This is VERY FINE condition example of the US M-1855 Rifle Musket, as produced at the famous US arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, VA. 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 were .69 caliber. It was also the first rifled arm intended for widespread issue to all arms of the military. Prior to the M-1855, smooth bore muskets were the standard infantry arm, and rifled arms were reserved for specialty troops and were not issued in significant numbers. It 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 M-1855 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 M-1855 was officially adopted in 1855, but production did not get under way at the Springfield Armory until 1857, and at Harper’s Ferry until 1858. Springfield produced a total of 47,115 M-1855 rifle muskets from 1857 to 1861 and Harper’s Ferry produced 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 the M-1855 rifle muskets. These contracts went to A.M. Burt, J.D. Mowry, J.F. Hodge, J. Mulholland and A. Jenks & Son. However, the complicated tape priming mechanism slowed tooling and pre-production work, and none of these contractors ever delivered a single M-1855 rifle musket. However, all of them did deliver the simplified M-1861 rifle musket (which eliminated the tape primer system) after the Civil War broke out in 1861. The only contractor known to have completed any M-1855 rifle muskets with a functional Maynard tape primer was Eli Whitney Jr., but these were never part of any official Ordnance Department contract and it is believed the 350 arms of this pattern that he built were all sold to the state of Connecticut. The M-1855 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 & sighted US M-1842 muskets. It 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 installed the new pattern of 1858 back sights in 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 results in a variety of rear sight and forend cap combinations, and 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 M-1855 Rifle Musket was produced with a 40” round barrel that 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”, and it weighed in at 9 pounds, 3 ounces without the bayonet.
The US M-1855 Rifle Musket offered here is a VERY FINE condition example produced at the Harpers Ferry Armory in 1858. During fiscal year 1858, Harpers Ferry produced a total of 8,581 M-1855 rifle muskets. The gun features the correct pre-1858 pattern rear sight that remained in use at Harpers Ferry through 1859, and the pre-1859 brass forend cap. The gun is clearly and crisply locked on the lock: U.S. / HARPERS FERRY in two horizontal lines forward of the hammer and 1858 in a horizontal line to the rear of the hammer. The matching date 1858 is stamped clearly on the breech of the barrel. The tape primer door is clearly stamped with the correct, Harpers Ferry pattern spread winged eagle, with arrows & olive branches in its talons. The typical V P (EAGLE HEAD) proof and inspection marks are present on the angled left breech flat. The obverse breech flat is also stamped with an upside down W.C.K inspection mark. The butt plate tang is stamped with the typical US mark. The left flat, opposite the lock is stamped with a script SB cartouche, a script JAS cartouche and a block W.C.K, like the mark found on the right breech flat. The SB mark is that of Samuel Byington, who inspected long arms at Harpers Ferry from 1854 through 1858. The JAS mark is that of Harpers Ferry armory sub inspector James A Schaeffer. The W.C.K mark is armory sub inspector William C. Kirby who inspected the various Harpers Ferry M-1841 Mississippi Rifle alterations performed at that arsenal, as well as M-1855 rifle muskets during the year 1858. The gun is 100% complete and correct in every way and has absolutely no repairs or replacement parts. The complicated Maynard lock system is mechanically excellent and works crisply and correctly, exactly as it should. A partial roll of original Maynard primers remains in the tape-priming magazine, within the lock. The gun retains the correct original rear sight, which functions and adjusts smoothly, as it should. The original sling swivels are in place on the triggerguard bow and the middle barrel band, and the original front sight & bayonet lug is in place at the end of the barrel. The original swelled-shank, tulip head ramrod is in place in the ramrod channel and retains excellent threads on its end. The metal of the gun is mostly smooth throughout, with only some lightly oxidized peppering and pinpricking present. These areas of minor wear are more plentiful in the breech and bolster area of the musket and become sparser and more scattered forward of the rear sight. The metal of the barrel and stock furniture has a light pewter color, with some remnants of old dried oil and grease, as well as the previously mentioned peppering present. The lock has a mottled light and dark gray appearance, with some small patches of lightly oxidized pinrpicking and age discoloration. All of the metal components remain crisp, with sharp edges and good lines throughout. The bore of the rifle rates about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE and is mostly bright, with excellent rifling. There is some light scattered pitting present, mostly scattered along the length of the bore in the grooves, and with some slightly larger patches of light pitting present in the last 2-3 inches of the barrel closest to the muzzle. The stock rates about NEAR EXCELLENT condition and is very crisp. It is full length with no breaks, cracks or repairs present. The stock retains sharp edges and lines and the wood to metal fit is excellent. The butt stock may have been very lightly cleaned at some point, but shows on indications of sanding and none of the metal is proud of the stock in any way. As previously noted the cartouches present on the flat opposite the lock are extremely crisp and clear. The stock does show a handful of scattered light bumps, dings, rubs and minor scratches from use, carry and storage, but there are absolutely no indications of abuse and no repairs are present.
Overall this is a really wonderful, completely unmolested example of one of the most attractive and innovative patterns of US rifle musket ever produced. The lines and visual appeal of the M-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 M-1861 rifle muskets. The gun is 100% complete and correct in every way and is in a fantastic state of preservation. The Harpers Ferry produced guns represent only 1/3 of the total production of M-1855 rifle muskets. As such they are much scarcer than those produced at Springfield and are very desirable guns. The M-1855 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 make high condition Harpers Ferry produced arms difficult to find for sale. Every Civil War long arm collection needs a M-1855 rifle musket in it and this wonderful example from Harpers Ferry is one that you will be very proud to own and display in you collection, and is a gun that you will have to spend significantly more money to improve upon. SOLD