The Lee Enfield rifle was the rifle that shaped British military history. It was based on an earlier 19th century model known as the Lee Metford, officially known as the Magazine Rifle Mark I, invented by Scottish-born American inventor James P. Lee. These early guns had teething troubles, as their barrels had a tendency to wear under the heat and pressure of the cordite used to fire them. The Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield re-designed the gun to combat these problems, and the gun was re-launched as the ‘Lee Enfield’ in 1895 - these early models were known as ‘Long Lees’, in reference to the barrel length.
In 1904, a further re-design led to the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) Mark I. This gradually evolved into the SMLE Mark III, the standard weapon of World War One, which became a stripped down version, the SMLE Mark III*, to make it easier to produce in large quantities. In 1926, the Army changed its naming system and the Mark III became Rifle No. 1 Mark III, which evolved into Rifle No.4 Mark I for World War Two. Further variants were produced including the No.5 or ‘Jungle Carbine’ as it is nicknamed. The Lee Enfield was also converted into a silenced carbine in .45 ACP calibre known as the De Lisle carbine.
Military memorabilia enjoys a buoyant market, as it appeals to collectors and historians alike - the Lee Enfield’s several permutations and its history as the longest serving modern rifle mean there’s plenty of scope for a varied collection. Of greatest interest to collectors are those examples that are completely original with matching serial numbers. Unusual features or patterns can also add value to a rifle as well as unit markings to famous regiments. The value of Lee Enfield rifles is largely dependent on the age, rarity and condition of the individual piece. An unusual story, backed up by documents or photographs, will add interest, as will a proven association with a well-known soldier or other public figure.
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