Kerr Revolvers: An English Source for Confederate Arms

James Kerr formed the London Armoury Company in 1856, manufacturing Adams patent revolvers (Adams was one of the founding investors) and 1853 pattern Enfield rifles. The rifles were the better business and the company rather quickly decided to focus on them, which led Adams to leave with his patents. In order to keep a revolver in the LAC’s catalog, Kerr patented his own design, which proved to be a quite effective handgun.

When the US Civil War broke out, both the Union and the CSA sent procurement agents to Europe to purchase foreign arms, and the Confederate’s Captain Caleb Huse struck a substantial deal with the London Armoury Company. The Confederacy would ultimately purchase more than 70,000 Enfield pattern rifles from LAC, as well as Kerr’s patent sharpshooting rifles and 7,000-9,000 Kerr revolvers – the vast majority of LAC’s production during the war. So much of their production, that the LAC would actually fail and dissolver in 1866 when their best customer ceased to exist.

The revolver design was made in single and double action versions and in both .36 and .44 calibers, although the CSA purchased guns were all single action .44s. The action is basically a simple rifle style lockplate mounted on the grip and frame, isolated form the soot and fouling of the black powder very well. The cylinder is easily removed via an axis pin entering the rear of the frame, and the guns could be easily serviced by any competent gunsmith without need for any special knowledge or parts.

The two we have in today’s video are actually consecutive serial numbers (10,110 and 10,111) right at the very end of the Confederate acquisition period.

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Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another video on I’m Ian McCollum, and I’m here today at the James Julia auction house Taking a look at some of the guns they’re going to be selling In their upcoming fall of 2017 firearms auction. And today We’re taking a look at a pair of European Confederate revolvers. These are Kerr revolvers, spelled K-e-r-r but pronounced ”Car”, And they were obtained by the Confederacy from the London Armoury Company. Now, when the Civil War broke out obviously the Confederacy Was going to need a lot of guns, and the Union needed a lot of guns too. And both proceeded to basically immediately send purchasing agents To Europe to find pretty much anything that they could buy. And both the Union and the Confederacy bought up very substantial numbers of all sorts of foreign made firearms. Now one of the principal suppliers for the Confederacy ended up being the London Armoury Company. This was formed in 1856 by James Kerr and a bunch of fairly prominent stockholders, most notably including Adams who … owned the Adams Patent Revolver, he was a gun designer. And so with Adams as a stockholder one of the things that the London Armoury did was manufacture Adams pattern revolvers. They also made … 1853 Enfield pattern rifles, and actually apparently One of their big contracts when they formed the company was to the British government making Enfield rifles. When the Civil War started of course, well, Here’s a great opportunity for a new and burgeoning market to exploit, because the South needed guns. So a Captain by the name of Caleb Huse, who was one of the South’s main purchasing agents in England, Made arrangements to basically buy as much as he could get money for from the London Armoury Company. The company did manufacture guns for other people during the Civil War, but in pretty small numbers. I think the Confederacy had priority as a customer. Whenever they had money, they got the guns that were being produced. And in total, London Armoury Company would produce something like 70,000 Enfield rifles for the Confederacy. And like 9,000 of these revolvers. Sources differ, the serial numbers up to about 10,500 were sent to the Confederacy. And then they start either at 1,600 or about 3,000, there are a couple different references. But 7,000 to 9,000 revolvers for the CSA is a huge number. That’s as much as all of their domestic production put together. Now the Kerr revolver itself exists because before the Civil War the London Armoury Company Decided that it was going to focus much more on rifles than on handguns, And so Adams decided to leave the company and take his patents with him. He, of course, wanted a manufacturer that was going to make a lot of his revolvers. So in order to maintain some sort of revolver in their catalogue, well, James Kerr came up with his own design. And this is actually a really pretty darn good design, so let’s take a closer look at it.

What James Kerr came up with was a pretty remarkably reliable and durable and simple revolver. It may not get a whole lot of press today, but it’s actually a quite good gun. In fact, part of the reason it doesn’t get a lot of press today Is while the vast majority of these went to the CSA, the … London Armoury Company appears to have kind of Overextended its elf with its work for the Confederacy. And when the Confederacy lost the Civil War, well, within less than a year London Armoury Company was out of business. So not a whole lot of other people had a chance to buy Kerr revolvers. Anyway, if we take a closer look here, what we’re going to find is a .44 calibre pistol. In British parlance this would be termed a 54 bore pistol. These were also made in .36 calibre. I should say: the bore measurement is just like a shotgun measurement, That is a question of how many round balls the size of the bore does it take to make one pound. And if it takes 54, thus each … round spherical bullet, weighs 1/54th of a pound. Based on the density of lead that means you have a .44 inch bore. So, 54 bore equals .44 calibre. It is a 5 shot revolver. They did make these in .36 calibre as well, but all of the Confederate ones are .44 calibre. So this looks like a double action trigger but it’s actually only a single action gun. There was a double action version of the Kerr made, but it was made in very small numbers, they’re really rare today. And all the Confederate guns are single action, but what it looks like is Kerr decided to Economise his production by using the same trigger for both single and double action versions of the gun. So in order to index the cylinder you do have to cock the hammer. Both of the guns we’re looking at today do have a few various issues with their fire control bits. This one doesn’t stay cocked open, I can feel the sear there and it catches, but then it drops. So anyway, when you cock the hammer… (… drop that.) When you cock the hammer it will rotate the cylinder. And in addition, You can put the gun at half-cock, and then you can index the cylinder with the trigger. Not really sure why you would want to, that’s the sort of thing that makes a lot of sense for a cartridge gun Where you can index the cylinder with one hand while you load with the other. But for a percussion gun it doesn’t really … do anything for you. One of the elements of the simplicity that makes the Kerr really good is the simplicity of the barrel axis and this catch. So where most revolvers will have the axis pin coming out the front, Kerr has it here at the back. And we have this spring-loaded catch that holds this pin in. All I have to do to take the cylinder out is lift this catch and pull the pin out backwards. Lift this up, And then I can pull the pin out. You can see the detent where it’s going to lock into that latch, And then the pin comes back to here, And it has, I can pull it out but it’s got a little groove in it there which acts as a

Stop so that you can pull the pin back, but it doesn’t actually come all the way out of the gun unless you want it to. And then with the hammer at half-cock, the cylinder just drops right out. A couple other elements of what made the Kerr a really good gun. First off, we have this little shield at the front of the cylinder. That is going to drop into a recess Right here, and that helps protect the cylinder axis from the black powder fouling from your firing. So that the fouling doesn’t get into the axis pin and jam up the working of the cylinder. That’s a nice bit of protection and a good thing. And then we’ll see even more of that when we take the side plate off. What Kerr did that’s even more impressive and effective for keeping these guns reliable is his lock frame here. This is basically the same as a percussion rifle lock plate bolted onto the side of the pistol. And what it does is completely isolate the lock work from the debris and the powder fouling of firing. You’ll see there are two holes here plus that slot. This slot is really the only opening into the lock work, and that’s for the hand. This is the cylinder axis pin which is not connected to the lock work … at all. And then this hole is just where the hammer comes through the frame. So that hole is tight enough you don’t really get … percussion cap fragments jamming anything up there. And then this slot is small enough that you don’t really have issues with black powder fouling getting into the action. I can … remove these two screws and take off the lock plate. There we go. And that is the lock mechanism, entirely self-contained here on the plate. And you can see that there is not much space for anything to get in and foul it. Our trigger mechanism is right here, connected directly to the hand right there. That’s going to index the cylinder. That’s your stop. … This finger … right there rotates the cylinder. This bolt stops it, and locks the cylinder in position when you’re actually firing the gun, So that the cylinder lines up properly with the bore. And everything else is just left alone to do its thing in here. If you’re interested in seeing more about these, Cap And Ball, Balázs Németh, actually has a video of him doing some shooting with one of these. And one of the things he does is pull the lock plate off after firing a bunch To see how much fouling actually gets in there. And well, I tell you what, I will leave it up to you to go check out his video to find the answer. There are also a couple of interesting quirks of the markings on these guys, so let me show you that. On the side of the lock plate we have ”London Armoury Co.” Nicely engraved, not stamped. And then we have this somewhat confusing marking down here between the trigger and the cylinder, and that is ”Kerr’s Patent 10111”. Now that is Kerr’s patent, as in this gun’s patented, and then the serial number is 10,111.

Really Kerr should have put this on a separate line or left more space or something, because it really Looks like a patent number. But it’s not, it’s actually the serial number. Don’t believe me? Well here is this second pistol which is 10,110. So these are consecutive serialised guns right here, and you can see it right there. We have a couple other markings here, we have ”LAC” which is London Armoury Company, And then up on the barrel we have a couple of British proof marks. Because these were made in England they did have to be proofed. Didn’t matter that they were being exported. We have another London Armoury mark there on the left side of the frame. And then proof marks on each of the cylinders as well. That was standard proofing process with a revolver, You had to proof test the barrel and then proof test each of the chambers of the cylinder independently. One other interesting marking is that these guns appear to actually have assembly numbers. So, some of the parts inside and out are going to be marked with a different three digit number That has no relation to the serial number. You can see it there, And you can also see it there on the front face of the cylinder, 431. Note that this cylinder is (let’s see, it’s somewhere on here, there it is), It’s almost worn off but the cylinder is serialised, so we know it’s a matching cylinder And yet it has this separate three digit number. Assembly numbers were typically used because these guns were hand fitted, And so you wanted to keep all of the parts together during the fitting and the finishing process. And it was only after the gun was actually complete that the serial number would be added to it. Now a quick word about Confederate provenance. We know that a very substantial number of these guns were purchased by the Confederacy. They were typically shipped to islands in the Caribbean where they would then be ferried by blockade runners into Confederate ports. However there’s no definitive Confederate marking on these guns. A number of them will have a JS over an anchor stamped in the grip right here, neither of these two do. However there are exceptionally well-provenanced Confederate guns that don’t have that mark as, well as ones that do. And nobody actually knows exactly what that marking means, so Without it, it’s… You cannot definitively say if a … Kerr revolver was actually owned and used by the Confederacy, but Certainly the vast majority of them in this serial range up to about 10,500, Which includes these, the vast majority of those were Confederate guns. As you would probably expect from the ruggedness and the simplicity of the design, And just the general machining quality which is excellent, These guns were quite well liked by the Confederate soldiers who had them.

They were an excellent arm, but one that’s not particularly well known anymore. It’s kind of interesting to look at these and see that they’re consecutively serialised guns, But it sure does seem like they’ve had substantially different lives because We have one that is basically devoid of finish, and one that actually has a fair bit of the original finish still on it. They definitely are different looking guns that have chosen different paths, but they are being sold as a single lot here. So if you would like to get yourself a brace of, probably Confederate, Kerr revolvers, Take a look at the description text below. You’ll find a link there to Julia’s catalogue page for These two guns, and you can take a look at their pictures and provenance, everything like that. And if you’re interested in them you can place a bid on-line, over the phone, or through the website. Thanks for watching.

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