PS Justice Type II Brass Mounted Rifle Musket
- Product Code: FLA-3578
- Availability: In Stock
I have always felt that the arms produced by P.S. Justice of Philadelphia were very intriguing. The firm of P.S. Justice had its genesis as Justice & Steinmann, a Philadelphia sporting goods and hardware retailer. In 1842, Justice & Steinmann became customers of the Henry family company known as Bolton Gun Works (later J. Henry & Sons) and began retailing Henry produced rifles and shotguns in two Philadelphia retail locations. It is likely that the Justice company also offered guns by other makers as well, and it appears that prior to the American Civil War, Justice was not in the business of manufacturing firearms. The Justice firm was one of J. Henry & Sons largest clients and purchased not only completed arms, but component parts as well. The majority of these parts were likely sold to other gun makers, but Justice may have assembled some arms from these parts in the last couple of years immediately preceding the opening of hostilities between the North and the South. It is interesting to note that the Justice firm was listed as a manufacturer of “railroad car springs” in the 1860 Philadelphia Directory, and while census data from 1860 suggests that they manufactured 2,500 guns between June 1, 1859 and June 1, 1860, author & researcher George Moller notes that the company was not considered a “manufacturer” by the US Secretary of the Interior, but only as an “assembler”.
In 1861, the firm officially changed their name to P.S. Justice, dropping the name of Steinmann who had died in 1845. Justice was definitely a shrewd businessman, who saw an opportunity to make money and managed to secure a number of US arms contracts in the early days of the Civil War. Within days of war being declared, Justice contacted his largest supplier, J. Henry & Sons, in an attempt to purchase as many arms as possible for resale to the US government and various state and local militias. He also undertook a campaign of letter writing to state and federal officials, offering to manufacture various patterns of long arms for use by the troops that were volunteering to put down the “rebellion”. In these letters he made some outrageous claims as to his manufacturing capability, suggesting that he could produce “…1,000 stands per week and increase it to double if it is possible before the autumn closes,” as well as claiming to be making “…extensive arrangements to manufacture the ‘Enfield’ pattern Rifle both short and long pattern”. Justice further claimed that that he was “…now engaged in making [a] superior Army Rifle, with either the ordinary [socket] or the sabre bayonet…”. Justice never did “arrange to manufacture” Enfield pattern arms but did manage to import some 3,000 “long” (Pattern 1853) and 1,000 “short” (Pattern 1856/58/60) Enfields, which he subsequently sold to the US government. He also approached the Frankford Arsenal, offering in August of 1861 to deliver some 4,000 .69 rifled muskets “…similar in style to the sample deposited with you at $20.00 each.” The US Ordnance Department agreed that the acquisition of such arms would be in their best interests, and they agreed to contract with Justice for the production of 4,000 .69 rifled muskets at the proposed price of $20.00 each. These were the guns that would eventually become known to modern collectors as the “PS Justice Muskets”. Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Arms designates these as "Type I", “Type II” and “Type III” variants, but author and researcher George Moller re-designates them simply as “Type I” and “Type II” in his seminal work American Military Shoulder Arms Volume III. The “Type I” arms were manufactured with iron furniture and were generally made from obsolete, condemned and otherwise used parts, with some new components (especially stocks) sprinkled in among the guns. The “Type II” guns were brass mounted and can be further classified by at least four types of barrel configurations and three types of lock configurations. While many of these guns did utilize at least some surplus or used parts, the Type II guns were often mostly of newly made parts with re-used barrels being the most commonly encountered repurposed portion of the musket. A total of 2,174 .69 caliber rifled muskets were delivered to the US government by Justice, with the majority appearing to be the “Type II” brass mounted variant, and the balance being iron mounted. The arms were delivered between September 14, 1861 and February 25, 1862. Moller notes that between 1,000 and 1,800 of the brass mounted, Type II Justice muskets were produced and procured under this Federal contract. As noted, the guns varied in the parts used to construct them, and even their finish varied from variant to variant, with some having browned barrels and others bright, and some locks being bright, and others blued. One common feature of all the guns was that the wood used for the stock was often poorly seasoned.
Whether Justice was a patriot trying to assist his country with essential arms and war materiel or simply an opportunist is still open to debate. What is obvious is that Justice took a cue from Eli Whitney Jr.’s company and minimized costs as much as possible in order to maximize profit. This meant that Justice’s firearms ended up with a reputation for being of poor quality and unsafe. There was at least some basis in fact for this reputation, as Justice was brought before the 37th Congress and the Holt-Owens Commission to answer for his “war profiteering” and for providing shoddy and substandard guns. One officer, 2nd Lt, William H. Harris who testified about the quality of the Justice rifled muskets issued to the 55th PA infantry noted that:
“This regiment is armed with rifle muskets, marked on the barrel, “P. S. Justice, Philadelphia”, and vary in caliber from .65 to .70. I find many of them unserviceable and irreparable, from the fact that the principal parts are defective. Many of them are made up of parts of muskets to which the stamp of condemnation has been affixed by an inspecting officer. None of the stocks have ever been approved by an officer, nor do they bear the initials of any inspector. They are made up of soft, unseasoned wood, and are defective in construction. . . . The sights are merely soldered on to the barrel, and come off with the gentlest handling. Imitative screw-heads are cut on their bases. The bayonets are made up of soft iron, and, of course, when once bent remain set.”
Col. (later to be General) Thomas D. Doubleday noted of the Justice arms that he had inspected:
“The arms which were manufactured at Philadelphia, Penn., are of the most worthless kind, and have every appearance of having been manufactured from old condemned muskets. Many of them burst; hammers break off; sights fall off when discharged; the barrels are very light, not one-twentieth of an inch thick, and the stocks are made of green wood which have shrunk so as to leave the bands and trimmings loose. The bayonets are of such frail texture that they bend like lead, and many of them break off when going through the bayonet exercise. You could hardly conceive of such a worthless lot of arms, totally unfit for service, and dangerous to those using them.”
While it is true that Justice utilized a variety of used, obsolete and sometimes condemned parts in the construction of his arms (similar to the Whitney “Good & Serviceable” series of small arms), he utilized parts of new construction in his arms as well. His greatest short fall appears to have been the use of wood for the stocks that was not sufficiently seasoned, which lead to shrinkage and multiple service issues, including locks that did not properly function and the rusting of iron parts. Justice produced a variety of patterns of his rifles and rifle muskets, which have been given a typology by collectors, based upon their features. In general, the differences found in the features, furniture and make-up of the guns was the result of Justice’s preference to utilize any parts currently on hand, rather than obtaining or manufacturing parts as supplies ran out.
The musket offered here is one of the P. S. Justice Brass Mounted Rifled Muskets (aka Moller Type II). The gun is one of the better examples of Justice’s work that I have had the opportunity to handle or sell, and it is in about VERY GOOD+ condition overall, even though it shows real world use. This is particularly amazing considering the many issues found with extant Justice arms today. The tops of the barrels of these muskets were typically marked in two lines at the breech P.S. JUSTICE / PHILADA, and this example is no exception. Interestingly the barrel tang is not serial numbered in the typical Justice fashion. However, the serial number W / 681 is stamped under the barrel near the muzzle. The lock is marked in two horizontal lines, forward of the hammer: P.S. JUSTICE / PHILADA. The lock is one of the re-used US military locks, and the filler in the recess from the flash pan of the US Model 1816 lock remains clearly visible. Traces of the original lock markings are present at the tail of the lock as well. These appear to be the word “PHILADA” vertically over a now obscured date. This marking indicates that the lock originated in a J. Baker contract US M1822/28 (M1816 Type III) musket. Only a small number of these guns, about 900, were delivered circa 1836-1837, with all known examples dated 1837. The lock uses the mating mark 6 on the interior and inside the hammer neck to mate these parts together. This same mating mark appears under the barrel as well. The tumbler, bridle and sear are all marked with a Pand retain much of their fire blued finish. The lock remains in excellent mechanical condition. The newly made Justice musket locks were blued when then were manufactured, while the re-used US military locks were left in the bright. The lock has been cleaned to a bright steel patina with lightly oxidized freckles and light to moderate pinpricking, as well as some pitting, scattered over its surfaces. The lock is retained by a pair of lock mounting screws, which pass through two brass escutcheons with wide oval wings. Moller notes three variations in lock design and four patterns of barrel and bolster configurations are noted on the Type II Justice muskets. The 39 1/8-inches long barrel is a repurposed US M1816/22/28 pattern barrel, with a Justice applied bolster that is similar to that found on the US M1842 musket. The bottom of the barrel is stamped 336, and the same number is stamped into the barrel channel of the stock as well. Some of Justice’s barrels have the bayonet lug located on the top and others have it located on the bottom. This example has a top mounted lug. The barrel has been cleaned to bright as well and is starting to dull down just a little bit. The barrel is partly smooth forward of the rear sight, with some lightly scattered patches of minor surface oxidation and some lightly scattered surface roughness. There is some very evenly distributed light pitting forward of the rear sight as well. To the rear of the sight there is moderate pitting from the mercuric percussion cap flash. The .69 bore of the musket is in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. The bore is rifled with three shallow grooves that remain in crisp condition along the entire length of the bore. The bore is mostly bright with some scattered light surface oxidation and discoloration here and there. The bore shows some very light pitting along its entire length and some minor erosion of the rifling here and there. The gun retains both of the original, relatively poor quality sling swivels. The correct and original short base US M1858 style long-range rear sight remains in place top of the breech. The sights were soldered to the barrels (not screwed) and the screw hole in the sight bases were filled with blank screw heads to give the illusion of being attached mechanically to the barrel. This sight retains two of the correct and original “swooped wing” style M1858 sight leaves, marked for “3” and “5” hundred yards. The rear sight leaves will not move currently and appear to be frozen by old grease. The original Justice applied iron front sight is in place on the top of the barrel, 3 1/8-inches from the muzzle and the Justice applied, low and wide socket bayonet lug is present on top of the barrel 1 1/8-inches from the muzzle as well. The ramrod is the original Justice style rod with a tulip shaped tip. The rod is full-length and retains fine threads at the end. The brass furniture of the musket has been cleaned to an attractive golden color. The stock is in NEAR FINE condition and considering the poor condition that Justice musket stocks are usually found in, it really rates much better than that. Normally the unseasoned stocks show significant shrinkage and damage. This stock is still very crisp, with some slight shrinkage making it difficult for the barrel bands (mostly the upper one) to be tightened sufficiently to remain in securely in place. This has resulted in some rubs and mars around that barrel band. This is one of the very complaints that were lodged against the muskets during the Civil War. The stock is free of any breaks or major repairs and shows only a small grain crack at the rear lock escutcheon that runs into the barrel channel. This tiny crack has been repaired and is quite unobtrusive. The stock does show the typical array of handling bumps, dings and abrasions, and mars that are typically encountered on the stock of any Civil War musket that saw real combat use. These mars are usually amplified on the green wood of a Justice stock, and while this stock shows real use it shows no signs of abuse. The overall wood to metal fit is substantially better than found on many Justice muskets, without the typical excessive gaps and spaces between metal components and the stock. Very often significant gaps are present between the stock and barrel, and the fit of the trigger guard, butt plate and patchbox are often mediocre. The fit on this gun is really very nice. The wood has a very attractive dark brown walnut color with some reddish undertones and looks very nice mated with the brass furniture.
Overall this is one of the more attractive examples of a Justice musket that I have seen on the market recently. It is much better built, better fit and better preserved than many of the examples that I have seen. It has a lot of eye appeal due to the lovely stock and the contrasting brass furniture. No collection of Civil War long arms is complete without at least one of these odd-ball, early war US contract muskets. This one would be a great addition to any collection that centers on Pennsylvania troops, large bore rifled arms, or guns produced and sold by some of the less than scrupulous arms brokers of the American Civil War era.