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Antique Military Firearms
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This is a rare, original, correct and excellent condition Springfield Armory manufactured U.S. Model 1855 Rifle Musket with Maynard Tape-Primer Mechanism with the steel forend tip that was manufactured in 1860. This is the very desirable Type II Model 1855 and only 8,600 were manufactured at Springfield Armory in 1860.


Following the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th Century, arms developers in Europe began to digest the lessons learned from the linear style of warfare used by Napoleon and his numerous opponents on the continent. One of the critiques of the infantrymen of the day was that the standard lead ball, which was only slightly less in diameter than the bore diameter, would become harder and harder to load as the bore became fouled with carbon and partially burned powder. In response, arms designers began to experiment with projectiles that were significantly smaller in diameter than the diameter of the bore, so that rapid loading could be accomplished. The problem that developed as a result was that although a smaller diameter projectile might be easier to load, there was a corresponding loss of accuracy from a bullet that would essentially bounce down the barrel along with decreased muzzle velocity from gas escaping past the projectile. Designers then began to look for projectiles that, while small for loading, would expand to "fit" the bore during firing. One method of resolving both of these problems was to use a soft lead bullet that was smaller than the bore diameter. The breech end of the weapon was designed with a shaft that protruded forward. When the softer bullet was rammed into the breech, the shaft would deform the projectile outwards causing it to expand to the diameter of the bore. While it worked in theory, this method was actually slower as experiments showed that breech end fowling, and the very act of ramming a piece of lead sufficiently to deform it enough to expand to the diameter of the barrel, increased loading times.


This problem was ultimately resolved in 1847 by French Ordnance Captain Claude Etienne Minie, who invented a projectile, which still bears his name, that was smaller in diameter than the bore but had a hollow base. Captain Minie's design was actually based upon the work of two other French Ordnance Officers who had started work on hollow base projectiles that incorporated a tapered wooden plug or sabot that was inserted part way into the hollow base. When the weapon was fired, the initial expansion of gases drove the plug into the hollow base, which then expanded the rear side walls of the projectile to the diameter of the bore. Captain Minie's design, which became known as the Minie Ball, replaced the wood plug or sabot with a metal one, which gave greater consistency in accuracy than the wood design. Minie's projectile design, in conjunction with a rifled barrel that he designed in 1849, was used to devastating effect during the Crimean War. The Minie Ball in a rifled barrel significantly increased both range and accuracy and rendered the linear, close-in style of fighting used during the Napoleonic period, obsolete. Unfortunately for the Americans soon to fight in the Civil War, the development of new tactics lagged behind the development of small arms.


Needless to say, the new Minie Ball and rifled barrel design of Captain Minie sparked considerable interest in the United States Army. In 1853, Harpers Ferry manufactured several experimental rifles with various bore diameters and rifling systems. Colonel Benjamin Huger conducted tests of these experimental rifles, as well as a number of European production rifles, at Harpers Ferry during the winter of 1853-1854. At the same time, Lieutenant James G. Benton was conducting parallel tests at Springfield Armory. Benton's experiments led him to develop a conical-pointed projectile with a hollow base that did not need the tapered plug or sabot to expand the walls to the diameter of the bore. Benton accomplished this by simply thinning the walls surrounding the hollow base so that the expanding gases alone could accomplish what had earlier required the use of the plug. Once Benton came up with this breakthrough, he began to work on improving the ballistics performance of the round by lengthening the front, conical portion of the round. Benton's final design would be the standard projectile used during the Civil War with such devastating effectiveness.


French Captain Minie's contributions would not be the last Continental influence on the American's new design. The United States Ordnance Department received two examples of Britain's new Pattern 1853 Rifle Musket in 1854 for test and evaluation. The British Pattern 1853 Rifle would have a significant influence over the final American design. All of the previous years' work culminated in tests conducted from the fall of 1854 to the spring of 1855, when Colonel Huger and Lieutenant Benton conducted firing trials at Springfield and Harpers Ferry. The final result was a recommendation by the Ordnance Board of a new rifle with a .58 caliber three-groove barrel with a twist rate of one right-hand turn in 72". The grooves and lands were to be the same width and the groove depth would increase from the muzzle to the breech. The method of priming and firing the new rifle was based on the automatic tape-priming device patented by Dr. Edward Maynard, who was a dentist in Washington, D.C., after the government purchased the rights to Maynard's design for $50,000. The new rifle could also use standard percussion caps as needed. Interestingly, the Ordnance Board's recommendation for the new rifle was sent to, and approved by, then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America. Secretary Davis authorized the new rifle on July 5, 1855. Jefferson Davis' approval that year led to the development of the U.S. Model 1855 family of weapons, which included the rifle, a Model 1855 Carbine, and the Model 1855 Pistol Carbine.


The US Model 1855 Rifle Musket was the United States' first service pattern, standard issue infantry, musket configuration, rifled bore shoulder arm. All examples of the US Model 1855 Rifle were manufactured at either Springfield Armory or Harpers Ferry Armory. The initial tooling at both armories was influenced significantly by Ordnance Chief Colonel Craig who instructed the armories that the new Model 1855 rifles were to have "perfect uniformity," and that "[e]very possible exertion compatible with perfect accuracy of workmanship should be used to complete the Model Musket..." So exacting was Colonel Craig's expectation of "uniformity" that the established tolerances were reduced from the previous tolerance of .01", which permitted functional interchangeability of components, to only .0025", one fourth of the previously allowed tolerance. This exacting demand for close tolerances significantly slowed down production such that not one US Model 1855 Rifle was completed in 1855 and only three were completed by June 30, 1856. The first 310 Model 1855 Rifles were completed during the first quarter of calendar year 1857. Springfield and Harpers Ferry would eventually produce two distinct types of Model 1855 Rifles. The first, generally known as the Type I, is characterized by a long-range sight, graduated to 900 yards, no provision for a patch box in the stock, and a brass forend cap. The second, or Type II, incorporated a changed rear sight with a simpler two-leaf design configured for firing up to 500 yards, added an implement compartment (or patch box) in the right side of the stock, and changed the forend cap from brass to steel. These changes were made in 1858 and remained the same until the end of production of the Model 1855, which was in 1861.


This US Model 1855 Rifled Musket is the second or Type II design manufactured at Springfield Armory in 1860 with its original Model 1858 adjustable Rear Sight.  The Stock is its original oil finished black walnut that is 52 13/16" long. The original steel Butt Plate has the curved rear profile and convex rear surface with 2 1/8" long, round-ended tang. This butt plate is different than the Type I in that it has a recess on the right side for the compartment door.  The Tang has the "US" stamp and a period unit stamp, which is a serif “H” over the number “13.”  The Butt Plate Screws are both single slotted. The Butt Plate exhibits some minor pitting throughout on both the tang and the back side.


The original black walnut stock is in excellent condition.  Since this is a Type II Rifle Musket, it has the implement compartment on the right side of the butt.  The original oval recess has original pen writing on the wood.  The steel compartment door of the patch box is present and is in excellent condition, measuring 2 5/8” by 1 3/8” secured to the stock with a 4 9/16” long compartment door.  All three original single-slot compartment screws are present.  The patch box compartment still exhibits most of its original national armory bright finish.  The door still closes securely.  On the left stock flat is the correct oval cartouche but the letters are no longer visible although it is probably the cartouche with script “ESA,” which is the stamp of Erskine Allin. The Stock has numerous dings and scratches but there are no cracks noted. The stock retains its original oil finish.


All three original Barrel Bands are present. The Bands, each approximately 5/8" wide with flat surfaces, each gradually taper towards the muzzle for a secure fit and each is correctly marked with a serif "U" on the right side, level with the Band Retaining Spring. The three Bands all exhibits a pewter patina with traces of the original bright finish remaining and there is only minor pinprick pitting on the bands.  The Band Springs, or Band Retainers, are also original and are located forward of their respective bands. The Middle Band has its original Upper Sling Swivel riveted to a lug on the bottom and it rotates freely. The Forend Cap is steel and is secured by an interior-run screw that secures it to the Stock.


The original Ramrod is 39 5/8" in length and has the cupped "tulip"-shaped head. The Ramrod has a retaining swell approximately 5" to the rear of the head and the rear end of the Ramrod is threaded for 5/16" to attach the ball screw and wiper. The Ramrod exhibits a pewter patina with areas of old pinprick pitting noted. The Ramrod Channel in the Stock shows normal dings from use and from removing and reinserting the ramrod during firing and the Ramrod still secures in the swell portion of the channel (Model 1855 Rifles did not use a ramrod friction retainer to secure the ramrod when stowed).


The original Trigger Guard and Trigger Plate are present. The Trigger Plate, which measures 7 5/8" by 5/8" wide, exhibits a pewter patina with traces of the original national armory bright finish remaining.  The Trigger Plate is secured with two single-slotted screws. The Plate has minor pitting.  At the front of the plate is a serif “H” inspection stamp and at the rear is a serif “T” stamp.  The Trigger Bow is approximately 15/16" wide at the bottom and is still tightly secured to the plate by internal slotted nuts. The Bow also shows moderate pitting and a plum patina. The Lower Sling Swivel is correctly riveted to the front of the Bow and it rotates freely. The original Trigger is present and is suspended from a lateral machine screw through an internal lug on the Trigger Plate and the screw still moves freely.


The original Lockplate measures 5 7/16" by 2" and is flat with beveled edges along the perimeter. The Lockplate is marked "1860" horizontally to the rear of the Hammer. The front of the Lockplate is marked "U.S./SPRINGFIELD." The Lockplate has a pewter with traces of its original national armory bright finish present.  The original Maynard Tape-Primer Assembly is present and is fully functional. The magazine is approximately 1/4" deep and is designed to hold a roll of 50 primers. The original Pawl, which advances the roll of primers, is present and still functions correctly. The original Primer Magazine Cover is present and is correctly marked with the spread eagle looking to the eagle's left (towards the muzzle). The Cover is secured by the original spring stud or detent and it opens and closes easily on the vertical pin through the hinge. The Lockplate is secured from the left side with the original single-slotted Side Screws and Washers. The original Hammer is present and measures 3 1/16" tall with a convex surface.  There is a serif “V” assembly stamp on the front face of the hammer and a serif “S” on the inside facing portion of the hammer.  The thumb piece is straight and has the correct borderless checkering. The bottom of the Hammer nose has the cutting edge, which would cut the tape upon firing. The Hammer Screw is a flat, single slotted screw with rounded edges.  The lock still functions perfectly.


The original Nipple Bolster is present and has a convex outer surface with single-slotted clean out screw. The Nipple itself still has a clear path to the bottom of the inside of the Bolster. The Clean Out Screw is present and can be removed.


The original 40" long rifled barrel is present with octagonal surfaces at the rearmost 2 1/4".  The barrel is still in excellent condition, retaining considerable traces of the original bright finish with areas of old pinprick pitting towards the breech end.  The front of the Barrel has the original Base and integral Front Sight Post brazed to the Barrel approximately 1 1/4" behind the muzzle. The Front Sight also served as the bayonet lug.  The bore is still in excellent condition with strong rifling and strong areas of mirror finish with isolated areas of old frosting.  The barrel date of “1860” is still visible on the top, rear flat of the barrel.  On the left flat is the correct serif “V” over serif “P” over eagle head proof and viewing stamps.  The original breech plug and tang is present and is secured by a single-slotted screw.


The original Model 1858 Rear Sight present. The base is attached to the barrel 2 11/16” forward of the breech by its original mortise and spanner screw.  The base is 1.254” long and is single stepped at the front with a rearward step at the back end.  The base exhibits a pewter and plum patina.  Both original elevation leaves are present, and they rotate on the original lateral screw, which is correctly not countersunk on the right side.  The short branch leaf is sighted for 100 yards, the long branch is sighted for 300 yards with a script “3” stamp on the face, and the second leaf is sighted for 500 yards with a script “5” stamp on the face. 


U.S. Model 1855 Rifles are very rare today and Type II examples from 1860 when Springfield transitioned to the patch box are very desirable.  Only 70,254 Model 1855 Rifles, of both types, were manufactured from 1857 to 1861, 47,115 at Springfield Armory and 23,139 at Harpers Ferry Armory. In 1860 when this particular US Model 1855 Rifle was manufactured, only 8,600 were made at Springfield. Surviving examples are scarce in any condition, particularly when one learns that these rifles, being state of the art at the time, were immediately pressed into service by both the Union and Confederate Armies upon the commencement of hostilities in 1861 and were used throughout the war.


This particular rifle musket functions perfectly and remains in firing conditions.