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Philadelphia Contract US M-1861 Rifle Musket - Scarce

Philadelphia Contract US M-1861 Rifle Musket - Scarce

  • Product Code: FLA-2884-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

For years the US M-1861 Contract Rifle Muskets with locks marked Philadelphia have been a conundrum for collectors, and while certainly a scarce addition to any collection of US military Civil War long arms, their actual origin has been somewhat shrouded in mystery and confusion. In fact, various references have different opinions as to exactly what a Philadelphia marked musket is and who actually manufactured the guns. The only point that seems to be agreed upon is that these muskets were almost certainly originally contracted for by Philadelphia native John Rice. Rice had served an apprenticeship as a carpenter as a young man, and upon its completion he had gone into the building business. Rice was a very successful builder, operating as what we would today call a contractor, being the overall superintendent for the building process, hiring and firing labor, overseeing construction, etc. Rice even maintained some full time employees and a manufactory where he could fabricate building components needed for his projects. Rice was also a skilled craftsman himself, and during the during the early Civil War he served as a stone worker on the US Capitol building project in Washington D.C. It was him employment at the Capitol building project that led him to obtain a contract to build rifle muskets for the US government. Rice noted that although he had no experience in firearms manufacture, “for the last 25 years (I) have been very extensively engaged in mechanical pursuits”. Rice further noted that his goal in acquiring an arms contract was to keep his employees and his manufacturing facilities engaged and working while he was working on the Capitol project. To that end, Rice managed to obtain a contract to produce 36,000 US M-1861 pattern rifle muskets on November 21, 1861, at the going rate of $20.00 each. Like so many of the contractors who sought small arms contracts during the early months of the Civil War, Rice had no plans to manufacture the majority of the gun parts himself, but rather hoped to acquire the parts from contractors, and for his people to assemble and deliver the guns. The only part of the musket that Rice appeared to be interested in actually “making” were the stocks, which he was obtaining in rough form, and then drying and finishing in his facility. His primary contract vendors were William Mason of Taunton, MA who was to deliver the finished gun barrels and C.H. Williams of Philadelphia who was to produce the musket locks. Other contractor included Samuel Norris of Springfield, MA (appendages), Cole & Brother of Pawtucket, RI (cones), Humphreysville Manufacturing Company (bayonets), W.F. Nicholson & Company of Providence, RI (sights, barrel bands & swivels) and H.B. Bigelow of New Haven, CT (trigger guard plates, bows, triggers, butt plates, & misc. other furniture), just to name a few. As with many of the early US rifle musket contractors, Rice ran into issues with delivery schedules from his contractors, as well as with the ability to acquire whatever machinery he needed to add to his facility (probably stock making machines) to complete his contract in a timely fashion. His initial delivery was to be 3,000 stands of arms on February 1, 1862, with 3,000 additional stands each subsequent month until the contract was completed. However, Rice managed to get the contract amended on December 14, 1861 to allow for the initial delivery to be made on May 1, 1862. On April 3, 1862 Rice claimed to have delivered a sample gun to the Springfield Armory for inspection and that it had been found “perfect in every particular”, however in just a few days Rice was considering defaulting on the contract due to issues in obtaining barrels as roughly half of the barrels manufactured by William Mason were failing the US government proofing procedures. As a result, Rice requested a delay for initial deliveries until July of 1862. The Ordnance Department agreed to further amend Rice’s contract to 25,000 stands, delaying the first deliveries until July 1, 1862 and reducing the number of stands to be delivered to 2,000 on that date, and each 30 days there after. It is here that the thinks become quite murky. According to Ordnance Department records, no deliveries were made under Rice’s contract. That said, correspondence from Rice suggests that he had sufficient parts on hand to produce between 500 and 1,500 rifle muskets during the early summer of 1862. What happened to those parts is the real mystery. It has been suggested by pioneering Civil War arms researcher William B. Edwards that the guns were assembled and sold to Alfred Jenks & Sons. Jenks had become involved as a subcontractor in the Rice debacle when Rice could not obtain machinery for the manufacture of the gunstocks. As a result, Rice turned to Jenks to obtain finished stocks. Jenks delivered 464 M-1861 rifle muskets to the Ordnance Department in November of 1862 that were no part of his contracts for small arms, and Edwards contends that the these “non-contract” guns were the Rice “Philadelphia” muskets. Another theory, postulated by firearms authors & researchers Whisker, Hartzler & Yantz suggests that some of the Rice assembled arms were delivered to the State of Pennsylvania. They note that among the few extant examples they were able to view for their research that some bear unusual proof marks that suggest state purchase, they also note that most of the components, other than the C.H. Williams “Philadelphia” marked locks, were likely supplied by Jenks, and that at least some examples with Trenton produced barrels exist as well. This information dovetails well with author & researcher George Moller’s theory that the Philadelphia locks, and whatever parts Rice had available were purchased by Addison M. Burt who was one of the two contractors manufacturing arms at the Trenton Locomotive Works. He and James T. Hodge both produced muskets there, and muskets with locks marked “Trenton”, “Philadelphia” and “Windsor Locks’ have been attributed to Burt and guns with locks marked “Bridesburg” and “Windsor Locks’ have been attributed to Hodge as well. Together they produced the state of New Jersey contract arms with “Trenton” marked locks. As C.H. Williams was one of the lock contractors used by Addison Burt in the production of his long arms, it is suggested that the left over “Philadelphia” locks from the failed Rice contract were subsequently sold to Burt for use in his contract rifle muskets. Due to the confusion regarding the disposition of the parts at the collapse of Rice’s gun making business, it is unclear exactly what happened to his “Philadelphia” locks. It is possible that all of the theories are at least partially correct, with some assembled guns being sold to the state of Pennsylvania by Rice with the balance of the “Philadelphia” locks being sold to other contractors for use in guns they were delivering. It is clear that muskets with Philadelphia locks are quite scarce and that no more than 500 to 1,500 of the locks were ever marked in that fashion. One thing that is also certain is that the arms making debacle did not destroy Rice. He continued to have a very successful building career both during and after the Civil War, dying in 1880 as one of the most successful contractors and builders in Philadelphia, but becoming only a confused footnote in the story of US Civil War arms procurement.

This “Philadelphia” US M-1861 Rifle Musket is in about FINE overall condition. The gun is relatively crisp and sharp throughout with smooth, lightly cleaned metal that has dulled to a medium pewter patina. The metal is free of any significant pitting, although it does show some lightly scattered pinpricking, mostly around the breech and bolster area. There is also some lightly oxidized age freckling scattered on the metal parts. The lock of the musket is marked with a (Spread Winged Eagle) and U.S. / PHILADELPHIA forward of the hammer, and with the date 1862 horizontally to the rear. The lock has a smoky medium gray patina with some scattered patches of scattered age discoloration and minor surface oxidation. The “eagle” mark on the lock is a little light, but the “US / Philadelphia” and the “1862” date are quite crisp and clear. Top flat of the breech of the 40” long barrel is marked with the matching date 1862. Close inspection of the mark suggests that it has been freshened, as the top part the date stamp is thinner than the lower portion. It looks like the bottom half of the date was weak and has been over-stamped to make it clearer. The left angled breech flat is marked with the expected V P (Eagle Head) proof marks, along with a couple of more unusual marks. One appears to be the numbers 3 and 4, stamped over each other, with the “3” on top of the “4”, and at a right angle to it. There is also a deeply stamped R in line with the other odd mark and the rest of the usual proof marks. These may be some of the odd proof marks that Whisker, Hartzler & Yantz refer to when discussing the guns they believe that Rice actually assembled and delivered to the state of Pennsylvania. Further indication of this theory is present on the stock flat, opposite the lock. There is only a single inspection cartouche there, near the rear of the flat. The cartouche is quite visible, but not legible. Contract arms were to receive at least two cartouches when delivered into Federal service, an arsenal sub-inspector’s cartouche and an Ordnance Officer’s acceptance cartouche. Only those arms marked with the second, “acceptance” cartouche would have been paid for. Those guns that were not accepted into Federal service were often sold on the open market to the various states. The tang of the buttplate is stamped U S and the flat, spring retained barrel bands are all marked with the usual U on their right sides. The lock of the musket is mechanically excellent and functions perfectly on all positions. The original M-1861 pattern rear sight is in place on the top of the breech, forward of the nocksform and retains about 50%+ of its original blued finish. The sight is 100% complete, correct and fully functional. The original cone (nipple) is in place in the bolster and is very crisp, retaining about 40%+ of its blued finish as well, although it shows some fading and dulling. Both original sling swivels are in place on the musket, and are fully functional. The original swelled shank, tulip head ramrod is in place under the barrel, and is full length with excellent threads on the end. The bore of the .58 caliber musket rates about VERY FINE. It is mostly bright, with only a couple of lightly scattered patches of darkness and minor oxidation. The rifling remains excellent and crisp, and the bore shows only some very lightly scattered pitting along its length. The stock rates about NEAR FINE and is fairly crisp, with no indications of having been sanded. It retains good lines and edges, but shows numerous bumps, dings and bruises from storage, handling and use over 150 years. The stock is solid and full length with no breaks, cracks or repairs noted. There are some tiny chips of wood missing at the rear of the barrel tang, but these are very minor and hardly worth mentioning. The chips are quite old and almost certainly from the period of use, as the area is worn smooth. There is also a name carved lightly into the reverse of the butt stock, but I cannot make out what it says. The carving appears quite old and could well be from the period of use.

Overall this is a really nice example of a rather scarce Philadelphia M-1861 Contract Rifle Musket. The gun remains crisp throughout and is 100% complete and appears to be correct in every way. Since there are no identifiable and verifiable deliveries of these scarce John Rice contract muskets, it is impossible to determine an exact “typology” as can be done with many of the other contractor produced muskets. Whether this represents a Rice assembled gun sold to Pennsylvania or is possibly a non-contract musket delivery by Jenks is simply impossible to determine. One way or the other this is rather difficult musket variation to find, as at most about 1,500 “Philadelphia” marked lock plates were manufactured, with the actual number being more likely in the 500-1,000 range. This would also be a nice addition to any collection of Civil War rifle muskets and is a nice crisp gun that displays really well.


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Tags: Philadelphia, Contract, US, M, 1861, Rifle, Musket, Scarce