Engraved Merwin, Hulbert & Co 1st Model Medium Frame .38 Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-2202
- Availability: In Stock
Offered here is a GOOD condition example of a Factory Engraved Merwin, Hulbert & Company 1st Model Spur Trigger (Single Action) “Automatic” 38 Caliber Revolver. These medium frame spur trigger, single action revolvers were introduced in 1878, but were supplanted rather quickly by the double action medium frame automatic revolvers (circa 1881-1882) that remained in production through the late 1880s and probably until the company’s demise around 1892. As with all Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers, it is not clear exactly how many were produced, due to an erratic serial numbering system and an 1891 fire that destroyed all the Merwin, Hulbert & Company records. It is believed that only a couple thousand of these revolvers were produced, and the spur trigger guns can be fairly difficult to find today. The first version of the spur trigger .38 revolvers were manufactured without a loading gate, and instead only had a cut in the recoil shield on the right hand side of the pistol that allowed the revolver to be loaded. This version of the pistol was fairly quickly supplanted by a revolver with a sliding loading gate, like the ones found on the large frame guns. The term “automatic” was in the official Merwin, Hulbert & Company product name for the revolver and refers to the automatic extraction mechanism, the same as found on the larger “Frontier Army” models. In fact, Merwin, Hulbert & Co. used the term to describe all its “automatic” extraction revolvers.
The medium frame 5-shot .38 (or 7-shot .32) were both chambered for the proprietary Merwin, Hulbert & Co. calibers of .38 Merwin & Hulbert and .32 Merwin & Hulbert. For all practical purposes, there was little difference between .38 M&H and .38 Short Colt or .38 S&W Short, nor was there a reasonable difference between the .32 M&H and .32 Short Colt or .38 S&W Short, and the ammunition appears to have been used somewhat interchangeably during the 1880s and 1890s, with any of these black powder loaded .38s or .32s having been used in a gun of that caliber. The guns were available with 5 ½”, 3 ½” and 2 ¾” barrels, as well as with multi-barrel sets. During the production life of Merwin, Hulbert & Co. revolvers, the firm developed an inexpensive engraving system that they called "intaglio", which was based upon punch dots and impact mark, rather than the more conventional hand-cut engraving. This allowed the firm to offer "engraved" revolvers for a much lower price than their competitors who were relying on traditional engraving methods. As a result, most engraved Merwin, Hulbert & Co. revolvers are found with this intaglio engraving system, rather than traditional engraving.
This Factory Engraved Merwin, Hulbert & Company 1st Model Spur Trigger “Automatic” .38 Revolver has the medium length, 3 ½” barrel and is chambered for .38 M&H. The gun has the early production hard rubber grips with a “dog’s head” motif at the top of the grip and does not have a loading gate; another early production feature. The revolver is factory engraved with rarer and more traditional hand engraved flowing foliate scrolls, rather than the more commonly encountered intaglio engraving. The top of the 3 ½” ribbed round barrel is marked in two lines:
HOPKINS & ALLEN MFG. CO. NORWICH, CONN. U.S.A. PAT. JAN. 24
APR. 21, DEC. 15, 74. AUG. 3, 75. JULY 11, 76. APR. 17, 77. PAT’S MAR. 6. 77
The left side of the frame is marked in two lines, below the cylinder:
MERWIN HULBERT & CO.
NEW YORK U.S.A.
There are very few other markings on the gun. The right side of the frame, below the cylinder, is marked in a single line: 38 CAL. The bottom of the butt is marked with the serial number 3131. This is the location where you typically expect to find the serial number, however, on some Merwin, Hulbert & Co revolvers this is the assembly number, and the serial number is concealed by the grips. On this revolver, the matching assembly number 3261 appears on the rear of the cylinder and on the rear of the barrel web, and is also located on the left grip frame, under the grip panel. While many Merwin’s have a folding hammer spur to make the pistols more concealable in a pocket, this gun was produced long before the January 1885 patent that Merwin received for this hammer design and has a conventional spur.
The gun was originally nickel plated, as many of them were, but now retains essentially none of that finish, with a lightly cleaned steel gray patina overall. The metal is smooth in most areas with some scattered surface oxidation and age discoloration, as well as some scattered pitting. The cleaning and wear have also left some of the barrel markings a little weak, particularly at their ends and margins. The bore of the revolver rates about GOOD. It is mostly bright with worn but visible rifling and shows evenly distributed light to moderate pitting along its entire length. The revolver is in VERY GOOD mechanical condition and functions correctly. The revolver indexes, times and locks up correctly, although it is certainly not as tight as it once was. The frame locking system of the revolver works correctly, with the forward portion of the frame, barrel and the cylinder unlocking, rotating and sliding smoothly forward, as they should. The medium frame revolver mechanisms are not known for having the “suction” of the large frame mechanism, and none is noted in this example. The mechanism locks the action of the gun up securely, just as it should. This is the earliest version of the spur trigger medium frame revolver and it does not have a sliding loading gate. The two-piece, hard rubber grips are in very nice condition, rating about FINE, with no breaks, chips or repairs noted. The grips show only some minor wear and lightly handling marks. The grips are from the early production era of the Medium Frame Automatic revolvers and are identified as such by the presence of a dog’s head motif at the top of the grip panels. Later production revolvers had either plain circles or geometric designs in circles in this location. The grips are absolutely correct and original to the period but may be replacements as they are in nicer condition than the balance of the gun.
Overall this is a GOOD condition, solid example of a Factory Engraved Merwin, Hulbert & Company 1st Model Spur Trigger “Automatic” .38 Revolver. While worn and showing significant use, the revolver remains in original condition, is functional and has legible markings with nice grips. Over the last two to three decades, the guns of Merwin, Hulbert & Co. have really come into their own and have finally achieved a notable place in realm of historic and collectible firearms. Today’s collectors appreciate the quality craftsmanship and mechanical engineering of what quite possibly were the finest made revolvers of the late 19th century. As a result, the desirability for Merwin, Hulbert & Company pieces have increased, and their prices have climbed steadily over the last few years and are continuing to increase. Many collectors are realizing the scarcity and value of some of the earlier production and scarcer factory variants from Merwin, Hulbert & Company, and these less often encountered models are becoming more and more desirable. Overall this is a solid, relatively rare Factory Engraved Merwin, Hulbert & Company 1st Model Spur Trigger “Automatic” .38, at a very reasonable price. This gun will be a nice addition to any collection of Merwin, Hulbert & Co. handguns or any collection of revolvers from the “Old West.”