With the adoption of the percussion ignition system in 1841, the United States Ordnance undertook a process of evaluating the stocks of flintlock arms in inventory and began to plan for the alteration of these arms to percussion. In 1842 a team of US Ordnance Inspectors undertook to inspect and evaluate the 700,00+ flintlock muskets in store at the various US arsenals in the United States. The team worked in 1845 to complete this task, by which time the Ordnance Department had settled upon the use of the “Belgian” or “cone-in-barrel” system to alter the muskets from flint to percussion. Over the next few years, the majority of the arms classified as “1st Class’ (those in good condition manufactured in 1831 or later) and “2nd Class’ (those in good condition manufactured between 1821 and 1830) were altered to percussion system by the “Belgian” method at the various primary arsenals around the country. During the late 1840s, the Ordnance Department began to think about using the “tape primer” ignition system developed by Dr. Edward Maynard. The system utilized a two-ply roll of varnished, laminated paper with the percussion fulminated of mercury sandwiched between the layers. The primer tapes looked very much like a modern roll of caps used in a child’s cap gun. Maynard patented his tape and a mechanical advancing system for it in 1845, and that same year the US Board of Ordnance paid Dr. Maynard a royalty of $4,000 for the right to use his patented system in the alteration of 4,000 muskets. The board then proceeded to experiment with various mechanical systems to utilize the primer tapes. The first arms to incorporate the system were 2,000 US M-1835/40 contract muskets by Daniel Nippes. Of these arms 300 were newly made with the “Nippes-Maynard” locks and the other 1,700 were previously delivered muskets altered to the Nippes-Maynard system. Although the system worked well enough on these altered muskets, it was determined that a better system could be developed, and during fiscal year 1853-54 a new Maynard tape primer lock was developed at Springfield Arsenal. This lock would become the basis for the US M-1855 series of arms. The Ordnance Department foresaw that this new lock would be quite useful and might be produced in significant quantities. So in February of 1854, rather than continuing to pay the $1.00 per lock royalty that they had originally negotiated with Dr. Maynard, the Ordnance Department purchased the right to use his system in perpetuity on any arms produced for the US military, for the princely some of $50,000. With the rights to the system secured, the Ordnance Department undertook to alter 20,000 US flintlock muskets to the system. The locks and patent breeches were produced by the Remington Arms Company of Ilion, NY and cost the US government $3.15 each and the alterations were performed at the Frankford Arsenal. These “Remington-Maynard” alterations are the most commonly encountered US muskets with mechanical tape primers. The ever parsimonious government continued to seek other, more cost effective ways to effect the mechanical primer alteration of muskets, based upon the Maynard system. With the adoption of the US M-1855 series of arms, the Maynard system was firmly entrenched with the US military, and it was considered expedient to look at a system to alter some of the previously converted flintlock muskets to mechanical priming systems as well. A system that attracted the attention of the Board of Ordnance was that developed by Lt. James N. Ward of the US Army. Ward was a West Point graduate (class of 1845) and had served in the Mexican War, and fighting Indians on the frontier. In 1856 he received a patent for a mechanical tape priming system that was contained within the hammer of the musket. As this system negated the need to replace an entire lock with a new one, and the cost per hammer was roughly half of the cost of a Remington made lock, the Ordnance Department found Lt. Ward’s system to be very attractive. According to Ordnance Department documents, 100 US muskets were altered to Lt. Ward’s “Magazine Hammer” system at the New York Arsenal during 1858, and these muskets were also rifled and sighted. None of these 100 altered muskets is known to have survived to this day, and no example has ever been identified. It is generally believed that the most of the muskets were issued for field trials, were found unsatisfactory and were either re-altered to standard percussion or simply sold as surplus. However, documents do reveal that on April 7, 1857 a single Ward altered musket was issued from New York Arsenal to the state of New York. It appears that this single musket impressed the state of New York sufficiently for them to order that 1,200 of the muskets in the state arsenals be altered to the Ward mechanical priming hammer system. The state contracted with Ward, who had recently been promoted to Captain and was on sick leave from the Army. The contract called for Ward to modify the provided muskets with his “magazine hammer” and to further modify “the weapon to the use of the Mini” cartridge”. The contract also called for Ward to apply his “patent clasp” to the bayonets for these rifles. This last stipulation may explain the rarely encountered US 1855 pattern socket bayonets that are found with locking rings, but with sockets sized and mortised to fit US M-1816 muskets. The state of New York sent their 1,200 percussion altered muskets to Ward late in 1857 and he began the alteration work. It is not clear if Ward performed any of the work himself, or if he hired a company to perform it. As the state was paying $4.00 per musket, and work only involved the addition of the hammer and the application of a new percussion bolster, this seems like more than enough money for Ward to hire gun maker to perform the work and still allow him a reasonable profit. As Ward had previously sold his “magazine hammers’ to the government at the rare of $1.50 each, and he had contracted to have them made, there was certainly enough room in the negotiated price for Ward to have the work done by an outside company and probably make at least $1.00 per gun profit himself, if not more. However, it appears that only about 300 of the muskets were altered and returned to the state of New York. Ward died in December of 1858, and it appears that the contract was never completed. While his death may have played a factor, the poor performance of the first guns delivered resulted in the contract being cancelled by the state. Many of the guns supplied by New York had previously been altered to percussion by the “cone-in-barrel” system, and the cones had to be removed and the old threaded hole filled. This explains the strangely shaped brazed-on bolster that was applied to Ward hammer-altered muskets. The large sides of the bolster extend to cover the old cone hole in the musket barrel, and also cover the old flintlock touchhole. That made the bolster equally useful on previously altered muskets or flintlocks that were yet to be converted. The guns supplied by New York were older contract arms of varying age and quality and some were as old and obsolete as US M-1812 contract muskets. Extant examples include Whitney M-1812 muskets, as well as Pomeroy and Waters M-1816/22 muskets. As the quality, age and condition of the muskets varied, it appears that Ward decided not to rifle the barrels, even though the contract implied that this work be performed. To date, no rifled example of a Ward “magazine hammer” musket has been found. He did, however, add a strange, “squirrel tail” shaped elevating rear sight the muskets, as well as tall brass cone front sight. The first of the Ward altered muskets were issued to the 12th New York Militia Regiment in 1858 and were found lacking. The biggest complaint was that the hinged door that covered the primer magazine on the hammer was fragile, and that nearly half of the issued muskets were already missing their primer doors! The fragile mechanism in the hammers also performed poorly, and in 1858, the state of New York cancelled the contract with Ward. The initial issue of muskets was removed from the field, and it is probably that those missing their priming doors were subsequently altered to regular percussion hammers. A number of muskets exist with the Ward bolster and sights, but with regular hammers that do not have the primer magazine. These are likely some of the failed muskets from the field issue. The arms remained in the New York state arsenal through the Civil War, with 40 of the guns being issued to the 50th New York in 1864. In 1867, the 167 Ward altered muskets in New York state inventory were sold as surplus, and the story of the strange mechanical tape primer hammer alteration came to an end. Today, the Ward Magazine Hammer muskets are rarely encountered, and when they are they are usually missing parts from the hammer mechanism, as well as their rear sights and front sights. Complete examples are extremely scarce and examples with complete and functional hammer mechanisms can probably be counted on one hand.
This example of a Ward Magazine Hammer Alteration Musket is in about VERY GOOD condition. The most amazing thing about the gun is that it is 100% complete, correct and original and is missing none of its parts and tape primer mechanism in the hammer is fully functional. The alteration was performed on a Whitney US M-1812 contract musket, and like all known examples, remains smoothbore and has not been rifled. The lock of the musket has the later M-1812 production Whitney mark N. HAVEN in a flowing scroll-like banner, forward of the hammer. The last half of the mark is illegible to due wear, use and an old cleaning. The barrel shows no visible proof marks, and there is no discernable date on the breech plug tang. The reverse of the Ward magazine hammer is marked in two lines: J.N. WARD, U.S.A. / PATENTED JULY 1, 1856. The marking is only partially legible due to erosion and pitting from the caustic primer compound. The interior of the primer tape magazine is stamped with the assembly number 99. Assembly numbers usually appear in about 3 locations when the primer system is disassembled, and I did not choose to do this, as the mechanism is functional. According to George Moller’s notes about Ward alterations in his most recent book, these assembly numbers are never known to match! The action of the musket operates correctly on all positions, and amazingly, the hammer mechanism that advances the primer tape operates correctly as well. Cocking the hammer causes the small spoked wheel in the front of the hammer's head to advance, which would pull the tape from the magazine compartment forward to feed it out of the lower face of the hammer. The musket has been cleaned at some point in the past, and the result is that the gun has a mottled brown and gray patina, with a pewter tone to the base metal and scattered patches of darker brown oxidized surface discoloration over the entire gun. The appearance is somewhat uneven, but appears to be starting to even out and mellow towards a less “cleaned” appearance. The metal is generally smooth, with areas of light surface pinpricking mixed with patches of more significant light to moderate pitting present as well. The pitting is most noticeable around the breech and bolster area, and thins out forward of the rear sight, only to become more noticeable around the muzzle and in a few scattered places along the length of the barrel. The musket’s bore is in about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition, and is a mixture of clean bright metal and darker oxidized areas with light pitting along the entire length and some areas of more significant crusted oxidation and pitting present as well. A good scrubbing would probably improve the condition of the bore to some degree. The musket retains its original and quite fragile “squirrel tail” shaped adjustable rear sight and the original tall, tapered brass cone front sight, both of which were added during the Ward alteration process. The rear sight leaf adjusts smoothly and operates as it should. Normally the rear sight is missing entirely, or at least missing the moving leaf, and front cone is usually worn down to nothing. The musket also retains its original, full-length ramrod that is complete with threads on the end. Both original sling swivels are present as well; another uncommon feature on a musket of this age, considering the gun was about 40 years old when it was converted to the Ward system! The stock of the musket is in about VERY GOOD condition. The stock remains solid and complete and is full length with no breaks or repairs noted. The stock has been cleaned and lightly sanded, and this had slightly rounded the edges and smeared a couple of markings. The left flat, opposite the lock retains a partially legible US inspection cartouche that may be the ET mark of Elisha Tobey. The stock is also stamped with the number 97 on top of the comb, forward of the buttplate tang. Both marks are somewhat smeared due to light sanding of the stock. The stock does show the usual bumps and dings from service and use that would be expected in a musket that is 200 years old, and saw service for 5 decades! There is a single small crack in the forend of the stock, but this can only be seen from the front and is supported and concealed by the upper barrel band. It is essentially invisible and completely stable. There are also a couple of tiny grain cracks present in the wood, one located at the rear of the lock mortise and one at the rear lock screw. Both are very short, very tight and very stable. They are barely noticeable, but are mentioned for exactness.
Overall, this is a very nice example of a very scarce Ward Magazine Hammer musket. Amazingly the gun is 100% complete and correct in every way. With only about 300 of the guns altered by the Ward system for New York, they are extremely scarce on today’s collectors market. I cannot remember ever seeing a complete and fully functional example, as most Ward muskets are either missing part of the sight system or have a broken or non-functional tape feed mechanism. For any collector of percussion conversion muskets, this is one of the very scarce “must have” guns, to go along with your Remington-Maynard conversion and your Nippes-Maynard conversion, and if you are really lucky your Butterfield conversion. While certainly not pristine, the gun is complete and correct, has a nice look to it and is one of the harder mechanical primer alterations to find for sale. This is also the most reasonably priced example I have seen in years, and I’m sure it will be a great addition to your collection.SOLD