The London Armoury Company Kerr’s Patent Revolver is one of the most distinctive and recognizable of all Civil War era handguns. The side mounted hammer & removable side plate were not common features in large bore handguns of the era and result in a unique silhouette. The Kerr patent revolver was invented by James Kerr, who was awarded two patents for improvements to Roberts Adams revolver design. Kerr had been a founding member of the London Armoury Company, which was established on February 9, 1856 and of which Adams was the Managing Director. It is interesting to note that Kerr was Adams’ cousin and previously worked with him at Deane, Adams & Deane. Initially the London Armoury Company (LAC) focused on producing Beaumont-Adams patent revolvers with an eye towards obtaining lucrative English military contracts. When significant orders were not forthcoming, the company shifted its focus to manufacturing the British Pattern 1853 “Enfield” rifle muskets for both the English government and private sale. This caused rift within the management that culminated with the departure of Adams from the company 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 April 25, 1859. The pistol was typical of large bore English handguns of the era, in that it 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 ““ in length and the later pistols having slightly shorter barrels that varied between about 5 ““ and 5 5/8”. 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). The pistols used a single action mechanism (not a double action mechanism as the trigger position make many people believe). The hammer could only be cocked by pulling it back manually, but pulling the trigger could rotate the cylinder. This was a byproduct of the cylinder locking system, which relied on a pivoting arm that was actuated by the trigger. This arm locked the cylinder in place when firing. This was very different from the standard spring-loaded cylinder stop found in frames of most US produced 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. The pistol also featured a unique, frame mounted cylinder arbor that was removed from the rear of the pistol (much like on a Colt side hammer, aka “Root” designs), instead of the more common location at the front of the cylinder. This made 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 lefts side, similar in appearance to the M-1851 Adams patent safety, that 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. Most of these early features are phased out in the upper 2,XXX to middle 3,XXX range, although some features appear somewhat randomly through about the middle of revolver production. 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 sold. Most of these pistols were sold commercially (both in Great Britain and in the US), with about 100 of them purchased by an English Volunteer unit “ the 1st Sussex Artillery Volunteers. With the outbreak of the American Civil War, Caleb Huse engaged the London Armory Company to produce all of the Kerr’s Patent revolvers that they could for delivery to the Confederacy. It is believed that nearly all of the LAC’s output of Kerr revolvers from April of 1861 through the close of the Civil War were produced on contract for the Confederacy, with about 9,000 pistols produced and shipped during that time (it is also estimated that they produced about 70,000 P-1853 Enfield Rifle Muskets during the same time frame). This estimate is born out by the extant examples, which tend to exist in the 1,500 to about the 10,500 serial number range. 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 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 (the last documented shipment was 8 cases in March of 1865), it is not unreasonable to extrapolate CS purchases into about the 10,500 serial number range. The other indicator of CS importation and usage is the presence of the enigmatic JS / (ANCHOR) that is sometimes located on the grip of the pistols. 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 CS purchase, as the information above outlines that nearly all Kerr’s over serial number 1,500 and below 10,500 were produced on contract for the Confederacy. With the conclusion of the American Civil War, the London Armoury Company quickly succumbed to the loss of its largest, and only major customer. The company closed exactly one year after the end of the American Civil War, in April of 1866, and it believed that the remaining factory assets and machinery were sold to a gun making company in Spain the following year. 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 11,000 serial numbered pistols occasionally encountered “ usually 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 Jr. -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.
The Kerr’s Patent Revolver offered here is a FINE example of the very rare, early production 80-Bore pistol. The gun is serial numbered 144 on the right side of the frame and on the cylinder, and was clearly produced in 1859. The side plate of the pistol is clearly marked: LONDON ARMOURY CO, and the right side of the frame is marked: KERR’s PATENT. 144, with the cylinder marked No 144. The left side of the frame is marked with the two line oval cartouche of the LA Co and reads: LONDON / ARMOURY. The left upper flat of the octagon barrel is marked: L.A.C. along with the (Crown) / GP and (Crown) / V London proof & view marks. The (Crown) / V mark is also found between the chambers of the cylinder. The top of the barrel is simply engraved LONDON, with no retailer mark.The frame has two small engraved slays of foliate engraving around the screw hole towards the rear of the frame, just under the cylinder. This minor cosmetic enhancement is not typical of later production Kerr revolvers. The gun is a classic early production revolver, with a wide groove in the topstrap, the Type I rammer design with low pivot screw, and a screw retained cylinder arbor pin. The arbor pin screw is missing from the left side of the frame, forward of the cylinder and it appears that a larger than correct screw was inserted at some point in time, as the screw hole is slightly enlarged. Unlike later production Kerr revolvers, this one has no assembly numbers on the major components. Later production guns normally have assembly numbers on the face of the cylinder, inside the trigger guard, and inside the top strap and inside the bottom of the frame. This revolver does not have these later production marks. The gun is mechanically excellent and the revolver times and locks up exactly as it should. The original Type I loading lever is present and functions smoothly also. The pistol retains about 30% of its original blued finish. The finish is most prominent on the bottom of the 5 7/16” long barrel, where the loading lever has protected it. However, the finish remains fairly consistent along the frame and barrel and retains about 20% of the blue on the cylinder as well. The balance of the gun has a smooth plum-brown patina, which has blended almost seamlessly with the remaining blue. The loading lever retains about 50%+ of its original fire blued finish, which has dulled and thinned, but still retains brilliance around the frame juncture. The lock plate retains crisp markings and has a smooth plum-brown patina with no original finish remaining. The hammer has the same smoky brown and plum patina, with about 20%-30% of the original case coloring remaining. All of the edges and markings of the pistol remain very sharp and crisp, with no rounding or indications of cleaning. Unlike later production revolvers, this one has no lanyard ring in the butt, and the butt cap is simply secured with a single screw. The original brass post front sight is present on the end of the barrel near the muzzle. There is some lightly scattered oxidized surface freckling present on metal, with most of this being found on the cylinder. Otherwise, the pistol is almost completely smooth and is essentially free of any pitting. The cylinder retains all five of its original cones (nipples) along with the brass washer spacers. The cones are in good condition with minimal battering and only expected wear. The bore of the revolver retains fine rifling, but is dark and dirty with scattered moderate pitting along its entire length. The bore would most likely clean to about GOOD+ condition, with some effort and a brass brush. The one-piece checkered walnut grips are in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition with strong checkering throughout and only some light to moderate wear and minor flattening of some of the sharp points. The grips are free of breaks, cracks, chips or repairs, and have a wonderful un-cleaned, aged brown color to them.
Overall this is a really attractive example of a wonderful and very early Kerr’s Patent Revolver. The pistol is in much better condition than they are typically found in, and these 80-Bore guns are much scarcer than Confederate marked Kerr pistols. The gun retains a good amount of original blue, is fully functional and is 100% complete and correct with the exception of the missing arbor pin retention screw. The serial number clearly indicates that the pistol would have been in made in 1859 and was probably sold commercially prior to the American Civil War. These pre-Civil War English revolvers were quite popular in the south and there is a strong likelihood that this gun made it to American shores before the outbreak of the war. Whether it saw Confederate use or not, this is a wonderful example of a rare medium bore Kerr revolver in a relatively high state of preservation. This gun clearly saw real carry and use, much more so that it likely would have seen in 19th century England, but it was well cared for along the way. This is a lovely example of a Kerr with nice, clear marks that a true “no excuses’ gun that would be a great addition to any collection of Civil War era revolvers.SOLD