY FINE condition. The mold is the typical 2-cavity brass mold found in many English casings but is Adams’ Patent marked and would be most correct for an Adams patent revolver. However, the two conical cavities cast bullets that would be completely serviceable for a Kerr revolver. The brass body has a rich ocher patina that is untouched and uncleaned, and the mold cavities remain bright and clean with excellent edges. The blued sprue cutter is in wonderful condition, functions smoothly and retains about 70% of its original blued finish, with the balance of the cutter fading to an attractive plum color.

5) Jappaned Tin of Bullets in FINE condition. The jappaned tin shows bumps, dings and dents from handling and use and from holding the lead bullets. It retains most of its original paper label which reads: ELEY BROS./MANUFACTURERS, LONDON in a circle around the edge of the label with the additional marking 50/LUBRICATING/BULLETS/FOR/REVOLVING PISTOLS &c/No 54 Gauge in six lines on the center of the label. The label has faded and has some light wear but remains completely legible. The tin would be appropriate for any 54-Bore English percussion revolver of the time, although the most perfect example would say something to the effect of “expressly for Kerr’s Patent Revolvers” or something along those lines. No bullets are contained in the tin.

Overall, this is a fine and very crisp example of a likely Confederate imported Kerr’s Patent Revolver in the Pratt List serial number range, complete with its original English oak casing and a variety of accessories. The serial number clearly indicates that the pistol would have been produced and delivered to the Confederacy prior to the July of 1864 date of Captain Julian Pratt’s Squad list, and probably at least some months earlier than that. The gun is accompanied by a nice set of period accessories. The gun is absolutely 100% complete and correct in every way and is almost certainly an example of a late Civil War speculative Confederate revolver purchase. The lack of the JS/{Anchor} mark is in no way detrimental, as the gun is well within the parameters of those Kerr Revolvers on the Pratt List and one of the two known surviving guns on that list is not JS/{Anchor} marked either. Do not miss this opportunity to acquire a very nice, likely late war acquired Confederate revolver, in a correct original casing. This will be a fine addition to any collection of Civil War import arms and is priced very affordably when the value of entire grouping is calculated as the total of the prices for each of the individual pieces.


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Tags: Fine, Cased, Kerr, Revolver, in, the, Confederate, Pratt, List, Serial, Number, Range