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Rare and Fine Joslyn Model 1855 "Monkey Tail" Carbine

Rare and Fine Joslyn Model 1855 "Monkey Tail" Carbine

  • Product Code: FLA-4045
  • Availability: In Stock
  • $5,950.00

The US Model 1855 Joslyn Carbine, known today by collectors as the Monkey Tail carbine, was the first of a series of Civil War era firearms to be designed and patented Benjamin Franklin Joslyn. B.F. Joslyn was born in 1821 and had grown up in Worchester, MA. Worchester was where the firm of Allen & Thurber, later Allen & Wheelock, had relocated to in 1847 and established a large firearms manufacturing facility. Although little is known of Joslyn’s early life, it is reasonable to assume that the arrival of this major manufacturer in his hometown while he was in his mid-20s probably influenced a young, mechanically minded, man who was interested in firearms and their designs. 


By 1855 Joslyn had filed for and received his first firearms related patent. The patent, issued August 23, 1855, was for a percussion breechloading carbine. The gun had a 22 ½” round barrel, secured to the stock with a single brass barrel band and the breechblock. The carbine was .54 caliber and utilized a combustible nitrated paper cartridge. Pushing a large oval ring at the rear of the action forward unlocked the breech lever and allowed it to be swung forward and upward, actuating the breech loading mechanism and exposing the breech for loading. A fixed plunger at the end of the breech lever forced the loaded charge home into the chamber when the lever was closed. A long pin at the rear of the breech lever actuated a trigger safety mechanism that locked the trigger and prevented it from releasing the hammer, even if it was cocked, while the breech was open. This system prevented accidental discharges while the breech was open, and only allowed the trigger to work while the breech was securely closed. The carbine was mounted in a half-length walnut stock and had a sling bar and ring mounted on the flat, opposite the lock, to facilitate carry by cavalry. The lock, breech and lever mechanism were all color casehardened, and the barrel was browned or blued, depending upon the era of manufacturing. The furniture, consisting of the triggerguard, buttplate and barrel band were all of brass. The rear sight was a flip up adjustable ladder with a fixed notch for use as a quick acquisition sight when it was in the down position and a sliding elevation bar to adjust the sight for longer distances when the ladder was flipped up. The sight was dovetailed into the top of the barrel, about 3 ½” forward of the breech hinge. The sight was similar to those used on some early Sharps rifles and carbines and was not particularly sturdy. A large iron front sight, with a “shark fin” profile was mounted on top of the barrel about a half-inch from the muzzle. 


Now that Joslyn had a design and a patent, he only needed two more things, a way to manufacture his new carbine and customers for it, preferably the US military. Joslyn subsequently approached the venerable Asa H. Waters firearms company of Millbury, MA to manufacture his carbine. The Waters company could trace its roots to the early days of the 19th century and had been a US military arms contractor since the 1808 Contract Musket orders. Waters provided experience in military arms manufacturing and a relationship with the US Ordnance Department that would be helpful to get Joslyn’s foot in the door to acquire a US military contract for his carbine. Interestingly, the Joslyn carbine would be the last firearm produced by this iconic American gun maker. Joslyn also hired William C. Freeman of New York City to help market and distribute the design. Freeman must have been heavily involved in the firearms industry, as he is often attributed as the manufacturer of, or at least the person who arranged for the manufacture of, the first 500 B.F. Joslyn designed revolvers. Freeman was apparently well connected with the US Ordnance Department and managed to arrange for Joslyn’s design to be included in the 1857 and 1858 Army Board Trials for breechloading arms. While the Joslyn designs did not win the trials, it came in second to the Burnside design, it did well enough for Joslyn to receive an order for 1,200 carbines. The Navy was apparently impressed as well, and they further ordered 500 of the guns with longer barrels and a saber bayonet lug under the barrel. It is debatable whether the Navy considered these “rifles” or “carbines” as the Jenks Navy Rifle was considered a “long barreled carbine” by the Navy. While it appears that all of the carbines ordered by the Army were delivered, it is generally believed that only about 200 of the Navy rifles were ever manufactured. Some arms historians theorize that the balance of the Navy order was filled with remaining carbines on hand. 


By the time these sales were going through, Joslyn was already on to his new designs, which included a new breechloading rimfire carbine, which would be designated the Model 1862 Joslyn Carbine, and a five-chambered, solid frame, .44 caliber percussion revolver. Both of these arms would be manufactured at Joslyn’s newly established factory in Stonington, CT. With the coming of the American Civil War, Joslyn would find a ready customer in the US Ordnance Department for both of his new inventions. An improved version of his Model 1862 breechloader, the Model 1864 was even more popular, and its action would become the basis for the first breechloading metallic cartridge rifle to be manufactured at the Springfield Arsenal during early 1865. 


As with most firearms manufacturers who had profited and flourished during the Civil War, the end of the conflict brought Joslyn’s financial ruin. The civilian market could not begin to support the factories that had been designed for wartime output, and by the end of 1868 Joslyn was bankrupt and his assets were sold at a sheriff’s auction. 


Joslyn does, however, hold the distinction of having his Model 1855 carbine among the first breechloaders to be in the field with Union cavalry during the Civil War. As the 1,200 carbines ordered after the 1857-58 trials were already in the hands of the Ordnance Department, they were readily available for issue. The carbines seem to have seen the most field use with Ohio volunteer cavalry regiments, with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry all receiving “Monkey Tail” carbines. Only 1,500 of the guns were manufactured by Waters, and with 1,200 going to the US government it would seem that the majority of the surviving examples would bear US inspector marks. However, this is not the case, and may be the result of the delivered arms not being inspected upon delivery. Until recently it has been assumed that no Ordnance Department inspectors were ever sent to the Waters factory to inspect the guns. Other theories for the lack of inspection marks have included the hypothesis that the guns were “open market” purchases from the “civilian” market by the US Ordnance Department. Purchases of that type were not inspected in any way. However, correspondence uncovered by Paul D. Johnson in the National Archives indicates that Ordnance Department’s civilian arms inspectors Joseph Hannis, George S Saunders, and Andrew D King all spent time at the Waters factory to inspect the Joslyn carbines. Hannis was reportedly there at times between June and November of 1860, Saunders was there between June and October of 1860 and King there only in June of that year.


It appears that the Joslyn carbines were probably delivered circa 1858-1860 and the handful sent out for trials in the field were inspected at that time, with the thought that others would be inspected as they were issued. With the sudden need to issue carbines at the beginning of the war, the guns appear to have been largely issued without inspection cartouches. Other anomalies exist with the production of the carbines. While some are serial numbered on the tops of their breech levers, many are not. These guns typically only have an alphanumeric mark on the left side of the breech lever, which is probably some sort of batch or assembly number. It is my belief that the guns with these marks were the earliest production carbines, and the later production guns are serial numbered. This is supported by the fact that the handful of extant Model 1855 Joslyn Naval rifles known are serial numbered, and these would have been among the last guns produced by Waters for Joslyn. Additionally, some examples have none of the usual markings found on the lock and breech lever that are found on other guns. Again, this may have something to do with when the guns were produced. Some bear A.H. Waters lock markings, and some are blank. Some breech levers have the Joslyn patent information stamped on them, and some do not. There appears to be no particular rhyme or reason as to whether the markings are present or not. The standard markings usually consisted of a lock that read in two lines, forward of the hammer:





The top of the breech lever was usually marked in three lines:




AUG. 26, 1855



However, as noted some examples are completely blank, although this may be related to when the gun was produced, with the theory that the later guns were less likely to be marked. It also appears that the early production carbines were manufactured with browned barrels, while the later production carbines and Naval rifles were blued. Examples of carbines with both finishes, clearly original, are known to exist. Many of the carbines are further marked with a cryptic alphanumeric mark on the right side of the barrel band. This could be an assembly or mating mark, but in only one case have I ever seen this mark match the alphanumeric mark on the breech lever. It seems much more likely that these marks are some sort of rack or issue mark. They are not present on all carbines, but appear on the large majority of them, suggesting that they are some sort of military marking. With only 1,500 of the Joslyn Model 1855 “Monkey Tail” Carbines being produced, they are extremely rare today in any condition. Since most of these carbines were issued and in the field at the beginning of the Civil War, a high condition example is an extremely rare and highly prized find for the advanced US Civil War carbine collector.


This Joslyn Model 1855 “Monkey Tail” Carbine is in about FINE condition. The carbine is very crisp and sharp and retains a nice amount of its original finish on the barrel and some on the breech lever. This is one of those enigmatic Joslyn carbines that is probably a very late delivery. It is really impossible to tell for sure until an in-depth study of these guns is done. The gun is devoid of the usual AH Waters lock markings and Joslyn patent information on the breech lever, nor does it have the very rarely encountered inspectors’ cartouche on the counterpane, above the sling bar. 


The gun appears to be “serial numbered”, with the inside of the breech lever is stamped on the reverse side 1004. There are no other factory applied markings on the gun, nor are there any sub-inspection marks. This conforms with the usual conundrum about how and why Joslyn Monkey Tail Carbines are marked. The serial number certainly suggests that it was part of the latter third of production, with only 1,500 produced and the fact that the barrel is blued also suggests being a later delivery gun that could have seen Civil War cavalry service or been part of the delivery to the US Navy.


As noted, the gun remains in FINE condition and is quite crisp throughout. The barrel retains about 60%+ of its original thinning blue, with much of the wear and loss along the top of the barrel and under the barrel, forward of the forend. The areas where the finish has mostly worn away has developed a medium pewter gray patina with scattered surface oxidation and discoloration, giving some of the metal a mottled look. The lock is unmarked as noted and has faded to a mostly mottled dull bluish-gray color with some dull hints of the original case coloring in the protected areas around the body of the hammer. The lock has evenly distributed areas of darker gray oxidized discoloration. The breech lever has a similar mottled and discolored bluish-gray and dark gray patina with some hints of faded case colors on the exterior and stronger colors remaining intact on the interior of the lever. The sling bar mounting plate has faded to a mostly dull mottled gray patina as well, with scattered surface oxidation and discoloration. The metal is mostly smooth throughout, although there are some small, scattered patches of lightly oxidized surface scale and crust here and there. There are also some scattered areas of light to moderate pinpricking, most notably around the muzzle and front sight. The bore of the carbine remains in NEAR EXCELLENT condition, and is extremely bright with excellent, sharp 3-groove rifling and retains much of its mirror polish. The lock is extremely crisp as well, and is mechanically excellent, functioning perfectly on all positions. The breech loading mechanism is in equally excellent condition, also functioning perfectly in every way. The brass furniture has a lovely, mellow golden patina that is very attractive. The gun appears to be 100% complete, correct, and original in all respects. The original sling bar and ring are in place on the side of the carbine, and the original ladder rear sight is in place as well. The rear sight ladder is clearly graduated to 8, a rather optimistic 800 yards. The original front sight blade is in place as well, near the muzzle. The gun is tightly assembled with very fine wood to metal fit. The stock of the carbine is in VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition and is relatively sharp throughout. The edges and lines remain fairly crisp and sharp, and the stock does not appear to have bee sanded or tampered with in any way. The stock is full length and solid and is free of any breaks or repairs. This is practically unheard of with Joslyn carbines, as the large majority of them have cracks in their wrists due to the very thin wood there, where the breech loading action is inlet into the stock. The stock does show numerous scattered bumps, dings as well as mars from handling, use and storage, but no abuse or damage. There are also some surface scrapes and some scratches that look at first glance like minor cracks but are simply surface mars. The period initials J.B are neatly carved in the obverse of the butt of the gun, but of course give no indication as to who “JB” was or when they were cut into the wood. They are, however, completely consistent with the period of use and do not appear to be of a more recent vintage.


Overall, this is a very nice example of a very scarce US military carbine that is rarely seen on the market in this state of overall preservation and condition. For any serious collector of scarce US 19th century martial arms, this gun has everything you want, condition, originality, and scarcity. I am sure you will be extremely pleased to add this fantastic carbine to your collection, and it will certainly be a standout in even the most advanced carbine collection, as many Civil War carbine collections do not include one of these scarce guns.

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Tags: Rare, and, Fine, Joslyn, Model, 1855, Monkey, Tail, Carbine