The Westley Richards Monkey tail is one of the most famous and successful capping breach loading firearms of the second half of the 19th century and is well represented with three stunning examples in our upcoming 18th June 2020 Arms and Militaria sale.
Westley Richards Monkey Tail Rifle History
The monkey tail hails from a time when pretty much all firearms were loaded from the muzzle, presenting problems for soldiers trying to reload their rifle when lying prone or behind cover and also cavalry troopers attempting a reload on horseback. In 1858 the famous Birmingham gunmaker Westley Richards was to receive a patent for his unique capping breach loading design. The breach of the rifle was opened by a lever which is thought to resemble a monkey's tail hence the name coined for these rifles. Once open an articulated paper cartridge containing bullet, powder and greased wad could be inserted. Once the breach was closed a cap was placed on the nipple in the same manner as a conventional muzzleloader. Upon pressing the trigger the cap produced a spark which burnt rapidly through the paper (the paper of the cartridge was nitrated in order to make it flammable) setting the main charge off. The greased wad helped in sealing the breach as well as cleaning the bore ready for the next shot, which helped reduce the fouling so problematic to black powder firearms. Part of the genius of the Westley Richards design was the brass plunger faced sliding breach block for which the angles insured that the breach could not open when the gun went off.
The army were to show great interest in the Monkey tail and after four revisions of the design produced limited numbers. Unfortunately for Westley Richards, the Snider design was to present a better deal for the army and so major orders never came to fruition. The design was much loved by other nations including Portugal which fielded large numbers of the firearm and the Boers who used it to great advantage against the British in the first Boer war. The Monkey Tail was also very popular with private purchases and was frequently seen at the Wimbledon NRA competitions from the 1860s onwards.
Westley Richards Monkey Tail Rifles and a Pistol to be sold in June
Our upcoming Arms and Militaria sale holds three great examples of Westley Richards Monkey Tail, two private purchase rifles and one pistol.
The rifles show the two different levels of quality offered to customers. One rifle having chequered stock and is fitted in its original oak 'banana' case (named after the obvious shaping of the case) the second rifle has a plainer stock without chequering and is consequently fitted into its slightly cheaper pine banana case. Both rifles field very upmarket sights assisting the rifles formidable reputation for accuracy. The third Monkey Tail in our sale is the rarely encountered pistol version of the firearm. This was part of an order of 1,000 pistols for the 2nd. Cavalry Regiment, Queen’s Lancers, based in Lisbon.