Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 3235: Historic Documented U.S. Springfield Model 1855 Percussion

Auction Date: September 9, 2018

Historic Documented U.S. Springfield Model 1855 Percussion Pistol-Carbine with Matching Shoulder Stock From the Ames Estate

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $15,000 - $25,000

Historic Documented U.S. Springfield Model 1855 Percussion Pistol-Carbine with Matching Shoulder Stock From the Ames Estate

Manufacturer: Springfield Armory U.S.
Model: 1855
Type: Pistol
Gauge: 58
Barrel: 12 inch round
Finish: bright
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 1345
Item Interest: Average
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 97
Class: Antique

The pistol itself is an 1856 dated Model 1855 pistol-carbine with the matching stock number "16" on the highly figured varnished walnut stock collar and pommel cap and "JT" and "WAT" cartouches on the left stock flat. What is truly unique about this pistol is its history which is explained in the included sworn affidavit from Norm Flayderman in 1961. He identifies it as the pistol-carbine accidentally left behind by James Tyler Ames of Ames Manufacturing in England. Also included are the following documents from the Ames estate: a letter of introduction for Ames from Springfield Superintendent James Whitney to the Commandant of the English armory at Enfield and a "Memoranda of Arms & parts of Arms delivered JT Ames Esq. January 15, 1858, contained in two boxes" listing "one Pistol carbine Model 1855" among the goods. A third document mentioned in Flayderman's letter is no longer included but is listed as an "Original tissue copy removed from the original letter book of the Ames Factory addressed to James H. Burton (later Confederate Chief of Ordnance) asking him to return the pistol/carbine accidentally left by Ames at Fenton's Hotel in England." Flayderman concludes his letter by stating "You may use this letter as a testimonial by myself that these three letters and the 1855 carbine shipped to you (and described in my Catalog #50, as Item #483) have always been together and that they were purchased together direct from descendants of James T. Ames and as part of the famous Ames Estate." J.T. Ames took over Ames Mfg. Co. from his older brother Nathan P. Ames Jr. in 1847. The company manufactured both a wide array of metal goods including swords, bayonet, ammunition, and cannons and also supplied machinery to the national armories. James Henry Burton worked at Harpers Ferry starting in 1846 and designed improvements to the Minie ball that were ultimately adopted by the U.S. military and widely used in the Civil War and new machinery. In 1854, he left the national arsenal to work for Ames, and the two men were reportedly good friends. Prior to 1856, all English small arms had essentially been made by hand which was slow and less reliable whereas Ames' stock machine could produce a stock in less than 30 seconds. In order to adopt the American mass production system, the British government purchased machinery from Ames and other American companies and contracted Burton in 1855 as chief engineer to help set it up. Ames machinery was also purchased by other private contractors in England as well as the governments of Russia and Spain. By 1859, the armory at Enfield was reported to be turning out 1,200 rifles each week. Burton returned to the American South in 1860 as a contractor for the Richmond Armory and obtained patterns for rifle-muskets from Harpers Ferry. Once the Civil War began, he was part of the effort to capture the machinery from Harpers Ferry and relocate it to Richmond where he served superintendent of the factory. He later worked to establish another armory in Macon, Georgia, and ultimately served as the superintendent of all of the Confederacy's armories. His contacts in England no doubt helped secure weapons for the Confederacy at the same time Ames was working to supply the Union.

Rating Definition:

Very fine overall with dark gray and brown patina on the iron, attractive aged patina on the brass, generally crisp markings other than the somewhat faint cartouches on the highly figured period varnished, nearly all of the original glossy piano varnish finish on the shoulder stock, and minor marks and scratches. Mechanically excellent. This is a really unique Model 1855 pistol-carbine documented as having been left behind by the president of Ames Manufacturing Co. and brought back to the U.S. by the future head of the Confederate armories.

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