This is a very nice example of an Enfield Pattern 1853 rifled musket manufactured by the London Armoury. These are TOUGH little boogers to find out there in the market and in ten years of actively searching, this is only the 3rd London Armoury P53 we've found. Of those three, one was a Prize Rifle that stayed in England while the other two (including this one) were both 1862-dated Civil War exports to America. Both of these guns are remarkably similar. See link for comparison: http://www.antiquearmsinc.com/p53-enfield-pattern-musket-2.htm. The London Armoury Company was recognized as the best maker of the Enfield pattern and eagerly sought out by Confederate and Union purchasing agents during the American Civil War. The prime reason for military buyers showing preference toward the London Armoury Company gun was simple; they were built with interchangeable machine made parts. Imagine a modern day military trying to function with equipment made from loosely followed patterns and hand-built parts. But that was the norm back in the mid-19th century. If your gun broke, it was useless until you could find or make a part to match it. Having uniform gauged components gave LAC a sizeable advantage over other London and Birmingham-made Enfields. These commercial makers had to make and fit their parts by hand from within a guild system composed of jobbers, subcontractors and contractors.
London Armoury Info: The first American buyer to reach the London Armoury was Confederate purchasing agent Caleb Huse who arrived in England in the late summer of 1861. Unfortunately for the Confederates, they found the London Armoury already locked into a contract for P53's with the British gov't. To complicate matters, there was also a smaller commercial contract to fulfill with the state of Massachusetts. While the LA Co. gave the Confederates however many guns they could produce per month over these two contracts, they would have to wait patiently in hopes of securing a large long-term contract. In the meantime, the Confederacy employed the London Armoury plant's superintendent, Mr. Hamilton, to purchase Enfields from other London makers as well as a few in nearby Birmingham. Hamilton worked for a 2% commission and before long he had every maker in London and half of Birmingham making Enfields for the Confederates. The Union purchasing agents arrived a short time later and were forced to settle for mainly lower quality Enfields made in Birmingham or other weapons from continental Europe.
To get technology up to a point where parts could be made uniformly without need for hand-fitting is pretty remarkable...and really something that probably takes a few hundred years for everything to come together and fall into place. Just think of all the factors...a culture must share a common language, live within a governable territory with standardized systems of measurement, education, the development of a skilled workforce...all must be in place to build upon year after year of innovations until machinery can become accurate enough to reproduce a part to the same dimensions continuously. While this may surprise a few of you, this technology did not come directly from Britain...but rather their descendants over here in America. It's true that Eli Whitney is often given the credit for interchangeable parts and the assembly line but historians have found that his parts, while much improved, never reached the pinnacle of true interchangeability. Robbins & Lawrence was one of the best private arsenals in America during the 1850's. At the time they had a contract with the US gov't for the Model 1841 Mississippi rifle. Representatives from the British military toured Robbins & Lawrence and were highly impressed...SO impressed that they ordered 25,000 P53 Enfields from the company during the Crimean War along with a duplicate set of their machinery to build perfect P53's in England. That machinery (made by Ames Mfg and R&L) went to the British gov't arsenal located at Enfield. It was designed by a young master machinist, formerly from the Harpers Ferry Arsenal, named James Henry Burton. Unfortunately, the end of the Crimean War and selling Enfield a set of their prized tooling led to disaster for the New England based company. With no war to fight and possession of a duplicate copy of R&L's machinery, the British gov't cancelled Robins & Lawrence's Enfield contract about halfway through production. James Burton was hired by Enfield to set up and run the Enfield factory...which was soon producing 75,000 rifles per year with parts machined to within a .003" tolerance. The Enfield became the "Gold Standard" for all of Europe. "The London Times credited the factory's 'singular excellence' to Burton's 'untiring skill and diligence.'" Page 7, of Colonel Burton's Spiller & Burr Revolver. During Burton's tenure as the superintendent of Enfield, the London Armoury was being formed in Bermondsey. In 1858, they also received a set of tooling for the P53 from America...probably Ames Mfg in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Along with the equipment came an American who helped the workmen set up the plant...and somewhere in one of my books, there is reference to who he was. Connecting the dots, it's little wonder why the state of Massachusetts along with American and Confederate purchasing agents all knew so much about the London Armoury and its capabilities. After five years, Burton would leave England and come back to America where he eventually went to work for the Confederate Ordnance Department. To say Burton was important to the Confederacy would be an understatement...as he later set up the Richmond Armory and become the originator of the Spiller & Burr Revolver. One thing Burton and Confederacy's principal arms purchasing agent, Caleb Huse, had in common was they both shared the same boss, Colonel Josiah Gorgas, Chief of Ordnance for the CSA. One can imagine that Burton's intimate knowledge of England's manufacturing capabilities would be conveyed to Gorgas who in turn instructed Caleb Huse to try to purchase all available arms from the London Armoury first...and all others second.
One interesting aspect of LAC guns pertains to a specific marking on their lockplate. With the exception of a few London makers, there is normally a symbol of a crown located behind the hammer. On guns issued to the British military, you will usually find Queen Victoria's initials, or "V.R." (Victoria Regina) under the crown symbol. On guns sold commercially which includes ones shipped to America during the Civil War, there is usually just the Crown. Therefore, as a general rule it's accepted that commercially imported Enfields during the Civil War were only marked with the Crown and NOT the Queen's initials. One of the few exceptions to this are London Armoury Enfields, as this one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work for this maker. Whether they're British military issue or commercial grade, Confederate marked, etc...etc...every one I've ever seen including ones on display at shows and in collections have had the "V.R." under the crown. That said, I think the reason for this is that the London Armoury Company was primarily a military contractor to the Crown first...that was their bread and butter with commercial goods coming secondary. That was not the case with most other makers whose primary source of income came from the commercial market. See photo of our other previously sold 1862-dated rifle...also with the "V.R." stamp: http://www.antiquearmsinc.com/images/p53-enfield-pattern-musket-2/p53-enfield-pattern-musket-2%20(3).jpg.
As to why London Armoury P53's or (LAC's for short) are so rare...various theories have run abound from collector to collector for many years. For all of the correspondence historians have unearthed about London Armoury, the books written on the subject, and the interest generated across many Civil War message boards, this legendary gun is a bit of a shy ghost here in America. We even searched through another Civil War dealer's website who specializes in Enfields and could find only one example of a London Armoury P53 sold within a span of ten years here in the United States. One theory is that following the Civil War, foreign buyers, mainly French buyers who came to America to purchase surplus arms for their Army during the Franco-Prussian War, would have naturally purchased London Armoury Enfields over standard grade weapons. Following the Civil War, LAC went bankrupt largely due to the collapse of the Confederacy and the substantial monetary losses they incurred from the CSA's unpaid debts. However, the company was reformed around 1866 by former London Armoury workmen and gunsmiths. The new firm was named the London Small Arms Company and they operated in London until 1935 producing mainly Martini Henry rifles and Lee Enfield rifles for the British government. LSA guns, just like their earlier LAC products are high quality well built weapons. Over the years, I have looked at thousands of Martini Henry rifles and a fair amount of Lee Enfields as well. One thing that stands out at least in my experience is how few of these guns were manufactured by the London Small Arms compared to Enfield and BSA. LAC/LSA was never a company that sold out to meet demands...they were very committed to the quality of their products and they went at their own pace. That may also be why so few of these P53's turn up on the market but when they do, you can't help but notice their quality. They kind of remind me of a small American company that produces the AR-15/16 rifle for the US government called LMT (Lewis Machine and Tool). Like the Birmingham and London schools of gunmakers during the Civil War, there are a ton of US manufacturers who produce the AR-15...but very few possess contracts both military contracts and commercially. For whatever the reasons behind their scarcity, the LAC Enfield played second fiddle to no other maker. Even 150 years past their manufacture they exhibit a higher degree of quality, workmanship, and material than all the rest.
Overall condition of this rifle grades to NRA Antique Very Good which is exceptional for an Enfield produced in the early years of the Civil War and one of the best we've seen. The metal has aged to a smooth light gray to brown patina overall, some typical light pitting in the vicinity of the bolster from percussion sparks. The wood from in front and behind the bolster is in excellent condition showing no signs of spark erosion or repairs. The lockplate is marked "1862" over "L.A. Co." The plate and hammer are plain with no border-line engraving which is standard on London Armoury Enfields. Left side of the barrel has nice London Commercial Proof marks with two clear "LAC" stamps with another one on top of the ladder of the rear sight. Most London Armory guns (but not all) sold commercially during the Civil War will follow the rule of having commercial proofs from the London Proof House. The wood shows a significant amount of use in combat with various small nicks, scratches, and dings, but quite solid overall. The left side of the stock has a very crisp inspector's cartouche within an oval while the left side of the stock exhibits a very good 1862-dated London Armoury Bermondsey cartouche. The brass eyelets for the lock screws are rounded...which is correct for London Armoury production. The lock functions perfectly with full and half cock notches intact. The bore is in Very Good to Fine condition with all of its original .577 caliber 3-groove rifling intact. A nice sharp example of scarce London Armory Rifle!