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French Perrin Revolver

French Perrin Revolver

  • Product Code: FHG-2228
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1,895.00

Next to the “Raphael” revolver, the Model 1859 Perrin Revolver is probably the least often encountered of all American Civil War imported handguns. Like the Raphael, the Perrin was a French designed cartridge revolver with a double action lock work and a 6-shot cylinder. While the Rafael was a “traditional double action”, it could be fired in either single action or double action modes, the Perrin was what would be called today a “double action only” revolver. That meant that the action could only be actuated by the long, heavy pull of the trigger, with no facility to cock the hammer manually. The Perrin fired a very advanced 12mm (approximately .45 caliber), internally primed, self-contained metallic cartridge. The cartridge had a thick rim and while the primer was not visible from the outside bottom of the casing (as it is with modern center fire cartridges) it was a center fire design. The patent covering the revolver design, but most especially the cartridge design, was granted in France to Perrin & Delmas in 1859. As noted, this gun was strictly a double action design, with a spurless hammer, similar to the Model 1851 Adams patent revolvers. In fact, the gun featured an Adams style safety spring on the left hand side of the frame. By lightly depressing the trigger (and thus slightly lifting the hammer from the rear of the cylinder), the safety spring would automatically make a small extension enter the frame, creating a hammer block that kept the hammer from contacting the cartridges. This also freed the cylinder to rotate freely for loading or unloading. Pulling the trigger to fire the gun automatically released the safety, with it rebounding out of the way of the hammer, allowing the falling hammer to strike the cartridge in the cylinder’s chamber. The Perrin had an interesting hidden ejector rod used to eject spent cased from the cylinder. The rod was stored within the center portion of the cylinder arbor pin, and could be withdrawn, and then rotated via a cam on the barrel, to align it with a cylinder chamber on the right hand side of the gun. This placed the rod in the correct position to push the empty cases out of the chambers. This storage system protected the slender and somewhat delicate rod from damage when it was not in use and allowed for a more streamlined design without an ejector rod or housing mounted on the frame or barrel of the revolver. The ejector rod also kept the cylinder arbor pin in place when it was being stored and taking the ejector rod out of storage freed the arbor pin to be withdrawn from the frame, allowing the cylinder to be removed. This same system would be employed less than a decade later on several of the early P Webley & Son designed cartridge revolvers, like their Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.) and Bull Dog models. 


Perrin’s were typically marked with the patentees’ name and with a serial number on the major components. Collectors have separated the Perrin revolvers into three “Types”, which appear to be chronological in their evolution. Both Types I and II have open top frames, while the Type III has a top strap. The variations between these three types is further indicated by the type of loading gate system. Type I gates are rather thin and are hinged at the top, swinging outward and upward. Type II gates are somewhat thicker and are also hinged at the top but swing to the rear of the revolver to open. The Type III gate is thicker and more robust and is hinged at the bottom, swinging down and away from the frame. It is worth noting that there is little good information about the Perrin revolver in print in English, and sources vary as to the actual model designation (M1859 or M1860) and the actual caliber of the revolvers (11mm or 12mm). While most sources in the US have long referred to the gun as the M1860, the recent publication French Service Handguns by Eugene Medlin & Jean Huon refer to the pistol as the M1859 and as they seem to be the most definitive word on the subject, I will concur with them. The issue of caliber (11mm versus 12mm) is somewhat more problematic, and in this case Medlin & Huon come down on the 11mm side of things. Measuring extant examples shows that the chamber mouths are typically about 12mm while the bores measure approximately 11.5mm. This suggests the reference to 12mm really establishes the outside diameter of the case, rather than the diameter of the bullet. As this was a common way to establish “caliber” during the period (case diameter versus bullet diameter) I will continue to use the 12mm designation. This system of measuring and naming cartridges is why the “.38 Special” uses a .357” diameter bullet – the name is derived from the case diameter, and we have not seen fit to discontinue calling .357 caliber revolvers “.38s”. It is further worth noting that according to the Springfield Armory Museum Collection Record, regarding Perrin revolvers: We have of this writing five Perrins in the collection. No two are quite alike, having minor variations in rear sights, grips, loading gates and rebating of frame as well as barrel lengths.” Other authors have noted that barrel lengths tend to vary between 5 ½” and 6 ½” and that the earliest production guns have variations in rifling with 4, 6, 8 and 9 groove examples having been noted. Eventually it appears that the 6-groove system was settled upon as standard. The majority of the revolvers were finished “in the white” with bright polished metal and had smooth one-piece walnut grips. However, some examples are known with special finishes, including blued, nickel plating (a very new technology in the 1860s), and gold damascene. Checkered grips are not uncommon either, although smooth wood certainly seem to predominate on extant examples. 


We can document the sale of 550 Perrin revolvers, from a contract for 1,0000 total guns, to the US Government by arms speculator Alexis Godillot. Godillot listed “New York & Paris” as his business addresses and delivered the revolvers at a price of $20.00 each, including 50 rounds of the proprietary Perrin ammunition with each revolver. Godillot made his initial delivery of 350 Perrin revolvers on January 6, 1862, delivered another 100 on March 28, 1862. The final 100 Perrins that he would provide were delivered on May 31, 1862. Interestingly, the Holt-Owens Commission, which had been established in early 1862 “to audit and adjust all contracts, orders, and claims on the War Department in respect to ordnance, arms and ammunition” actually cancelled Godillot’s contract for Perrin revolvers in April of 1862 due to his inability to deliver them in a timely fashion. However, they did allow the final delivery of 100 guns on May 31, even after the cancellation of the contract, due to the fact that “the arms are needed by the government, and are of good quality, and of reasonable price.” On May 31, 1862 he also delivered 1,500 Lefaucheux pin fire revolvers, and no further deliveries of Perrins are noted in US Ordnance documents. 


US Ordnance Department documents show that 1 Perrin was in storage at the New York Arsenal on December 31, 1862. An additional 249 Perrins were in storage in at the Ordnance Depot in Louisville, KY on the same date. This indicates that the other 300 pistols that had been delivered were likely in the field and in use during this time frame. Ordnance returns of November 5, 1864 show that the single Perrin at the New York Arsenal was still there, and that 187 Perrin’s were in store at the New York Agency. It is not clear what happened to all of the Perrin revolvers that the Ordnance Department purchased, but on June 19, 1901 the New York Arsenal sold 368 Perrin revolvers to Francis Bannerman and Company for $0.2765 (yes, only 27.65 cents) each. It is likely that the other 182 revolvers were lost or stolen during or after the war, with some likely going home with the soldiers to whom they were issued. Due to their proprietary ammunition, these arms were probably of limited utility in a civilian world where the French made cartridges were not likely to have been readily available. While no specific list of Civil War used examples by serial number is known, from those that have a “Civil War” association it appears most have serial numbers under 1,000 and all are of the open frame, Type I or Type II variants. Much like the Perrin’s contemporary, the Lefaucheux revolver, it appears deliveries were of available guns on hand and no systematic attempt to keep the deliveries within a specific serial number block or range was attempted by the furnishers.


This French Model 1859 Perrin Revolver is in about VERY GOOD overall condition. This is a very early production gun with the serial number 141 and the markings are not quite the same as those on the more commonly encountered, later production Perrin revolvers. The top of the 6” round barrel is engraved in a single script line:


L. Perrin Bte à Paris 51 Rue Lafitte



The right side of the frame, forward of the cylinder is marked in a single line: L. PERRIN. The more common two-linePERRIN / & Cie Bvt marking, indicating the gun was patented by Perrin & Company starts to appear in the upper part of the 2XX serial number range. On the left side of the frame, forward of the cylinder is the serial number with the marking No 141. However, the typical Perrin {SUNBURST} motif over the PARIS does not appear, again a marking that starts to be regularly present about 100 numbers later. The cylinder is clearly marked with the serial number No 141 as well and is also marked L. PERRIN. The same serial number also appears on the bottom of the barrel, hidden by the ejector rod/cylinder arbor combination. The L. PERRIN marking is also present under the barrel. All of the markings remain quite crisp, sharp and fully legible. Most examples of Perrins were finished in the white, and this one is no exception. The metal has been cleaned and polished, leaving some light polishing marks and scuffing here and there on the metal. This happened some time ago, and the metal is now dulling down to medium steel gray appearance. The metal is mostly smooth with some scattered patches of pinpricking and light pitting here and there. There are some scattered flecks of surface oxidation and discoloration present on the steel and there is darker discoloration in the recesses of the pinpricking, surface etching and light pitting. The double action mechanism works very well and is quite crisp, even though the trigger pull is rather heavy and slightly gritty. The revolver remains mechanically excellent in every way, and times, indexes and locks up exactly as it should. The original top-hinged thin loading gate, which is the weakest point of the design of this gun, is present and functions perfectly. It snaps securely into position when closed and rotates upward as it should when it is opened. Amazingly the gate shows no signs of replacement or repair. The Adams style safety spring is present on the left hand side of the frame as well. When a Perrin is located, it is not uncommon to find both the loading gate and this safety spring either missing or damaged. This safety original, but the very tip of the safety that is inside the frame and acts as the hammer block is broken and gone. While this does not have any material effect on the operation of the revolver, it does mean that release the cylinder to rotate in the “half-cock” position, the trigger must be lightly pulled to raise the hammer between 1/8” and ¼” from its resting, “fired” position. Otherwise, there are no mechanical issues with the revolver as all. The original front sight, which is often damaged or missing, is replaced with a very fine, high quality modern made replica. This is so well done and so close to the correct form for the sight, that most collectors would likely not notice. However, the sight replacement is mentioned for exactness and accuracy in description. As previously mentioned, Perrin revolvers were manufactured with barrels that varied in length between 5 ½” and 6 ½” in length. The barrel of this one has a barrel that is 6” long. As this is a very early production revolver, the bore is rifled with a non-standard pattern consisting of 4-grooves. Eventually 6-groove would become the norm for these revolvers. The grooves appear to be roughly twice the width of the lands. The bore is in about VERY GOOD+ condition. The bore retains very strong, well defined and crisp rifling for its entire length. The bore is mostly bright with some darker oxidation in the grooves, along with some lightly scattered pinpricking. The original ejector rod in the center of the cylinder pin is present and the rotating cam allows it to function correctly. Pulling out the rod and rotating it to the right side of the gun allows it to be used to eject the spent cartridge cases. The one-piece walnut grip is in about VERY GOOD condition, with no chips or breaks or repairs. Perrin’s appear with both checkered and smooth grips, with no particular rhyme or reason to which variant is encountered, although smooth grips appear to be somewhat more common. This variant has checkered grips. The checkering shows light wear with some minor loss of crispness to sharpness of the checkering. The grip also shows some lightly scattered bumps, dings and surface mars. The original small diameter lanyard ring is present on the iron butt cap and swivels freely as it should.


Overall this is a very nice, solid and complete example of one of the two rarest of the US import martial revolvers used during the American Civil War. While not commanding the price or the of the renown of the LeMat, far fewer of these revolvers exist these days. Like the Raphael, Fredrick Todd’s seminal work American Military Equipage 1851-1872 lists the Perrin as being a possible secondary Confederate purchase, as well as a US purchase. Unfortunately, Todd provides no substantiation for his claim. It is fairly rare to see one of these revolvers on the market, let alone in a collection. Many of the finest collections of Civil War revolvers simply do not have a Perrin in them. Here is a great chance to own a very nice displaying example of a very rare gun at a very fair price. The gun is complete, correct and fully functional with only the replaced front sight bead being worth mentioning. This is gun that your collecting friends are quite unlikely to have in their collections and will be a very nice addition your advanced collection of Civil War era secondary martial pistols.


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Tags: French, Perrin, Revolver