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Attractive Late Production Kerr Revolver

Attractive Late Production Kerr Revolver

  • Product Code: FHG-2416
  • Availability: In Stock
  • $4,795.00


The London Armoury Company Kerr’s Patent Revolver is one of the most distinctive and instantly recognizable of all Civil War era handguns. The side mounted hammer and removable side plate were not common features in large bore handguns of the era and the design resulted is a unique silhouette. The Kerr patent revolver was invented by James Kerr, who was awarded two patents for improvements to Roberts Adams’ earlier revolver designs. Kerr had been a founding member of the London Armoury Company, which was established on 9 February 1856 and of which Adams was the Managing Director during the late 1850s. It is interesting to note that Kerr was Adams’ cousin and had previously worked with him at Deane, Adams & Deane as well. Initially, the London Armoury Company (LAC) focused on producing Model 1854 the Beaumont-Adams patent revolvers, with an eye towards obtaining lucrative English military contracts for the handguns. When significant orders were not forthcoming, the company shifted its focus to the manufacture of British Pattern 1853 “Enfield” Rifle Muskets for both the English government and private commercial 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 25 April 1859. The pistol was typical of large bore English percussion handguns of the era, in that it the standard offering 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 7/8” in length and the later pistols having slightly shorter barrels that varied between about 5 ½” and 5 ¾”. 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). Most the pistols used a single action mechanism, not a double action mechanism, as the position of the trigger causes many people to believe. The hammer could only be cocked by pulling it back manually, however pulling the trigger could rotate the cylinder. This was a byproduct of the cylinder locking system, which relied upon 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 the lower 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 extremely rare today. The Kerr also featured a unique, frame mounted cylinder arbor pin 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 rear of the left side, similar in appearance to the Model 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. This minor redesign of the location of the loading lever screw helped to solve a problem with loading lever plungers breaking at the hinged connection to the loading lever itself. After the adoption of the new loading lever screw location, some of the older frames that had already been machined had the original pivot hole filled and a new one drilled in the new location. The engraved markings on the lock plate also changed with time, starting out reading London Armoury and eventually reading London Armoury Co. Most of these early features were 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. One other small cosmetic change that occurred over time was a change in the way in which the front of the one-piece walnut grip was checkered. The early guns were generally checkered very close to the bottom edge of the front strap. However, as the Confederate inspectors stamped their JS / {ANCHOR} acceptance mark in the front face of the grip directly below the end of the front strap, it was often concealed by the checkering. Later production guns do not have this part of the grip checkered, leaving a smooth, clear surface for the inspectors to apply their stamp.

 

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 early production pistols were sold commercially, both in Great Britain and in the US. About 100 of the early production 80-Bore revolvers were 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 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 was 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 Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle Muskets during the same time frame. The estimate regarding revolver production is based upon the extant examples with Confederate provenance or marks, which tend to exist in the 1,5XX to about the 10,XXX serial number range. However, a handful of legitimate CS inspected Kerr’s do appear in the 7XX to 1,5XX range, indicating that some of the earliest purchases were filled from “new old stock”, revolvers that were already assembled and on hand. 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 three 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 found on guns acquired on contract from the central government. One of the standard indicators of CS importation and usage of a Kerr revolver is the presence of the JS / {ANCHOR} inspection mark that is found 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 Confederate purchase. As the information above outlines, the majority of Kerr’s over serial number 1,5XX and through the lower end of the 10,XXX range 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 in the 10,1XX. In fact, a gun formerly in the collection of Val Forget III. with the serial number 10,164 has long been documented with a legitimate JS / {ANCHOR} mark. Over the years, a number of Kerr’s with spurious JS / {ANCHOR} marks have been noted as well, often found on guns that did not have them when they were first documented during the past 20-30 years but have 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, with the last documented shipment being eight cases in March of 1865, it is not unreasonable to extrapolate CS purchases into the low 10,XXX 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. This indicates that this gun was one of the speculatively purchased revolvers and not a central government contract gun. A similar parallel can be drawn with revolvers purchased by the US Ordnance Department during the Civil War. Those guns which were acquired via a specific contract with the manufacturer were inspected by government inspectors during production and prior to final acceptance. However, those guns purchased on the “open market” from retailers like Schuyler, Hartley & Graham or Merwin & Bray did not receive any government inspection marks.

 

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 The Payne Ledger, some 900 Kerr revolvers arrived at the port of Wilmington, NC on October 31, 1864 (more than 3 months after Lt. Pratt’s guns were logged in his roll). 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. Five hundred of the guns and their associated accouterments were subsequently delivered the Selma Arsenal, and the other four hundred 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 (listed as “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 were used to deliver most Kerr revolvers to the Confederacy in. The powder flasks and cloth bags were certainly of limited utility for guns that were designed to be used with pre-made paper or skin cartridges. Bullet molds were typically delivered to the Confederacy at a ratio of 1 for every 20 long arm, 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 and 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 other than the British Government. The company closed exactly one year after the end of the American Civil War, in April of 1866, and it is believed that the remaining factory assets and machinery were sold to a gun making company in Spain the following year. The Spanish had been producing an unlicensed copy of the Kerr revolver since 1862, primarily assembling the guns from Belgian made parts. This had proved a somewhat unreliable system of production and made it difficult to obtain parts for repairs. By obtaining the actual machinery, it was possible to keep Kerr patent revolvers in Spanish service through the Spanish American War period (primarily as cartridge altered guns). James 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,XXX serial numbered pistols occasionally encountered, sometimes 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 III.; 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 and is almost certainly incorrect.

 

The Kerr’s Patent Revolver offered here is a crisp, late production example is in about VERY GOOD condition but still shows a moderate amount of real-world use. The gun is serial numbered 10,142 on the right side of the frame and on the cylinder. This is only 22 numbers from the JS / {ANCHOR} marked gun #10,164 that was previously used by Val Forget III. Based upon the known serial numbers from the Pratt list in the very late 9XXX range, which were in the field in mid-1864, this gun was probably doing service in the south by the beginning of that year. The lock plate of the pistol is clearly engraved with the usual LONDON ARMOURY Co mark. The right side of the frame is marked: KERR’S PATENT 10,142 and the matching serial number 10,142 appears on the cylinder as well. The left side of the frame is marked with the two-line arced cartouche that reads LONDON / ARMOURY. Alternating (Crown) / V and (Crown) / GP London commercial view and proof marks are also found between the chambers of the cylinder. 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, reading from the muzzle to the frame. The pistol is marked with the typical London Armoury Company assembly numbers. The assembly number  is present on the inside the trigger guard, inside the frame on the bottom and very weakly on the face of the cylinder. The assembly number is indistinct in most locations and is clearest in the triggerguard. The original cylinder pin retention spring is present and fully functional. This part is rather fragile par was often broken or lost. The action of the pistol works well, with the revolver timing, indexing, and locking up as it should. However, the trigger return spring is either broken or weak, so the trigger must be manually reset by pushing it forward, each time it is pulled. The original loading lever is present and functions smoothly also. The gun retains some minor traces of its original blued finish, possibly as much as 5-10%. The remaining finish is primarily found on the bottom of the barrel where it has been protected by the loading lever and a small patch on the lower left of the frame, forward of the cylinder. Otherwise, there are some flecks of remaining blue scattered about, typically in protected areas, primarily behind the flash guard of the frame. The gun has a mottled brownish-gray patina over most of the metal surfaces, with patches of darker surface oxidation mottling the metal further. The metal is partly smooth, with the balance showing some evenly distributed pinpricking and some small patches of very light pitting here and there. There are also some scattered patches of light surface oxidation with minor roughness, most visible on the lower left side of the frame where this has partially obscured the “London Armoury” marking. Despite the wear and finish loss the revolver retains very good edges and crisp lines, although some scattered bumps, dings and mars are present on the metal as well. The bore of the revolver remains in about NEAR VERY GOOD condition. It has strong rifling along its entire length. The bore is dark and evenly oxidized, with light pitting evenly distributed along the entire length of the barrel. Like most Kerr revolvers, this one has a lanyard ring in the butt cap. The butt cap and lanyard ring have a smooth plum-brown patina that matches the balance of the pistol well. The original brass post sight is present on the end of the barrel near the muzzle and appears to remain full height, with the original cone-shaped crown at its top. All of the original cones (nipples) remain in the cylinder, and all are in fairly crisp condition with light wear and some minor battering, commensurate with the overall condition of the revolver. The one-piece checkered walnut grip is in about VERY GOOD+ condition and matches the balance of the gun well. The grip retains crisp checkering over most of its surfaces, with only some light wear and some minor flattening to the points of the checkering, along with some minor handling marks. 

 

Overall, this is a very nice, solid example of a late production Kerr’s Patent Revolver. Although the gun does not have the desirable JS / {ANCHOR} Confederate inspection mark, the gun is still likely one of the last Kerr revolvers sold to and imported into the south.  The pistol is in VERY GOOD condition, is very attractive and is a nice-looking example of a gun that likely saw Confederate military service during the final year and half of the war. This will be a good example of a Kerr revolver to add to your collection of Civil War handguns and is a no excuses example that you will be proud to display.

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Tags: Attractive, Late, Production, Kerr, Revolver