Jenks-Merrill Navy Carbine - Extremely Rare
- Product Code: FLA-3319-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
During the mid to late 1800s, the US Navy utilized a series of unique and innovative small arms in an attempt to find the most effective design for a rifle or carbine for service aboard ship. Among the more interesting and unconventional of those weapons was the Jenks Navy Carbine, often referred to by collectors as the Mule Ear, and produced by the N.P. Ames company of Springfield, MA, and later by the Remington Arms Company of Herkimer, NY. Only 4,250 of these interesting breech loading percussion carbines were produced by Ames between the years of 1843-1846, with an additional 1,000 manufactured by Remington during 1847-1848, incorporating the Maynard Patent tape priming system. The gun featured the Jenks patent breech loading system, a Mule Ear, side-hammer percussion lock system, and a .54 caliber, 24 ““ round barrel that was initially smoothbore. Not long after the initial carbines were delivered, a rifled bore with six narrow grooves was adopted. As originally designed, the carbines had a round loading aperture through which loose powder was loaded from a powder flask, followed by a round ball. The Navy soon adopted self-contained paper cartridges with the powder and ball contained in a combustible paper wrapping. As a result, the Navy modified most of the loading apertures from round to oval, to accept the new cartridges. Very few Jenks carbines escaped this modification, and as a result the original “round hole” carbines are extremely rare today. During the decade leading up to the American Civil War, the Jenks naval carbines saw significant service on sea going US Naval vessels. They were a standard part of the small arms compliment of the US Navy screw frigates that were outfitted and sent to see between 1856 and 1858, including the USS Wabash, Colorado, Niagara, Minnesota and the ill-fated Merrimack, which would later be captured and become the Confederate iron-class CSS Virginia. Jenks carbines would also be part of the small arms stores of the US Navy vessels San Jacinto, Levant, Water Witch, Jamestown and John Adams. Due to more than a decade in service, and the fact that repeated firing often caused the breech mechanism to foul, the US Navy had started to actively search for a replacement for the Jenks carbine during the late 1850s, and had already tested breechloading arms from makers like Sharps and Perry, adopting them in limited quantities. The would also contract for small numbers of breechloaders from Burnside and Joslyn on September 9, 1859, as well as for some revolving longarms from Colt. As part of this on-going program to modernize their small arms inventory, and possibly with an eye towards keeping the upgrades as cost effective as possible, the Navy had started to experiment with another modification to the Jenks carbine. During 1858 James H. Merrill has approached the Navy offering to modify existing Jenks carbines to his newly patented breechloading mechanism. Merrill had also made the same offer to the US Army, and during 1861-1862 would alter about 100 each of the US M-1842 musket, 1841 Rifle and 1847 carbine to his breechloading system.
In many ways the system was similar to the Jenks with a long, top mounted breech lever that was pulled back to reveal the loading aperture and that incorporated a plunger that seated the cartridge in the chamber when the lever was loaded. Like the original Jenks design, the Merrill system relied upon the conventional percussion cap for ignition. The primary improvements in the Merrill system were that the breech lever locked more securely, the brass plunger provided improved obturation (gas sealing) and the conventional side mounted hammer was much easier to manipulate than the Jenks “mule ear” design. During the alteration process, Merrill plugged the original Jenks loading hole, machined a new breech opening, removed the Jenks breech lever and installed the new Merrill lever. Because the other loading aperture had to be plugged, the alteration was only preformed on un-altered Jenks carbines with round, rather than oval, holes. Merrill also installed a new rear sight that was similar to the US M-1858 sight, but which incorporated an extended base with a raised catch at the rear to engaged the spring latch in the top of the breech lever. A conventional percussion hammer was also added, along with the oblong Merrill percussion bolster with a clean out screw. The initial testing of the Merrill alterations went well enough that the Navy decided on September 20, 1859, eleven days after placing their orders with Burnside, Joslyn and Colt. The price for Merrill to modify the guns was $10 each, about half of what a patent breechloading carbine was selling for immediately prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. It seems clear that some level of parsimoniousness was motivating the Navy’s high command. The initial delivery of 294 Merrill altered Jenks carbines was made in September of 1860, and the inspection of the arms did not go well. It was found that the Merrill cartridge did not combust reliably and even worse, when the carbines were struck on the butt (for example, when the guns were brought to “Order, Arms”) the breech levers would open! The guns were rejected and returned to Merrill for the necessary repairs and modifications to address their shortcomings. Merrill completed the work in January of 1861, and on 19th, US Navy Lieutenant Wainwright traveled to Baltimore to inspect the guns. The inspection went well, with the primary issue of the breech lever catch having been resolved. Wainwright passed 240 carbines and accepted them for service. It is unclear what happened to the other 54 guns from the original 1860 delivery. They may not have been completed at the time of Wainwrights visit, or possibly they did not pass his second inspection. In either case, only 240 of the Jenks-Merrill carbines were officially accepted for service, and the project was subsequently cancelled with no other orders being placed. At about this time the Navy had already decided to remove Jenks carbines from service, as newer, better designs were becoming available. However, the firing on Fort Sumter in April of 1861 and the outbreak of the American Civil War found the Navy under prepared, under supplied and under armed for the conflict. The lack of available small arms caused the Navy to reverse their decision, and maintain the Jenks in inventory for issue when other breechloading carbines were not available. Jenks-Merrill Carbines were issued as part of the small arms inventory of the sloop USS Richmond, which received 20 of the guns, and the gunboat Michigan, which received 25. The guns were also shown in the inventory of the New York Navy Yard in April of 1861. Testing by the officers of the Richmond found that the original problems that had plagued the Jenks-Merrill carbines had not been sufficiently corrected. Cartridge ignition was still problematic, although the officers attributed it to weak mainsprings that were “not sufficiently strong to explode a percussion cap by the first blow of the hammer.” The problem with the breeches opening when the butt was struck had not been resolved either. A new issue was also discovered. The half-cock notch was not sufficiently high to allow capping the carbine, which meant the gun had to be primed at full-cock, and the hammer then lowered to the half-cock notch. This was a tricky enough procedure on dry land and could often result in an unintentional discharge. At sea, such a delicate procedure was almost impossible to perform. Despite the shortcomings of the Jenks-Merrill Carbines, at least some were still in service as late as March of 1864, when the small arms inventory of the Michigan listed the original 25 carbines that had been issued to the gunboat in early 1861. This is somewhat interesting as by the middle or end of 1862 most of the Jenks carbines in naval service replaced by more modern breechloading carbines like the Sharps, Sharps & Hankins and Spencers, or more conventional muzzleloading arms like the Whitney Navy Rifle (aka “Plymouth”) or even imported Enfield rifles and muskets. I found John D. McAulay’s Civil War Small Arms of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps invaluable in preparation of the history of this piece, as very little information is available about the Jenks-Merrill alterations, particularly their issue and use after the handful of carbines was finally accepted.
Offered here an extremely rare Jenks-Merrill Navy Carbine, one of the 240 that were eventually accepted by the Navy in January of 1861, and which would see at least some limited service during the American Civil War. The very scarce gun is in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE overall condition. It retains some traces of its original lacquer brown finish on the barrel, which has faded and worn and appears to have been mixed with some old applied finish and possibly some more recent toning. The general effect is a somewhat blotchy gray and brown patina with some dull bluish-gray tones. It is generally believed that the Merrill modified Jenks carbines were at least partially refinished during the alteration process, as most surviving examples do not retain their lock markings, and the finish of the guns is usually somewhat non-standard, with the locks generally a dull blue-gray rather than their original Jenks configuration color case hardened appearance. As noted, the traces of finish on the barrel have mixed with an oxidized brownish patina, as well as some old finish and possibly some more recent chemical toning, giving it a sort of splotchy appearance under strong light. The barrel is mostly smooth, with only some very lightly scattered areas of pinpricking and minor pitting, most of which is around the breech area and appears to be from the original period of use. There are couple of minor dings on the barrel as well, with the most obvious impact mark behind the upper barrel band. The lock, Merrill percussion hammer and trigger all have that smoky blue-gray color mentioned above. The lock plate also shows some very light pinpricking and a few flecks of light pitting. As is typical of the Jenks-Merrill alterations, no lock markings are present. The breech lever retains some traces of its original finish, which has faded and dulled from use and wear and has a grayish patina with some blue tones on its underside. The interior of the Merrill machined breech still retains some vivid case coloring. While the lock markings were obliterated during the alteration process, the breech markings remain very crisp and clear. The top of the breech is very well marked a small WM JENKS vertically and USN / RC / P / 1845 in four horizontal lines below the Jenks mark. The shadow of the original round loading aperture is visible, which was plugged and refinished in the brown by Merrill during the alteration. The top of the Merrill breech lever is marked in two lines: J.H. MERRILL BATLO / PAT, JULY, 1858. The lever is numbered 18 on its underside, near the pivot point of the hinge. The breech lever shows some evenly distributed light pitting on its surfaces. The action of the carbine works exactly as they should and remains quite crisp. The breech opening and loading lever functions correctly, operating smoothly as well. It is clear that the spring catch that engages the rear of the Merrill sight base is not strong enough to keep the action closed reliably. The original Merrill alteration rear sight and base are in place on top of the carbine’s barrel, forward of the breech and lever. The sight remains complete and fully functional. The bore of the carbine is in about VERY GOOD condition. It is partly bright with fine, sharp rifling but show some light to moderate pitting along its length, along with some crusty residue. A good cleaning might improve the bore to some degree. The brass furniture is in lovely condition with an attractive, bronze patina. The buttplate and barrel bands show a few old impact marks, from storage and use during the period of use. The original 1.5” sling ring is present on the trigger plate, just behind the trigger guard. The walnut stock is in about FINE condition as well. The stock is solid and complete and is free of any breaks, cracks, or repairs. However, the stock does show a number of scattered minor bumps, rubs and dings from issue and use. No inspection cartouche is visible on the stock as the necessary modification to the stock to inlet the new Merrill system and add the lock screw escutcheon usually necessitated a refinishing of the stock at the Merrill facility, leaving the stock “like new” but without the original naval inspection marks.
Overall this is a very nice, complete and correct example of an extremely scarce US Navy carbine that is usually missing from even the most advanced collections. With only 240 delivered and an incredibly small survival rate, these guns simply do not appear on the market very often. If you are a carbine collector with an emphasis on the American Civil War period, this is an absolute “must have” item that you may not have another chance to procure for a very long time. If you collect US Naval small arms, this is one of those items that you desperately need in your collection, and which could well be a centerpiece of a world class 19th century US Navy firearms display.SOLD