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Nicely Priced US Springfield Model 1855 Rifle Musket

Nicely Priced US Springfield Model 1855 Rifle Musket

  • Product Code: FLA-3638-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $0.00

This is a VERY GOOD+ condition example of the US Model 1855 Rifle Musket, as produced at the US national armory at Springfield, MA. The adoption of the Model 1855 by the US Ordnance Department was significant for a number of reasons. It was the first reduced caliber infantry long arm to be adopted for universal issue, being only .58 caliber, while all previous issue muskets had been .69 caliber. It was also the first rifled arm intended for widespread issue to all branches of the military. Prior to the M1855, smoothbore muskets were the standard infantry arm, and rifled arms were reserved for specialty troops and were not issued in significant numbers. The Model 1855 was also the first US military arm specifically designed for use with the Burton Ball (the American modified version of the expanding base French Minié ball). Finally, the M1855 incorporated the automatic tape priming mechanism of Dr. Edward Maynard. This mechanical priming system used a varnished paper roll of priming pellets, much like a modern roll of caps used in a child’s cap gun. The system advanced the roll every time the hammer was cocked, placing a fresh primer pellet over the cone (nipple). A sharp cutting edge on the bottom face of the hammer cut off the spent piece of priming tape when the hammer fell. The M1855 was officially adopted in 1855, but production did not get under way at the Springfield Armory until 1857, and at Harpers Ferry until 1858. Springfield produced a total of 47,115 Model 1855 Rifle Muskets between 1857 and 1861, with Harper’s Ferry producing another 23,139 between 1858 and 1861. Although most collectors do not know this, the US Ordnance Department did let some contracts for the production of M1855 rifle muskets. These contracts went to A.M. Burt, J.D. Mowry, J.F. Hodge, J. Mulholland and Alfred Jenks & Son. However, the complicated tape priming mechanism slowed tooling and pre-production work, and none of these contractors ever delivered a single M1855 rifle musket. However, all of them did deliver the simplified Model 1861 rifle musket, which eliminated the tape primer system, after the American Civil War broke out in 1861. The only contractor known to have completed any M1855 rifle muskets with a functional Maynard tape primer was Eli Whitney Jr., but these were never part of any official Ordnance Department contract. The Whitney produced guns utilized condemned US arsenal produced Maynard priming locks, and it is believed the 350 arms of this pattern that he built were all sold to the state of Connecticut. 


The US Model 1855 Rifle Musket went through a couple cosmetic and functional changes during its production run at the National Armories. Initially, it was produced with a long base, long-leaf adjustable rear sight, similar to the ones found on rifled and sighted US Model 1842 muskets. The M1855 was also originally produced with a brass forend cap. In 1858, a new pattern rear sight was adopted. This sight featured a short base with an L-shaped leaf for 100 and 300-yard shooting and a longer 500-yard leaf. While Springfield started installing the new pattern of 1858 back sights towards the end of that year, Harpers Ferry did not start the installation of the new sight until 1859. In 1859, the nose cap was changed from brass to malleable iron and an iron patch box was authorized for installation in the obverse of the buttstock. As with any change in specifications for assembly line produced items, the changes went into effect as stores of older parts were used up. This resulted in a variety of rear sight and stock forend combinations, as well as a number of older stocks being used on 1859 dated specimens that do not have the patch box cut out. The US Model 1855 Rifle Musket was produced with a 40” round barrel that was rifled with three broad grooves. The front sight served as a stud for an angular socket bayonet. The stock was of walnut, and the overall length of the musket was 56”, with the gun weighing in at 9 pounds, 3 ounces without the bayonet. The US M1855 Rifle Musket saw significant use during the American Civil War, as it was the most advanced US made rifle musket in production when the hostilities broke out. The M1855 initially saw service with most of the US Regular Infantry regiments, but eventually saw issue alongside US M1861 rifle muskets to a large number of regular and volunteer infantry regiments. Although the gun incorporated the Maynard priming system, the majority of Civil War issued M1855s were fired with traditional percussion caps. This was due to issues with the fragility and reliability of the tape primers, which tended to fail or delaminate when they became damp.


The US Model 1855 Rifle Musket offered here is a VERY GOOD+ condition example that was produced at the Springfield Armory in 1859. During fiscal year 1859, the Springfield Armory produced a total of 11,600 M1855 rifle muskets. The gun features the earlier long base rear sight that was officially replaced on July 28, 1858 with the new pattern, short base rear sight. Many of the barrels produced later in 1858 still received the left over, long base sights. Similarly, on April 21, 1859 the new iron forend cap was adopted, but many 1859 guns produced after this date used the left over brass forend caps. The same April 21, 1859 changes included the addition of an iron patchbox, to be inlet in the obverse buttstock. However, Due to the need to adapt machinery for the inletting of the patchbox and the need to fabricate the patch box covers, the patchboxes were not incorporated into production at Springfield until after July 9, 1859. 


The gun is clearly and crisply locked on the lock: U.S. / SPRINGFIELD in two horizontal lines forward of the hammer and 1859 in a horizontal line to the rear of the hammer. The date 1858 is stamped clearly and crisply on the breech of the barrel. The tape primer door is clearly stamped with the correct, Springfield pattern spread winged eagle, with 5 arrows & 3 olive branches in its talons. The typical V / P / {EAGLE HEAD} proof and inspection marks are present on the angled left breech flat. The butt plate tang is stamped with the typical US mark. The left stock flat, opposite the lock, is stamped with a weak and only partially legible “finish inspectors” cartouche, a script JS within a rectangular box with rounded edges. This is the mark of long time Springfield Armory sub-inspector James Stillman. This is the correct cartouche, and Springfield manufactured M1855 rifle muskets usually show either an “JS” or a “HWG” finish cartouche. Interestingly, the gun does not bear the expected script ESA cartouche of Erskin S Allin, the Master Armorer at Springfield Armory. This suggests that for some reason the gun never passed its final inspection by the Master Armorer, and as such was likely sent to one of the states under the Militia Act of 1808, rather than being placed in US Government stores. 


The gun remains in fairly crisp overall condition with clear markings in the metal and only the wood showing slightly more wear and weaker markings. The complicated and delicate Maynard lock system is mechanically excellent and works crisply and correctly, exactly as it should. The gun retains the original long base rear sight that is correctly marked US on the ladder as the Springfield produced sights were. The barrel also retains the original musket pattern front sight and bayonet lug. The original sling swivels are in place on the triggerguard bow and the middle barrel band. The original swelled-shank, tulip head ramrod is in place in the ramrod channel and retains good threads on its end. The metal of the gun is very smooth throughout, with only some extremely fine and very lightly scattered oxidized peppering and minute patches of pinpricking present. This is most noticeable near the muzzle of the musket, and around the breech and bolster, but in no way detracts from the overall appearance of this very nice M1855. The metal appears to have been lightly cleaned in the past to restore the “National Armory Bright” appearance, similar to when it originally left the armory. However, the metal now shows some lightly scattered minor surface oxidation and discoloration, along with some flecks of oxidation. As noted, the metal remains fairly crisp, with strong edges and good lines throughout. The bore of the rifle musket rates about FINE and is mostly bright, with excellent, crisp rifling. The bore appears to have some light pinpricking and minor pitting scattered along its length, primarily in the grooves nearer the muzzle, along with some evenly distributed frosting in the grooves. A good scrubbing might improve the condition of the bore even more. The iron buttplate shows a slightly darker, more oxidized patina than the balance of the musket, along with some lightly oxidized pinpricking and peppering, as is often the case on this piece of hardware that was often in contact with the damp ground. The stock rates about VERY GOOD+ condition as well and is fairly crisp. It is full-length with no breaks or repairs present. The stock retains good edges and lines and the wood to metal fit is quite good. The stock shows no indications of sanding but was probably lightly cleaned at some point in time. The stock also shows some lightly added oil and has a slightly blond tone to the wood. As previously noted, the original finish cartouche is present on the flat opposite the lock. The cartouche is only partially legible and shows some moderate wear. The stock does show moderate wear that includes numerous scattered bumps, dings, and mars from carry, service and use. There are a couple of worn grooves in the bottom of the forend, in front of the triggerguard, that suggest the gun may have been carried across a saddle pommel or something similar that created this wear. 


Overall, this is a very nice condition example of one of the most attractive and innovative patterns of US rifle musket ever produced. The lines and visual appeal of the Model 1855 have always been very attractive to me, and the unique tape priming mechanism gives these guns much more character than the cookie-cutter, workman-like appearance of the later M1861 rifle muskets. The gun is in a very nice state of preservation and is priced very reasonably. The M1855 was the standard issue rifle musket for the US infantry at the beginning of the American Civil War and the majority of the guns saw hard service during the war, especially with the pre-war Regular Army regiments. All of those factors, along with their relatively limited production numbers, make solid, better condition M1855s difficult to find for sale. Every Civil War long arm collection needs at least one M1855 rifle musket in it, and this is a very nice example that is priced very fairly that would be hard to improve upon without spending at least $500 more.


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Tags: Nicely, Priced, US, Springfield, Model, 1855, Rifle, Musket