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Colt 1861 Special Contract Musket

This old musket has an interesting story to it...well, kind of!!!  It may have been made in 1864 but it would never have existed if there hadn't been a War in Crimea 10 years earlier. During the 1850's, there was a firm in New England called Robbins and Lawrence.  Most of you guys out there may remember that they were one of the contractors for the US Model 1841 "Mississippi" Rifle.  The company was able to build these rifles with interchangeable parts which was still an almost unheard of feat back in the 1840's and 50's.  This captured the attention of the British military whose Enfields were not built up to those standards back then.  When the Crimean war broke out in the mid-1850's, the British Government had a shortage of their new Pattern 1853 rifled muskets.  Faced with war and limited production capacity, they remembered Robbins and Lawrence and presented them with a contract for 25,000 Pattern 1853 muskets.  This was probably the best and the worst thing that ever happened to R&L....the went "all out" tooling up for production which cost them a considerable amount of money.  The rifle they made was a first quality Pattern 53 and were marked Windsor on the lockplate...these are quite rare today and here's why!  Around 1856, the company was aboult half-way through the production of their contract when the Crimean War ended.  The British Government suddenly cancelled their order and left Robbins and Lawrence in quite a financial predicament.  (A quite similar situation presented itself to Winchester and Remington during WW1 with the British Gov't and the P-14 Rifle) Robbins and Lawrence had only delivered a portion of the P53 rifles with probably many others already made with no buyers.  To make matters worse, they hadn't been able to pay off their debts for the expensive tooling costs and the firm was dissolved in bankruptcy.  

This is where Sam Colt stepped into the picture.    At some point prior to the Civil War, for very little money, he and his associates were able to purchase all of Robbins and Lawrence's equipment to build the Pattern 53 Enfield rifled musket.  He bought it for nothing compared to what Robbins and Lawrence had spent to build it.  Perhaps he sensed the inevitable conflict brewing here in America during the late 1850's but he made a brilliant move.  When the Civil War broke out in the Spring of 1861, the US Government was in desperate need for contractors to begin producing their new US Model 1861 Rifled Musket.  Knowing the Govermnent couldn't afford to be picky in such dire need, he promised he could deliver Model 1861 muskets and was awarded a contract.  However, what he really did was use the Robbins and Lawrence equipment to build a loose interpretation of the 1861.  That's why they call these 1861 "Special Contract" muskets....they're really Robbins and Lawrence's P53 disguised to look like Model 1861 Springfield.  The US Gov't wasn't pleased at all about this when they learned what Sam Colt was up to, but they needed the guns so they grudgingly accepted them.  The firms of Colt, LG&Y, E.G Lamson, and Amoskeag all produced these Special Contract muskets through the entire war 1861-65.  The built about 150,000 total for the US Gov't and various state contracts.  As Paul Harvey likes to say, "And now you know the rest of the story!"  :-)     

This is a fairly decent example of a Civil War 3 band Colt 1861 Rifled Musket.  Its still in its original  .58 Caliber with 3 groove rifled bore with a 40" round barrel.  Overall, the rifle is in NRA Good condition with the metal mostly turned to a mostly smooth brown patina.  The bore is surprisingly still pretty good  with all of the 3 groove rifling intact.  The action functions as well at both half and full cock positions. The lockplate is dated 1864 with the Colt name in front of the hammer.  As on most Civil War vintage muskets, there are some light pits on the breech and bolster areas and some slight burn-away on the wood from powder flash just behind the hammer...however the barrel mfg date is still somewhat visible. Like the lockplate date, it appears to also read "1864". Good clear  "US" gov't markings on the lockplate and top toe of the buttplate. The bolster has an Eagle along with a VP and Eagle stamped on the other side of the breech.  Below the proofs is the word "STEEL" and inspector's initials "JLC". Various inspector letters can be found on numerous components of this rifle as well.  This rifle still has its original front and rear sights.  The rear sight is missing the lower leaf and has an incorrect screw securing it to the barrel....looks like an original hammer screw which are pretty hard to find.  The ramrod is also a bit of mystery....I believe this could be the original rod but it has a Civil War period blacksmith forged head...I suspect it was damaged and repaired.  The stock shows a fair amount wear with numerous dings, gouges, and handling marks but its solid with good wood to metal fit that isn't undersized. Most importantly, the left side of the stock still has its original inspector cartouches...one is light but almost completely legible while the other is partially visible.  There are a few things in the wood...some small tack heads, a very old staple, and a couple of those wavy staples you see sometimes in picture frames.   I guess these could be removed but they look like they've been there for many years. This stock isn't going to win any beauty contests but its original, solid, has never been altered or cut, the cartouches are there, and it hasn't been sanded down so its still wearing all of its Civil War service history.  All in all, not a bad example of Colt 1861 Special Contract.

Item# 0475




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