Merrill, Thomas & Co. altered 2nd Model Virginia Manufactory Rifle
The rifle here is an 1817 dated example of what has been termed by collectors as a Second Model Virginia Manufactory Rifle. These rifles were produced from 1812 to 1821 when all production at the Virginia Manufactory ceased. During that time 1,760 Type 2 Rifles were produced; of which 292 were manufactured in 1817. Although production of this style of rifle began in 1812, examples will be encountered with locks showing pre-1812 dates, as a large supply of completed locks were still on hand after production of Type 1 and 1809 Pattern rifles was ended in 1809.
The primary features of the Type 2 rifles are its 39 inch full octagonal barrel with nominally .50 caliber bore. The barrel is secured to the stock via three iron keys. The balance of the rifles' furniture is brass. The patchbox of these rifles is much simpler than the early production rifles. The wings of the patchbox are secured via two screws each. The shape of the patchbox head has been described as "bell shaped", a description I consider accurate. The patchbox release is located at the bottom of the butt in the heel plate. From 1817 onwards the locks lack the word "Manufactory" which is found on earlier rifles. Excepting the markings, the locks are generally of the same dimensions are Type 1 rifles; being roughly 5.5 inches long and 1 inch wide. The rear sight is located approximately 13 inches from the breech. While the stamping of Regimental markings was commonplace for the Type 1 Rifles, Type 2 Rifles are not generally encountered with marked barrels.
With tensions on the rise following John Brown's raid on the Harpers Ferry Arsenal in 1859, the Virginia Legislature commenced in earnest modernizing the Commonwealth's arms. Although the State did accomplish some alterations prior to the war, the vast majority of percussion alterations done on Virginia owned arms were performed after the opening of hostilities. The example offered here is one of the latter category, specifically an alteration performed by the Baltimore, Maryland firm of Merrill, Thomas and Company (of Merrill carbine fame).
According to the research of Howard Madaus and Dr. John Murphy, Virginia had sent between 250 and 360 Virginia Manufactory Rifles to Merrill in early January of 1861. The only recorded deliver of arms from Merrill would be on April 17, 1861, two days after Virginia would secede. On April 20, 1861 Merrill, Thomas and Company was paid $345.00 for "altering 172 Flint Lock Rifles to percussion."
The rifles altered by Merrill are identified, primarily, by their bolster and hammer shape, which is virtually identical to that of the much more well known and commonly encountered Merrill breechloading carbine. The alteration is that of the brazed bolster type, in which an iron cone seat is brazed directly over the existing flintlock vent. Unlike most brazed bolster alterations, those done by Merrill were equipped with a cleanout screw. In addition to the percussioning, the rifles' barrels were also shortened into approximately 36 inches. What is thought to be an alteration number is typically found stamped into the bottom of the rifles' muzzles.
Today these rifles are extremely rare, with fewer than half a thought to exist. This rifle has seen hard service over its life, but is still an attractive example of a Merrill, Thomas and Company altered Virginia Manufactory Rifle. The most salient issue of the rifle is the hammer, which is a size number 5 sporting rifle hammer. It is my understanding that another Merrill altered rifle exists with a nearly identical hammer. The percussion cone has also been replaced with an exceptionally large-based cone that appears to be a Prussian Model 1809 cone, although it could be from another Continental European weapon. The rear sight, which I believe to be original, has been relocated 4 inches rearward, so that it is now located about 8 inches from the breech. The notch where it was formerly located has been neatly filled and has a patina consistent with the balance of the barrel. The lock functions, but the tumbler sometimes slips. The right side forearm of the stock shows wood loss along the barrel channel. The damage is old, and no restorations have been attempted. The left side of the brass nosecap has an area that has worn through. A similar issue is seen on the patchbox, where the metal is beginning to wear through on the lower hinge area. There is an area of wood loss to the rear of the lock, and some scattered bumps and bruises, as well as some minor wood loss around the barrel keys and the furniture pins.
The iron parts have a generally attractive dark gunmetal patina, although there has been some polishing around the breech. There is some light pitting on most of the metal surfaces, which is more severe on the muzzle and breech areas. There is a hint of an alteration number on the bottom side of the muzzle, but pitting obscures it too much for me to be confident enough to proclaim a number. The bore is dark, but still shows fairly strong traces of rifling that would probably improve with a good scrubbing. The brass components have an attractive unmolested tone to them. The triggerguard is of the correct style, but may be a period replacement.
Aside from the issues mentioned above the rifle is in good condition, considering the length of military service and almost certain post-war usage it saw. Confederate altered Virginia Manufactory Rifles and scarce from any contractor, and Merrill altered examples are among the rarest. In all likelihood it will be years before another example is offered.