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Author Topic: London Armory Company Kerr Percussion Revolver  (Read 3101 times)

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London Armory Company Kerr Percussion Revolver
« on: November 23, 2012, 03:48:31 AM »

London Armory Company Kerr Percussion Revolver

 London Armory Company Kerr patent revolver is one of the most distinctive and recognizable of all Civil War era handguns. The side mounted hammer & removable side plate were not common features in large bore handguns of the era and result in a unique silhouette. The Kerr patent revolver was invented by James Kerr, who was awarded two patents for improvements to Roberts Adams revolver design. Kerr had been a founding member of the London Armory Company, which was established on February 9, 1856 and of which Adams was the Managing Director. It is interesting to note that Kerr was Adams' cousin and had previously worked with him at Deane, Adams & Deane. Initially the LA Co focused on producing Beaumont-Adams patent revolvers with an eye towards obtaining lucrative English military contracts. When significant orders were not forthcoming, the company shifted its focus to manufacturing the British Pattern 1853 “Enfield” rifle muskets for both the English government and private sale. This caused a rift within the management that culminated with the departure of Adams from the company and the elevation of Kerr to the position of factory superintendant. With the departure of Adams, and the perceived need to offer some form of revolver for sale, the company purchased Kerr’s patent rights and started to produce the Kerr patent revolver in 1859. The first pistol was completed in March of 1859 and was tested at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock on April 25, 1859. The pistol was typical of large bore English handguns of the era, in that it was 54-Bore (about .442 caliber), and had a 5-shot cylinder. The gun was manufactured with barrel lengths that varied slightly, with the earliest guns having barrels around 5 ¾” in length and the later pistols having slightly shorter barrels that varied between about 5 ½” and 5 5/8”. The pistols used a single action mechanism (not a double action mechanism as the trigger position makes many people believe). The hammer could only be cocked by pulling it back manually; but pulling the trigger could rotate the cylinder. This was byproduct of the cylinder locking system, which relied on a pivoting arm that was actuated by the trigger. This arm locked the cylinder in place when firing. This was very different from the standard spring-loaded cylinder stop found in frames of most US produced revolvers. This system also eliminated the need to machine stop slots in the cylinder, as the rear face of cylinder was where the arm locked it into position. The pistol also featured a unique, frame mounted cylinder arbor that was removed from the rear of the pistol (much like on a Colt Root), instead of the more common location at the front of the cylinder. This made pistol easier and safer to manipulate when the cylinder had to be removed from the pistol. Although the design was reliable and fairly robust, the LA Co did not find any British military contracts forthcoming for their pistol. Between the introduction of the Kerr in 1859 and the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, only about 1,000-1,500 of the revolvers were sold. Most of these pistols were sold commercially (both in Great Britain and in the US), with about 100 of them purchased by an English Volunteer unit – the 1st Sussex Artillery Volunteers. With the outbreak of the American Civil War, Caleb Huse engaged the London Armory Company to produce all of the Kerr’s Patent revolvers that they could for delivery to the Confederacy. It is believed that all of the LAC’s output of Kerr revolvers from April of 1861 through the close of the Civil War were produced on contract for the Confederacy, with about 9,000 pistols produced and shipped during that time (it is also estimated that they produced about 70,000 P-1853 Enfield Rifle Muskets during the same time frame). This estimate is born out by the extant examples, which tend to exist in the 1,500 to about the 10,500 serial number range. The best concrete documentary evidence of how high the CS used serial numbers of Kerr revolvers ranged is the Squad Roll of Lt. Julian Pratt of Company H of the 18th Virginia Cavalry. This document lists the pistols in possession of his squad in July of 1864. On the list are seven Kerr revolvers that range between #9240 and #9974. Since the Confederacy would continue to import Kerr pistols throughout the end of the war (the last documented shipment was 8 cases in March of 1865), it is not unreasonable to extrapolate CS purchases into about the 11,000 serial number range. The other indicator of CS importation and usage is the presence of the enigmatic JS / (ANCHOR) that is sometimes located on the grip of the pistols. This has long been accepted as a Confederate import mark. However, the absence of this mark is not necessarily an indication that the pistol was not a CS purchase, as the information above outlines that nearly all Kerr’s over serial number 1,500 and below 11,000 were produced on contract for the Confederacy. With the conclusion of the American Civil War, the London Armory Company quickly succumbed to the loss of its largest, and only major customer. The company closed exactly one year after the close of the Civil War, in April of 1866, and it believed that the remaining factory assets and machinery were sold to a gun making company in Eibar, Spain the following year. Kerr himself did remain in business for some time after this, and assembled and sold Kerr revolvers from the existing stock of parts. This accounts for the post 11,000 serial numbered pistols occasionally encountered – usually in relatively nice condition. On a side note, collectors and researchers have long debated the correct pronunciation for James Kerr’s last name. According to Val Forgett Jr. -gun collector, researcher and current owner of Navy Arms his extensive research indicates that even the British disagree about the pronunciation, but the most correct pronunciation would almost certainly be KARR, while the next most common pronunciation would be KARE. The Americanized pronunciation is CUR.

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