Antique Lee-Metford Rifles



2015-06-26 11:16:53

Antique Lee-Metford Rifles are bolt action British army service rifles.

Replacing the Martini-Henry rifle in 1888, the Lee-Metford combined James Paris Lee’s rear-locking bolt system and ten round magazine, with a seven groove rifle barrel designed by William Ellis Metford.

Background & history of production

The bolt action mechanism was a vast improvement to previous designs. Rear-mounted lugs meant that the operating handle was over the trigger, much closer to the rifleman and therefore faster to operate.

Lee’s introduction of a superior detachable box magazine replaced the integral magazines used with most repeaters.

Metford’s input resulted in a polygonal rifle with vastly reduced fouling from powder residue build up in the barrel, which also made it easier to clean.

It remained in service just a short time, as despite its positive advances, it was slightly behind the times in its use of a black powder loaded cartridge. Most other rifles had moved on to using small-calibre smokeless powder cartridges. This was because such cordite cartridges were not available to the British for a long time, and when they finally arrived they were not suited for the shallow Lee-Metford rifle.

The revisions that occurred during the Lee-Metford’s short lifespan were the magazine changing from eight-round single stack to ten-round staggered, sights and safety. It began to be phased out in 1895, replaced by the Lee-Enfield design, almost identical but adapted for use with the smokeless propellant cartridges.

Collecting guide

Due to their short service life, Lee-Metfords are not as common as some of their contemporaries. However, they were manufactured for the British army, and therefore they are not as rare as some might think. Due to their shortcomings, they are also not quite as popular. These factors mean that they are not often seen at auction.

Price guide and notable auction sales

Lee-Metford rifles usually sell at auction for a few hundred pounds/dollars.

  • .303 Long Lee-Metford target rifle, sold for £432 at Bonhams in April 2005.
  • .303 Long Lee-Metford service rifle, sold for £690 at Christie’s in July 1995.
  • Lee Metford MKI English rifle, sold for $900 at Brunk Auctions in July 2011.
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