One of the few positive side effects of the four years of bloody battle during the U.S. Civil War was that the massive demand for guns and improvements in them created the greatest technological advancement in firearms in 200 years. In little more than a decade, rifles, pistols and shotguns went from using separate muzzle-loading components to using self-contained cartridges similar to those of today.
Two of the pioneers in that field were Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, who not only had developed the mechanism and cartridges for what became theWinchester rifles but also had formed, in 1856, their own company and bought the patent rights of gunsmith Rollin White, which gave them exclusive rights in the United States to manufacture cartridge revolvers with bored-through, rear-loading cylinders. It had been a slow process to develop a man-stopping cartridge caliber larger than the .22s and .32 Smith & Wesson had perfected. So it was not until the summer of 1870 that the company brought out its big-framed, .44-caliber single-action six-gun, officially designated the No. 3 Model. It would not be named the American until 1874, to differentiate it from its successor, the No. 3 Russian Model.
The company made the gun in .44 Smith & Wesson centre fire caliber, .44 Henry rimfire and, in 1873, .44 Russian caliber. Its original barrel length was 8 inches, with 6- or 7-inch barrels available later.
The mechanism of the Smith & Wesson No. 3 American was unique in that its barrel and extractor hinged downward at the bottom front of the frame, with the barrel latch attaching to the top rear of the frame. It also featured a star-shaped extractor on the rear of the cylinder that ejected all six empty cartridge cases at once when the shooter opened the gun. Standard finish was blue with wood grips. Also available was nickel, silver or gold plating, engraving and plain or carved ivory grips. Before ending production of the gun in 1874, Smith & Wesson made some 54,000 No. 3s, with about 20,000 of them going to the Russian market. Their wholesale cost was about $14, the retail price usually $17–18.
In 1873 Bozeman, Montana Territory, gun dealer Walter Cooper wrote to the factory: “Do you make skeleton stocks or butt pieces to put against your shoulder like a rifle? The officers at the fort [Fort Ellis] bother me to death having them put on their pistols.” Cooper apparently didn’t know that in early 1873 Smith & Wesson had already begun offering a detachable wooden shoulder stock for the big .44s; William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody is known to have ordered one.
In December 1870, the U.S. Army ordered 1,000 of the No. 3 Models. On May 18, 1872, 7th Cavalry Captain Robert H. Young wrote to the factory: “I have been using your 8-inch six-shooter New Model caliber .44. It is a splendid pistol. …[But] on the saddle the barrel is a little long, for the belt holster when a person is mounted punches against the horse’s back and saddle.…I only want a pistol for use at very close quarters, say, not more than 10 yards distance.…I am up here in the [Kentucky] mountains, supporting the U.S. marshal after illicit distillers, moonshiners, Ku Klux bushwhackers and counterfeiters, and the country is full of the damned scoundrels.”
In April 1873 San Francisco gun dealer A.J. Plate wrote that he had “succeeded somewhat in establishing [Smith & Wesson] as the leading pistol on this coast, so that my sales now reach some 300 per month, mostly No. 3.” On June 9 that same year, Colorado resident George D. Merriam wrote: “Please let me know what a revolver will cost…that will use a .44 Rim Fire Winchester Cartridge. As I use a Rim Fire Winchester Rifle, I would like to have one of your .44 pistols that would fire the same cartridge, as carrying two sizes of or kinds of cartridges in this Indian country is a nonsense.”
Fifteen 1873 graduates of West Point bought Smith & Wesson American Models from the factory as personal sidearms. And at least two Medal of Honour recipients carried No. 3 Americans, one of whom was Louis Carpenter, a buffalo soldier with the 10th U.S. Cavalry. And Major Frank North became legendary when on a single run he killed 11 buffalo with 12 shots from his pair of No. 3 Americans.
But after using them personally in the field in June 1874, 7th Cavalry Captain Myles Keogh—who would die with George Armstrong Custer two years later on the Little Bighorn—reported, “The pistols are too complicated and constantly out of repair, necessitating replacement of portions of mechanism of the lock and ejector.” On the other hand, in a May 29 letter to the factory, American Sportsman correspondent Sumner “Cimarron” Beach had written from Ellsworth, Kan., about the No. 3 Smith & Wessons: “I was told …they got out of fix too easy and was not a good revolver any way. … I just told them that Mr. Smith & Wesson knew what they were doing when they made that revolver. . . . I have been shooting your make and find it a perfect revolver. I can kill a man at 100 yards with my revolver every time. I, like all frontiersmen, like the Smith & Wesson better than the Colts.” In another letter, he added, perhaps with too much hair of the dog under his belt: “No buffalo hunter’s outfit is considered complete until he has a Sharps rifle and two Smith & Wessons. All the notorious desperadoes have your [revolver]. The notorious Hurricane Bill has a pair of your revolvers. He kills annually 25 to 30 Indians.”
John Wesley Hardin used a nickel-plated, ivory gripped, Russian-caliber American No. 3 to kill Deputy Sheriff Charlie Webb in Comanche, Texas, on May 26, 1874—Hardin’s 21st birthday. El Paso City Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire owned a nickel-plated one with ivory grips. Army scout John “Texas Jack” Omohundro owned one inscribed TEXAS JACK, COTTON WOOD SPRING, 1872.
The most ornate American Model was probably the elaborately engraved, wooden-cased one valued at $400 that the factory presented to Grand Duke Alexis of Russia when he went on his famed Nebraska and Colorado buffalo hunt with Custer and Buffalo Bill in 1872. And the most controversial No. 3 is a factory-engraved one with custom wooden grips that Wyatt Earp is alleged to have used in the 1881 Tombstone, Arizona Territory, gunfight near the O.K. Corral, but which was originally fitted with pearl grips inscribed to Tombstone mayor and editor John Clum.
In his classic 1984 book Gunsmoke and Saddleleather, renowned firearms historian Chuck Worman wrote: “As the first large-caliber revolver made in this country originally for metallic cartridges, the American represented a major step beyond conversions of percussion arms. Until the advent of Colt’s Single Action model [in 1874], its design was superior to that of any of its competitors. Production of the American ended in 1874, but it inaugurated a long line of large frame No. 3 size S&Ws in various models, which found a niche among buyers west of the Mississippi.”
Unfortunately, in 1873, when Smith & Wesson began receiving huge orders from the Russian government for a redesigned, European-looking .44 Russian-caliber version of the American that it named the No. 3 Russian Model, the factory couldn’t keep up with the demand for both models. But the American Model became a true classic revolver after its basic mechanism evolved into the No. 3 Russian Model, the .45-caliber No. 3 Schofield Model and the No. 3 New Model in various calibers—all of which were forerunners of the large-caliber, double-action Smith &Wesson revolvers that turned the company into one of the 20th-century giants of the international firearms industry.
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This handgun was also known as the .44 Double Action Frontier and was offered in .44 Russian caliber. A total of 54,668 were made from 1881-1913.
Smith and Wesson's .44 Double Action First Model revolver seems to be one of that company’s more neglected designs. It tends to be overlooked as it came between the vaunted No. 3 SA and various Hand Ejector Models. The primary chambering was .44 Russian, of which 53,590 were made between 1881 and 1913. Some 15,340 “Frontier” models were also produced, as was a .38-40 Win. Those guns were numbered in individual ranges and are basically considered separate models. All frames were made prior to 1899. Some rare chambering's, such as .38 S&W, .38 Colt and .38-44 Gallery, may be encountered, but they are extremely rare. The First Models continued to be listed in catalogs for a number of years after their production ceased to clear out old stock.
Following the lines of smaller and slightly earlier S&W .32 and .38 top-breaks, the First Model DA incorporated an excellent self-cocking mechanism that was as good as many British and Continental designs. It was also head and shoulders above Colt’s more popular Model 1877 “Lightning” and Model 1878 “Frontier” models, a happenstance that must have been more than frustrating to the folks at Smith.
Smith & Wesson’s First Model DA incorporated the company’s familiar curved grip frame, flanked by either hard rubber or checkered walnut stock panels. The revolver was available in blue and nickel-plated finishes, and barrels were 4, 5, 6, 6½ and 8 inches (rare) in length, with 5 inches being the most common.
First Model DA .44s employed the usual S&W top-break ejection system. The revolver could be fired double- or single-action, though it had no safety position, and the hammer did not rebound after the trigger was released, resulting in a potentially dangerous setup if the gun were dropped. Standard sights on the First Model DA .44 were similar to those on the No. 3, a rounded, fixed-blade front and very small notch rear, milled out of the fore-part of the frame latch. Some guns were fitted with target sights, but they are not the norm and bring premium prices when encountered.
Even though the .44 Double Action was not one of S&W’s most popular products, it still had a following. In fact, Texas gunfighter and all-around bad guy John Wesley Hardin was carrying a .44 S&W Frontier when he was killed in the Acme Saloon by Constable John Selman in El Paso in 1895. Ironically, when Selman was killed a year later by George Scarborough, also in El Paso, he was toting a .44 New Model.
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In 1877, S&W discontinued production of its other Model 3s, such as the American, Russian, and Schofield, in favour a new improved design called the New Model No. 3. This new model was originally offered in the same frame and cylinder lengths as the original No: 3 but soon, Smith and Wesson offered a "Frontier" version with a longer frame and cylinder, allowing it to fire the longer WCF (44-40) cartridges. Standard chambering was .44 Russian (barrels were often stamped 44 S&W and was Smith and Wesson's attempt to re-brand the 44 Russian cartridge), although other calibers were available on special order or in related models such as the .44-40 Frontier model, the .32-44 and .38-44 Target models, and the very rare .38-40 Winchester model.
Smith and Wesson took everything they had learned from the Model American, Russian, and Schofields in coming out with this final version of S&W's large bore single action top break revolver. The New Model Number 3 was the result and in spite of the fact that double actions would soon overtake the marketplace, this model was such a success, that it was marketed for over thirty years, 1878-1911. 40% of production was exported to customers and governments from all over the world. Perhaps the most infamous New Model No. 3 is a standard nickel-plated gun SN 3,766 which is believed to be the gun outlaw Bob Ford used to kill Jesse James in 1882. Other famous owners were Virgil Earp, "Buffalo" Bill Cody, and Theodore Roosevelt who owned SN 32,661. The New Model No. 3 was also very popular with target shooters and dominated competitive shooting during the late 19th century. In that circle alone, there were many more famous owners like Annie Oakley who reportedly owned three of them, her husband Frank Butler, and competitive champion shooters like F.E. Bennett, Ira Paine, Oscar Olson, and W.E Petty.
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In sheer numbers alone, the Remington 1861 New Model Army revolver’s record of service is impressive. The U.S. Ordnance Department purchased 115,563 Remington .44 caliber percussion six-guns, representing 31 percent of all revolvers purchased by the federal government during the Civil War. Of these, all but 20,000 were purchased between 1862-64—in plenty of time to see lots of fighting. These figures include the Model 1861, or “Old Model” Army revolver, of which only a few thousand were ordered. Many more ’61s were purchased by state governments, private soldiers, officers and others who wanted a reliable, powerful sidearm, which made it the second most popular revolver used during the War Between the States.
In modern times, the revolver is erroneously called the “1858 Remington”—the name given it by the Navy Arms Co. when that firm first introduced this Remington replica in 1960.
Original 1861 New Model Army revolvers had an estimated production run of 122,000 from 1863-75. The ’61 revolvers with an original percussion system and those altered to take metallic cartridges remained popular for some time after the Great Rebellion. Remington’s top strap design added strength to the revolver. The Remington also eliminated a frequent problem found in open-topped revolvers—exploded percussion caps falling rearward into the revolver’s internal workings—because its hammer struck the cap through an opening in the frame. And its rear sight groove along the top strap provided better sighting than that of the simple notched hammer found on other handguns.
The Remington was often the choice of those rough and tumble characters who headed for the wild American frontier, as well as adventurers who roamed the far corners of the globe. Although the Remington was endeared by many outdoorsmen, ironically there were others who scorned it.
The six-shooter’s small cylinder base pin provides a rather tight fit, and after just a few shots have been fired, the carbon buildup from black- powder causes the cylinder to “drag,” which makes it difficult to cock and remove the cylinder pin (for cleaning or replacing an unloaded cylinder with a loaded one). Despite some controversy, the Remington was a mainstay six-gun of the cap-and-ball era, seeing use by cavalry units, such as the 10th Cavalry’s “Buffalo Soldiers.” Individuals like Lt. Col. George A. Custer and Gen. Grenville Dodge each owned one, and the model was put to work by outlaws Frank and Jesse James. It’s no wonder this caplock six-gun’s design ranks as one of the most popular blackpowder sporting handguns with shooters today, just as it was in the mid-19th century. Often mislabeled the 1858 Model—the name of Navy Arms Co.’s Remington replica when it was first introduced in 1960—Remington’s 1861 New Model Army .44 was a top gun during the mid-19th century. Today it ranks as one of the most-favored replicas used by modern shooters. Around 122,000 were made between 1863-75, and the model was the second most-used revolver during the Civil War. Antique status. If interested please contact me and I will put you directly in touch with Mr. Cash to work out payment and shipping details.
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The deep beginnings of the Volcanic go back to Walter Hunt’s Volitional Repeater, which became the Jennings repeating rifle, which then became the Smith-Jennings repeating rifle when Horace Smith was brought in to improve it. Smith was able to make it more commercially viable than the Jennings had been, but he recognized that the system needed significant changes to really become successful. He had met a fellow gun designer who had similar ideas, by the name of Daniel Wesson, and the two would spend a couple years developing and refining the system. In 1854 they thought it was ready for production, and formed the Smith & Wesson Company.
Included in the original company was a man named Courtland Palmer, who owned the patent rights to the Jennings system. Smith & Wesson’s system would probably have been deemed an infringement of Palmer’s patents, and by bringing him into the company they avoided legal trouble. The fact that he was a relatively wealthy financier of the new company certainly didn’t hurt!
The pistol that S&W started producing was a manually repeating one with a tubular magazine under the barrel holding either 6 or 10 rounds. It was available in the .41 caliber Navy model (note: not actually adopted by the Navy) and the .31 caliber pocket version. In this first iteration, both used iron frames, which were all engraved lightly. The prices were pretty steep, and the guns suffered from some reliability problems and a fundamental problem of underpowered ammunition (the .41 caliber had a muzzle velocity of just 260 fps / 79 m/s). However, they did offer a much greater level of rapid repeating firepower than the muzzle loading revolvers of the period, and gained some loyal fans. In total, just 1700 of the guns were produced before the company went bankrupt, about a year after forming.
To recover from that setback, they reformed the company into the new Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, and sold stock in the new company to generate a new supply of capital. This allowed them to get back into production, and the Volcanic company would make another 3000 pistols, all .41 caliber Navy types, before also running out of money 19 months later in 1856.
At this point, Smith and Wesson decide to move in another direction, and one of the main creditors of the Volcanic company is able to acquire all of its assets and put the guns into production a third time. The name of this creditor? None other than Oliver Winchester. Winchester puts a new infusion of his own money into the company under the name New Haven Arms Company. This company produces another 3300 guns, both large and small frame by 1861. The New Haven company comes very near to bankruptcy itself before finally changing the design to create the Henry repeating rifle. The Henry’s rimfire ammunition finally solved the reliability and power problems of the Volcanic, and became the starting point for Winchester to become one of the predominant American arms making companies.
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Named after the shooting range where the British National Rifle Association had held matches since 1890, the Bisley was a target version of the Single Action Army (SAA). But until fairly recently, the Bisley was overshadowed by its more romanticized older brother.
This is ironic, for the Bisley is part of the Colt single-action family; it uses many of the same components, including the cylinder, barrel and ejector rod, thus maintaining a basic SAA layout. But there are some subtle and not-so-subtle differences. Most obvious is the swept-under grip, which enables the Bisley to hang better in the hand; the enlarged trigger guard and wide, curved trigger for better control; and the wavy lowered hammer spur for easy cocking with the ball of the thumb. Plus, the barrel is stamped “(BISLEY MODEL).” Less obvious is the different mainspring, the deeper frame and the back strap screws that affix it to the frame under the grips. In addition, in order to reach the cylinder ratchets, the hammer hand is longer than that of the Model P.
The Bisley, produced from 1894 until 1915, reflected a growing interest in target shooting. It was serial-numbered sequentially with the Peacemaker, spanning the ranges from 156300 to 331916, with a total of 45,326 made. Bisley's were blued and case-hardened or nickel plated, and made with 4¾-, 5½- and 7½-inch barrel lengths. Special-order finishes and engraving were available but rare. The Bisley was offered in 18 chambering's from .32-20 Win. to .455 Eley. Even though this was a target gun, Colt retained the SAA’s rudimentary grooved top strap, although 976 flat-top target Bisley's were made. But because of its shoot-ability, it is likely more Bisley's were used on the open range than the target range.
This pistol is a completely restored revolver, I built this revolver from an original, standard, 44-40 caliber colt. The results are shown in the above pictures. Engraving by Brian Frank.
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The Remington Rolling Block series of pistols used by the US military during the late 1860s and early 1870s are an excellent example of how a military bureaucracy can rarely react to rapid changes in technology and tactics in a way that creates positive outcomes for the soldiers who are under their direction. The end of the American Civil War had clearly indicated that the self-contained metallic cartridge, used in conjunction with some form of breechloading firearm, was the wave of the future for all of the military organizations around the world. What was not immediately obvious to the men of the general staff, many of whom had received their baptism under fire during the age of flintlock firearms, was that these weapons would also have to be repeating, and not single shot firearms. The prejudice of the Ordnance Department and the general staff against repeating firearms had been displayed during the Civil War with the strong resistance to adopting such revolutionary designs as the Spencer and the Henry rifle. While both were eventually acquired in some quantity (particularly the Spencer), the end of the war resulted in an immediate return to the doctrine of single shot long arms to reduce the potential for ammunition wastage. Amazingly, this same attitude regarding repeating handguns was pervasive within both the navy and the cavalry. The navy had long felt that the pistol was of limited utility and was only effective during the boarding of enemy ships. As the boarding of ships had essentially ended for the US Navy with age of armour clad vessels, the need for a handgun for general issue was greatly curtailed. Additionally, the current doctrine specified that the cutlass or axe was the preferred weapon for boarding parties, not the handgun. With the same theory held by the US Army, that repeating arms resulted in ammunition wastage, the navy proceeded to contract for a new pistol in 1865. The gun would utilize the new metallic cartridge ammunition, but would be a single shot pistol rather than a revolver. In one swift motion the navy took one step forward towards the 1870s with the adoption of modern ammunition and at least two steps back to the 1840s with the return to a single shot pistol. The gun adopted was the Model 1865 Remington Rolling Block pistol. The gun was chambered for a .50 RF cartridge that was essentially a reduced power version of the .50 RF Government cartridge that had be adopted by the army for use in carbines. The gun had an 8 ““ round barrel and a spur trigger, and was rather quickly found to be lacking. By 1867 a modified version, designated as the Model 1867, was adopted. Most of the existing Model 1865 pistols were subsequently modified to the new standard. This included shortening the barrel to 8”, altering the pistols to the new .50-25 CF government pistol cartridge and adding a trigger guard. The pistol, based upon the same action that Remington had used to produce a successful series of carbines and rifles, was a simple and robust handgun that offered a significantly larger caliber bullet than the revolvers then in use by the navy. The .50-25 cartridge was loaded with a 300 grain .50 bullet propelled by 25 grains of black powder to a rather slow 600 fps, but still capable of producing about 240 ft/lbs of muzzle energy. This represented about a 25% increase in muzzle energy over a similar .36 caliber percussion cartridge using a conical projectile and about the same muzzle energy as the .44 caliber percussion cartridges then in use.
While it is somewhat understandable that the navy felt the adoption of a metallic cartridge revolver was unnecessary, it is stunning that the US cavalry felt the same way. The general opinion was that the while the revolver had been a crucial weapon during the Civil War, that war was not a conventional “European” style war, and in the future, most wars would return to that pattern. Similarly, the Ordnance Department felt that for those regiments engaged in fighting Native Americans in the west, a revolver was a necessary weapon. However, for all other cavalry regiments it was believed that the sabre was still the primary weapon of choice. In fact, the Small Arms & Accoutrements Board, which had met in St. Louis to evaluate new arms designs in 1870, had noted that "cavalry armed with the sabre should have one or two single barrel pistols as a substitute for the carbine”. The board did go on to recommend that "cavalry armed with the carbine should have a revolver as a substitute for the sabre," but it was clear that this was only for “unconventional” warfare, like that being waged against the Indians in the west, and not for a traditional war as fought in Europe. This same thinking would shape European cavalry doctrine through the early days of World War I, when the British finally realized that Hiram Maxim’s machine gun had ended the days of the cavalry charge forever. It is interesting to note that most European nations still considered the sabre the primary weapon for cavalry through 1915, and most did not adopt repeating handguns for general issue to all cavalry troops until the late 1870s or early 1880s, instead relegating the revolver in cavalry service to use by officers, NCOs and specialized troops. With this incredibly backward thinking as their primary motivation, on February 25, 1871, the US Ordnance Department agreed to acquire 5,000 Model 1871 “Army” Rolling Block Pistols from Remington, in exchange for 5,000 used Remington New Model Army percussion revolvers then in storage at various government facilities. The new M-1871 pistols were valued at $11 each, and Remington gladly took the New Model Army revolvers in trade, altered them to cartridge and sold them on the civilian market. The Model 1871 Rolling Block Pistol was an improved version of the 1867 Navy model. While it retained the same 8” round barrel and .50-25 CF cartridge, there were numerous improvements to the previous design. The grip was redesigned with ergonomic improvements and the addition of a spur or hump at the upper rear of the frame to help control recoil. There were also mechanical improvements to the lock work, the extractor, and the addition of a retracting firing pin. A new front sight blade was included in the redesign as well. The resulting pistol is certainly one of the most elegant and attractive handguns to see US military service, as well as one of the least practical. Like the prior US Navy variants, the pistol had a blued barrel and a colour case hardened frame. The hammer and breech lever were left in the white and many small parts were straw. A one-piece walnut grip and a walnut fore end completed the pistol. Of the 5,000 pistols delivered by Remington to the US military, 1,377 were issued for field testing. However, as the US military adopted the Model 1873 Single Action Army slightly more than a year after contracting for the Rolling Block pistols, the reports from the field certainly found fault in the single shot design and commanders sought to replace the Remington with the Colt revolver. The M-1871 was soon withdrawn from service, despite the generally held belief in the upper echelons of command, that the single shot pistol was still the best firearm for cavalry, who were really supposed to rely on the sabre as their primary weapon.
This example appears to be a conversion into 22 rimfire, with a new rim fire breech block and full octagon barrel.
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Bound by the Rollin White patent (#12,648, April 3, 1855) and not wanting to pay a royalty fee to Smith & Wesson, Colt could not begin development of bored-through revolver cylinders for metallic cartridge use until April 4, 1869. For the design, Colt turned to two of its best engineers: William Mason and Charles Brinckerhoff Richards who had developed a number of revolvers and black powder conversions for the company. Their effort was designed for the United States government service revolver trials of 1872 by Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company and adopted as the standard military service revolver. Production began in 1873 with the Single Action Army model 1873, also referred to as the "New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol". The very first production Single Action Army, serial number 1, thought lost for many years after its production, was found in a barn in Nashua, New Hampshire, in the early 1900s. This gun was chambered in .45 Colt, a centre fire design containing charges of up to 40 grains (2.6 g) of fine-grained black powder and a 255-grain (16.5 g) blunt round nosed bullet. Relative to period cartridges and most later handgun rounds, it was quite powerful in its full loading. The Colt Single Action Army revolver, along with the 1870 and 1875 Smith & Wesson Model 3 "Schofield" revolver, replaced the Colt 1860 Army Percussion revolver. The Colt quickly gained favour over the S&W and remained the primary U.S. military sidearm until 1892 when it was replaced by the .38 Long Colt caliber Colt Model 1892, a double-action revolver with swing-out cylinder. By the end of 1874, serial no. 16,000 was reached; 12,500 Colt Single Action Army revolvers chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge had entered service and the remaining revolvers were sold in the civilian market. First generation (1873–1941) Colt Sheriff's Model, 3-inch (7.6 cm) barrel Colt SAA SAPD, Badge The Single Action Army became available in standard barrel lengths of 4+3⁄4 inch, 5+1⁄2 inch, as well as the Cavalry standard, original 7+1⁄2 inch. The shorter barrelled revolvers are sometimes called the "Civilian" or "Gunfighter" model (4+3⁄4 inch) and the Artillery Model (5+1⁄2 inch). There was also a variant with a sub-4-inch barrel, without an ejector rod, unofficially called the "Sheriff's Model", "Banker's Special", or "Storekeeper". From 1875 until 1880 Colt marketed a single-action revolver chambered in .44 Henry in a separate number range from no. 1 to 1,863. A "Flattop Target Model" was listed in Colt's catalogs from 1890 to 1898. Colt manufactured 914 of these revolvers with a frame that was flat on top and fitted with an adjustable leaf rear sight. The front sight consisted of a base with an interchangeable blade. In 1896, at serial number 164,100, a spring-loaded base pin latch replaced the cylinder pin retaining screw and by 1900, at serial number 192,000, the Colt Single Action was certified for use with smokeless powder. In 1920, larger, highly visible sights replaced the original thin blade and notch. The revolvers remained essentially unchanged from that point until cessation of manufacture at the beginning of World War II. From 1873 through 1940 (with small numbers assembled during and after World War II, the so-called "Pre-War, Post-War" model), production of the Colt Single Action Army reached 357,859. This is identified as the "Pre War" or "First Generation" of the model. Calibers, at least thirty in all, ranged from .22 rimfire through .476 Eley, with approximately half, or 158,884 (including Bisley and Flat Top Target variations), chambered for .45 Colt. The next most prevalent were the .44-40 Winchester Center fire (WCF) at 71,392; 38-40 (38 WCF) at 50,520; .32-20 Winchester (32 WCF) at 43,284 and, the 41 Colt at 19,676.
This pistol is a completely restored revolver, I built this revolver from an original, antique, standard, 41 caliber black powder colt saa, with a new .357 barrel, new/old grips , new finishes, new cylinder and new configuration. The results are shown in the above pictures. Engraving by Brian Frank.
oldguns.ca, virtual museum collection.
The pepperbox, or at least the firearm that is mostly associated with this term, was invented in the 1830s and was intended for civilian use, but military officers often made private purchases for their own use. The design spread rapidly in the United States, the United Kingdom and some parts of continental Europe. It was similar to the later revolver in that it contained bullets in separate chambers in a rotating cylinder. Unlike the revolver, however, each chamber had its own barrel, making a complex indexing system unnecessary (though pepperboxes with such a system do exist). Originally these pistols were muzzle loaders, but in 1837 the Belgian gunsmith Mariette invented a hammerless pepperbox with a ring trigger and turn off barrels that could be unscrewed. A few percussion pepperboxes were still hand rotated but most have a mechanism that rotates the barrel group as the hammer is cocked for each shot. Single-action versions were made, notably by Darling of Massachusetts, but the vast majority use the self-cocking system whereby pressing the trigger rotates the barrel block, cocks the hammer and finally fires the weapon. The main producer of self-cocking top hammer pepperboxes (mostly referred to as "bar-hammer pepperbox") in the United States was Ethan Allen, but this type of weapon was also produced in very large quantities in England. Some pepperboxes fired the lower barrel instead of the upper, such as the American Blunt & Syms, the English Cooper or the Belgian Mariette (in configurations with between 4 and 24 barrels). Usually these employed an "underhammer" action, with the hammer mounted under the frame, behind the barrels, forward of the trigger (often a ring-trigger). Several other types of firing mechanisms exist, such as rotating internal firing pins (Rigby, Robbins and Lawrence, Comblain), rotating firing pins on a hammer (Sharps, Grunbaum) or multiple firing pins (Martin). During the early 1830s English gunsmith Joseph Manton offered a variant with a retractable knife blade and pistols with up to 18 barrels. The Robbins & Lawrence pepperboxes of 1851–1854 had rifled barrels, a break action breech loading mechanism and an early safety catch, meaning that it was not necessary to disassemble the gun to reload it. The flaw with the pepperbox is that it becomes more front heavy if the length and number of barrels is increased, making accurate aiming difficult. With most types in particular those with rotating barrel clusters, it is almost impossible to aim beyond close range because the hammer is in the line of sight (some pepperboxes have a slot in the hammer through which one is supposed to aim), there is no place to put a frontsight (putting one for each barrel would only increase the weight of the front end and likely make drawing the weapon awkward), and the gun is too front heavy to permit quick and steady aiming. However, the primary market was for civilian self-defense, so its most common use was at close range. Common practice at the time, indeed, was not to aim pistols, but instead to "shoot from the hip", holding the gun low and simply pointing at the target's center of mass. Gunfights often happened at very range. With this use in mind, many pepperboxes, in fact, have smooth-bored barrels, even though rifling had been commonly used for decades by the time of their manufacture. In the Old West, large pepperboxes were favoured by the gold prospectors of 1849, for protection against robbers, rival claimants and hostile native Americans. Both American and British made pepperboxes were also popular among gold miners in Australia as a cheaper alternative to the Colt Navy Revolver, and several were used at the Eureka stockade.
Multi shot percussion firearms were often considered dangerous because firing one powder charge could ignite the others (a "chainfire"), all at the same time, when proper care was not taken. This problem was largely eliminated by the introduction of nipple partitions, evident on later percussion revolvers, which largely shielded the percussion caps on neighbouring chambers from the flash struck by the weapon's hammer during firing. However, this feature is rarely seen on pepperboxes, although some had the nipples placed in recesses or at right angles to each other to reduce the chance of a chainfire. A chainfire in a pepperbox would be far less dangerous than in a single barreled revolver because with a pepperbox, each of its bullets could freely exit its own dedicated barrel (essentially turning it into an impromptu volley gun. Similarly if a chamber was not in exactly the right position when the hammer hit the cap it would fire normally and safely, as opposed to a single barrelled revolver where a cylinder misaligned with the barrel when fired could cause a potentially explosive malfunction. This simplicity and safety helped the pepperbox survive after more modern revolvers came along, as well as keeping production costs a lot lower than revolvers with their more complex mechanisms.
This particular piece is an amazing find, I believe this pistol to be unfired, made somewhere around the mid 18th century and to have remained in this condition for 170 years, it's almost impossible to believe.
As there is not enough information available on such a piece, estimated value is too difficult to determine.
oldguns.ca, virtual museum collection.
From the T. Neidy collection.
An Extravagant Pair of French Silver Mounted Pistols by Vergnes of Marseilles. 8 1/2", .63 cal. barrels with solid gold sights (not merely gilt). Locks in excellent working order with strong springs, waterproof pans and roller frizzen springs, signed "VERGNES a MARSEILLES" (working in Marseilles 1825-45. Stocks in excellent condition, no cracks, repairs or restoration. Heavy and deeply chased silver mounts of fine quality, with extremely fine quality (some of the best I've seen) silver wire and floral inlay covering all the remaining surface of the wood. Moreover, there is no loss whatever to the wire inlay, it is completely intact - not a bit has come loose, and that says a lot for the skill of the workmanship and the condition of the guns.
Accessories in the French-style fitted case include oil bottle, flask, mold, screwdriver, vent pick, screw-top dark horn box with original spare flints of correct size. The ornate brass and steel ramrod (Turkish:"suma") is a strong clue to the intended Balkan/Turkish destination for these pistols. The suma was worn on a cord around the neck, or from the belt - note that like many Eastern pistols, the ramrods on this pair are dummies. This one unscrews to reveal a long pair of bore-clearing tweezers (others with this feature are known), and the brass tip unscrews to reveal a ball-pulling screw. The case retains all its original lining in fine condition. There is a thin crack across the lid, but the lid is solid. The original key is present, and does operate the lock. A striking pair of pistols of very fine quality and condition.
For any additional information, please contact Mr. Neidy at email@example.com.
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