Continental Armory Musket from the Philadelphia Supply Agency
- Product Code: FLA-2846-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
Among collectors of American Revolutionary War arms, the Committee of Safety muskets that were contracted for by the various colonies in the early days of the rebellion are the most coveted and desirable of weapons. However, it is unlikely that more than a dozen or so real, bonafide, and Committee of Safety muskets exist today. Since most collectors will never have the opportunity to own such a musket, the arms produced at the Continental Armory in Philadelphia are often the only chance they will have to obtain a documentable American “produced” musket of the Revolutionary War era. The Continental Armory had its genesis as the Continental Gun Factory in Lancaster, PA. Lancaster had long been at the center of Colonial gunmaking, and the large number of gunmakers and skilled craftsman in the region made it the perfect choice for the establishment of what would technically be the first “National Armory”, for a nation that did not yet exist, except in the hearts and minds of the revolutionaries trying to establish it. The Continental Gun Factory had been established in early 1776 with the goal of manufacturing muskets, but in reality it was primarily a repair facility. Here damaged muskets were repaired if possible, and those that could not be had their usable components like the locks, stocks, barrels and furniture cannibalized to fix other guns. While a Continental Gun Lock Factory had been established in Trenton, NJ to manufacture gun locks, the output was quite low and the British occupation of Trenton in the fall of 1776 closed that facility permanently. Even though contracts were let with various gunsmiths for their production, newly made American locks and barrels were in very short supply. This meant that most of the arms “produced” at the Continental Gun Factory were really newly assembled muskets using various scavenged parts from damaged guns; the classic “American Restock” of English, French, Dutch-Germanic and sometimes American components. It is believed that the guns assembled there basically followed the British “Land Pattern” design, with pinned barrels and brass furniture. To my knowledge, no musket has been positively identified as being one reworked or rebuilt at the Continental Gun Factory. The arsenal operated under the name “Continental Gun Factory” until sometime in 1779, when it was officially changed to “Continental Armory”. In July of 1779 the process of closing the armory began, with the goal of relocating it to nearby Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Supply Agencies were established in that city in 1780, and constituted a number of small factories and manufactories, under the control of the office of commissary of military stores, with the single goal of providing for the materiel needs of the Continental Army. The Agencies included at least 10 different facilities related the manufacture of ordnance and related items. According to George Moller’s research published in American Military Shoulder Arms, Volume 1, these facilities were:
The Air Furnace, which manufactured cast iron balls, as well as bar shot and grape shot for use by artillery.
The File Cutters, which produced the files needed for the other ordnance manufactories.
The Leather Factory, which produced a wide array of leather military items from shoes and infantry accouterments to harnesses and horse equipage for both cavalry and artillery.
The Ordnance Yard, which manufactured and repaired artillery pieces, as well as their carriages and related implements. They also manufactured tools for use by the Continental Army.
The Laboratory on Knight’s Warf, which manufactured artillery cartridges.
The Laboratory at the State House, which manufactured artillery wads and grape shot cartridges.
The Laboratory on Fifth Street, which manufactured small arms ammunition, including musket and pistol cartridges.
The Lead Furnace, which manufactured lead balls for use in musket ammunition, including both large caliber and buck shot sized balls.
The Brass Foundry, which cast a wide variety of brass parts, ranging from buckles to gun furniture. The primary goal of the foundry was to produce the necessary brass furniture to assemble muskets based upon the British Short Land Patterns of 1769 and 1777.
The French Factory, which repaired and refurbished small arms.
The Continental Armory, which did the same as the “French Factory”.
The “French Factory” was so-named because it was financed with money received from France, and not because it specialized in French pattern arms. Like the Continental Armory, it repaired and refurbished arms, and created newly assembled arms based upon the British P-1769 Short Land Pattern musket, using a combination of salvaged parts and newly made components. Both manufactories also used large numbers of French gun parts that were sent to America by our French allies. Often these parts included obsolete barrels and locks, which were then reassembled into functional muskets with brass furniture and British style pinned stocks. By the middle of 1780, the Continental Armory was up and running in Philadelphia and at least 16 “US Armorers” were employed there in the repair, refurbishment and assembling of muskets. The superintendent of the armory was Joseph Perkins, who had been a Philadelphia gunmaker before the war. In 1776 Perkins worked with James Hunter at Rappahannock Forge, assembling muskets for the revolution. In the years after the war, Perkins would continue to serve his country, as the Master Armorer at the short lived New London, Virginia armory (1797-1799), as superintendent at Philadelphia again from 1799-1802, and as the first armorer at the newly established Harpers Ferry Armory in 1803. As noted earlier, the arms assembled at the Continental Armory were essentially based on the British Short Land Pattern of 1769, but with some British features from 1777 pattern arms, and some notable “American” features that make the guns manufactured at this facility between 1780 and 1783 readily identifiable. University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Charles W. Thayer wrote a monograph entitled US Government Muskets of the Revolution, 1780-1783 that is particularly helpful in discerning these identifying features. The most readily obvious is the use of what Thayer calls the “thumb nail” buttplate tang. The tang is short and rounded, much shorter than the longer and more intricate British version. This shortened buttplate tang used less brass, did not require extensive inletting of the comb of the stock and did not require a transverse pin to secure the tang. The modified buttplate tang reduced the time and cost of fabrication of the musket, as the British style tang served no purpose other than being decorative. Additionally the brass wrist escutcheon of the British muskets was omitted both to save time and brass but also to increase the strength of the wrist by eliminating the escutcheon mounting screw that weakened this already vulnerable part of the musket. The brass furniture found on the Philadelphia assembled muskets tends to be somewhat poorly cast and is often what Civil War collectors refer to as “red brass”, in that it often had a high copper content. The triggerguards were often cast narrower than their British counterparts and with much less ornamentation. Often only the vestigial acorn finial remained forward of the triggerguard, with little or no final to the rear. The brass side plates tended to be simplified as well, often using less brass than the British versions, and sometimes being only a simple, flat, S-shaped side plate of the French “Charleville” pattern, but of brass instead of iron. The gun locks that were utilized were typically filed and refinished, leaving none of their original markings, or only traces of them. However, the locks are typically surcharged with a US, either at the tail or between the hammer and the pan. The reused barrels were typically surcharged on the breech as well, and are rarely encountered with additional markings, such as state ownership marks. In particular, the conjoined US mark found on the breeches is considered to be a Philadelphia specific surcharge c1780-1783. Thayer further notes that the guns produced in Philadelphia between 1780 and 1783 universally have poor quality stocks, with what he refers to as “splintery” wood. He attributes this to the need to use the wood before it was properly seasoned, which was typically 1 year for every 1 inch of thickness. The result of using the poorly seasoned wood is that significant splintering and cracking along the forend and the toe line of the stock is normally associated with Philadelphia Supply Agency, Continental Armory produced arms. Finally, one of the most important features that can identify a Continental Armory musket as being a product of that specific manufactory (rather than the French Armory) is the presence of certain inspection marks. The most important is that of Joseph Perkins the superintendent of the Continental Armory. His IP mark, the “I” being an archaic “J”, was the final inspection mark on the guns produced there. It appears on the stock flat, opposite the lock of Continental Armory assembled arms and on some repaired arms as well. The flat of the Continental Armory arms are also marked with a sideways “US” towards the tail. It is typical of Continental Armory produced arms to bear the initials of the worker(s) who assembled the gun, and the marks are most often found as small initials stamped to the rear of the triggerguard and sometimes forward of the buttplate tang. When these series of features are found together on a restocked musket of “short land” pattern it is considered to be a definitive example of a Continental Armory musket. Professor Thayer was aware of 5 definitive examples of Continental Armory muskets at the time of the writing of his 2006 monograph, and there are no doubt a few more that have come to light in the ensuing years, but they are exceptionally rare and desirable arms, and less than two dozen are realistically believed to be extant.
This Continental Armory Musket form the Philadelphia Supply Agency is in FINE condition. The gun is extremely crisp and very well marked throughout and is a truly outstanding example of a Joseph Perkins inspected, Philadelphia Supply Agency, Continental Armory musket. The musket is 57 3/8” in overall length, with a 41 15/16” long barrel (just 1/16” shy of the standard 42”) of nominally .77 caliber. The refurbished barrel is from a British Short Land pattern musket, either a Pattern 1769 or a Pattern 1777. The original British (CROWN) / GR / (BROAD ARROW) marks remain extremely clear on the to of the breech, but the British proof mark below is somewhat light, possibly due to refinishing during refurbishment. Directly below the two British marks is a deeply struck 3/8” tall conjoined US surcharge. This mark is attributed to Philadelphia and the Continental Armory circa 1780-1782. The upper left of the breech is deeply struck with what appears to be a CF, likely the mark of the British barrel maker. Above that mark is a single M, in the style usually attributed to Maryland ownership. The state of Maryland purchased 1,018 muskets with bayonets from the Continental Government between April 24 and September 2, 1781. These guns are believed to have come from the Continental Armory. The purchase by Maryland, and the possibility that the gun only saw issue and use within that state may account for its extremely crisp condition. The lock is 6 7/8” in length and shows features of both the post-1777 and the earlier Pattern 1769 Short Land lock. The lock itself appears to be a refurbished P-1777 lock, as it has the ends of both sear and sear spring screws visible behind the cock. It also has the simplified finial on the frizzen spring that is typically of post-1777 production. The cock, however, is of the pre-1777 (Pattern 1769) style, with the top jaw un-notched and not wrapping around the edge of the finial. Additionally, the top jaw screw is of the P-1769 style without the torque hole that became standard in 1777. The lock has been cleaned and filed during the refurbishment at the armory, with the usual (CROWN) / GR marks removed from the middle of the lock, where a ¼” tall U S surcharge has been stamped. To the rear of the hammer, there appears to be the very faint remnants of the word TOWER, which has also been obliterated by filing and finishing. The flat opposite the lock is crisply marked with a 3/8” tall US, turned sideways near the tail, and a ¼” tall IP, Joseph Perkins inspection stamp. The initials GM are deeply struck twice behind the triggerguard and once in front of the buttplate tang. They are almost certainly the mark of GLODE MUSA, one of the 16 US Armorers who worked at the Continental Armory from 1780-1782. No other US armorer employed there had those initials. The musket has the readily identifiable Philadelphia Supply Agency brass buttplate with the “thumb nail” tang, and a simplified brass triggerguard that is secured by two wood screws with a single, rather pointed, finial forward of the triggerguard. The triggerguard shows casting flaws inside the bow. The brass side plate is of the French style and is a simple flat “S” shape. The ramrod pipes are of the post-1777 pattern, with the 2nd pipe from the muzzle showing a flared profile not adopted until that date.
As noted the musket is in about FINE condition. The metal of the barrel has a mostly smooth, thick attic brown patina. There is some lightly oxidized surface crud scattered along the length of the barrel, and there is evenly distributed pinpricking around the muzzle of the musket. The bore of the musket is only in about FAIR condition. It is very dirty and heavily pitted along its entire length. A good scrubbing might improve the bore to “good”, by removing the centuries of dirt, crud and rust that have accumulated in it. Only the shadow of the bayonet lug remains on the top of the barrel, 2” from the muzzle. The lug was 3/8” long by just under ¼’ wide, but appears to have been sheared off the barrel during the period of use. The area has the same thick patina as the balance of the barrel. The reconditioned British lock of the musket is crisp and sharp, with a pewter gray undertone and a more lightly oxidized, thinner brown patina than found on the barrel. The lock is very crisp, operates perfectly on all positions and is mechanically excellent. The lock appears to be original to the period of use, and does not appear to have been altered after being assembled at the Continental Armory. The lower edge of the lock plate and the mainspring are both file cut with the mating mark \ \ \ \ \/ |. This same mating mark appears in the ramrod channel of the stock. I do not remove the barrels from pin-retained muskets for fear of damaging the wood, but I would assume the same assembly mark would appear under the barrel as well. The mark is no doubt a Continental Armorer’s assembly mark, probably that of Glode Musa. Both of the lock mounting screws are very old and of the period and both fit perfectly. However, they have two different pattern heads, and I cannot determine if one is a replacement or if the Continental Armory was not particularly concerned about matching screw heads, as long as the salvaged screws held the lock securely. The screws match the patina and age of the musket perfectly and have probably been with the gun since its assembly in Philadelphia, or at the least very soon thereafter. The brass furniture has a uniformly dark patina, with a thick brownish-green coloration, under which a slightly reddish cast to the brass can be seen in a few areas. The brass is all untouched and uncleaned, with the only bright spots being the result of handling or contact removing the patina. The nose cap, ram rod pipes, side plate, triggerguard and buttplate all have a wonderful appearance and their fit to the wood of the musket is very good. The ramrod in the channel under the barrel is an incorrect replacement that appears to have come from a 19th century Germanic musket, and may have been stretched to make it 42” long. The end of the rammer retains good threads, and the rammer has wonderful age and a nice patina that matches the gun well. Until a correct pattern rammer can be located, this is a very nice substitute for display purposes. Both of the sling swivels are missing, and may not have ever been installed. Extant examples of Continental Armory muskets are known with no hole bored in the triggerguard bow to accept a sling swivel screw, and the removal of the sling swivels was common during the period of use. None of the examples pictured in Professor Thayer’s monograph retained their swivels. The stock of the musket is in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. Were it not for a crack in the toe of the stock that is the result of the poorly seasoned wood, the stock would rate fine or better. The stock is very crisp and sharp with wonderful edges and lines. It has not been sanded or altered in any way. The toe line of the butt shows a significant crack that is only somewhat visible from the obverse, but is rather large on the reverse. This separation is along the grain and is typical of the “splintery” wood Professor Thayer refers to. There is a small, thumbnail sized chip of wood missing behind the barrel tang, the result of someone improperly removing the barrel from the stock long ago. There is also a small chip missing from the end of the stock at the nose cap, on the reverse. This old chip may be from improper removal and replacement of the pins in this area. There is also a short diagonal grain crack located above uppermost ramrod pipe on the reverse of the stock, a tiny grain crack to the rear of the lock mortise, and a very old, small chip missing at the front edge of the mortise. This may sound like a large number of stock issues, but when taken as a whole, especially when the wonderful sharp lines and edges of the stock are considered, not to mention the very crisp markings, it is all quite minor. The stock is free of any repairs, which is almost amazing for a Revolutionary War era musket, and remains extremely solid. It is quite common for Revolutionary War era muskets to be found with completely restored forends, and many repaired cracks or breaks. There are the expected handling marks, bumps, dings and minor scratches that would be expected, but other than the issues listed above (almost all of which can be attributed the to the stock wood not being properly cured), the stock is really in wonderful shape, with no indications of abuse. The wood to metal fit is fine throughout and the overall craftsmanship is quite impressive. The obverse of the butt has the initials G H, along with the number 7 lightly carved in it.
Overall this is a really wonderful example of a truly scarce American made military musket for the American Revolution. Even though Springfield Armory is considered the first American National Arsenal, it did not produced weapons until 1795. The arms produced at the Continental Armorycan best be called the first official pattern US martial weapons to be produced at a national armory. The musket is in wonderfully crisp condition and extremely well marked throughout, so well in fact that it is a perfect study example for the work done under the auspices of the Philadelphia Supply Agency from 1780-1783. The gun is 100% complete with the exception of the two sling swivels, which are missing, the ramrod, which is an incorrect replacement, and the bayonet lug, which has worn down to barely noticeable. Otherwise it appears to be completely correct and original from the period of manufacture (or rather “re-manufacture”). Rarely do these early American muskets come up for sale, and when they do they are highly coveted. I know of a similar Joseph Perkins inspected musket that recently sold at auction for nearly $10,000 and it was not half as nice a gun as this one. This one has such wonderful marks that we can be almost assured who built it, and we can be fairly confident it was one of the Continental muskets sold to Maryland during 1781. This Continental Armory Musket would be a very difficult gun to upgrade from, and is worthy of being a centerpiece of a truly advanced Revolutionary War arms collection, especially one that centers on American made arms.