Ord Rifle Patent


Lieutenant General
- ★★★ -
Managing Member & Webmaster
Apr 1, 1999
Martinsburg, WV

This lot consists of five letters written between John Griffen and Samuel Reeves; a legal agreement between Griffen, Reeves, and Emile Geyelin; Samuel Reeves’ copy of Letters Patent 37108 with patent drawings included and with patent office seal affixed; and US Patent Office envelope addressed to Reeves in which his copy of the patent was mailed.

The centerpiece is the original Letters Patent. This is a large document measuring approximately 14 ½” x 20”. The front page features an engraved image of the patent office with “The United States of America” and an eagle above. A green paper seal with blue ribbon is affixed to the bottom of the page. This is patent #37108 assigned to Samuel J. Reeves for “Improvement in Fagots for Wrought Metal Cannons, Hydraulic Pumps & c” dated December 9, 1862. The document consists of three written pages and one “onion skin” page with the illustrations. This large document is folded as it was when mailed to Reeves. It comes with the original envelope addressed in bold ink to “Samuel J. Reeves, Esq. / Philadelphia, / Pa.” with printed “U.S. Patent Office, / Official Business. / [ink signature] / Commissioner.” In upper right corner. There are other pertinent notations on envelope.

The next document is a legal agreement dated December 8, 1856, between Griffen, Reeves, and Geyelin. This agreement discusses their desire to obtain and fund a U.S. patent and be partnered with Griffen who holds similar patents in other countries.

Also in this group are five pen & ink letters to Reeves from Griffen. The first is dated August 28, 1855 from the “Safe Harbor Iron Works” and discusses testing a cannon barrel with various charges and numbers of balls. The remaining letters are written from “Phoenix Iron Works” and span from July 2, 1856 to April 10, 1857. All with very interesting reading regarding the cannon tubes, testing, etc.

Some history of these cannons: The 3-inch Ordnance Rifle was more durable than the 10-pounder Parrott Rifle. The Phoenix-made guns were nearly free from any reported failures. The remarkable durability was due to the wrought iron construction technique, first patented by John Griffen, superintendent at the Safe Harbor Iron Works (a subsidiary of Phoenix Iron Works), then later improved upon by Samuel J. Reeves, superintendent of Phoenix Iron Works. In 1855 when Griffen submitted his patent for wrought iron gun production, memory of the 1844 USS Princeton disaster where one gun exploded killing six people, including Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur, Secretary of the Navy Thomas Walker Gilmer, and other high-ranking federal officials (President John Tyler, who was aboard, was not injured) was still fresh in minds. Griffen’s approach differed significantly from the earlier use of wrought iron. But the method of production required further refinement. At the Phoenix Iron Works, Samuel Reeves submitted an improvement for patent consideration. The wording of the application had to address other previous patents issued to Griffen and others. Reeves was given Patent Number 37,108. Under Reeves’ specification, the mandrel, again either hollow or solid, was not removed after the pile was rolled. Rather the mandrel remained with the mass and became the inner-most layer of the bore. Furthermore, Reeves’ method used a heated mandrel that would actually bond and weld to the iron sheet during the wrapping and rolling process.

The stamp “Patented Dec. 9, 1862” appears on most 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. This date alludes to this very patent. This is a rare opportunity for serious artillery collectors!