Extremely Scarce Factory Engraved Walch 12-Shot Navy Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-2242-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
On February 8, 1859 John Walch of New York City received US Patent #22,905 for a somewhat unique revolver that fired superimposed loads from its cylinder, thus doubling the number of times the revolver could be fired before it was reloaded. Walch’s patent application, describing his Improvement in Revolving Firearms, read in part:
“The nature of my said invention consists in constructing a revolving chamber with two ranges of nipples connecting to the middle and rear part of the breeches, in combination with double hammers so fitted and acting that upon pulling the trigger the hammers fall, the one before the other, and explode caps on the aforesaid nipples that fire in succession charges contained in the forward and rear parts of each breech, so that two charges are fired out of one breech and the breech revolved each time the two hammers are cocked.”
As mid-19th century percussion revolvers were prone to chain fires, the simultaneous detonation of chambers other than the one being fired as a result of the firing of the gun, it would seem that Walch’s double loaded chambers would raise few eyebrows and cause concern among potential users. However, Walch explained clearly in his patent application that there was nothing to fear, as his revolvers would also use a new type of projectile. He notes that this new type of bullet was “made either by attaching a tin plate to a half ball by means of a very thin piece, or by connecting two half-round balls by means of a very small piece, in such a manner as to have a recess all round. This recess is filled with a composition consisting of three-fourths part of soap and one-quarter of oil.” While the description may not really bring to mind what the inventor intended, the patent drawings that he references can best be described as miniature “bar shot” which essentially was a lead ball cut in half and joined by a thin piece between the flat sides that resulted in an incredibly deep groove. This also gave the projectile a more oval than round silhouette. The purpose of this deep groove was to contain the grease like composition described, which would ooze out of the groove when the ball was compressed during loading and the space between the two halves suitably squeezed. This grease would then, in the words of the Walch, have the effect that “…every danger is likewise prevented by which the after-charge might be ignited when the forward charge is fired off….” Walch further notes that this rather slippery arrangement with the heavily greased balls would have the effect that “the chamber will be well greased and the barrel by each discharge will be there by cleaned.” He goes on to further state the advantages of the arrangement being that “as this forms a perfect air-tight packing for the ball the powder will have more force (and) be able to send the ball a greater distance.” It is interesting to note that while Walch appears to have, at least in his mind, removed the possibility of the rear charge firing as a result of the front charge being fired, he does not address the possibility that the front charge might misfire, and when the rear charge was fired into the blocked chamber, a catastrophic failure would almost certainly occur.
Walch knew that the concept of a superimposed positioning of two or more loads in a single chamber was not a new idea and did not claim that design in his patent. In fact, the US military had experimented with the concept circa 1829 with the Ellis-Jennings repeating rifle, which was produced in both four-shot and ten-shot variants. Rather his claim ran specifically to the arrangement of two rows of nipples on the rear of revolving cylinder allowing double loads to be fire from each cylinder chamber. His other claim referred to his trigger, which as he notes, “is on its upper end made in two parts.” Thus, based upon his description, a single conventional trigger would be in the triggerguard, which had two operating parts in the frame, which allowed the release of the right and then the left hammer with two distinct pulls. However, it was two individual triggers that were used in Walch’s initial production revolvers.
John Parker Lindsay received a similar patent, #30,332 on October 9, 1860 that covered a single trigger mechanism that could release two or more hammers in sequence. This was a more elegant solution to the single trigger and double hammer firing mechanism. Eventually the two men would design a refined version of the Walch revolver together. The revolver conceived by these two New Yorkers would eventually be brought to Oliver Winchester and the New Haven Arms Company to manufacture, and the Walch Pocket revolver almost prevented the Winchester Firearms Company from existing; but we are getting slightly ahead of our story.
Like many designers and patent holders during the 19th century, Walch had plenty of ideas but no manufacturing facilities. To that end he entered into an agreement with the Union Knife Company of Naugatuck, CT to manufacture the first of his double-load revolver designs, the Walch “Navy” Revolver. This was a .36 caliber, six-shot chambered revolver that was capable of firing twelve shots out of the double loaded cylinder chambers. The revolver was roughly 12 ¼” in overall length with a nominally 6” octagonal barrel and utilized two triggers rather than the convoluted single trigger with two upper sections, as shown and described in Walch’s patent application. The production of the Walch Navy revolver at the Union Knife Company was supervised by John Parker Lindsay, who would become famous (or infamous) for his Lindsay Model 1863 Rifle Musket that used a double loaded chamber incorporated into a US M1863 pattern musket with double hammers and a single trigger. While Flayderman’s Guide To Antique American Arms suggests that Lindsay was already producing his Young America pistols based upon the single trigger, double-hammer, double-loaded concept at the Union Knife Company before Walch came to the company, it seems more likely that the former Springfield Armory employee was initially engaged to produce the Walch “Navy” contract revolvers at the Union Knife Company, more than a year and half prior to starting to produce his own Young America pattern pistols at the same facility. The Walch patent pre-dates Lindsay’s by some nineteen months, so it seems unlikely that Lindsay was already producing his firearms prior to meeting Walch. In fact, the pocket version of the Lindsay Young America pistol bears the February 8, 1859 patent date of Walch’s bifurcated bullet design, along with the October 9, 1860 date of Lindsay’s design under its barrel.
Despite producing a small number of the .36 caliber Walch Navy revolvers being produced at Union Knife Company circa 1860, they met with little commercial success. While exact production figures are not known, most references suggest that between 200 and 300 of the 12-Shot Walch Navy revolvers were produced. Most of these guns were blued with smooth walnut grips, but a small number were lightly engraved and featured checkered grips. It would not be unreasonable to think that some might have had higher grade finishes as well, possibly silver or tin plating or even early nickel plating, which was being experimented with by some New York retailers circa 1860. During the same basic period, JP Lindsay produced a nearly double the number, possibly as many as 400-500, of his Young America pocket pistols and approximately 100 of his larger sized Belt model pistols; both of which also appear to have been commercial failures. By early 1861, the Union Knife Company seems to have separated themselves from both Walch and Lindsay and returned their attention to producing the knives that were the heart and soul of their business, rather than speculating in the production of odd ball handguns.
However, Walch was not to be deterred. He proceeded to design a new pocket version of the revolver, almost certainly in a collaboration with Lindsay. The new revolver was .31 caliber and was initially produced with a brass, rather than an iron frame. The first 1,500 to 2,000 guns were produced with a brass frame, but the balance of production were made with an iron frame. The open top design used both a wedge and a screw in the bottom of the frame to secure the barrel to the frame. The revolver had a 3 ¼” octagonal barrel and a five chambered cylinder that allowed ten rounds to be fired from the gun. Like its predecessor it retained the double hammer arrangement, but the double triggers and triggerguard were abandoned for a single spur trigger mechanism that resembled that used on the Lindsay pistols and was likely of his design. The ten percussion nipples on the rear of the cylinder alternated ignition of the two rounds in the chamber. The first nipple sent its flame into an extended flash channel that traveled along a small hump, much like an inverted cylinder flute, towards the chamber mouth, where it fired the front or first charge. The second nipple fired directly into the rear of the cylinder to detonate the rearmost second charge. As before, Walch had no capability to manufacture the new design, so he approached the New Haven Arms Company of New Haven, CT. to manufacture the guns.
The New Haven Arms Company was in a state of flux at this time, in dire financial straits and was on the verge of collapse. The company had been formed in 1857 from the remains of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, which itself evolved from the first version of the Smith & Wesson firm. In all cases, the companies were trying to produce and market innovative repeating arms that were inherently hobbled by their low powered Rocket Ball cartridge. The primary shareholder was Oliver Winchester. Eventually the New Haven Arms Company would come up with a successful design in the Henry Rifle and by 1866 the company would be reorganized as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. However, at the time that Walch approached the company to produce his pocket revolver, the company was not particularly successful. The poor results of the Walch revolver project nearly bankrupted the firm and almost kept Oliver Winchester from becoming one of the most famous American firearms entrepreneurs, second only to Samuel Colt in worldwide fame and acclaim in the American firearms industry.
Today the Walch Navy revolver remains one of the “Holy Grails” of US percussion revolvers on the collector market. Surviving examples are very scarce and are often the centerpiece of an advanced collection of “large frame” or “military sized” American percussion revolvers. In fact, despite the lack of evidence that any of these guns were ever acquired for military use, they are considered a “Secondary Martial Revolver” due to their size and caliber. These scarce guns rarely appear on the market for sale and are always coveted additions to advanced collections.
Offered here is a VERY GOOD condition example of a very rare, factory engraved Walch 12-Shot Percussion “Navy” Revolver. The gun is one of the handful of surviving examples that are factory engraved with checkered grips and is serial number 53, making it a fairly early production gun. The revolver is serial numbered on the bottom of the butt, face of the cylinder, on the right side of the barrel, under the barrel (concealed by the loading lever), on the loading lever, on the face of the loading lever catch, on the bottom of the wedge and in pencil inside both grips. In all cases the matching number 53 is present, except for the loading lever which is numbered 65. This is either a factory numbering error or a factory assembly error as the loading lever is engraved like the balance of the revolver and the age, condition and patina of the lever matches the gun perfectly.
The top of the 5 15/16” octagonal barrel is clearly marked in two-lines:
WALCH FIRE ARMS Co.
The mark appears to have been applied twice, with the first strike horribly off center and at an angle, resulting in the “W” of the bad strike about 1/8” from the regular mark, near the edge of the barrel flat and a “C” at an angle in the middle of the good mark. This marking is somewhat indicative of the less than great level of workmanship present in the revolver’s construction. The left side of the barrel is marked with the Walch patent date and reads in a single line:
PATD FEBY 8, 1859
The revolver is factory engraved with simple, loose foliate scrolls. The engraving decorates the frame from the grip junction to the barrel junction and is also present on the barrel web, the loading lever knuckle, the bow of the triggerguard, the bottom leading edge of the frame, on the raised flash channels of the cylinder and around the front periphery of the cylinder. The screw heads even show light engraving as well, with the exception of the loading lever pivot screw, which appears to be an old replacement. All of the other screws show at least minute traces of engraving, although most show light to moderate slot wear as well.
The metal of the revolver has a mostly even, slightly mottled brown and gray patina that is lightly oxidized. Some areas of the revolver are more grayish in appearance and others are a deeper, darker brown coloration, with much of the gun having a brownish-bronze tone. The gun appears to have originally been plated, not blued, as some very minor traces of plating appear in protected areas. There are traces under the barrel, in the nooks and crannies and along the edges of the frame under the grips. Based upon the appearance of the traces, I think the revolver was originally silvered throughout, not an uncommon enhancement during the period for engraved guns. The metal is mostly quite smooth, with some evenly distributed flecks of minute pinpricking on the barrel and cylinder and a couple of spots of more notable, pinpricking on the cylinder face and face of the muzzle. There is also some very light surface oxidation here and there with some very minor roughness. The revolver retains its original brass cone front sight that is installed in a hole that is drilled all the way through the barrel into the bore! This is just another one of the little manufacturing hiccups that shows that the Union Knife Company might have not really been up to producing these guns. The bore of the revolver is in very good condition. It remains mostly bright with some scattered oxidation and minor discoloration but would likely clean up some with a good brushing. The rifling remains strong and crisp along its entire length. The revolver is mechanically functional, and times, indexes and locks up as it should. That is not common as the
Walch revolvers have a reputation for timing and indexing that are somewhat imperfect. The dual hammers operate correctly and fall as they should, right then left, after pulling each of the triggers, which position themselves correctly when the hammers are cocked. The grips are in about VERY GOOD condition. They retain fairly crisp checkering but do show wear and use. They do show the expected scattered wear and handling marks from years of carry, handling and use. The lower leading edges of both grips have minute chips at their sharp edges, but these are quite minor and barely noticeable.
Overall, this is a really attractive and extremely scarce example of a Factory Engraved John Walch 12-Shot Navy Revolver. It has a very pleasing, untouched look with crisp edges and lines, sharp engraving and fully legible markings. This is the first time in more than twenty years of collecting and dealing in antique arms that I have had an opportunity to own one of these very unique and extremely rare 12-shot Walch revolvers. As a youngster I often fell asleep reading Norm Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms and their Values, and I vividly remember wanting to own of these guns at least forty years ago! Due to their rarity and value, I never thought it was likely to happen. This gun has wonderful provenance, having at one time been part of the famous Owsley Brown Frazier collection. Mr. Frazier was the founder of the Frazier Firearms Museum, now the Frazier Kentucky History Museum, and after his passing the gun was part of the Frazier’s extensive firearms collection. Mr. Frazier acquired this scarce gun from noted Kentucky percussion revolver collector William “Billy” Puckett in 2011 for $15,500. The revolver was deaccessioned in early 2020. Never did I imagine that I would have the opportunity to own such a wonderful piece of American firearms history, nor that I would be able to offer it for sale for less money than it was sold for a decade ago. These guns rarely come up for sale and when they do, they are often in rough shape and have major mechanical issues. This one is all complete and correct and has a ton of eye appeal. It would be a fine addition to any advanced collection of Civil War era percussion revolvers, a collection of firearms curiosa, or as an example of a one of those 19th century firearms designs that really did not work out quite as intended. To my knowledge only a handful of Walch Navy Revolvers survive in collections and I am only personally aware of three engraved examples. These include #43 that was formerly in the famous Locke Collection and is pictured in the book about that collection, #53 that is offered here and #78 which is illustrated in line drawings in Robert Reilly’s Unties States Military Small Arms 1816-1865. While I’m sure there may be a couple of others, they are pretty thin on the ground as a friend of mine likes to say. I’m am extremely proud to offer this revolver for sale and will certainly enjoy owning it until it finds a new home.
Provenance: ex-William “Billy Puckett” Collection, ex-Owsley Brown Frazier – Frazier Kentucky History Museum Collection.