London Armoury Company Kerr’s Patent Revolver

London Armoury Company Kerr’s Patent Revolver

This 5 shot revolver is an exceptional early example of Bermondsey production serial number 123 Kerr Revolver. It was given to a CSA soldier and his initials are on the revolver along with the initials of the person that presented it to him. The grip is sharply checkered English walnut. The left side of the frame is die-stamped with an oval ”LONDON/ARMOURY” marking the right side of the frame is engraved ”KERR’S PATENT 213 and the lock plate is engraved ”LONDON ARMOURY./BERMONDSEY"
This example is currently listed for sale on Gunbroker.

Barrel Detail

Hammer Detail

Checkered Grips
Grip Base

Description of a similar pistol sold by College Hill Arsenal

The London Armoury Company Kerr’s Patent Revolver is one of the most distinctive and recognizable of all Civil War era handguns. The side-mounted hammer and removable side plate were not common features in large bore handguns of the era and the result is a unique silhouette. The Kerrpatent revolver was invented by James Kerr, who was awarded two patents for improvements to Roberts Adams's earlier revolver design. Kerr had been a founding member of the London Armoury Company, which was established on February 9, 1856, and of which Adams was the Managing Director during the late 1850s. It is interesting to note that Kerr was Adams’ cousin and had previously worked with him at Deane, Adams & Deane. Initially, the London Armoury Company (LAC) focused on producing M-1854 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 company management that culminated with the departure of Adams from L.A.C. and the elevation of Kerr to the position of factory superintendent. 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 the standard offering 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 ““ in length and the later pistols having slightly shorter barrels that varied between about 5 ““ and 5 5/8”. While the large majority of the pistols produced were in 54-Bore, a small number of very early and very late production pistols were manufactured in 80-Bore (approximately .387 caliber). The majority of the pistols used a single-action lock 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 a byproduct of the cylinder locking system, which relied upon a pivoting arm that was actuated by the trigger. This arm locked the cylinder in place when the gun was fired. This was very different from the standard spring-loaded cylinder stop found in the frames of most American made 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. Only a handful of Kerr revolvers were manufactured as “self-cocking” (double action) revolvers, and they are extremely rare today. The Kerr also featured a unique, frame mounted cylinder arbor that was removed from the rear of the pistol (much like on the Colt side hammer, aka “Root” designs), instead of the more common location at the front of the cylinder. This made the pistol easier and safer to manipulate when the cylinder had to be removed from the pistol. The early production Kerr revolvers had a small setscrew on the left side of the frame, forward of the cylinder that prevented the cylinder arbor pin from being withdrawn from the rear of the frame. The later production revolvers had a frame mounted spring on the lefts side, similar in appearance to the M-1851 Adams patent safety, which retained the arbor pin. Early production revolvers had a wide groove in the topstrap, while the later production guns had a flat topstrap without a groove. The early guns also had a loading lever that pivoted on a screw located at the lower front edge of the frame, under the barrel. The later production guns moved this pivot point higher and closer to the cylinder, making it somewhat stronger and allowing more torque to be applied to the lever when loading tight fitting ammunition. Most of these early features are phased out in the upper 2,XXX to middle 3,XXX serial number range, although some of the features appear somewhat randomly through about the middle of revolver production, suggesting that sometimes older parts were used to complete orders when time was of the essence. Although the design was reliable and fairly robust, the London Armoury Company 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 manufactured, and even fewer 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 (the South’s primary purchasing agent in England) engaged the London Armory Company to produce all of Kerr’s Patent revolvers that they could for delivery to the Confederacy. It is believed that nearly all of the L.A.C.’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 to the South during that time. It is also estimated that the London Armoury Company produced about 70,000 Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle Muskets during the same time frame. The estimate regarding revolver production is based upon the extant examples with Confederate provenance or marks, which tend to exist in the 1,500 to about the 10,500 serial number range (although a handful of legitimate CS inspected Kerr’s do in the 7XX to 1,5XX range). To date, at least three separate Confederate government contracts have been identified for the purchase of Kerr revolvers. Two were army contracts, and one was a 1,000-gun contract for the Confederate Navy. The Naval contract was quite early, as a reference to the purchase of Kerr revolvers by CSN Commander James D. Bulloch was made in a diary entry by Confederate purchasing agent Major Edward Anderson dated August 6, 1861. Many of the army contract Kerr revolvers were financed through the Charleston, S.C. based firm of Fraser, Trenholm & Company and delivered by their subsidiary John Fraser & Company. A minimum of 3,160 Kerr revolvers were delivered directly to Confederate arsenals by Fraser. In addition to the 3 government contracts, an unknown number of Kerr’s Patent revolvers were acquired speculatively for sale privately and to the Confederate military once they reached the south. This may account for the number of Kerr revolvers that exist today with unquestionable Confederate provenance but without the JS/(ANCHOR) Confederate inspection mark. One of the standard indicators of CS importation and usage of a Kerr revolver is the presence of the JS / (ANCHOR) inspection mark that is found on the front of the wooden grip of the pistols, below the grip frame tang. This is the inspection mark of John Southgate, who acted as a “viewer” (arms inspector) for the Confederacy. 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 the majority of Kerr’s over serial number 1,500 and below 10,500 were produced on contract for the Confederacy. To date, the lowest numbered Kerr to bear the JS/(Anchor) inspection mark that I am aware of is in the lower third of the 7XX range, and the highest verifiable mark is just under 10,000. Over the years, a number of Kerr’s with spurious JS/(ANCHOR) marks have been noted, often found on guns that did not have them when they were first documented during the past 20-30 years, but have had them “magically” appear over the course of time. 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 of cavalry 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 10,500 serial number range. It is interesting to note that two of the Kerr revolvers on the Pratt Roll are known to survive today, and revolver #9974 does not have a JS/Anchor mark. While very scarce today, a number of Kerr revolvers were imported with a complete set of accouterments and accessories that would have been included in a cased set. According to Payne Ledger, some 900 Kerr revolvers arrived at the port of Wilmington, NC on October 31, 1864 (more than 3 months after Lt. Pratt’s guns were logged in his roll). These guns also had the following accessories: “Spare Nipples & Cloth Bags, 900 Powder Flasks, 900 Cleaning Rods, 450 Steel Nipple Keys, 180 Bullet Moulds, 180 Mainsprings, 180 Trigger Springs, 90,000 Skin Cartridges, 108,000 Percussion Caps”. The guns were delivered by the blockade-runner Hope, and were part of the consignment purchased through John Fraser & Company. Five hundred of the guns and their associated accouterments were subsequently delivered the Selma Arsenal, and the other four hundred and their accessories were delivered to the Richmond Arsenal. The presence of accessories like cleaning rods, powder flasks, cloth bags, and the combination gun tools (“steel nipple keys”), suggest that the guns were purchased as cased sets, and were subsequently repacked into the standard 20 guns per box lead-lined cases that most Kerr revolvers were delivered to the Confederacy in. The powder flasks and cloth bags were certainly of limited utility for guns that were designed to be used with pre-made paper or skin cartridges. Bullet molds were typically delivered to the Confederacy at a ratio of 1 for every 20 long arms, but in this case, they were delivered at the ratio of 1 for every 5 pistols. The cleaning rods would certainly have been useful in the field, but this is the only report I can find of cleaning rods being purchased by the Confederacy for use with revolvers. All of this suggests that these accessories originated in cased Kerr revolver sets. It seems quite likely that additional cased sets were acquired on a speculative basis for delivery to the south as well. Today all of these accessories are extremely rare, most especially the special Kerr revolver combination gun tool & cone (nipple) wrench, of which two patterns are known and yet only a handful of extant examples survive. With the conclusion of the American Civil War, the London Armoury Company quickly succumbed to the loss of its largest, and only major customer. The company closed exactly one year after the end of the American Civil War, in April of 1866, and it believed that the remaining factory assets and machinery were sold to a gun-making company in Spain the following year. The Spanish had been producing an unlicensed copy of the Kerr since 1862, primarily assembling the guns from Belgian-made parts. This had proved a somewhat unreliable system of production and made it difficult to obtain parts for repairs. By obtaining the actual machinery, it was possible to keep Kerr patent revolvers in Spanish service through the Spanish American War period (primarily as cartridge altered guns). James 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 “ occasionally in relatively nice condition. On a side note, collectors and researchers have long debated the correct pronunciation of 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.

The Kerr’s Patent Revolver offered here is an extremely scarce, fully cased example of a Factory Engraved Kerr’s Patent Revolver in EXCELLENT condition. The gun was retailed by James Kerr after the dissolution of the London Armoury Company but appears to have been assembled from parts manufactured prior to the London Armoury Company’s failure. The revolver retains a full complement of period and original accessories, including an extremely rare “Type II” Kerr revolver combination tool, only the second example of any Kerr tool that I have ever had the opportunity to offer. The gun is serial numbered 11508 on the right side of the frame and on the cylinder. The lock plate of the pistol is clearly engraved LONDON ARMORY Co within a flowing banner, surrounded by high-quality foliate engraving. The right side of the frame is engraved: KERR’s PATENT 11508 and the matching serial number 11508 is engraved on the cylinder as well. Alternating (Crown) / V and (Crown) / GP London proof house marks are also found between the chambers of the cylinder. The left upper flat of the octagonal barrel is marked near the frame: with the commercial London view and proof marks of a (Crown) / GP and (Crown) / V. along with a stamped L.A.C.. The top strap of the revolver is engraved with the retailer address: 36 KING WILLIAM STt LONDON, the location of the James Kerr reorganized London Armoury Company, LTD during the final months that the company attempted to operate. The pistol is marked with the typical London Armoury Company assembly numbers. The assembly number 740 is present on the face of the cylinder, and J 740 is present inside the top strap of the frame. Interestingly the number on the interior of the trigger guard appears to be 741, clearly, a factory error as the trigger guard is profusely engraved with foliate motifs that match the balance of the pistol. For some reason, there is no visible assembly number on the web of the trigger, which is somewhat uncommon, but might be the result of the fact that this gun was likely one of the very last Kerr revolvers manufactured. In fact, this is the highest-numbered Kerr revolver in our 3+ decade collection of information and serial number data of extant Kerrs. The assembly numbers on these guns are often illegible due to wear at the face of the cylinder and inside the frame, and only the number in the trigger guard typically survives clearly readable. Due to the outstanding condition of the gun, all of the numbers are fully legible. The original cylinder pin retention spring is present and secure, and the action of the pistol works perfectly. The timing and lock-up are very good as well. The original loading lever is present and functions smoothly also. The gun retains about 90%+ of its original blued finish overall. The barrel retains about 95% of its original bright, rust blue but shows some minor wear and finish loss along the sharp edges and points of contact. The frame retains about 85%+ of its original blued finish with most of the loss being due to fading and flaking along the lower portion of the rights side of the frame. The barrel web forward of the cylinder and the top strap both retain nearly all of their original bright blue, with only some light wear and loss along the sharp edges of the top strap. The areas of the frame where the finish has flaked have a nice, smooth, bluish-gray patina, with flecks of blue remaining. The cylinder retains about 80% of its original blue as well, with almost all of the loss confined to a large thumb-sized patch that is probably the part of the cylinder upon which the revolver was laying for the last 150 years in its case. The hammer retains about 90%+ of its original case coloring coverage, but has dulled and faded somewhat, and has a smoky gray undertone with the coloring being somewhat duller and less vivid than when it was new. There is also some minor loss of blue along with the contact points of the backstrap and front strap, while the engraved trigger guard has flaked quite a bit and has lost the majority of its original finish. As with the lower frame, the areas where the blue has worn or flaked now have a smooth bluish-gray patina that blends well with the remaining finish. The engraved lock plate retains about 90%+ of its original mottled case coloring, with the expected fading and dulling from age, making the colors somewhat less vivid than they were when new, and matching the hammer perfectly. The loading lever appears to have been finished “in the white” rather than with the more common case hardened finish. The case hardened trigger retains about 85%+ case coloring on the web, with the same muting, fading, and dulling noted on the lock plate and loading lever. The fire-blued spring cylinder arbor pin retaining clip and the loading lever locking clip both retain about 80%+ brilliant purplish-blue finish and are quite attractive. All of the markings and engraving on the pistol remain extremely sharp and crisp, as do the edges of eh barrel and the frame. Like most Kerr revolvers, this one has a lanyard ring in the butt cap. The butt cap, retain about 50%+ of its original bright blued finish, which had blended with a smooth bluish-gray patina. As noted a number of times the pistol is factory engraved and is a truly delightful example of the British gunmakers art in the latter part of the 1860s. The frame is decorated with delicate and expertly executed foliate scrolls that cover about 50% of its surface. The cylinder is decorated in kind, with cleanly engraved vines and foliate images covering between 60% and 70% of that surface. The lock plate and hammer are also engraved with matching motifs and have about 70% to 80% coverage. The barrel remains relatively unadorned, with only double boarding line engraving around the octagonal flats and some simple petal motifs at the muzzle. The original brass post sight is present on the top of the barrel, near the muzzle, and remains full height with the original crowning at its end. The bore of the pistol is in about excellent condition and remains extremely bright and sharp. The bore retains very crisp rifling and shows only the most minor traces of lightly scattered pinpricking in the grooves. The one-piece checkered walnut grip is in about EXCELLENT condition as well. It retains extremely sharp checkering over most of its surface, with only the most minor indication of handling and light use. The grip is free of breaks, cracks, chips or repairs, and has a rich chocolate brown color. A lovely blued steel oval escutcheon is set into the rear of the backstrap for the engraving of a monogram but it remains blank. The grips are nicely checkered to leave a blank, uncheckered diamond pattern around the escutcheon.

The pistol is contained within its original English casing and is complete with all a full complement of original and period accessories, including the extremely rare Kerr revolver combination tool. The casing is a typical varnished English design that appears to be of mahogany (or at least veneered with mahogany) rather than the more commonly encountered oak. The case is trimmed with brass hinges and a brass escutcheoned lock on the front and has a pair of closing clasps more often associated with Tranter-style casings than Adams-style casings. The case is in about FINE condition and shows some light-moderate wear and finish loss, along with a couple of more recent dings and mars. The case shows some small chips and dings, and a couple of very minor surface grain cracks. The brass lock escutcheon is in place in the front of the case, but the key is missing. The interior compartments are lined with a faded green baize that shows good age and wear, and although its wear makes it appear as if it is original to the casing, the less than expert application of the lining suggests that it is in fact a very old (and possibly period of use) replacement lining. It could well be original to the case, but the quality of the installation is just not what is typically encountered on mid-19th century British firearm casing. The case is in solid condition with no serious weakness to the structure itself or the interior compartment dividers. The soft wood bottom of the casing does show some minor grain cracking and wear, which is typical. The brass hinges appear to be original to the casing. There is a wonderful original James Kerr retailer label inside the case lid. The label reads in nine lines:

London ________186___
Manufacturers to Her Majesty’s War Department of
Sole Manufacturers of Kerr’s Patent Small Bore Rifles, Combined Muzzle Stopper & Sight Protector & Registered Ammunition Pouch

The paper label remains in FINE condition with some age staining and light foxing present, mostly around the edges and one obvious tear in the lower-left portion of the label, below most writing and not obscuring any of the graphics. Realistically, based upon the serial number of the gun the, revolver was probably produced and retailed in late 1866 or early 1867 and is likely among the very last of the Kerr revolvers produced in England (if not the actual last one), prior to the sale of the remaining parts and machinery to produce the guns to Spain. However, the label in the case appears to be from the earlier London Armoury era (probably from the late 1850s), like the two-line notice: SOLE MANUFACTURERS OF / ADAMS’ & KERRS REVOLVERS is present under the English Royal Coat of Arms. This suggests that as the company was winding down, an older label was employed in the casing. The case is filled with the expected Kerr revolver accessories, all of which are contained in compartments. Included in the casing are the following original related Kerr accouterments:

1) 54-Bore Bullet Mould, in EXCELLENT condition. The mold is the typical 2-cavity brass mold found in many English casings but casts two Kerr’s patent pointed-round nosed bullets with a pair of narrow grease grooves and shallow heel. The mold is marked 54 on the side, indicating 54-Bore. The mold is also marked with a Robert Adams patent mark, suggesting the mold may have been obtained from the former London Armoury employee who was running his own business at the time. Adams marked molds are typically encountered in late production cased Kerr revolver sets, suggesting that Kerr was obtaining his molds from Adams rather than making them himself. The mold cavities are distinctly Kerr in style and not the half-circle round-nose shape of Adams patent bullets. The brass body has a rich ocher patina that is untouched and uncleaned, and the mold cavities remain bright and clean with excellent edges. The blued sprue cutter is in wonderful condition, functions smoothly, and retains about 85%+ of its original vibrant fire blue, which is fading and starting to turn a plum-brown color.
2) Powder Flask in about FINE overall condition. The small bag-shaped flask is of copper with an adjustable brass spout and top. The body of the flask retains much of its original protective varnish and shows only a few small bumps and dings. The polished brass top is clearly marked in three lines JAMES - DIXON / & SONS / SHEFFIELD. The original fire-blued closure spring is in place on the top of the flask and the flask functions correctly. The adjustable spout allows the flask to throw charges of 5/8, 4/8, or 3/8 Drams of powder.
3) Cap Tin in FINE condition. This original japanned tin is empty but retains much of its original finish. The lid is clearly embossed with ELEY BROs in an arc over LONDON.
4) Pewter Oiler in EXCELLENT condition. The oiler is complete with the detail oiler attached to the inside of the lid. The oiler is unmarked.
5) Jappaned Tin for Bullets in FINE condition. The japanned tin shows bumps, dings and dents from handling and use and from holding the lead bullets. It retains most of its original paper lining. It has a lovely ELEY BROs label and contains 9 lead bullets that conform to the dimensions and pattern of the mold cavities. The bullets have a moderate amount of white oxidized patina but are of indeterminate age.
6) An ebony cleaning rod with a removable brass jag that reveals a ball screw to pull loaded charges from the cylinder. The rod is in FINE and complete condition.
7) An original Kerr’s Patent Revolver combination gun tool in FINE condition. There are two known styles of these tools and since the other style is encountered in cased sets with lower serial numbers, I have arbitrarily assigned this tool the designation of “Type II”. The tool is extremely rare, and in fact, this exact tool is pictured on page 234 of The English Connection by Russ Pritchard Jr., C.A. Huey, et. al. No other example of this pattern of the tool was available to be photographed for the book. Pictured on the same page are an identical pattern powder flask and cleaning rod from another cased Kerr revolver, which matches these accessories perfectly. Like most English combination tools, this one combines a cone (nipple) wrench, a screwdriver, and a small oil container with a precision oiler as part of the oil compartment cap. The tool is bright metal and appears to have been finished in white. In more than two decades this is the only example of this pattern of tool that I have ever seen, and as an extremely rare Kerr accessory, I feel the tool itself is worth approximately $1,000. There is no doubt that the tool is original to the casing as the compartments are specially cut to accommodate the tool, supported above the spout of the powder flask.

Overall this is really an outstanding example of a very late production Factory Engraved Kerr’s Patent Revolver complete with original casing and accessories. The pistol is truly in EXCELLENT condition and is absolutely stunning in person. Cased Kerr revolvers are extremely rare and factory engraved Kerrs are confined to a handful of extant examples that practically never appear on the market for sale. This is surely an investment-grade example that would be almost impossible to upgrade from. The gun is absolutely 100% complete and correct in every way and is in perfect mechanical condition. This will be a stunning addition to your collection of English percussion revolvers and is a perfect bookend to show the very last (if not the last) of the English-made percussion Kerr revolvers, which were soon supplanted Spanish made percussion and later Spanish cartridge Kerrs. To put this wonderful set in perspective, if this was a cased & factory engraved Colt Army or Navy in the same condition the price would likely be in the mid-$30,000 to as high as the $50,000 range. As such, this equally historic and wonderful gun is a real bargain for the discerning collector!