Not too much is known about the history of this excellent rifle. It is often called the „frontloading Mauser”, or „1857 Mauser”. Well these names are all wrong. Let me tell you the story of this rifle briefly, and you’ll see why.
In the early 1850-s Germany still did not exist. Following the fall of Napoleon a loose confederation of 39 sovereign Germanic states was created. This confederacy was called the Deutscher Bund. Prussia and the Hapsburg Empire were rivals to gain control of this confederacy. One field of this rivalry was the selection of arms and calibers. The northern states followed the Prussian way, and many of them adopted 15,43 mm cal breach loading arms like the Dreyse rifles. The southern states rather followed the Habsburg Empire and adopted the muzzleloading rifles in the 13,9 mm “Süddeutsche Conventions-Kaliber”.
The rivalry was clearly leading to a war so both sides were trying to build up an army that utilizes the same caliber to ease the logistics. The Hapsburg plan was to create an army of 350.000 men equipped with the new small caliber. This army contained 6 Armee Korps
The Hapsburg Empire raised the No. I, II and III corps.
Württember, Baden and Hessen-Darmstadt established the No. VIII. corps.
Bayern raised the No. VII. corps
Nassau and Sachen raised the No. IX. corps.
The plan was to adopt the same 13,9 mm caliber for all the corps. The first member of this family was the 1854 M „Lorenz” Infanteriegewher and the M 1854 „Lorenz” Jägerstützen.
The story of the M 1857 rifle is in connection with the history of the VIII. corps of Württember, Baden and Hessen-Darmstadt. The development of the new rifle started in Württemberg in the Königlich Württembergische Gewehrfabrik of Oberndorf. This king owned arsenal was not comparable to the great arsenals of Austria or Prussia. In fact it was only capable of producing a few hundred rifles a year. In 1855 the factory received 2 1854 M Jägerstützens and later for 1854 M Infanteriegwehrs for testing. The new rifles proved much more effective than the rifled 17,5 mm muskets so in 1856 the factory produced their own variant with the following parameters:
13,9 mm caliber
140 cm total length
100 cm barrel length
1:56” twist rate
The secretaries of war of the 3 states gathered in Heidelberg 26th april 1856 to decide on the new rifle and cartridges for the No. VIII corps. They examined the rifle and accepted the common caliber, with a +/- 0.05 mm deviation. They also agreed to adopt a 13.5 mm diameter bullet that was loaded with the paper patching of the cartridge. The total diameter of the bullet with the patching was 13.85 mm, leaving only 0.025 mm gap between the bore and the bullet on each side.
The bullet question
The common cartridge for the rifle held 4 g of fine blackpowder with a 13,5 mm 27,5 g grooved Minié bullet. An iron cup was inserted in the skirt of the bullet to help symmetric expansion. The bullet was loaded with paper patching just like the Lorenz rifles were loaded that time. In 1858 major Wilhelm von Polennies designed a new bullet without the grease grooves and without the iron cup in the skirt. The new bullet was cheaper and easier to manufacture, while was capable of the same accuracy. It was adopted in 1858.
The manufacturing starts in a big scale
The new rifle was named the „M 1857 Vereinsgewehr” (common rifle) or „M 1857 Infanteriegewehr” (infantry rifle), and the manufacturing started immediately at the year of acceptance. The first order of 5000 was placed for the factory in Oberndorf. The price of one rifle was 29 gulden. The factory produced 30000 pieces until 1866. During these years the factory grew up to became a full scale firearms factory. In 1874 Peter and Wilhelm Mauser placed an offer for buying the comapny to start the production of the 1871 M rifles.
So now you see why the 1857 M is not a „Mauser” rifle, but still has a very strong connection to the Mauser history.