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British Pattern 1851 Minié Rifle - Fine & Scarce

British Pattern 1851 Minié Rifle - Fine & Scarce

  • Product Code: FLA-3571-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

The British Pattern 1851 Minié Rifle is one of the least often encountered of all general issue British military percussion long arms. The gun was the first rifled percussion arm to be widely issued to the British line infantry, replacing the smoothbore Model 1842 percussion musket, and foreshadowing the end of the Napoleonic Era “rifle regiment”. The gun was adopted in 1851 and was manufactured from 1852 through 1855, with some 35,000 total rifle muskets being produced. It appears that nearly every one of the Pattern 1851s saw service, as arms researcher and author DeWitt Bailey notes that by April of 1855, approximately 34,000 P1851s were issued for service. 


At the beginning of the Crimean War, the Pattern 1851 was the most advanced weapon in the British military small arms arsenal. It retained much of the styling of the earlier P1842 musket, with a barrel secured by keys (wedges), and three brass pipes to retain the ramrod. Unlike the .75 caliber P1842, the gun had a slightly smaller bore, measuring .708 and a 39” long barrel that was rifled with four broad, fairly deep grooves of uniform depth. An adjustable long-range rear sight was affixed to the upper rear of the barrel, which was graduated to a maximum distance of 900 yards. The balance of the gun was essentially the same as the earlier pattern smoothbore percussion muskets that it was designed to replace, which themselves were little more than percussion versions of the last of the “Brown Bess” flintlock muskets, the India Pattern or 3rdModel Brown Bess. The P1851s performed fairly well in the Crimea but were quickly supplanted by the newly adopted Pattern 1853 “Enfield” Rifle Musket. This new gun was a major advance in infantry long arm design and featured a reduced caliber bore of .577, a more advanced rear sight and a barrel secured by clamping barrel bands, instead of the M1851’s wedges. The P1851 was so quickly replaced by the new technology of the “Enfield” that at the conclusion of the Crimean War the guns were considered completely obsolete. The hierarchy of the British military expected long arms to have a useable service life of 10 years and required even obsolete weapons to be held in reserve for emergency issue for at least that long before being offered for sale. However, the Pattern 1851 Minié Rifle was held in such low regard after the adoption of the P1853 that the many of the older guns were “stored” outside, exposed to the weather in an area adjacent to the Tower of London known simply as “the ditch”. More than likely this “storage area” was in fact the old moat that surrounded the Tower in earlier days, and it appears that due to a poorly managed and somewhat corrupt ordnance supply system, much of the surplus materiel from the war in the Crimea suffered a similar fate. 


With the coming of the American Civil War, and the urgent need for infantry long arms by both sides, a large number of obsolete British arms were sold as surplus, most of which were sold to the Confederacy by S. Isaac, Campbell & Company. According to Confederate purchasing records, some 14,900 British Pattern 1851 Minié Rifles were purchased during the early days of the war. Most of these arms were purchased between August of 1861 and January of 1862, with a handful purchased in the summer of 1862. Records indicate that at least 10,000 of these arms (and probably all of them) were purchased from J.E. Barnett & Sons of London, who had acquired the guns from the British Ordnance Department. Due to the fact that the arms had been left exposed to the elements in the Tower ditch for several years, Barnett refurbished the guns to make them functional. This apparently included the replacement of worn, damaged or missing parts and also involved re-proving the guns at the London Proof House. Most known examples of Pattern 1851 Minié Rifles that are definitively Confederate imports show a set of London commercial proofs, applied during the Barnett refurbishment process, in addition to their original British military proofs, or their remnants. Barnett sold the majority of these refurbished arms to S. Isaac & Campbell at a rate of 40 shillings each, including the socket bayonet, and the Confederacy was subsequently charged 44 shillings each. The summer of 1862 purchases were sold to the Confederacy at the lower rate of 40 shillings each. The guns were inspected by Messrs. Curtis and Hughes, who had been hired by S. Isaac & Campbell to act as viewers of arms. The P1851s inspected by Curtis & Hughes bear the inspection mark of CH / 1 in a small circle, on the upper comb of the stock, forward of the buttplate tang. Confederate documents refer to the Pattern 1851 rifle muskets by a number of different names, including: “Old Army Pattern, rifled”, “Second Hand Government Rifles”, “Minié Rifles”, “Second Hand Rifles 1851 Pattern” , “Brown Bess Rifles 1851 Pattern”and “Rifled Brown Bessies”. Pattern 1851 Rifle Muskets were arriving in Confederate ports no later than January of 1862, with deliveries continuing throughout most of that year. According to the McRae Papers, P1851s were included in the cargos of the blockade runners Gladiator, Harriett Pinckney, Southwick, Stephen Hart and Ella Warley. While the guns that were aboard the Ella Warley and Stephen Hart (some 3,520 guns) were lost to capture by the Federal blockading squadron, 11,380 Pattern 1851 Minié Rifleswere successfully delivered to Confederate ports and were subsequently issued for service. These guns had already seen hard use in the Crimea and saw additional hard service in Confederate hands. The end result is that the Pattern 1851 Minié Rifle is now a rarely encountered weapon and to my knowledge, only about a dozen Confederate marked Pattern 1851s are known to exist today.


The British Pattern 1851 Minié Rifle offered here is a very interesting rifle musket. The gun is a commercial gun, not a British military gun, and remains in FINEcondition. Due to the extremely short period of use for the guns by the British military, and the fact that the various makers who were contracted to produce them almost immediately turned to manufacturing the Pattern 1853 Enfield for use in the Crimea, commercial examples are practically unheard of. As the gun was obsolete almost as soon as it went into production, there were likely very few potential commercial buyers for the guns. In fact, other than the British military, the only other major buyer of the pattern was the southern Confederacy. 


Externally, the gun is completely unmarked, with the exception of the initials R&W A on the right side of the rear sight base and the graduations to 900 yards on the sight leaf. The initials indicate that the rear sight was produced by the long-time Birmingham arms producer R & W Aston. The lock is blank both inside and outside, and there are no external proofs on the barrel. Under the barrel are a pair of Birmingham commercial proof marks, as well as the initials WB, the number 538 and the name of the barrel maker; Ezra Millward. The breech plug and barrel have matching mating marks, and the assembly mating mark | |is present under the barrel as well. This same mating mark is found on the upper edge of the lock plate, as well as in the ramrod channel of the stock.


The metal of the gun’s barrel has a lovely, untouched patina that is a combination of flecked traces of the original blue that has mostly faded and worn and has turned to a lovely plum brown color. This is mixed with some minor surface oxidation. The metal is entirely smooth, with some lightly scattered surface oxidation and some very light pinpricking here and there, with only the breech showing some light pitting from percussion cap flash. The lock has a mottled light and dark gray appearance that suggests the original color case hardened finish. The lock of the gun is mechanically excellent and functions perfectly on all positions. The bore of the gun is in VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. The bore retains well-defined rifling and show only some very lightly scattered pitted along its length. A good scrubbing could well improve the overall condition of the bore. The brass furniture has a very nice, lightly oxidized golden patina that is untouched and remains quite attractive. Unlike most Pattern 1851 Minié Rifles, this gun is 100% complete, correct and original. It retains both of the original sling swivels, as well as the complete long-range rear sight (including the delicate ladder and adjustable slide). The gun also retains its original and correct ramrod. The rod is full-length and retains good threads on the opposite end. The original Lovell’s Pattern bayonet catch is in place under the barrel. This is another delicate piece that is usually missing when a P1851 is found available for sale. The stock of the musket is in about FINEoverall condition as well. The stock is solid and full-length, with no breaks or repairs. The stock does show a number of scattered minor bumps, dings and mars from handling use during its service life but shows no abuse. Despite this, the stock remains extremely crisp with very sharp edges with no indication of any sanding. The musket clearly saw real world use but was never abused or mishandled.


Overall this is a really wonderfully complete, 100% correct and original example of a very scarce Pattern 1851 Minié Rifle. This is the only commercial example of a Pattern 1851 that I have ever encountered, and this makes me think that it may have been made up from old parts to be sold to the Confederate buyers in 1861 and 1862. As not all of the P1851s were delivered through Barnett and Sinclair, Hamilton & Co, it would be reasonable to assume that not all of the CS purchases received the CH / 1 inspection mark. It is quite possible that the gun was a speculative purchase, rather than a government purchase, which would not have received any form of inspection marks. The gun remains extremely crisp, despite showing real world use and is very attractive. From a condition standpoint, this is one of the nicest Pattern 1851 Minié Rifles I have ever seen, let along had the opportunity to offer for sale. All P1851s are quite scarce, and this one is a wonderful example that will be a fine addition to any collection of 19thcentury English arms or a representative example of a pattern that was imported by the Confederacy in some quantity during the war.


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Tags: British, Pattern, 1851, Minié, Rifle, Fine, &, Scarce