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CIVIL WAR MODEL 1863 BRASS FACED ARTILLERY BITS – VERY NICE SPECIMENS:  The Model 1863 Brass Faced Artillery Bit was developed during the Civil War and was manufactured only during the final two years of the war. 

These artillery bits featured a embellishment not afforded to the cavalry bridle bits issued during the war – that of the brass facing reminiscent of many of the bits used by the early US Army Dragoons.  Differing from brass plating, brass facing is an applied heavy veneer of brass overlaid only on the exterior surfaces of the iron cheek pieces, rein rings, and the lower "slobber" bar. The brass facing was subject to wear and peeling, so finding these bits with the facing intact is a definite added value.   

Francis Bannerman and other military surplus dealers listed these bits as Civil War officers’ bits and many collectors continue to cherish this belief.  While it is certain that officers from all branches of the army obtained these bits for their own use, these distinctive bits were designed for the teams of heavy horses that delivered the field pieces to the battlefields.   

Many of these decorative bits were subjected to post-war modifications resulting in relatively few of them surviving in their original form, making them one of the scarcer of the Civil War Bridle Bits, and these Model 1863 Artillery Bits are prized today as one of the most attractive bits ever issued by the U.S. Army.   

I have the following specimens listed below, each individually described with accompanying photographs. 


NO. 1  MODEL 1863 BRASS FACED ARTILLERY BIT – EXCELLENT SPECIMEN IN ALMOST “LIKE NEW” CONDITION:  In excellent condition, this specimen shows little, if any, evidence of use.  It still retains all of the undisturbed original brass facing, including that on the rein rings and slobber bar. The brass facing has a pleasing natural aged patina overall.  

The bit is maker marked under the off side bridle strap slot “J. M. FRAZEE & Co.” of Newark, New Jersey, and the government inspector’s cartouche is stamped under the near side bridle strap slot.  Both cheek pieces are stamped “US” on the inside surface, just below the curb bar.  There is a numeral “5” stamped on the inside of the near side cheek piece just below the bridle strap slot, likely a reference to the size of the port in the curb bar.        

As stated above, this bit shows no sign of use, presenting in as close to “like new” condition as I have seen save for the one example of this bit which was part of a cased set of inspector gauges.  It has not been subjected to poor storage, nor has it suffered from age, and there is no damage or misshaping.  The exposed steel on the inside faces of the branches and the mouthpiece are overall clean with no pitting.  The lower bar at the bottom of the bit, often removed for a variety of reasons, has remained intact.   

This is an excellent specimen that would be almost impossible to upgrade. (1109) $850



NO. 2   MODEL 1863 BRASS FACED ARTILLERY BIT – VERY NICE SPECIMEN:  This specimen shows evidence of use, but still retains the majority of the original brass facing.  The brass facing has a pleasing undisturbed aged patina overall.  The curb bar is stamped “US” on the right end of the bar.     

This bit has not been abused nor has it suffered from age or poor storage, with no damage or bending out of its original shape.  The exposed steel on the inside faces of the branches and the mouthpiece are overall clean with no significant pitting and generally smooth.  The lower bar at the bottom of the bit, often removed for a variety of reasons, has remained intact.   

The only modification to which this bit was subjected is the removal of the upper rein rings which were attached at the rear of the boss swells.  These artillery bits were fitted with two sets of reins – one set attached to the upper rings and the other set attached to the rein slots at the bottoms of the cheek pieces.  The double reining system was considered by some of the officers and soldiers as unnecessarily complex, and too, the second set of reins added to the amount of harness which could become tangled or fouled to the determent of both horse and rider.  These bits, as with all horse equipment, were subjected to as much modification as the senior officers would tolerate.  Such is the case with this bit, as it is obvious that it remained in service long after the upper rein rings were removed, apparently serving a gun crew and their horse team, or an officer’s personal mount quite well.   

Overall, this is a very nice specimen and one that will display nicely in your collection.  (0823) $475



There is a prevailing misunderstanding as to the identity of the original Model 1863 Artillery Bit as it presented during the Civil War, and the modifications to the bit that were ordered after the war.  The Model 1863 Bit was originally produced as a brass faced bit with the dome shaped, brass shell lead filled decorative bosses bearing the intertwined USA.  The brass facing, a holdover from the earlier Dragoon Period, did not survive well in service and as the underlying iron began to corrode, the thin brass sheeting would break away.  After the war, the army having long recognized corrosion as a significant problem, had the time and resources to seek out a solution and they began experimenting with plating – both tin and nickel –  on firearms, bits, and a number of fittings associated with horse equipment.   

As a result of the 1868 Ordnance Board, the following order regarding bits was issued as part of Ordnance Memoranda No. 9:       

TINNING ARTILLERY AND CAVALRY BITS – The Board recommend (sic) that all new artillery and cavalry bits should be tinned, and that all old bits requiring repairs or cleaning should likewise be tinned, instead of bluing or replating.” 

In the process of refurbishing the Model 1863 Artillery Bits then in service, the decorative “USA” bosses had to be removed.  The thin brass shell likely did not survive being removed in a condition that would be acceptable to be reattached.  The more substantial cast brass “US” bosses in use on cavalry bits were far more durable, were much easier to attach, and were available in quantity, so as the artillery bits were refurbished, or new bits were produced, the cast “US” bosses replaced the “USA” domed shells.  This process yielded the bit shown on the right in the accompanying photograph – compared to the Model 1863 Artillery Bit in its original form shown on the left.   

The experimentation with plating yielded limited positive results, and the army’s dissatisfaction resulted in the effort being soon abandoned.   

As a result of the short period in which the bits were tin plated, few plated specimens of the Model 1863 Artillery Bits, or the Model 1859 and Model 1872 Cavalry Bits, survive today.  Most of these Civil War era bits which were modified for continued use in the early Indian War years are found today with patinated bare iron, with a very few of those in particularly good condition retaining one degree or another of the original blue finish.   

In 1887 the artillery adopted the Model 1874 Shoemaker Bit then in use by the cavalry and the Model 1863 Artillery Bit was declared obsolete. 



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