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Experimental P-1853 Trials Enfield Rifle Musket

Experimental P-1853 Trials Enfield Rifle Musket

  • Product Code: FLA-2143-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

The Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle Musket represented the pinnacle in design for the muzzle loading percussion infantry long arm. During the decade and half that it spent as the primary weapon of the British infantry, the “Enfield” saw use around the world and was probably the most manufactured and widely used weapon of the mid-19th century. The P-1853 Enfield Rifle Musket was the standard by which all other military muzzle loading arms were judged from the time it was adopted, until breech loading self-contained cartridge rifle made the muzzle loader obsolete for military service.

While the change over from large caliber smoothbore muskets to smaller bore rifled arms occurred rather quickly when considered against the long history of the British standing army, the evolution of what would become the P-1853 Enfield Rifle Musket took well over a year, and some of its salient features were not solidified until the very last moments of development. In a period of only five years between 1850 and 1855, the typical British line infantry regiment transitioned from being armed with a .75 smoothbore musket that differed little cosmetically from the Brown Bess of one hundred years earlier (other than being a percussion rather than flintlock arm), to the rifled P-1851 Mini” Rifle in .708 caliber to the “small bore” P-1853 Enfield in .577 caliber. The genesis of the P-1853 began in 1850, when the Board of Ordnance endeavored to find a new and improved model of musket for use by the line infantry regiments. The resulting design was the P-1851 Mini” Rifle, which can at best be considered a stop-gap compromise in design, and which was essentially obsolete as soon as it was put into production. The P-1851 resembled the earlier British pattern arms, and retained a relatively large bore (being .708 caliber) and the wedge secured barrel of the P-1842 without barrel bands. The innovations that the P-1851 brought to the British infantryman were a rifled bore and an adjustable, long-range rear sight (“backsight” in English terms). Previously rear sights were rarely found on infantry muskets, and when they were, they were fixed and not adjustable. Even the sights of British military rifles of the era were relatively simple affairs with little room for adjustment. This transition to an adjustable sight was a big step for the infantry, and introduced what would be one of the most contentious portions of the development of the P-1853, what type of “backsight” was appropriate. The selection of the caliber for the P-1853 was also contentious, as two very different schools of thought pervaded at the time. The “old-school” infantry leaders, heavily influenced by the opinions of the Duke of Wellington, felt that a large bore arm was the only satisfactory arm for the infantry. However, more visionary designers and arms builders saw the advantages of the smaller bore weapon, firing a lighter, expanding conical bullet. After much consideration by the highest levels of the British infantry, and some friendly intervention by none other than Prince Albert, the British army “bucked” the status quo, and began to test smaller bore, rifled arms. By January of 1852 reduced caliber Mini” rifles had been produced at Enfield for testing, and additional designs by the elite of the British arms making community were also being considered. These included submissions by Westley Richards, Wilkinson, Greener, Purdey and Lancaster, all luminaries of 19th century English arms manufacture and design. Each of the designs had its own advantages and disadvantages, which are too numerous to cover in this limited space, but which are well documented in Dr. C.H. Rhodes seminal work The British Soldiers Firearms 1850-1864. The end result of the trials that took place during the summer of 1852 were a set of specifications that would define the P-1853 Enfield Rifle Musket. Rhodes lists the specifications set forth in the fall of 1852 as follows:

Weight, including the bayonet, about 9 lb. 3 oz.
Bore, .577 in.
Barrel, 39 in. long, weight 4 lb. 6 oz. and rifled with three grooves of a constant pitch of one turn in 6 ft. 6 in.
Lock, of swivel pattern.
(i.e. conventional side lock, not a back action lock)
Bayonet, to be fixed by means of a locking ring.
Barrel, to be retained by three bands in place of loops and pins.
Ramrod, to be made with a swell near the head.

Several points regarding these new specifications are worth making here. First, although the rifling is noted as being 3-groove, the official decision regarding the type of rifling to be used on the arms was not made until January 4, 1854! The fact was that the Oval Bore elliptical rifling design of Charles Lancaster was so accurate (and showed so much promise), that repeated trials and testing would be conducted before a final decision was made. It would take no less than 10 separate trials before the Enfield pattern 3-groove rifling was officially adopted. The Board of Ordnance was afraid to allow this situation to prevent the building of the new Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle Musket, so on October 6, 1853, an initial contract was let for the building of the major components of 20,000 P-1853s. This was due to the fact that the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock was not yet ready to go into full production. As such, the arms were ordered as parts from traditional Board of Ordnance contractors, to be assembled at Enfield, under the old send it to the “Tower” for assembly by the “setter up” system, which had served the Board of Ordnance from the mid-1700s until the 1840s. Due to the lack of a final decision regarding the rifling of the barrels at that time, the 21,000 barrels that were ordered were specified to be un-rifled, with that procedure to be handled at Enfield, once a final determination as to the type was made. Another feature left undetermined by the summer trials of 1852 was what would be the most advantageous design for a “backsight”. Two schools of thought pervaded, one suggesting the rear sight should be kept minimal and simple to operate, while the other felt that a fully adjustable sight that took advantage of the ballistic capability of the new rifle and ammunition was necessary in order to exploit the advantages of range and accuracy that the guns were capable of. As a result some additional trial guns were assembled with two types of rear sights. The first was simple block sight with flip-up leaves for 100 and 200 yards. The second was a Westley Richards patent sight, which was adjustable out to 800 yards. The theory among many members of the Board of Ordnance was similar to that employed by the Austrian military with the M-1854 Lorenz. A simple sight was sufficient for most troops, but a more complicated adjustable sight could be utilized on the arms issued to specialty troops who needed it, and were capable of taking advantage of the longer-range capability of the Enfield. In the end, a combination of both the simple leaf sight and the Westley Richards sight would be used for many of the arms produced for further accuracy trials during 1853. An associated issue was how best to attach the rear sight. The rear sight of the P-1851 Mini” Rifle had been attached by soldering, but it was found that this was less than optimal in field use of the earliest P-1851s produced. Eventually, the problem was rectified, and the use of silver solder and the techniques to apply it effectively were finally resolved by May of 1852. However, the Board of Ordnance felt that the ability to provide lateral adjustment for the rear sight by allowing it to be drifted in a dovetail cut might be a superior method of attachment. As such, the earliest of the P-1853 Enfield Rifle Muskets (those produced for trials prior to September of 1853) have a long flat “elevation” on the upper portion of the breech. The British refer to this as an elongated “nocksform”, and it is immediately identifiable as different from any form of P-1853 breech that most collectors have encountered. The elongated, tapered flat is about 6 ““ in length and provides a flat surface for the attachment of a rear sight (or sights) in a dovetail cut. After September of 1853 this additional complicated and precision milling process was eliminated in order to save time and money, and sights were attached via solder from that point onward. One of the final features left undecided was whether or not to include sling swivels on the guns. This stemmed from the consideration that the musket sling itself might be eliminated from the accouterments issued, rendering the sling swivels irrelevant. In the end, it was decided to retain both the use of slings and their associated swivels, but many trial arms were produced without any provision for them.

Offered here, is one of the extremely scarce and rarely encountered P-1853 Enfield Trials Rifle Muskets. The gun is in outstanding condition, rating about NEAR EXCELLENT to EXCELLENT overall, and it displays a number of very unique trial features not found on standard production P-1853 Enfield Rifle Muskets. At first glance the gun appears to be a standard “Type I” Enfield. The hammer spur has the instantly identifiable Type I “curl” that is reminiscent of the hammers on P-1851 and P-1842 muskets, and the lock markings are engraved like the earlier pattern guns, not stamped as would become common on later production P-1853s. The stock is cut with a small swell in the ramrod channel, just behind the brass nose cap. This swell was to accommodate the swell in the shank of the “Type I” ramrods. However, closer examination quickly reveals that the gun does not have any sling swivels (or any accommodations to mount them), and has the oddly shaped, elongated nocksform of the pre-September 1853 production Enfields. Dovetailed into the nocksform are two types of backsights. The one closest to the breech is an adjustable ladder sight, regulated between 400 and 800 yards. The sight further forward is a simple block affair set for 100 yards, accompanied by two small, “express’ style flip-up leaves for use at 200 and 300 yards. This is the same pattern of simple leaf sight would be used on the P-1853 Artillery Carbine and the P-1856 cavalry carbine. The long-range sight is of Westley Richards design, and is marked on the reverse of the ladder in three lines: WESTELY RICHARDS / REGISTERED / DECr 21st 1852. The two sights, taken together represent both schools of thought regarding the type of rear sight to be used on the P-1853, and this pattern would be used for a good portion of the trials, until the rear sight that we are used to encountering on the P-1853 Enfield was finally adopted. The external and internal markings on the gun are somewhat unusual when compared to either a typical British military P-1853 Enfield or a typical commercial Enfield. They represent a combination of marks that indicate contractor production of some parts, yet assembly and inspection at Enfield. There are some marks that are also conspicuous by their absence, when compared to a typical British military “issue” P-1853. The obverse buttstock is clearly marked with the Enfield roundel, a R (CROWN) M “ ENFIELD “ within a circle, indicating the gun was assembled at the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) at Enfield Lock. However, the toe of the stock bears the contractor name W MARTIN, who was a gunmaker in Wednesbury, Staffordshire from 1853 “ 1854. Normally an Enfield produced arm would not show a contractor name on the stock, but in the case of a trials rifle assembled at Enfield, a contractor provided the stock. It is also worth noting that the stock has the squared ear lock escutcheons of a handmade, non-interchangeable parts Enfield, while the arms produced completely at Enfield had round-eared escutcheons, denoting a machine made stock and a gun with interchangeable parts. It is also worth noting the lack of storekeeper marks on the stock, something that would almost certainly be present on a standard issue military Enfield. Rather than the expected British military inspection marks and proofs, the breech of the gun shows only a single punch dot, a small Crowned-Broad Arrow and an additional Crown on its top. On the left breech, the only proof marks are a London (CROWN) / VR and a (CROWN) / (CROSSED SCEPTERS). The bottom of the barrel is marked with the inspection letter J and word ENFIELD under the bolster, but below the line of the stock. A pair of Enfield inspection marks are also found under the barrel, a (CROWN) / E / 1 and a (CROWN) / E / 3. The initials WM, TP and TH are also under the barrel. Two sets of file slash mating marks are present under the barrel, \ / / / / and \ \ |. The upper edge of the lock plate also bears the same \ \ | mark. The lock markings are all engraved, and not stamped, as would become typical of P-1853s during their regular production. The lock bears the typical double-line boarder engraving, and the usual (BRITISH CROWN) / V + R is engraved at the tail of the lock behind the hammer. Forward of the hammer, in two lines, are engraved 1853 / ENFIELD, along with another small Crowned-Broad Arrow. A similar, small Crowned-Broad Arrow is stamped inside the neck of the hammer. The interior of the lock bears the Enfield inspection mark (CROWN) / E / 5. The stock is stamped with the number 1538 between the barrel tang and the lock, no doubt as a trials tracking number to note the performance of the gun as it proceeded through the various courses of fire. The interior of the barrel channel of the stock bears the name W. WATTON (a name I could not find in any reference), as well as three Enfield inspection marks; a (CROWN) / E / 6, and two (CROWN) / E / 4 marks. The rammer channel is marked with both of the same assembly marks found under the barrel, with the \ / / / / mark near the lower band and the \ \ | near the nose cap. This mark partially obscures another name which appears to read MOO”. The three barrel bands all bear the matching Birmingham inspection mark (CROWN) / B / 15. Another unique trials feature of the gun is the inclusion of a Colt’s Patent Oiler Ramrod. The rod has a 3 ““ long head, which doubles as an oil reservoir, and has a removable end that serves as an oil dipper. This rod is so rare that I have never before seen one in person, and have only seen a picture in the above-mentioned book by Rhodes. His mention of the scarce Colt produced rod is only in passing. It is unclear if the British military seriously considered the adoption of this unique, heavy headed ramrod or if Colt supplied them of his own volition in hopes of acquiring a contract. As Colt had just opened his Pimlico factory on the Thames River in January of 1853, it seems quite likely that he would have done just about anything to help acquire a lucrative military musket contract, and if supplying a few ramrods gratis ingratiated him to the Board of Ordnance, so much the better.

As previously noted, the gun rates about NEAR EXCELELNT to EXCELLENT in overall condition. All of the markings remain crisp and sharp. The gun shows no signs of cleaning other than some small scuffs on the lock plate, where it appears some light surface oxidation may have been removed. The exposed portion of the barrel retains about 75%+ of its original deep, blue-black rust blued finish, with the bottom of the barrel (protected by the stock) retaining about 85%+. In both cases the finish shows some fading and streakiness, with most of the loss due to wear along high edges, contact points, and at the muzzle. There are a couple of streaky finish scratches, where some blue appears to have been lost due to barrel band removal. The balance of the barrel has a smooth pewter patina where the finish is not present, and most of the areas that are fading have mixed with a lovely plum-brown patina. The barrel is quite smooth and free of pitting, showing only some very lightly scattered pinpricking around the snail (bolster) and the muzzle. The bore of the gun rates NEAR EXCELELNT and retains very deep, crisp rifling. The rifling is of uniform depth and is much deeper than encountered on the post-1858 guns with the progressive depth rifling. The bore is almost entirely bright and has been very well cared for. It shows only some light frosting in the grooves and some lightly scattered pinpricking, mostly in the last few inches, near the muzzle. The lock has a lovely silver patina with some very minute traces of case hardened finish visible when viewed from the correct angle. The lock shows some very minor patches of lightly scattered surface oxidation and minor age discoloration, mixed with some patches of old, dried oil. The lock is mechanically excellent and functions crisply and correctly on all positions. The lock is much crisper and has a much lighter trigger pull than the typical P-1853 Enfield, and was clearly filed and fit to be a top grade military target trigger. The brass buttplate, triggerguard, nose cap & escutcheons all have an attractive, dark mustard patina and are uncleaned. The stock rates about NEAR EXCELELNT, and is solid and complete. It is free of any breaks, cracks, or repairs. The stock retains crisp, sharp edges and has never been sanded. As would be expected of a military trials rifle, the only significant wear to the stock comes in the form of lightly scattered bumps, dings and minor mars from use and storage. All of the stock markings remain fairly crisp and quite legible, with the exception of an Enfield inspection mark behind the triggerguard that is worn due to handling.

Overall this is simply a fantastic example of a very scarce, early production P-1853 Enfield Rifle Musket that was almost certainly part of the final trials during the summer and fall of 1853 that helped to determine what form of the rifling and rear sights of the guns would finally take. The gun is in fantastic condition, with the majority of its original blued finish, and is exceptionally well marked throughout. The gun is 100% complete, correct and original and retains the extremely rare Westley Richards experimental backsight and the even more rarely encountered Colt’s Patent Oiler-Ramrod. For any serious student of British military small arms, and the P-1853 Enfield in particular, this is rare opportunity to obtain an extremely early and very desirable P-1853 Enfield Trials Rifle Musket, in wonderful condition and produced prior to September of 1853.


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Tags: Experimental, P, 1853, Trials, Enfield, Rifle, Musket