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Thread: A Unicorn - BSA Co Lee-Speed No. 2 Officer's Carbine

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  1. #11
    Contributing Member Jc5's Avatar
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    Yeah me too!

    I've only ever seen two real examples of the No.2 Officer's Carbine.
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    Researching Lee Speeds and all commercial Lee Enfields. If you have data to share or questions, please send me a PM.

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    Really Senior Member englishman_ca's Avatar
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    Advisory Panel Surpmil's Avatar
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    None of those illustrated show the express sights, so presumably a slightly upscale version; or a purely sporting variant?
    The "officer's carbines" all have the standard military backsight.
    No maker's marks?
    "Deer-stalking would be a very fine sport if only the deer had guns." W. S. Gilbert.

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    Contributing Member NORTHOF60's Avatar
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    You'd have to ask the lucky individual who ended up with it. The 1909 BSA catalogue does state of the Lee-Enfield Magazine Military Carbines: "They make admirable "handy" sporting rifles, and sell in considerable numbers to those who want cheap weapons for for all-round work."
    Some do, some don't; some will, some won't; I might ...

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    Advisory Panel Surpmil's Avatar
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    If they were prepared to call them "cheap weapons" that probably tells us just how cheap they were, meaning they were made from "surplus" LE & LM carbine and parts.
    As long as those lasted there was perhaps no need to offer cut-down versions of the LM & LE rifles as I believe came on a bit later(?)
    "Deer-stalking would be a very fine sport if only the deer had guns." W. S. Gilbert.

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    Contributing Member Jc5's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Surpmil View Post
    If they were prepared to call them "cheap weapons" that probably tells us just how cheap they were, meaning they were made from "surplus" LE & LM carbine and parts.
    As long as those lasted there was perhaps no need to offer cut-down versions of the LM & LE rifles as I believe came on a bit later(?)
    Commercial versions of service pattern LM rifles came first. Sporting and "trade" patterns soon after. None of them were cut down; they were built up that way from scratch. As for being drawn from "surplus" parts, it is worth asking exactly what that means. They were not overruns, or second-hand former service arms. They were built on the same machinery, however, which is what made them economical. The machinery itself was enormously expensive, and only four factories in Englandicon had that kind of machinery (you could not create a Lee Metford action on a tiny workbench in St. Mary's Row; it required hundreds of machining operations). But when you are cranking out 100,000 per year for the government, you can do a few more for the commercial trade at relatively low cost. However, they were not just pulled from a bin. If you examine the actions of the sporting models (including the .375 models), you will see that they differ from the service pattern action (not being machined for volley sights, or in some cases for cutoffs), which means they did not follow the standard production process completely.

    It is worth noting that Lee-Metfords and Lee-Enfields were rather expensive--they always were, at least until the No.4 rifle arrived in the 1930s. This is one of the reasons why they were not adopted by foreign nations outside the British Empire and Commonwealth. There were other factors too...another story... back to the subject of commercial rifles...

    "Cheap" is a relative term... One needs to ask how much the average buyer would earn in wages circa the year 1909 and what percentage of those wages a rifle would cost. If, for example, a police constable earned £80 per year in 1909, then a BSA trade pattern carbine costing £6.75 (135 shillings), would require him to spend 8.44% of his annual salary. Would you buy a rifle that cost 8.44% of your annual salary? How many dollars would that be? Research along these lines tells us something about who the potential buyers would be for these rifles...at least in terms of income. You can translate that into professions, and combine that with other historical evidence to see that these were likely purchased by military officers, civil servants, colonists going overseas, sportsmen of relatively limited means, maybe archaeologists or geographers in faraway places, and of course competitive target rifle shooters at home and abroad (for service patterns). People with more income than these professions probably bought more expensive rifles (if they needed them), while lower classes would not buy them at all. Unlike in America, off-duty policeman in Edwardian England did not go deer hunting on weekends.

    In 1907, an Englishman would have paid £6 for an imported Winchester Model 1895 or £3/3 for a Winchester Model 1892. So the BSA Lee rifles were not cheap compared to those. (A BSA No.1 Pattern Sporting rifle, which required some hand labor, would have run up to 240/- or £12). When the BSA catalogues say "cheap" they are really comparing these machine-made, trade-pattern carbines to hand-built double rifles or falling block rifles; the former might cost £45 or more (for a no-name "store" brand), and the latter £12 or more. How much would your annual salary in 1909 have to be to comfortably afford one of those? That's what makes the BSA rifles seem "cheap." And that's why the Lee-Speed was such a threat to the established gun trade, at least at first.

    It is worth noting that the commercial Lee Metford sporting rifle did not have much competition until the late 1890s. It was the first smallbore, repeating, sporting rifle that fired smokeless powder. In these early days, sportsmen bought them because they were new and full of exciting ballistic possibilities...truly unprecedented. Cost had little to do with it for such buyers. Later, when there was more competition (at the low end and the high end), the BSA Lee rifles settled into a more affordable niche in the market, and this is what the catalogue description is referring to.
    Last edited by Jc5; 12-01-2019 at 06:13 AM.
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    Researching Lee Speeds and all commercial Lee Enfields. If you have data to share or questions, please send me a PM.

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    Really Senior Member Daan Kemp's Avatar
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    Would love to know about the other factors.

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    Every thing is relative. The 1908 BSA Catalogue lists the least expensive sporting rifle for 165. A .303 Lee-Enfield Short Service rifle retailed for 97/6. The Lee-Enfield Magazine Military Carbines retailed for 135.

    Courtesy of the Rifleman Org UKicon

    https://www.rifleman.org.uk/BSA_Rifl...logue-1908.htm
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jc5 View Post
    Commercial versions of service pattern LM rifles came first. Sporting and "trade" patterns soon after. None of them were cut down; they were built up that way from scratch. As for being drawn from "surplus" parts, it is worth asking exactly what that means. They were not overruns, or second-hand former service arms. They were built on the same machinery, however, which is what made them economical. The machinery itself was enormously expensive, and only four factories in Englandicon had that kind of machinery (you could not create a Lee Metford action on a tiny workbench in St. Mary's Row; it required hundreds of machining operations). But when you are cranking out 100,000 per year for the government, you can do a few more for the commercial trade at relatively low cost. However, they were not just pulled from a bin. If you examine the actions of the sporting models (including the .375 models), you will see that they differ from the service pattern action (not being machined for volley sights, or in some cases for cutoffs), which means they did not follow the standard production process completely.
    Instead of "a bit later" I should have said "post WWI", as that is when sporterized or cut down versions of earlier service LM and LE rifles began to appear as the really "cheap" sporters, AFAIK. I take your point about the ex LM and LE carbine actions not being the source of all the sporting rifles made pre-WWI - not saying they were - but the carbines in the BSA catalogue definitely appear to be mostly ex-miltary parts and I suppose some were pretty much unaltered surplus arms, or altered only by having modified or different butts, forends etc.

    Your points about the economics are well made; we forget today with our post 1960s affluence just how expensive durable goods of all kinds were even after WWII. Well, those of us who weren't adults in the 1940s or 50s! There is no Walmart for goods made by well-paid workers, and as for rifles and guns, the Army & Navy Stores were as close as it got for the equipping of officers, civil servants and emigrants going overseas, and very few of those were well-paid until the 1950s.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jc5 View Post
    People with more income than these professions probably bought more expensive rifles (if they needed them), while lower classes would not buy them at all. Unlike in America, off-duty policeman in Edwardian Englandicon did not go deer hunting on weekends.
    Indeed, and it was the desire to escape that "island 9 by 7" and all the limitations of lifestyle that went with it, that drove two centuries of emigration to our part of the world. We look back at how apparently cheap and plentiful what are now collectibles were in the past, but relatively speaking how cheap were they and how much disposable income was there? That policeman who wanted to go shooting went to the "miniature rifle club" most likely; deer were definitely not an option unless he had an "in" somewhere.

    Yes, a look at the sales ledgers of the prominent gunmakers shows who was buying the higher end production. "Living on own account", "private means" or "gentleman" as the passenger lists, census etc. used to say!
    "Deer-stalking would be a very fine sport if only the deer had guns." W. S. Gilbert.

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    Contributing Member Jc5's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Surpmil View Post
    - but the carbines in the BSA catalogue definitely appear to be mostly ex-miltary parts and I suppose some were pretty much unaltered surplus arms, or altered only by having modified or different butts, forends etc.
    I agree with your observations Surpmil. The only thing I would split hairs over is the term "surplus" and "ex-military", because I think those terms carry a meaning that applies more to the post-WWII era where many ex-service weapons were offered for private sale. BSA's trade pattern carbines, as well as the sporting rifles, were made on the same machinery as the rifles that they made for the government contracts, but they are not former service rifles (ex-military)--they were built purposely for commercial sale and were never part of any government contract, nor do they carry government property markings or government proofs. They were commercially proved (in BSA's case, the Birmingham Proof House) just like every other firearm sold in Britainicon to civilians.

    So too, the term "surplus" implies that such articles were extras, or overruns from government contracts. This is not the case. The actions were in many cases machined differently than the government models, lacking the cuts for the volleys. Look at the left side of a sporting rifle or trade carbine action. Some models left out the slot for the cut-off. This is evidence that they went through a slightly different process of manufacture and were not just pulled from a bin.



    It is correct to say that in some respects, the commercial models followed the service pattern. This is true for things like trigger group parts, cocking pieces, bolt heads, and in some cases sights. You will see differences from the service pattern in finish, engraving, bolt handles, express sights, front sights, barrel length, sling eyes, wood quality, escutcheons, butt plates, fore-end shape, and of course all the markings will be different. For carbines and some sporters, the actions will be different, as I noted above.
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