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 & 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 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 previously worked with him at Deane, Adams & Deane. Initially the London Armoury Company (LAC) focused on producing M-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-shot cylinder. The gun was manufactured with barrel lengths that varied slightly, with the earliest guns having barrels around 5 ““ in length and the later pistols having slightly shorter barrels that varied between about 5 ““ 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 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 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 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 lefts side, similar in appearance to the M-1851 Adams patent safety, which retained the arbor pin. Early 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. Most of these early features are 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 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 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 born 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 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 20-30 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. 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 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 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 (“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 & 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 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, 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, fully cased example in EXCELLENT condition. The revolver retains all of its original accessories, including the extremely scarce combination tool and the delicate “cloth bag”, complete with both of its original paper labels. The gun is serial numbered 9620 on the right side of the frame and on the cylinder. This is 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, this gun is not marked with a JS/Anchor inspection mark, suggesting it was a speculative purchase rather than a government contract revolver. The side plate of the pistol is clearly marked: LONDON ARMORY Co, and the right side of the frame is marked: KERR’s PATENT 9620. 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: 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 marks are also found between the chambers of the cylinder. The pistol is marked with the typical London Armoury Company assembly numbers. The number is present on the face of the cylinder, inside the trigger guard, and inside the bottom of the frame. The assembly number is 154. 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 timing and lock up are very good as well. The original loading lever is present and functions smoothly also. The gun retains about 85%-90% of its original blued finish overall. The barrel retains about 95% of its original bright, rust blue and shows only the most minor wear and finish loss, mostly along the sharp edges and points of contact. The frame retains about 70%+ of its original blued finish with most of the loss being due to flaking along the lower portion of the frame on both sides. The barrel web forward of the cylinder and the top strap both retain nearly all of their original bright blue. The areas of the frame where the finish has flaked have a nice, smooth, plum brown patina, with flecks of blue remaining. The cylinder retains about 90% of its original blue as well. The hammer also retains about 95%+ of its original blue, which is somewhat duller than the bright rust blue on the barrel and frame, and has a smoky undertone. There is some minor finish loss along the sharp edges and contact points of the hammer. There is also moderate loss of blue along the contact points of the backstrap, frontstrap and triggerguard. As with the lower frame, the areas where the blue has worn or flaked now have a smooth plum brown patina that blends well with the remaining finish. The lock plate retains about 95% of its original mottled case coloring, with some minor fading and dulling from age, making the colors somewhat less vivid than they were when new. The loading lever retains a similar amount of case coloring, and also shows some minor dulling and fading. The case hardened trigger retains about 85%+ case coloring, with the same muting and fading noted on the lock plate and loading lever. The fire blued spring cylinder arbor pin retaining clip and the loading lever locking clip both retain about 85%+ brilliant purplish-blue finish and are quite attractive. All of the edges and markings of the pistol remain extremely sharp and crisp. While most Kerr revolvers had a lanyard ring in their butt caps, this revolver never did. The butt cap does, however, retain about 305 of its original finish, which had blended with a smooth plum-brown patina. The original brass post 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 about EXCELLENT condition and remains quite bright and sharp. The bore retains very crisp rifling, and shows only the most minor traces of lightly scattered pinpricking in the grooves. The one-piece checkered walnut grip is in about EXCELLENT 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 grips are free of breaks, cracks, chips or repairs, and have a brown color to them, that is lighter with a reddish-orange tone on the left side and fades to more traditional walnut brown on the opposite side. This is somewhat common with Kerr revolvers, and probably has something to do with the fact that the left side retains all of the wood, while the right side is mortised out for the lock mechanism.
The pistol is contained within its original English casing and is complete with all of the correct accessories. The casing is typical varnished English oak design with “Bible” hinges and a brass lock on the front. The case is in about VERY GOOD condition and shows moderate wear and finish loss, along with some old water rings on the lid. The case shows some chips and dings, and a couple of minor grain cracks and some minor warping to the lid. The brass lock escutcheon is missing from the front of the case, as is the key. The interior compartments are lined with a faded green baize that shows good age and wear, but could be a very old (late 19th century / early 20th century) relining. 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 wonderful Kerr revolver accessories, all of which are contained in compartments, with the exception of the combination tool, which is secured to the case lid by a fabric strap and a pair of tacks. Kerr revolver accessories are extremely scarce, and the set of accouterments included with this revolver were used as the samples that were photographed for use in the upcoming book The English Connection by Russ Pritchard Jr. and C. A. Huey. The book is an in depth study into the acquisition of English made weapons and materiel by the Confederacy during the American Civil War, and should be available by the end of 2014 or in early 2015. Included in the casing are the following original Kerr accouterments:
1) Kerr Bullet Mould, in EXCELLENT condition. The mold is the typical 2-cavity brass mold found in many English casings, but casts two Kerr’s patent round nosed bullets with a single grease groove and shallow heel. The mold is marked 54 on the side, indicating 54-Bore. 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 blue, which is fading and turning a plum-brown color.
2) 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 and the flask functions correctly.
3) Cloth Bag in VERY FINE condition. This original green baize bag closes with a drawstring and was intended to hold percussion caps. While the typical jappaned tin was the typical cap container for cased English pistols, Kerr revolvers were cased with the cloth bag for percussion caps. On one side of the bag is the original round orange paper Eley Brothers label that would usually be affixed to the top of the cap tin. The opposite side of the bag has a rectangular paper label that reads in three lines: Made expressly for / KERR’s / PATENT REVOLVER. Additionally, the number 50 or 56 is written on the label in period ink, possibly indicating the number of caps originally contained in the bag.
4) Pewter Oiler in EXCELLENT condition. The oiler is complete with the detail oiler attached to the inside of the lid. The bottom of the oiler is clearly marked: JAMES DIXON / & SONS / SHEFFIELD.
5) Jappaned Tin of Bullets in VERY FINE condition. The jappaned tin shows bumps, dings and dents from handling and use and from holding the lead bullets. It retain most of its original paper label which reads: Made expressly for / KERR’s / PATENT REVOVLER. Part of this label is missing, but the label appears to be identical to the one on the reverse of the cloth percussion cap bag. The tin contains a number of Kerr’s patent bullets that might have been cast from the accompanying mold. It is my belief that the lead bullets are more recent than that balance of the casing and were probably cast in the last 50 years or so, for the purpose of display.
6) Cleaning Rod in EXCELLENT condition. The wooden cleaning rod is in fabulous condition and shows only light handling marks and little use. The rod has a removable brass jag for cleaning the bore, and a brass mounted steel ball extractor (concealed by the jag) for unloading the cylinder. The rod appears to be of polished rosewood.
7) Spare Kerr Revolver Cone (nipple) in EXCELLENT condition.
8) Kerr Revolver Combination Tool in FINE condition. While the last item listed among the cased accessories, this is certainly the rarest and least often found on the collector market. This combination tool combines screwdrivers, a cone (nipple) wrench and mainspring vise in a single handy tool to maintain and care for a Kerr revolver. The blued steel tool retains about 70%+ of its original dull blue, with some fading and wear, and the longer of the screwdriver blades shows a small chip of metal missing. I know of only other example of this tool that hit the general collectors market in the last couple of decades and it sold for nearly $1,000. I doubt that more than a handful of there scarce tools are in private collections today.
Overall this is an outstanding example of a likely Confederate imported Kerr’s Patent Revolver complete with original casing and accessories. The pistol is truly an EXCELLENT, investment-grade example that would be extremely difficult to upgrade from. The serial number clearly indicates that the pistol would have been produced and delivered to the Confederacy no later than July of 1864 (based on the Pratt List), and probably somewhat earlier than that. The gun is accompanied by a truly fantastic and complete set of accessories that will be published in an upcoming book on the subject of Confederate imports from England, and is one of the few times most collectors will have the opportunity to acquire a Kerr marked cap bag, bullet tin, or the extremely elusive combination gun tool. The gun is absolutely 100% complete and correct in everyway 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 within the parameters of those Kerr’s 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 what will surely be the highest condition Confederate revolver you will likely get a chance to own, in a complete and correct original casing. This gun deserves to be the centerpiece of a truly advanced collection of Confederate handguns or Confederate imports from England. The pictures simply don't do this gun justice, and it is even more striking in person. This wonderful set is fresh to the market, having previously been a part two of the best collections of English and southern revolvers. This is a rare opportunity to own what is truly one of the “best of the best” in English “ Confederate handguns.
Provenance: ex-Woody Summerlin, ex-Dave Dermon collections.SOLD