Original U.S. Peabody M1866/1867 Switzerland Contract Falling Block Military Rifle in .41 Swiss Rimfire – Serial 4439
Original Item: Only One Available. This is a very nice example of a U.S. manufactured Peabody Patent Foreign Contract Rifle, one of an estimated 15,000 made for Switzerland in the late 1860s. They saw limited use and were replaced by the Repetiergewehr Vetterli in the early 1870s.
The Peabody action was developed by Henry O. Peabody from Boston, Massachusetts, and was first patented on July 22, 1862. The patent was then purchased by the Providence Tool Co, who worked on a design for the Civil War. While the Peabody was not perfected in time for the American Civil War, a few were entered in the trials of 1864 with favorable reports. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army, under post war budget constraints, opted to convert the numerous Springfield Rifled Muskets they already had on hand.
Providence was however able to acquire many foreign contracts, one of which was to supply Switzerland. These were chambered in .41 Swiss Rimfire, officially 10.4x38mm R Swiss, the same round that the later Swiss Vetterli would use. These rifles look identical externally to most of the other types, however they have a rear single leaf pivot sight, with a base located about an inch from the receiver. This example is unfortunately missing the short sight leaf, but still has other components and markings.
The chamber end of the barrel, sight base, fore stock, and butt stock all bear matching serial number 4439. There is a + M in an oval marking on the barrel next to the receiver, indicating acceptance of the large metal components of the rifle, and a + V in an octagon marking in front of the sight base, the Swiss Federal acceptance mark. There is also a large + M marking on the right butt stock, another acceptance mark.
This gun is in very good condition, especially considering that it is close to 150 years in age. The wood stock has the lovely brown red color of aged walnut, though it does have some dents and wear, as expected on an old service rifle. The metalwork has a lovely gray patina, with few spots of peppering. The rifle is complete except for the sight, and the front screw that attaches the lower stock tang to the receiver.
The action functions well, and is tight and mechanically sound. The bore shows clear lands and grooves, but there is also oxidation and wear. There is fouling in the grooves in areas towards the middle of the barrel. This is definitely a rifle that saw use during service.
Overall, this is a very nice example of a rare Peabody Contract rifle, ready to display!
Year of Manufacture: c. 1867
Caliber: .41 Swiss Centerfire – 10.4x38mmR Swiss Vetterli M69/81
Cartridge Type: Rimfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 33 Inches
Overall Length: 52 Inches
Action type: Falling Breechblock with side action lock.
Feed System: Single Shot
History of the Peabody Rifle:
The name Henry O. Peabody ought to be well known by all fans of military firearms- but it isn’t. As has been the case with so many inventive geniuses over the ages, Peabody’s name and work have been overshadowed by others who took what he designed, changed it, and attached their own monikers to it. As with writers/artists, the lot of the inventor/designer is not always an easy one.
In 1862 Peabody patented a breech-loading rifle but was unable to perfect it in time to play a major role in the American Civil War (1860-1865). His basic design was based upon a pivoting breechblock, the front of which pivoted down on a transverse pin fixed through both the upper rear of the breechblock and the upper rear of the box-like receiver. As the breechblock was lowered, it exposed the barrel chamber and permitted the insertion of a cartridge. The rifle was fired by means of a musket-style outside hammer whose lockwork was inletted into the buttstock behind the receiver.
In operation, the hammer was set on halfcock, and the loading lever/trigger guard was pulled down to expose the chamber so that a cartridge could be slid down the grooved top of the breechblock into the chamber. As the lever was pulled up, an upward extension of the lever pushed the breechblock into battery and acted as a prop to keep it closed. When pulled down, the prop engaged a hooked portion of the block’s undersurface and lowered it. As the breechblock was lowered, it activated an extractor that pulled the spent cartridge case from the chamber, throwing it clear of the receiver.
All in all, it was a strong, simple, rugged, and foolproof design eminently suited for military service.
When the American Civil War erupted, the Providence Tool Company obtained a contract to manufacture rifled muskets for the U.S. Army and eventually delivered 60,000 units. During the war, the company purchased Peabody’s patents, and while samples of a carbine were submitted to the U.S. Army, no decision was made before the war ended. However, the basic soundness of the design led the company to promote it.
In 1865 the company entered the Peabody rifles and carbines in Army trials, and after extensive tests of durability, accuracy, weather resistance, and serviceability, the board declared the Peabody the winner. Unfortunately, with postwar financial constraints, the Army decided to adopt a rifle and carbine developed at Springfield Arsenal that had the advantage of being produced by modifying the vast number of rifled muskets already on hand.
The company continued to promote the Peabody in the U.S., and while it was unable to interest the U.S. Army, It was able to interest various different foreign governments, which is why they were manufactured in calibers such as .43 Spanish and 10.4mm Swiss Rimfire. The majority of Peabody’s production was for foreign contracts, they were adopted by the militaries of Canada (3,000 pieces), Switzerland (15,000), France (33,000) Romania, Mexico and Spain during the later 1860s. In the United States, Connecticut purchased c. 1871–72, 2,000 Spanish Model rifles, Massachusetts 2,941 rifles and South Carolina purchased c. 1877 350 carbines.
After France cancelled a large order for these rifles, the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and South Carolina all purchased these Surplus Peabody rifles in .43 Spanish to equip their militias. In 1877 Connecticut returned its rifles to the factory to be refurbished, re-barreled for the standard .45-70 Government cartridge, and fitted with new rear sights.
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