Welcome to College Hill Arsenal
Mass Arms Adams Revolver - Likely Part of the Virginia Revolver Contract

Mass Arms Adams Revolver - Likely Part of the Virginia Revolver Contract

  • Product Code: FHG-JM152
  • Availability: In Stock
  • $2,995.00

The story of the Adams Patent Revolvers as produced by the Massachusetts Arms Company is a very interesting one. Robert Adams’ “self-cocking” or “double action” revolver was originally patented in England in 1851, with the primary patent covering his one-piece, solid frame, and barrel forging. The frame was considerably stronger than the open top, two-piece, wedge retained frame and barrel system used by Colt. Adams instantly found success selling his guns in England, and in 1854 Lt. F.B.E. Beaumont developed an improvement to the lock work, which allowed the pistol to operate in both conventional single action and double action modes. It was this variation of the Adams revolver, the Model 1854 or “Beaumont-Adams”,  that was produced under license by the Massachusetts Arms Company of Chicopee Falls, MA. In 1857 Massachusetts Arms entered into an agreement to provide 500 of their “belt” sized (.36 caliber), Beaumont-Adams Patent revolvers to the US Ordnance Department. Ordnance Department Head Colonel H.K. Craig had purchased 100 of the English-made Beaumont-Adams revolvers the previous year, in .36 caliber, since it was the caliber of the Colt revolvers (M-1851 “Navy” revolvers) most in use by the US military at that time. After issue and use in the field during 1856, Craig wrote to the Secretary of War “I think very favourably (sic) of the arm….as being well adapted to Military use, and as the price is considerably less than….the Colt Pistol, to which it is quite equal and, in some respects, in my opinion superior.” Craig was no doubt referring to the robust solid frame of the guns, when calling them “superior”to the Colt.  On 24 July 1858 the Massachusetts Arms Company delivered the first 250 of the Beaumont-Adams patent revolvers to the Ordnance Department, and delivered another 150 on August 17th, with the last 100 delivered on September 4th of the same year. Massachusetts Arms saw only limited civilian sales of the revolvers during that period, and it is believed that the highest serial number delivered to the US Ordnance Department was 609, indicating that 100 or so were manufactured for private sale, or rejected by the Ordnance Department during that period. The revolvers delivered by the Mass Arms Company had 6” octagonal barrels, five-shot cylinders, and used the Kerr’s patent loading lever attached to the left side of the frame. They were blued with checkered one-piece walnut grips that were pierced in the center for the attachment of a lanyard. 


It has long been believed that that state of Virginia also acquired 1,000 of these revolvers via the Ames Manufacturing Company of Chicopee, MA in an arms order from May of 1860, which were subsequently delivered during the summer and fall of that year. While period documents refer to the revolvers as being “1,000 Deane & Adams’ Pistols”, a somewhat more accurate period description comes from Harpers Ferry master armorer Phillip Burkhart, who went on to superintend the Confederate arsenal in Fayetteville, NC. He described the Virginia contract revolvers as “….pistols (Army Size)…by Dean & Adams Chicopee Falls Massachusetts.” While Burkhart implied the incorrect caliber, since “Army” usually meant .44 caliber during the period, the Massachusetts Arms Company “Belt Model” .36 caliber (“Navy” in period parlance) revolver was built on the same sized frame a .443 caliber English made Model 1854 Adams Revolver. According to Chamberlain & Taylerson in Adams’ Revolvers, the guns were delivered from stock on hand in September of 1860 and were delivered to Virginia along with 1,000 Cavalry Sabers and 200 Light Artillery Sabers. It must be remembered that for all practical purposes the Massachusetts Arms Company was a subsidiary of the Ames Manufactory. Both were located in Chicopee, MA and Mass Arms had been largely financed by the Ames family and was largely controlled by Ames family members on the board of directors. While references like Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms list approximately 1,000 as the total number of the large frame “Navy” model Adams revolvers produced by Mass Arms, the reality is that at least 1,500 had to have been manufactured, in order to fill both the 500 gun order for the US military and the additional 1,000 gun order for Virginia. In reality, the total production was probably closer to around 2,000 guns. At least some of these Mass Arms Adams revolvers had been issued by Virginia by November of 1860, as an article in the November 26, 1860 Springfield Daily Republican noted that “There is a company of men about organizing at Richmond, to be armed with double-barreled guns, five shooters and bowie knives, to be ready for the call of the governor at a minute’s warning, to defend the rights of Virginia.” The reference to “five shooters” strongly suggests the 5-shot Mass Arms Adams revolvers. Period documents indicate that portions of both the 1st and 5thVirginia Cavalry were definitely armed with Adams’ patent revolvers, which were likely the Mass Arms guns, and no doubt a number of other early regiments saw at least a handful of the guns in service as well.


Offered here is one of the Massachusetts Arms Company Adams’ Patent Navy Revolvers that was almost certainly one of the “Adams” revolvers acquired by the State of Virginia in 1860. It is a large frame Massachusetts Arms Company 5-shot .36 Adams Patent revolver that bears no US government inspection marks and is serial numbered above 500. The gun is serial number 575. Interestingly I previously owned a fully identified example of one of these guns that was serial number 554, only 21 numbers away from this gun. Mass Arms Adams revolver #554 was captured by R. Wallace Mitchell of the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford on 17 March 1863. Mitchell sent the revolver home to his brother George as war booty and based upon his account of the battle given in the letters that accompanied it and where he said that he picked up the gun, it was dropped by a member of either 2nd, 3rd, or 5th Virginia Cavalry. As noted above, there is additional evidence that these revolvers were issued to members of the 5th Virginia Cavalry.


Mass Arms Adams Revolver #575 is marked with the matching serial number in the two usual locations, on the left side of the frame forward and below the cylinder and on the cylinder itself. The lower right side of the frame is marked in two horizontal lines



JUNE 3, 1856


and the lower left side of the frame is marked



MAY 3, 1853


The top strap of the revolver is marked in three lines and reads






The loading lever is marked in two lines



APRIL 14, 1857


All the markings remain fairly crisp and mostly legible, with only some areas of the topstrap marking being weak and some of the frame markings being so deeply stamped that they are slightly blurred. The gun is in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition, and retains a reasonable amount of original blued finish, mixed with moderately oxidized, rich, plum-brown patina over all the metal components. There are some scattered patches of surface roughness here and there, particularly on the barrel and there is some scattered pinpricking as well as some very light pitting here and there on the metal as well. The frame retains about 20%+ of its original blue which had flake and fade and then mixed with a mostly smooth plum-brown patina. The cylinder retains about 40% of its original blued finish, which again shows most of its loss due to flaking and has mixed with an oxidized plum-brown patina. The barrel retains only minute traces of its original blue and has a moderately oxidized plum-brown patina with scattered patches of surface roughness and some light pitting. As would be expected of a revolver that saw cavalry service with the south during the Civil War, there are a handful of minor impact marks present on the frame, cylinder and topstrap. The hammer retains none of its original mottled case colored finish and has the same rich patina as the balance of the gun. The screws remain in mostly crisp condition and a couple still have remnants of their fire-blued finish on their heads. The action of the revolver functions well in the double action mode, but the revolver will not function in single action. The hammer will not hold at full cock, but as noted the revolver operates perfectly in double action with the gun timing, indexing, and locking up as it should. This is not an uncommon problem with Adams’ patent revolvers that are found today. The original frame mounted sliding safety is present on the right side of the pistol and functions correctly. The fragile thumbscrew style cylinder pin retaining screw present and remains fully functional. This thumbscrew was notoriously weak and subject to breakage, and they are often missing from both English and American made Beaumont-Adams revolvers. It is nice to see a gun with real world use that retains this part. The original Kerr’s Patent loading lever is present on the left side of the frame and functions correctly. The lever is marked in two lines KERR’S PATENT / APRIL 14, 1857, but is not marked with the patent tracking number for royalty payments, which appears on some later production Mass Arms Adams revolvers. This is not a serial number, but rather a method of tracking the royalty payments that Mass Arms owed to Kerr for the use of the design. Since the same patent applied to the loading lever on the .36 caliber belt revolvers and the .31 pocket version, the numbers simply tracked the number of levers consecutively produced under that patent. However, the numbers do not appear on the large frame revolvers until the around 600 serial number range, and in the upper end of the pocket revolver serial numbers. The number never matches the serial number of the pistol that the levers are attached to. The loading lever retains the original spanner style mounting screw, which is often missing as well.  The spanner screw shows the usual wear to the detents that result from the screw being removed with an improper tool. The five-shot cylinder retains all five of its original cones (nipples) and they are in very good condition. The bore of the pistol is in NEAR VERY GOODcondition. The bore has a mottled appearance with areas of bright metal spotted with dark patches of oxidation. The bore retains very good rifling and is light pitting evenly distributed along its length with some areas of more moderate pitting here and there. The original iron blade front sight is dovetailed into the top of the 6” octagon barrel, and the barrel retains sharp edges and good lines. The checkered walnut grip remains in about NEAR FINE condition. It is solid and free of any breaks, cracks, or chips. The checkering shows light to moderate wear from actual use. The original brass ferrules remain at the edges of the lanyard hole that passes through the center of the grip. 


Overall, this is a solid example of one of the Massachusetts Arms Company Adams revolvers that almost certainly saw use with Virginia troops during the Civil War. The gun is extremely attractive and has a rich, untouched patina that is simply gorgeous. For any collector of Civil War small arms, guns like these that were Confederate acquisitions but were not produced by the Confederacy provide an opportunity to own a legitimate Confederate revolver without having to pay the five-figure price of a Confederate-made revolver. This a great example of one of those 1,000 Virginia contract guns supplied by Ames and will be a wonderful addition to your Civil War revolver collection.

Write a review

Please login or register to review

Tags: Mass, Arms, Adams, Revolver, Likely, Part, of, the, Virginia, Revolver, Contract