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Military Rifles in the Age of Transition
(Non-U.S.) Black Powder, Metallic Cartidge, Military Rifles
1865 to 1890
(A Research, Photo-Identification and Information Website since 1997)
THE PEABODY AND PEABODY- MARTINI-HENRY VARIATIONS
Generally: The Peabody rifle was the development of Henry O. Peabody of Boston, Massachusetts and initially patented in 1862, but fully developed too late to play any major role in the US Civil War. The basic patent relates to a heavy pivoting breech block, the front of which pivots down around a transverse fixed pin fixed through both the upper rear of the breech block and through the upper rear of the solidly built box receiver. Lowering the front of the breech block allows access to the chamber from above but, when elevated closed, transfers the force of firing to the rear of the receiver housing. In early models, the breech block was lowered via a handle above the wrist, e.g., the Roberts conversions of the US Springfield rifles and some British Enfield rifles. Later, this operation was moved to a lever under the action. The rights to manufacture the Peabody design were obtained by the Providence Tool Company of Providence, Rhode Island, a hardware and machinery manufacturing company which got into the arms business at the beginning of the Civil War. Military Peabodys were manufactured in four varieties which very closely resemble each other in both design and operation, differing only slightly in details: the M1866 Canadian, M1867 Swiss, the M1868 Roumanian, and the M1868 Spanish in .56-50 Spencer rimfire and M1868/70 Spanish in .43 Spanish centerfire. The Peabody was also adopted by several US State Militias, notably Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Photo: The rifle pictured above is an example of the M1866 Canadian Peabody.
An example of a Massachusetts Militia Peabody. These rifles, and those adopted by Connecticut (which are about identical) were the Peabody "Spanish Model" and originally chambered the .43 Spanish cartridge. The rifles purchased by the Connecticut Militia, were later retrofitted by the maker, Providence Tool Company, with barrels rifled with Henry rifling and rechambered to the US Govt. .45-70 cartridge. The Militia rifles are also interesting and a bit unusual for the time in that they were not fitted with any sling swivels at all. Most are readily identifiable by virtue of Militia ID tags located along the bottom edge of the butt stock, near the heal, reading CONN xxx (serial number) or MASS xxx respectively.
For a VERY in-depth look at the Providence Tool Company, and in particular it's saga with the Turkish Peabody-Martini See The Turkish Connection - The Saga of the Peabody-Martini Rifle, by William O. Achtermeier, (Originally published in Man At Arms Magazine, Volume 1, Number 2, pp. 12-21, 5557, March/April 1979), which appears as an adjunct page to the description page of the M1874 Turkish Peabody-Martini.
The Varieties of Peabody Based Rifles Generally:
-- The Providence Tool Co Peabody Rifles: (See below for information on distinguishing the models)
-- M1866 Canadian
-- M1867 Swiss
-- M1868 Roumanian
-- M1868 Spanish
-- M1870 Spanish
-- British Martini-Henry, Mark I thru Mark IV
-- Roumanian Peabody-Martini (Manufactured by Styer)
-- Turkish Peabody-Martini (about an exact copy of the British Mark I Martini-Henry)
manufactured by providence Tool Company for the Ottoman Turk Empire.
-- The varieties of Westley-Richards internal hammer Peabodys, and W-R varieties of Martinis
-- Peabody-Wessley-Henry/Westly Richards (my designation of the Nepalese variety)
-- Greek Mylonas (I believe it is a Peabody variant, however I've seen only one photo)
Distinguishing Charecteristics: The hammer of the Peabody rifle was a conventional outside hammer, back-action lock design requiring the operator to pull the hammer back as a distinct step. It was the genius of the Swiss born designer, Friedrich Martini, to utilize the space within the breech block/receiver to house a coil spring driven striker and to integrate the cocking mechanism for it with the breech block operating handle so that opening the breech also cocked the hammer, all in one fast and efficient step. For the Martini-Henry and later varieties of Peabody design based rifles, please check the individual pages relating to those rifles. They are not difficult to identify or distinguish.
The four Peabody military varieties, however, are very similar. Each is slightly different in interior design such as firing pin layout, extractor operation, etc., but this is not evident without disassembly. If disassembled, the serial number ranges are also very helpful in identifying the rifles Serial numbers appear on the bottom of the barrel and on the front lower edge of the receiver, against the forestock. (With thanks to Edward A. Hull for his work regarding serial number ranges). Without disassembly, however, the rifles are nevertheless identifiable through exterior examination, most readily by the rear sight fitted to the rifle, but they also differ in the following exterior respects:
M1866 Canadian: This is the longest Peabody, measuring approx 543/4 inches overall with a barrel length of 36 inches. It is fitted withTHREE barrel bands while all other Peabody rifles are fitted with only 2 barrel bands. The Canadian is chambered for the .50-60 Peabody rimfire cartridge, and its rear sight consists of a very simple one-leaf folding sight. The lower sling swivel is located ahead of the operating lever. The Providence Tool Company markings are found on BOTH sides of the receiver, Providence Tool Company on the right side and Peabody's patent on the left. The Canadian models are often found with Canadian cartouches ( the "<DC>" Dominion of Canada or the "CM" Canadian Militia marks) in the butt stock. (Serial number range approximately: 1 to 5,500).
M1867 Swiss: The Swiss rifles were chambered in .41 Swiss rimfire and fitted with a distinctly Swiss quadrant back sight. The original rifles were fitted with fully round barrels, but later rebarreled by the Swiss with barrels having an octoganal knoxform. Barrel bands on these and all subsequent models were fitted on the center band and at the lower end of the buttstock. (Serial number range approximately: 5,500 to 21,000).
M1867 Roumanian: The back sight of the Roumanian model looks like an elongated Swiss back sight, being a somewhat larger quadrant type sight. The rifle is chambered for the .45 Roumanian Peabody centerfire cartridge, although one would need to remove the breech block to see this. Hull suggests that the .45 Roumanian cartridge may have been based on the .43 Egyptian necked up to .45 caliber. The author's chamber casts of a Roumanian model Peabody also suggests that this is likely. One thing that is certain is that the speculation that the ,45 Roumanian is interchangable with the .45 Turkish Peabody is incorrect. They are quite different enough that they are not interchangable. (Serial number range approximately: 21,000 to 52,000).
M1868 Spanish (1st Model):* The first model Spanish Peabody was chambered for the US .56-50 Spencer rimfire cartridge. The back sight is a very close copy of the Remington pattern of the period, the most sophisticated back sight of any of the Peabody military models. Like all earlier Peabodys, the nose of the hammer is noticibly thicker than the later .43 centerfire Spanish models. (Serial number range approximately: 50,000 to 110,000).
M1870 Spanish (2nd Model):* This Peabody variety, like the US Militia varieties, was chambered for the .43 Remington Spanish cartridge. A company promotional brochure(1) refers to it a ".433-inch calibre (sic), central fire, chambered for the Spanish Berdan cartridge." (2) Other than caliber, it is almost identical to the 1st Model Spanish, with the same outside dimentions (the barrel walls are thicker owing to the smaller (.43 caliber) bore diameter, the same placement of the bands and same back-sight. However the most noticable exterior difference is the much larger spoon cut-out in the top of the breech block to allow the longer .43 Spanish cartridge to enter the chamber and, less noticable but also evident, is the thinner cross-section of the hammer nose, both differences being seen in the side-by-side photos below and at the M1868 Spanish Peabody page and the M1870 Spanish Peabody page. (Serial number range approximately: 50,000 to 110,000). (3)
* It is my theory (well, ok, my speculation) that the relative frequency with which .50 cal Peabody rifles are found in the "Spanish Model" configuration (that is, approx 33 in barrel and Spanish model rear sight), coupled with the, as best I can tell, total absense of 36 inch barreled Peabodys with Canadian model rear sights that are NOT Canadian rifles (e.g., that are NOT <DC> or CM marked), strongly suggests that the "perhaps 25,000" Colonial Model Peabodys (Fusil Peabody do Ejercito de Ultramar) which Walter (Rifles of the World, 1st & 2nd eds.) suggests were purchased by Spain for its Colonial Army based in Cuba, were not, as he describes, Canadian models, but perhaps earlier Spanish models. The problems with this theory are with the serial number ranges (and that it's not supported by any documentation :). I would appreciate any suggestions and input if anyone has any ideas or information.
(1) Peabody Breech-Loading firearms for Infantry and Cavalry Service, Prepared for the St. Louis Board of Army and Navy Officers, Manufactured by Providence Tool Co. Armory, Providence, Rhode Island, USA. Providence, 1870.
(2) (The reference to the Berdan cartridge is not a reference to the rifles designed by US BG Hirum Berdan, varieties of which were indeed adopted by Spain, as well as by Russia and extensively tested elsewhere, but rather a reference to the form of central primer developed by Berdan, still used universally outside of the US).
(3) I am unable to satisfactorily explain, if the .50 cal versions were built and deliverd to the Spanish before the .43 cal models were, which I assume, why it is that the serial number ranges for both of these Spanish models overlap? Hull indicates that some 10,000 were delivered to Spain, some 8,500 to Mexico (although I have not yet seen a Mexican marked Peabody), and that at least approximately 33,000 of the Spanish Models in .433 caliber were delivered to France (see below).
Peabody Rifle Rear Sights - Military Models, Top to Bottom: M1866 Canadian, M1867 Swiss (but with later Swiss-made and installed replacement barrel. Note that it has an octogonal knoxform. The original Swiss model Peabody has a round barrel; same sights), M1868 Roumanian (similar to the Swiss, leaf extends to the receiver), M1868 Spanish and M1870 Spanish (the Spanish sights are identical, but the calibre of the rifles (.50 and .43) are quite different. Aslo, the breech blocks are very different, see below).
Peabody Rifle Top of Breech Blocks - Military Models, Top to Bottom: M1866 Canadian, M1867 Swiss, M1868 Roumanian, M1868 Spanish(?) and M1870 Spanish (the M1870 Spanish model is the significantly different one, with much longer and deeper breech block cartridge loading cut-out and thinner hammer. The others differ internally (see below), but are identical externally.
Peabody Rifle - Military Models - Breech Blocks Interior Construction, Left to Right: M1866 Canadian, M1867 Swiss, M1868 Roumanian, M1868 Spanish(?) and M1870 Spanish (the Spanish model is the significantly different one, with a spring loaded firing pin retraction system. Though difficult to see, the firing pin is also noticibly thinner at the hammer end than the other models. (See close-ups below)
M1866 Canadian (above)
M1868(?) Spanish 1st Model (?) (above)
M1867 Swiss (above)
M1870 Spanish Centerfire (above)
M1868 Roumanian Centerfire (above)
The Peabody in Service to France (sort of): During the time immediately leading up to, and especially during, the hostilities known as the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, France's state armories were wholly unable to keep up with the demand (stemming not only from mobilization, but from dramatically huge losses of material in the field) for arms of all kinds, especially infantry rifles. France's agents scoured the world for arms and purchased a bewildering variety of small arms in markets around the world. Remington diverted a large contract of M1868 Egyptian Rolling Block rifles to France, and the French also contracted with Peabody for 39,000 rifles, although only about 33,000 were delivered, these being the "Spanish Model" chambered in .43 Spanish. The rifles are not specifically marked, however, interestingly enough, many of these French Contract Peabody rifles can be identified as such because they were later proofed by the Germans, and it is known that large numbers of weapons were both captured by the Germans during the war and seized as reparations after France's capitulation. The Spanish model in the photos above is one such rifle. The German proof, which appears on the top of the receiver ring and top of the barrel is illustrated below:
I don't know what the "S" proof mark means. the Crown over V is a German proof mark showing a weapon in storage at the time of the German adoption of its Proof Act, in 1891.
I received this letter...
Subj: Peabody Rifles
Date: 98-01-06 00:59:51 EST
Am also interested in Peabody and Peabody-Martini rifles. The most definitive work on military Peabodys that I'm aware is a monograph by Edward A. Hull called Providence Tool Co. Military Arms. Mr. Hull has done a fine job of researching the arms produced by the Providence Tool Company of Providence, RI. He describes each of the known Peabody models, including the Canadian, Swiss, Roumanian, and Spanish models. Although these guns were sold to states, countries, and governments other than those named, there are little differences in them that make them "models."
The principal characteristics Canadian model rifle, or musket, were as follows: 50-60 rimfire caliber, overall length of 54-3/4 in., barrel length of 36 in., forestock of 32-1/8 in. retained with three barrel bands, buttstock of 15-3/4 in., blued barrel, and casehardened receiver and furniture. The letters CM were stamped on the right side of the buttstock and the inspector cartouche DWB in and oval on the left wrist of the stock. The left side of the receiver was marked PEABODY'S PAT./JULY.22.1862 and the right side was marked MAN'F'D BY PROVIDENCE TOOL CO./PROV. R.I. Canada had contracted the Providence Tool Co. for 5000 of these arms, but only 3000 were delivered. As the first Peabodys produced, these guns were numbered between 0 and 5500. It seems that the Canadian militia was buying the Peabodys to guard against a possible invasion from the U.S., but they didn't pick up the option for the remaining 2000 and instead purchased Sniders from England.
From this information, it would appear that actually only the first 3000 guns made could actually be termed Canadian in the sense that they were actually shipped to Canada. The remaining Canadian model guns were sold off to other customers, either governments or private parties. Some were converted to sporting rifles and some were later converted to centerfire rifles.
I own a Canadian model Peabody action and close to 2/3 of a barrel. That is, the barrel has had about 13 inches lopped off of it and the Peabody forestock has been replaced with a shortened up Peabody-Martini forestock that's had its ramrod hole and frame extension plate neatly filled in with walnut patches. The stock and lockwork are from an old Enfield rifle of some sort that have been modified to fit the rear of the Peabody frame. I know that it's a Canadian model because it's serial numbered 18xx on both the front of the frame and the barrel and because it has the Peabody designation on the left side of the frame and the Providence Tool Co. marking on the right side, which only occurs on the Canadian model.
Actually, I'd like to restore at least the back half of this rifle to all Peabody. If you are aware of any spare Peabody parts or any parts guns that are reasonably priced, I like some info on them.
Hope that this sheds a little light on Canadian Peabodys for you. If you have any questions, drop me an e-mail. The aol e-mail address will be good at least through January 22 or until I use up my 50 free hours. I'm not sure yet whether I'll continue with aol or not after that time. I have an e-mail address where I work also, and can be reached there as
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Revised March 18, 2001
Revised December 29-30, 2001
Revised February 26, 2002
Updated: Nov 23, 2021