Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 3144: Prototype Merrill, Latrobe, & Thomas Breech Loading Conversion

Auction Date: September 12, 2021

Extremely Rare, Documented, Only Known Prototype Merrill, Latrobe & Thomas Percussion Breech Loading Conversion of a Harper's Ferry Musket

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

Extremely Rare, Documented, Only Known Prototype Merrill, Latrobe & Thomas Percussion Breech Loading Conversion of a Harper's Ferry Musket

Manufacturer: Harpers Ferry Armory Muskets And Carbines
Model: Percussion Conversion
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 69
Barrel: 40 1/2 inch round
Finish: brown/casehardened
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 300
Item Interest: Average
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 88
Class: Antique

This breech loading conversion of a Harpers Ferry musket uses a faucet breech mechanism with a manual rammer used to force the cartridge forward into the breech, as patented by James H. Merrill in 1856 (patent number 14,077). There is a hole in the bottom of the receiver for the sheared off end of a paper cartridge to fall out upon closing the breech. Attempts were made to interest the U.S. Ordnance department in this breech loading design by the firm of James Merrill, Ferdinand C. Latrobe and Philip E. Thomas, located in Baltimore, Maryland. Due to not having their own sufficient manufacturing capabilities, the firm contracted with Samuel Remington c. 1855 to manufacture approximately 170 carbines for U.S. trials, as mentioned in Flayderman's Guide (9B-079), with barely any of the carbines known to exist today and considered extremely desirable on the collector's market. The Merrill, Latrobe & Thomas firm would last only three years before this design was ultimately deemed a failure, with James Merrill continuing on to achieve success with his more well-known Civil War issued Merrill breech loading carbines and rifles based on his 1858 and 1861 patents. This exact conversion musket is photographed in Arms Heritage magazine volume 2, issue 5 article "Merrill, Latrobe and Thomas Carbines" by Frank Harrington and Edward Hull in which the plate 18 photograph caption states, "One .69 caliber musket is known with a Merrill, Latrobe & Thomas breech added." The existence of this Harpers Ferry conversion musket serves as possible proof of an early attempt to interest the government in modernizing their outdated leftover muzzle loading muskets then in Armory storage, although the subsequent improved Merrill design would be chosen in favor over this design for conversion of 300 muskets for trials. The middle of the lock retains very faint traces of what would have been an "eagle/US" mark, and the rear of the lock is marked "HARPERS/FERRY/1828" (partial 8, could be a 9). The middle barrel band is marked on the right with an "E" and "1". The buttplate tang is marked "US" and "1". "GDM" (George D. Moller) collection initials marked at the toe of the stock. Includes leather sling and wood tampion. Provenance: The George Moller Collection

Rating Definition:

Fine as turned to a brown patina overall with strong traces of original case colors on the breech lever, receiver and hammer. Stock is very good with some scattered mild chips and dents. Mechanically excellent. As the only known example of a Merrill, Latrobe & Thomas conversion of a Harpers Ferry musket, this is certainly a desirable and worthy addition to any early U.S. Martial collection!

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