Long-time reader and commenter Jim Hall wonders about a revolver that is connected, one way or another, to two Vietnam veterans. “What is it?” he asks, and we have to admit we don’t know. A pistol copied from, or at least inspired by, the Colt .31 pocket revolver of 1849, with cylinder flutes like Colt introduced in 1862. We’re not experts in these, but it’s not a Colt, and it doesn’t have any visible markings.
The best thing about this mystery revolver, by far, is the story that comes with it. We’ll let Jim tell the story:
In 1971, dad had just returned from his 2nd tour in Vietnam, and was assigned as a recruiter in Kentucky. An older man walked in, asked some questions about the war, and was apparently trying to understand what happened to his son, recently KIA.
Dad took him out for a dinner, trying to calm the guy down. As they talk, the man tells him that he and his son had been into collecting antique firearms. This was the latest thing he’d found, and was supposed to be a “welcome home” gift for his son. It was obviously not needed in that role anymore, but he’d sell it and a few other odds and ends from their collection, stipulating that he only wanted them to go to another Army man, and not some idiot that would pawn it off at the first opportunity. Dad picked it up for 25 bucks, and another 20 got him an H&R single action .22/.22 magnum revolver.
The flutes in the cylinder resemble those on the Colt 1862 Police, but the 1862 Police has a rebated cylinder. Here is a pistol represented by the seller as a genuine 1862 Police. We’ll point out some differences between Jim’s mystery revolver and the typical Colt practice of the 1862.
The pistol is badly affected by wear and pitting, but still does not seem to have Colt levels of worksmanship.
Several details are clearly not Colt. One of them is a mainspring tension screw on the front strap. The screw present probably wasn’t the original (the head of the original probably was flush with the front strap), but Colt didn’t put one in this position, regardless. (Remington did).
Some of the nipples appear to have been removed or lost.
The grips of a colt are round at the butt end, and this one is squared off in cross-section. Compare the way a factory Colt interfaces with its trigger guard and grip (the ’62 higher up this post is typical) to the way this revolver does.
The Colt also has screws that also act as axles for the trigger and hammer. Compare the location of the screws on this revolver!
The trigger guard is odd and quite unlike any common Colt.
Now, the pistol that was Jim’s father’s, this heartbreaking “welcome home” gift for a kid who didn’t come home and grow old like his buddies, is Jim’s.
on my return from the sandbox, he presented it to me, along with the story behind it. looking on the net, it looks similar to early colt pocket revolvers, but there are no marks on it other than the scrollwork. it seems similar to an 1841 colt pocket revolver, and I’ve seen some pictures that look similar up until the early 1860s as well. I know it’s not worth a ton, but it’s got an interesting story and certainly is an uncommon find now.
Finally, here’s a close-up of the right side. Yes, all these images embiggen.
Naturally, something like this is an heirloom and not for sale. Could it ever be worth as much to anyone as it, and its back story, are to Jim?
Our first guess after looking over Jim’s pictures was that this is some kind of foreign, possibly Belgian, copy of the early Colt . It would have been made, almost certainly, before 1870. But it occurred to us that someone in the commenters may know these pistols better than we do.
We also think we might see the number “14” on the cylinder in some of the shots above.
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.
17 thoughts on “A Mystery Revolver with its Own Story”
Hog, thanks a ton for posting this.
Check the Forgotten Weapons YouTube channel in the Revolvers playlist. Ian has a video, *Colt “Brevete” Copies*, that looks at revolvers very similar to this one. The ones he has are larger calibers, but the form and construction are very similar.
Almost certainly a second model ‘Excelsior’ pocket revolver designed by Thomas K. Bacon. Made by Bacon Manufacturing Company in Norwich, CT circa 1862:
I believe you are correct. I picked one up which looks exactly like this at a gun show. It’s a Bacon.
No markings whatsoever?
Waiting for Forgotten Weapon’s Mr McC……should be the go-to man for something like this. Any chance of a look at the internals?
I suppose I could try to get some better quality pics, as well as the internals. haven’t messed with the guts of this thing at all.
Is the barrel octagon or round in section? If it’s octagonal, based on 10 x 25mm’s link above, it’s just about definitely the Bacon. If it’s round, it might be a Manhattan or Hopkins & Allen. James below shows a Bacon with what’s probably the correct mainspring tension screw.
If it were mine, I’d be disinclined to disassemble it. Easy to damage a screw or the surface of the sideplate.
There was a time when such things were turned out by your average gunsmith, as one-off items. American gunsmiths of the 1800s weren’t any less capable than the guys up in the Pakistani hill country. This may be an example of such a pistol.
There are many examples of copies of Colts, Smiths, Winchesters, Remingtons, Merwin & Hulberts, etc., that I’ve seen over the years as a collector. Some were quite successful, like the El Tigre (Winchester 92), and produced with or without license on a large scale. Most who copied popular designs did so in small numbers and they pop up frequently, as your example shows. Value? Not much, except to the guy who collects knock-offs, a really small sector of the collector market.
I think I know this model. it wasn’t hardly a year ago I was reading a bit about what I am 80 percent sure is this pistol. Two answers are competing in my head to be the answer. One is a known US maker and the other is from a maker over seas, I’m gonna do some fast looking through my books to try to find and confirm before I answer. It is not a colt though as most already know,
Try to get back to this as soon as I dig it back up
Second model ‘Excelsior’ percussion pocket revolver designed by Thomas K. Bacon. Bacon Manufacturing Company of Norwich, Connecticut.
NAILED it sir!
nice! thanks much. doing a little reading up on it, it certainly appears to be a limited production item. this thing obviously isn’t in great shape or super collectible, but I thank you all, all the same.
I love a happy ending. 🙂
Got one exactly like it last weekend.