Antique LeMat Revolvers
Antique LeMat Revolvers are .42 or .36 caliber cap & ball black powder revolvers, invented by Dr. Jean Alexandre LeMat of New Orleans in 1856.
Typical of the mid 19th century surge in American firearm development, this revolver demonstrated true invention. It was constructed of blued steel, with polished walnut grips.Background & history of production
The main innovation in the design was a secondary 16 gauge smoothbore barrel beneath the main barrel, capable of firing buckshot. Because of this, the gun was known as the Grape Shot Revolver. The shooter could select whether to fire from the cylinder, like a normal revolver, or from the smoothbore barrel, a similar function to a short-barrelled shotgun, by flipping a lever.
The design originally chambered the revolvers for .40 or .42 caliber revolver bullets and a .60 smoothbore barrel, with a jointed ramrod for loading both. During the American Civil War, a lighter .35 caliber pistol, was .50 smoothbore barrel was produced. But as these were irregular ammunition sizes (.36 or .44 were standard), LeMat owners had to cast their own bullets, and got fed up. Later models of LeMat revolvers were therefore produced in .36 or .44 caliber, however, by this point, too few of them managed to pass the Union blockade of the South during the Civil War.
LeMat was backed by P.G.T. Beauregard, his cousin and a Confederate Officer, in the manufacture of his weapon. He intended his market to be a primary arm for Confederate dragoons and mounted troops. 5,000 were ordered, and plans were laid to manufacture the gun abroad and import it to the Confederacy. Around 2,500 guns are thought to have made it past the Union naval blockade. The gun was used by many of the most famous Confederate officers, including Major General J.E.B. Stuart.
The LeMat revolver was manufactured from 1856-1865. They were initially manufactured by John Krider of Philadelphia. The second model was produced in Paris. They were shipped to America via the United Kingdom. Approximately 2,900 were produced overall.
Did you know?
Civil War cavalrymen preferred to carry several pistols, as it was faster to draw another loaded weapon, that to reload a cap and ball revolver, when in the midst of conflict. The LeMat revolver therefore allowed two shots with one weapon, before a soldier changed to another.
The fact that only 2,900 of these revolvers were produced demonstrates their rarity. Particularly as they were used by Confederate soldiers and officers, this additional history can make a firearm extremely valuable.
LeMats which found their way through the Union Blockade were stamped with British proof marks from the Birmingham Proof House, however, this was just due to them being shipped to the U.S. via America. It was misconstrued that they had been manufactured in England, but in fact only a few, illegitimate copies were made in the UK by an unknown manufacturer. Only two of these illegitimate English-made LeMats are known to survive today.
1,000 first model LeMat revolvers were produced in comparison to nearly 2,000 second models. The first models are therefore more rare and therefore more valuable.
Price guide and notable auction sales
LeMat revolvers usually sell for a few thousand pounds due to their rarity. However, the commonplace use of them by Confederate soldiers and particularly by famous Confederate officers means that several examples are worth much more, with an interesting provenance.
- 2nd Model LeMat revolver .42 caliber nine shot cylinder, 16 gauge smoothbore barrel. Sold for £11,950 at Heritage Auctions in December 2006.
- 2nd Model LeMat revolver, Confederate owned, sold for $14,340 at Heritage Auctions in November 2008
- 2nd Model LeMat percussion revolver, sold for $16,100 at Heritage Auctions in September 2011.
- 9-shot LeMat revolver, Confederate owned, sold for $18,000 by Louis J. Dianni in February 2012.
- 2nd Model LeMat & Girard percussion grapeshot revolver. Sold for $20,700 at Bonhams in December 2004.
- 1st Model LeMat revolver .42 caliber, nine shot cylinder with 16 gauge smoothbore barrel. Sold for $27,485 at Heritage Auctions in December 2006.