Extremely Rare D Kernaghan New Orleans Retailer Marked Bentley Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-JM149-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
On 4 December 1852, Joseph Bentley received British Patent No. 960/1852 for a percussion revolver, and on April 4 of 1854 received an additional patent for “improvements to the revolver”, No. 768/1854. Bentley was a long time Birmingham gunmaker, who specialized in handguns and was listed in the directories of the time as a “Pistol Maker”. He opened his business in 1829 at 11 Steelhouse Lane, where he was listed as a “Saddle Pistol Maker”, specializing in the single shot, muzzleloading “military sized” handguns of the period. By 1839, he was working towards producing the new, innovative repeating pistols and received his first British Patent, shared with gunmaker George Stocker. Their patent, No. 8,024 issued on April 9 of that year, was for a pepperbox revolver. In 1844, he received British Patent 10,280 for “nipples mounted parallel with the bore of guns”, a concept essential to the eventual manufacture of revolving percussion pistols with a multi-shot cylinder and a single barrel, rather than the simpler “pepperbox” concept. It was, however, Bentley’s 1852 patent for a “self-cocking” (double action) revolver design that would make his name synonymous with many of the major British handgun makers of the mid-19th century. His design was for a double-action only revolver with an open frame, a spurless hammer, and unlike the Colt design, one that did not incorporate a bolt-stop in the bottom of the frame that engaged a slot in the cylinder’s side to ensure positive lock up when the gun was indexed. Instead, Bentley’s system locked the cylinder from the rear when the trigger was fully pulled by pivoting an arm actuated by the trigger to engage the side of a wing on the rear of the cylinder that prevented the cylinder from rotating out of battery. Rather than incorporating a half-cock in the mechanism to free the cylinder to rotate for loading, Bentley devised a simple hammer nose safety that allowed the hammer to be rested just off the cones on the rear of the cylinder, with the safety pressing against the frame. Pulling the trigger to fire the gun automatically disengaged the safety device. Bentley’s revolver was designed with a cast, malleable iron frame with an integral grip frame, and a wedge retained barrel that was secured to the central cylinder arbor pin that screwed into the rear of the frame. It is likely that the use of the Philip Webley patented “wedge frame” design gave rise to the long-standing reference to most of the revolvers produced along these lines as “Webley-Bentley’s”, essentially a misnomer. Bentley certainly produced his own pattern of revolvers that did incorporate the wedge connection system between the frame and barrel, but the guns were otherwise based entirely on his own patents or designs in the public domain. Webley likely never produced a Bentley patent revolver, but likely sold some made by other Birmingham gun makers with his own retailer mark on them, thus lending to the confusion. However, the huge number of “Webley-Bentley” revolvers produced in Birmingham during the mid-19th century had little to do with either of the gunmakers.
Those guns were cheaply made, had the general appearance of the Bentley design, but were quite different. These “Webley-Bentley” guns rarely incorporated Bentley’s patent hammer safety, instead relying upon the simpler, frame mounted spring safety found on the Model 1851 Adams revolvers. These cheaper guns were almost always produced with a removable side plate for access to the action that was based on the Bentley double action lockwork. Bentley manufactured revolvers, on the other hand, were made with solid cast iron frame without side plates, always used his patented hammer safety and were nearly always produced with his own patented loading lever system (covered under Patent No. 768/1854) that was based upon the Colt system. Interestingly, it appears that Bentley did not produce a large number of these guns, with British authors Taylerson, Andrews & Firth noting in The Revolver 1818-1865 that extant examples of Bentley Revolvers are found in the 1 to 850 serial number range, with an “A” pre-fix appearing around #200. They suggest that his production of this model may have only been around 850 pieces, making a real Joseph Bentley made Bentley revolver rather scarce. They further note that most of the guns are marked by Bentley, although a handful do exist with the names other Birmingham gunmakers and retailers, however these are far from common. Bentley would receive additional patents during his lifetime, including No. 780/1856 for a percussion breechloading rifle and No. 2657/1857 for additional improvements to his loading lever. Joseph Bentley would go on to partner with Charles Playfair, forming the firm of Bentley & Playfair and would leave the trade in 1864.
Offered here is a very scarce, real Joseph Bentley manufactured Bentley Percussion Revolver, not one of the cheaper Birmingham knock-offs. The gun has all the features that you would look for to identify a true “Bentley – Bentley”. It has a solid, cast iron frame without a sideplate, it has Bentley’s patented hammer nose safety and loading lever and has a Bentley production range serial number: A 840. However, the most intriguing feature of the gun is that barrel is engraved with the very scarce and desirable pre-Civil War retailer mark of Daniel Kernaghan of New Orleans. The barre marking reads in a single line:
MADE EXPRESSLY FOR D. KERNAGHAN & Co NEW ORLEANS
Daniel Kernaghan and his brothers Alexander, Henry and William were all born in Ireland during the between about 1818 and 1828, with William’s year of birth given as 1818, Alexander’s as 1828 and Daniel and Henry’s appearing to be during the 1820s. The family apparently emigrated to America between about 1848 and 1850 with Alexander arriving in New York in November of 1848 and William arriving in May of 1850. All of the brothers eventually settled in New Orleans. Alexander initially found work in the stores of various New Orleans “Fancy Goods” merchants during his first few in the city and by 1854 was listed in city directories as being a Fancy Good dealer himself, located at 91 Canal Street. During the period a “Fancy Goods” shop offered all sorts of items of a class and grade above the typical “general store”. Typically, such merchants sold jewelry, watches, cloth and trimmings, notions, perfumes, firearms and a wide variety of items that were often imported from England and France. Some also offered eyeglasses and even optician services. William went into the Fancy Goods around 1853 and remained in that line until the fall of New Orleans. His shop was listed at 65 Canal Street between Camp and Magazine streets. More than likely he followed his brother Alexander’s path of learning the business by working for other Fancy Goods retailers and establishing the relationships with importers, suppliers and learning the local market. It is not clear when Daniel Kernaghan emigrated to America, but he is first listed in the New Orleans directories in 1857, located at 65 Canal Street, the same address as his brother William’s business. A November 1857 advertisement in the New Orleans Times-Picayune for the firm reads:
Kernaghan & Co.’s JEWELRY. – Messrs. D. Kernaghan & Co., importers and dealers in watches, jewelry, cutlery, guns, pistols and fancy goods of every description have received by the latest arrivals large additions to their extensive and comprehensive stock. They are also the sole agents for the sale of Semmons & Co.’s Brazilian pebble spectacles. They repair and warrant watches and jewelry, promptly and with despatch (sic). They have just received a large invoice of double and single patent breech twist guns, which they say they will sell exceedingly cheap, Go to No. 65 Canal Street and examine the work of Kernaghan & Co.
On 2 January 1858 another advertisement in the New Orleans Times-Picayune announced that an auction would be held at the 65 Canal Street premises on January 4th for the sale of inventory, as the building was going to be torn down and the firm was moving. The notice read that the sale would commence “On Monday, 4th January, 1858, at 10 o’clock, and each succeeding day until the entire stock is disposed of, as their store.” The inventory listed was quite varied and included:
“FINE ENGLISH GUNS; Colt’s Dean & Adams’s Deringer’s and other PISTOLS; FINE SHEFFIELD CUTLERY – Consisting of Pocket Knives, Razors, Scissors, and Table Cutlery; VIOLINS, FLUTES, GUITARS, ACCORDEONS (sic), MUSICAL BOXES; COMBS BRUSHES, CLOCKS, and a variety of FANCY GOODS; WATCHES JEWELRY, &c. &c. ALSO, The Show Windows, Glass Cases, Counters, Shelving and a large iron safe.”
By the spring of 1858 the brothers were back in business at their new location, 21 Camp & 78 Common Street and were continuing to advertise their wide variety of imported and American produced goods with firearms comprising a large portion of their inventory. The firm continued to advertise through the period of secession and into the early period of the Confederacy, with more and more emphasis placed upon their optical business, with only that portion their business being promoted more than their retail sales of firearms and jewelry. A search of the National Archives Record Group known as The Confederate Citizen Files reveals two invoices from D. Kernaghan & Co to the Confederacy, both for the sale of firearms. These invoices were made out to Lieutenant Thomas B Mills of the Confederate Navy. The first is dated 27 May 1861 is for the following items:
13 Full stock Rifles e/a 10 $130
10 Davis Iron(?) Stocked do 16 $160
10 ½ Stock Maple 16 $160
The second invoice was dated two days later on May 29 and is for:
15 ½ half Stock Patent British Rifles fine 20/ea $300
The second invoice obviously indicates the sale of high-end British percussion sporting rifles with patent, probably hooked, breeches and the price is indicative of the quality. The first invoice is most likely for domestically produced mid-grade sporting rifles. Dozens of men with the surname “Davis” were producing rifles in America during this period and these guns could have originated almost anywhere from upstate New York to Ohio and nearly anywhere in between.
Lt. Mills was a native Louisianian who had previously served in the United States Navy, achieving the rank of Master. He resigned from the service was commissioned into the Confederate States Navy on 28 March 1861. His promotions were Acting Lieutenant on 19 September 1861, 2nd Lieutenant on 8 February 1862 and 1st Lieutenant on 2 October 1862. His first duty station in 1861 was New Orleans and he was subsequently sent to special service at the Richmond Naval Station later that year. Over the next three years Mills would serve on the CSS Dalman and CSS Florida, both on the Mobile Station during 1862, the CSS North Carolina on the Wilmington Station during 1863-1864 and would eventually command the famous casemate ironclad CSS Savannah and later the sidewheel gunboat CSS Sampson during 1864.
Over the years a small number of Kernaghan marked imported shotguns and sporting rifles from various sources have been identified and survive in private collections today, but they are far from common. Kernaghan also imported English revolvers as well as selling domestically produced revolvers. Today only a handful of Kernaghan marked revolvers are known.
Probably the most famous Kernaghan marked handgun known today is a double action Bentley revolver serial number A 843 in the collection of the American Civil War Museum (formerly the Museum of the Confederacy). It is engraved on the top flat of the barrel exactly the same as this gun is, and reads MADE EXPRESSLY FOR D. KERNAGHAN & CoNEW ORLEANS. The gun is identified to Robert T. Aunspaugh who served in the Bedford Virginia Light Artillery and the 10th Battalion Virginia Heavy Artillery, Co. B. Aunspaugh was a 22 year old merchant when he was commissioned as a 3rd Lieutenant in the Virginia Bedford Light Artillery on May 8, 1861. On October 4, 1862 he was discharged for promotion during the reorganization of the unit and on November 1, 1862 was commissioned into Company B of the 10thBattalion of Heavy Artillery as a 2nd Lieutenant. On December 23, 1863 he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and on April 15, 1864 was made the Acting Assistant Quartermaster. After the war Aunspaugh was a partner in the firm of Aunspaugh, Cobb & Co and died in 1905 at the age of 68. Two other identically marked Kernaghan retailer marked Bentley revolvers are known, A 807 in a private collection, and A 840 which is the gun offered here. This exact gun is discussed and pictured on pages 225-226 of The English Connection – Arms, Material and Support Furnished to the Confederate States of America by Great Britain by Russ Pritchard Jr., C.A. Huey, Mike Nicholls, Tim Prince & Dean Thomas.
This extremely rare D. Kernaghan New Orleans retailer marked percussion revolver is a mid-sized handgun that is nominally .36 caliber, or roughly 80-Bore. The gun measures roughly 7 ¾” in overall length with a 3.5”, octagonal barrel that is rifled with fourteen narrow grooves with a moderately fast rate of twist. The revolver has a “self-cocking”, double action only lockwork, a five-shot cylinder and a two-piece design with a wedge securing the barrel assembly to an arbor pin that is screwed into the iron frame. Bentley’s patented Colt inspire loading lever is present under the barrel, as is his patented safety on the hammer. The frame is delicately engraved with simple floral motifs that are more open and flowing than the tight “bank note” style engraving that would become popular on high end English sporting arms during the next few decades of the 19th century. The frame is engraved behind the cylinder on both sides and below the cylinder on the right side. It is also engraved with the same flowing foliate motifs on the butt cap and triggerguard. The edges of the hammer are lightly engraved as well. The revolver was originally blued, with a color casehardened cylinder and butt cap, but retains no finish. The revolver is fitted with two-piece checkered walnut grips with round German silver escutcheons. A simple notch in the rear of the frame serves as a rear sight and a blade front sight is dovetailed into the top of the barrel, near the muzzle. The left side of the frame is engraved:
PATENT No A 840
As previously noted, the top flat of the barrel is retailer marked: MADE EXPRESSLY FOR D. KERNAGHAN & CoNEW ORLEANS. The only other markings are the usual Birmingham commercial proof marks, which are found on the lower left angled flat of the barrel and between the cylinder chambers, along with chamber numbers on the cylinder.
The revolver remains in about GOOD condition. As noted, the revolver retains none of its original finish and show moderate to heavy oxidation over all the metal surfaces with light to moderate pitting on most of the metal. It appears that the revolver was probably cleaned a very long time ago, certainly more than 50 years ago and has since toned back down. The pitting has partially obscured the barrel marking, particularly at the beginning of the marking. The frame markings and engraving are clearer than the barrel mark and the frame shows less pitting and erosion. The revolver remains mechanically functional, with action working exactly as it should, timing and indexing perfectly. The hammer safety remains in place and would be functional, except that the small piece that blocks the hammer at the frame is broken and missing. This is a common condition issue on Bentley revolvers, as the part is quite fragile. The original Bentley loading lever is in place and his patented spring retention system remains fully functional. The lever still operates smoothly and correctly. The bore of the revolver is about FAIR condition. It is dark and deeply oxidized with most of the rifling still visible but showing moderate to heavy pitting along its length. The two-piece grips are in about VERY GOOD condition. They remain solid and complete with no cracks or repairs but do show scattered bumps, dings, mars and some flattening to the checkering.
Overall, this is a solid, if well-worn example of an extremely scarce D. Kernaghan New Orleans marked, pre-Civil War British Bentley percussion revolver. An identical gun with the same markings, only three serial numbers away, is in the collection of the American Civil War Museum and is identified to Virginia artillery officer. After years of research only one other example of a Kernaghan marked Bentley revolver is known, making this an amazingly scarce secondary Confederate revolver. It is also theoretically one of only 850 Bentley revolvers produced, although that rarity is certainly secondary to the New Orleans retailer mark. While Hyde & Goodrich revolvers appear on the market from time to time, Kernaghan revolvers rarely appear for sale. This gun is documented in The English Connection, with a full page of full-color photos, is only 3 numbers from a Confederate identified example and was once part of the famous Dave Dermon II collection of Southern Retailer Marked English Revolvers. An opportunity to obtain such a rare and desirable southern handgun will not likely happen again for an extremely long time, so don’t miss you chance to obtain this wonderful revolver. A copy of The English Connection will be included with the gun when it is purchased.