The story of the various gun companies that were established and run by Thomas Bacon is rather interesting and is a tale that has yet to be fully told in detail. From most accounts it appears that Bacon was a machinist, who seems to have had his first brush with firearms manufacturing in 1840, when he purchased some property in Grafton, Massachusetts from gun maker Ethan Allen. Two years later, both Allen and Bacon relocated to Norwich, Connecticut and it seems that the nearly simultaneous migration was not coincidental. By 1846, Allen factory records show that Bacon was operating as a parts supplier, producing “cones and triggerguards”. Bacon’s work as a “jobber” for Allen probably came to an end when Allen relocated his company to Worcester, Massachusetts in 1847. As a result, it appears that Bacon went into the firearms production business on his own, forming Bacon & Company in Norwich, which he ran until 1857. The firearms produced by this early Bacon company were primarily inexpensive single-shot percussion arms such as pocket, bar hammer, ring trigger and under hammer pistols as well as some pepperboxes. In 1857, after an unsuccessful attempt to raise the necessary capital to expand his business into the fairly new, and very lucrative percussion revolver business, Bacon & Company went out of business. Bacon spent the next year working as the plant superintendent for the Manhattan Firearms Company (also located in Norwich), but was very soon operating his own business. The newly formed Bacon Manufacturing Company was established in Norwich in 1858 and Bacon went into the business of producing revolvers. His product line included pocket percussion revolvers based upon the Colt 1849 “pocket” model and were offered under both the Bacon moniker and under various tradenames and with customer retailer markings. In addition to the traditional percussion revolvers, Bacon introduced a line of self-contained cartridge revolvers in .22, .25, .32 and even .38 rimfire. However, the majority of these revolvers were manufactured in violation of the Rollin White patent for the bored-through cylinder, which was held by Smith & Wesson. As a result, Smith & Wesson successfully sued Bacon, resulting in a monetary damages award, as well as requiring all subsequent Bacon revolvers that utilized bored through cylinders to be marked with Rollin White and Smith & Wesson patent information, with royalties paid to Smith & Wesson for each revolver of that pattern subsequently sold. In 1863, the chief shareholder of the Bacon Manufacturing Company became displeased with Thomas Bacon’s performance with the company, forcing him out of the business. With Bacon gone, the company continued in business through 1868 but with lackluster sales and minimal success. The firm was subsequently reorganized in 1868 and was reestablished as the Hopkins & Allen company, remaining in business through the second decade of the 1900s. But Thomas Bacon was not to be defeated and by 1864 had started his third firearms company in Norwich, CT; the Bacon Arms Company. His triumph was short lived however, as he sold the assets of his new business in December of 1865. This might have been a financial moved due to the sudden changes in the firearms market brought on by the end of the Civil War. With the large government contracts cancelled, the large American arms makers turned their attention to the civilian market and would certainly have been able to out produce and out promote any smaller maker. The sudden flood of cheap surplus military arms on the market as well certainly would not have helped the market share for a small, start-up firearms company. The result is that Bacon’s final company became little more than a footnote in firearms history. Thomas Bacon worked as various jobs in the gun business for the next few years, but died in 1873 and never achieved the level of success that his designs probably warranted. His “Navy” sized .38 rimfire revolver was certainly ahead of its time and one of the first American cartridge revolvers to be chambered in a potentially man-stopping caliber. His removable triggerguard pocket .32 rimfire revolver was also innovative, if somewhat short lived due to the Smith & Wesson lawsuit. Bacon also developed one of the first American cartridge revolvers to use a “swing out” cylinder, a truly innovative concept that was again stopped in its tracks by the Smith & Wesson suit. This feature was available in a pocket variation as well as the 2nd Model of his Navy revolver. Had Bacon been able to produce his “Navy” revolver with the swing out cylinder in sufficient quantities to attract the attention of the Ordnance Department, the history of self-contained cartridge United States military revolvers would probably be quite different.
Offered here is one of Thomas Bacon’s historically important and relatively scarce Bacon Manufacturing Company Navy Model Revolvers (Flayderman 8A-013). Based upon available information, less than 1,000 of these .38 caliber rimfire revolvers were produced, in two distinct types and some sub-variations. The amount of minor manufacturing differences found in a revolver produced in relatively small quantities suggests that Bacon was never fully satisfied with the design and may have been making the improvements not only to try to evade the Smith & Wesson held White patent, but in an attempt to secure Ordnance Department contracts. The features common to all of the Bacon Navy Model Revolvers were that they were single-action, solid frame designs with a sheathed spur trigger. The guns had a six-shot cylinder and were chambered for the .38 rimfire cartridge. The revolvers had nominally 7 ““ long octagonal barrels (some minor variations in length has been noted, typically 1/16"-1/8" +/-) with a dovetailed front sight and sighting groove in the topstrap for a rear sight. The guns were all blued with two-piece walnut grips and typically were decorated with loose scroll engraving on the frame behind the cylinder. Markings were sparse, with only a simple barrel mark reading BACON MFG CO. NORWICH. CONN and with serial numbers on most of the major components. All of the 1st Model variants had to have their cylinders removed from the frame to load and unload the revolver, and for the most part the variations found in these 1st Model revolvers relate to the process of securing the cylinder to the frame and how the cylinder was removed from the frame. Some early examples relied upon a push button release, and one early variation had a knurled plate attached to the rear of the cylinder, which may have been attempt to circumvent the Rollin White patent for the bored through cylinder. The 2nd Model Bacon Navy revolvers introduced Bacon’s innovative swing out cylinder design to large frame cartridge revolvers. It is generally estimated that only about 600 1st Model Bacon Navy revolvers were produced (of all variants), with about 325 of the 2nd Model guns manufactured, all between about 1860 and 1863, with the loss of the Smith & Wesson lawsuit in 1862 sounding the death knell for the design.
Offered here is a VERY GOOD example of a 1st Model Bacon Navy Revolver. This is the “most common” 1st Model variation, but with all first model production estimated at about 600 units with only about 400 of this particular type manufactured, it is certainly an oxymoron to refer to it as “common”. It is simply the type you are most likely to encounter when you find one of these extremely rare guns for sale. The revolver is serial number 304 and this number is found stamped under the left grip panel on the frame, under the barrel (concealed by the articulating cylinder arbor pin), on the top flat of the arbor pin, and on the rear face of the cylinder. It is also lightly written in pencil on the interior of the right grip panel. The only other marking on the gun is found in a single line on the barrel, which reads:
BACON MFG CO. NORWICH. CONN
The gun remains in fairly crisp condition and appears to be 100% complete and correct in every way. As noted, all numbers match and the barrel is clearly marked. The rear portion of the frame is crisply engraved with loose foliate scrolls, and this engraving continues onto the head of the single external frame screw, confirming its originality. Light boarder line engraving is also present at the frame to grip juncture. The octagonal barrel is full length, measuring 7 7/16" length, well within the +/- 1/8" that is typically encountered on these nominally 7 1/2" long barrels. This variant is considered the standard production first model, and utilizes a hinged rod that serves as the cylinder arbor pin. The rod is round to square to round in profile, with a hinge about “ of the way towards the front portion of the square section. By lowering the front portion of the hinged rod 90 degrees, a locating pin on the forward round portion is disengaged from a locating hole on the bottom barrel flat. This allows the entire rod to be drawn out of the frame, releasing the cylinder to be removed from the revolver’s frame. Once freed of the frame, spent cartridges could be removed and fresh ones inserted in the chambers. The rear portion of the articulated arbor pin was also designed to operate as an ejector rod, if needed to push the spent cartridge casings out of the chambers. After loading the fully charged cylinder was returned to the frame, the arbor pin reinserted and the forward portion folded back up along the bottom of the barrel, locking the cylinder in place. As noted the gun is in about VERY GOOD condition and remains mechanically EXCELLENT, functioning crisply and correctly in every way. The revolver times, indexes and locks up exactly as it should. The hinged cylinder arbor pin rod functions smoothly and locks securely into place as it should. The revolver retains no original finish and has a medium dull pewter patina over all of its metal surfaces. The metal shows some scattered light age staining and minor patches of light surface oxidation and discoloration scattered over the surfaces, along with some minor dings and light impact marks. The cylinder has a slightly darker gray patina with more of a smokey dark blue appearance. The cylinder shows some minor impact marks as well. The metal is mostly smooth, but does show some moderate pinpricking and light pitting on the frame forward of the cylinder chamber mouths and around the muzzle, as well as some lightly scattered areas of light pinpricking here and there on the surfaces. The scroll engraving and the boarder lines on the rear portion of the frame remain crisp and sharp and the metal surfaces shows no signs of having been aggressively or mechanically cleaned. The bore of the revolver is in about VERY GOOD condition as well and retains strong 5-groove rifling and is fairly crisp and well define the entire length of the bore. The bore has a medium pewter patina with some darker spots and shows light pitting scattered along its entire length with some small patches of more moderate pitting present also. The original front sight is in place in the dovetail on the top of the barrel, near the muzzle. The two-piece walnut grips are in about VERY GOOD condition as well. They are solid and complete with no breaks, cracks, chips or repairs. The grips retain minor traces of their original varnish, and have not been sanded or refinished. The grips do show numerous small bumps, dings and minor surface marks, but nothing abusive and simply the marks typical of the wear and tear on a 150+ year old revolver that saw actual use. The condition of the grips matches the balance of the revolver perfectly.
Overall this is a very crisp, solid, complete and correct example of a scarce 1st Model Bacon Navy Revolver. With only about 400 of these rare revolvers produced, they rarely appear on the market for sale. When they do, they are rarely priced below $2,000. This is a very nice example that has no major issues and for which you will never have to make apologies and is fairly priced well below that level. This is one of those rare early Civil War era handguns that is missing from even many of the most advanced Civil War revolver collections and I’m sure you will be very happy to add it to yours.SOLD