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Rare Devisme Model 1858/59 Cartridge Belt Revolver

Rare Devisme Model 1858/59 Cartridge Belt Revolver

  • Product Code: FHG-2186-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

The firearms produced by Louis-François Devisme (pronounced div-eem) of Paris are among the most highly sought after and desirable arms manufactured during the 19th century. Devisme was an incredibly talented French gunsmith and inventor whose talent and fine aesthetic sense allowed him to produce firearms and swords that were truly works of art. Devisme was born in Paris in 1806 (some sources list his birth date as 1804) and before the age of 30 he had received his first award for firearms design and manufacture at the 1834 Paris Exhibition of Industry. Over the next three decades, Devisme would receive numerous awards and medals for the firearms that he displayed at numerous French Exhibitions, including silver medals in 1839 & 1841 and additional awards in 1855, 1862 and 1867. He also received a medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London (also known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition) for firearms that he displayed there. It is likely that Samuel Colt first became aware of Devisme’s work at The Crystal Palace Exhibition and Colt was apparently impressed enough that he acquired one of Devisme’s percussion revolvers (in unfinished form) for the Colt firearms collection. The pocket-sized percussion revolver of about .28 caliber (7.5mm) is well documented in Colt company records, and the gun (serial #1485) no doubt served as a study piece for Colt and his other designers as well. Devisme manufactured a wide array of firearms from sporting arms like rifles and shotguns to innovative revolvers, single shot pistols and even a “Flobert” type parlor pistol. He introduced a very advanced centerfire revolver in 1858-59, based upon an earlier percussion design and in doing so manufactured one of the first (if not the first) “striker fired” handguns, a concept which is the mainstay of many modern guns designs like those offered by Glock, Heckler & Koch and Springfield Armory. This design allowed for a very low bore axis in the hand, and this meant that the revolver pointed very naturally, was inherently quite accurate and had less felt recoil than other period designs. In many ways, however, Devisme’s innovative firearms designs were really only the canvas upon which he executed his artistry. Exquisitely engraved examples of Devisme firearms are known, often mounted with silver, with chased patterns and high relief embellishments. Devisme’s aesthetic talent rivaled that of the leading French firearms maker of the several decades earlier, Nicholas Noel Boutet. In many ways, Devisme became the “Boutet” of the latter part of the 19th century. Ironically, Boutet died in 1833, only one year before Devisme burst onto the firearms scene with his honorable mention medal at the 1834 Paris Exhibition of Industry. 


Devisme’s first firearms innovation was a self-cocking revolver patented during the 1830s. By 1854, he had patented a rather unique percussion revolver and he received several additional French firearms patents between 1855 and 1869, culminating with his very futuristic cartridge revolvers. Devisme’s reputation for excellent skill and artistry made his arms highly sought after by the luminaries of his time and have made them equally sought after by the most discriminating collectors of the modern era as well. His quality and artistry resulted in Devisme arms being acquired by the leading monarchs of era, including Queen Victoria, and her consort Prince Albert of England, King Louis-Philippe of France as well as numerous members of the Russian royal household. Some of Devisme’s most famous clients of the era were Confederate leaders, including Generals John Bell Hood, J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee, not to mention Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Hood, Stuart and Lee all owned Devisme swords, while Davis owned one of Devisme’s high-grade .74 caliber percussion big game stalking rifles, which was captured, along with Davis and his entourage, in Irwinville, GA on May 10, 1865 by elements of the 1st Wisconsin and 4th Michigan Cavalry. In modern times, Devisme’s arms have graced some of the most renowned firearms collections in the world, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the finest collection of high grade arms ever assembled, that of the late King Farouk of Egypt.


Offered here is a Devisme Model 1858/59 Belt Sized Cartridge Revolver. Sources vary, and this pattern of revolver is noted as both a Model 1858 and a Model 1859, although these are clearly collector terms of convenience, and it is highly unlikely that Devisme ever referred to these guns by that nomenclature. Devisme’s first major revolver design was the percussion Model 1854/55, which was based upon his 1854 patent. Those guns were single action, six-shot percussion revolvers. His first cartridge revolvers were also of the M1854/55 pattern but had five-shot cylinders and at least initially appear to have been altered from its original percussion configuration. The Devisme design was inherently adaptable to cartridge due to the firing system. The revolver has a unique, centrally-mounted, internal hammer that is concealed within the frame, with only the spur exposed along the side of the frame. Variants of this design were produced with both the side mounted cocking lever and a centrally mounted cocking lever. Initially the center mounted hammers had firing pins on their faces, although eventually a striker firing system was designed. The guns with the external “cocking lever” were primarily striker fired as well. The design was similar to a single action version of the American Pettengill revolver action. As with any standard single action revolver, cocking the hammer rotates and locks the cylinder, indexing a chamber to align with the barrel and sets the mainspring to allow a forceful blow to be delivered to the primer when the sear it tripped. Both the central hammer and striker fired systems were easily adapted for use with both percussion and centerfire cartridge cylinders. As mentioned above, the design allows the bore of the revolver to sit lower in the hand than other period designs and this translates to improved “pointability”, accuracy, and recoil control. 


Sometime in 1858 or 1859, Devisme introduced a refined version of his earlier pistol that was never a percussion design and was brought to market as a centerfire, self-contained to cartridge revolver. While the basic profile and silhouette changed little from the earlier Model 1854/55, there were major mechanical changes in the front half of the revolver. The original M1854/55 revolver was a take-down design that used a rotating lever on the left side of the frame to lock and unlock the frame from the barrel assembly. When rotated 180-degrees from along the side of the frame toward the barrel, the barrel and topstrap were unlocked and could be removed from the cylinder arbor pin. The cylinder could then be removed from the arbor for loading and unloading. This same procedure applied to both the percussion and cartridge M1854/55 revolvers. The new M1858/59 design used a hinged, tip-down frame instead of requiring the disassembly of the gun for loading and unloading. A flat lever on the front face of the frame could be rotated to the left and this accomplished two actions. First it rotated a wing-shaped locking lug inside the recoil shield of the frame by 90-degrees, allowing it to pass through a key-way. This released the cylinder arbor from the frame and allowed the barrel and cylinder portion of the revolver to be tipped down via a hinge on the lower front of the frame. The action also engaged a ratchet under the barrel which rotated an ejector rod mechanism 90-degrees to the right, bringing it from under the barrel to right side of the frame where it could be used to punch empty cartridge cases out of the cylinder. The revolvers were single action in operation like the earlier M1854/54 and retained the same mechanism as the early production, center-hammer M1854/55 revolver with the firing pin on the face of the concealed hammer. The revolver used a six-shot round cylinder with bored-through chambers. This feature was protected by the Rollin White Patent in the United States but had been patented in France and England nearly a year before White’s patent date by Eugene Lefaucheux. Apparently Lefaucheux was less concerned about enforcing his patent restrictions, or was simply glad to share his design, as numerous French revolvers were produced during this period with bored-through cylinders, including those by Lefaucheux, Devisme, Perrin and Pidault & Cordier.


The belt-sized M1858/59 Devisme revolvers had nominally 6” barrels that often varied as much as a ¼” in length. The barrels were rifled with four grooves that are slightly wider than the lands. The guns were nominally .44 caliber and depending upon how you choose to too measure the cartridge, could be called either 12mm or 11mm. The example offered here has a bore that measures about 10.6mm land to land and 11.2mm groove to groove. The chamber mouths measure closer to about 11.3mm with the rear of the chambers measuring nearly 12mm. The rear of the chambers are cut for the rim of the centerfire cartridges and they measure about 13.25mm in diameter. Much like the Lefaucheux pinfire system, these measurements result in some disagreement about the caliber of the revolver. As most period cartridge revolvers were referred to by the diameter of the casing, rather than the bore diameter, I think this would be called a 12mm Devisme, rather than an 11mm revolver. 


This Devisme Model 1858/59 Cartridge Revolver is serial numbered 13729 on the face of the recoil shield. What I believe to be an assembly number, 676 is present on the bottom of the frame at the barrel junction. The number 76 appears to be lightly written in pencil inside the two grips, suggesting the 676 and 76 are assembly numbers. The serial numbering and assembly numbering system of Devisme revolvers is haphazard at best. The earliest production M1854/55 belt sized revolvers are typically serial numbered on the lower edge of the right grip where it meets the frame, with assembly numbers on major components. The pocket guns were not serial numbered on the edge of the grip, but normally on the barrel lug. As production continued, the number of assembly numbers dropped precipitously, suggesting that the guns were becoming more interchangeable. It is my belief that all of the guns, whether M1854/55 or M1858/59 were serial numbered consecutively in one series, regardless of type (belt or pocket). What is also not clear is if many of the guns were produced on contract for Devisme by Auguste Francotte of Liège. While Belgian proofs rarely appear on the earliest guns, they do appear more regularly on the M1858/59 guns and on the cartridge variant M1854/55 guns. Possibly Francotte was the originator of the cartridge alteration of the M1854/55 guns. This gun does not have the usual {CROWN} / DV within an oval the trademark of Devisme as is usually found on the M1854/55 revolvers. It instead bears Auguste Francotte’s {CROWN} / AF trademark on the cylinder and on the lower right edge of the frame, behind the release latch. The cylinder also bears the typical Liège proof mark of an E/LG/* in an oval on the cylinder, along with a {CROWN} / Y Liège proof house controller’s mark. Despite the Belgian proof marks, the top of the pistol’s 5 7/8” long round barrel is clearly engraved in script:


Devisme à Paris


In my mind, this leaves no doubt as to who the retailer of this Devisme cartridge belt revolver was, suggesting that it was produced by Francotte for Devisme. The topstrap of the revolver is engraved in a Gothic Old English font with the initials P H, but the identity of who these initials belong to is not known. 


This Devisme Model 1858/59 Cartridge Belt Revolver remains in VERY GOOD condition. The gun has no finish, but it is not clear if the gun was originally blued, casehardened and blued or finished in the white. Many of the later Devisme revolvers were produced in the white and I have a feeling that this one was as well. The metal has a mostly dull pewter-gray patina with scattered surface oxidation and age discoloration. The areas of darker patina give the gun a somewhat mottle appearance. The markings on the revolver remain mostly clear and crisp and the gun is relatively crisp as well. The metal is mostly smooth, with some small patches of lightly scattered surface roughness, along with some very lightly scattered pinpricking. This is most evident along the lower edges of the topstrap, immediately above the cylinder and on the rotating ejector rod collar on the barrel in front of the cylinder. The revolver is mechanically fine and fully functional. The gun times, indexes and locks up perfectly. The bore of the revolver is in VERY FINE condition and remains quite bright with deeply cut rifling with a relatively high rate of twist, making about one turn in the length of the barrel. The bore shows some very lightly scattered surface oxidation along its length, as well as some very tiny patches of discoloration. The revolver has a pair of finely checkered walnut grips that are very attractive and add considerably to the overall visual effect of this revolver. The grips double as the side plates for the revolver, and removing them allows access to the revolver mechanism, much like the American Butterfield revolver of the period. The grips are in about VERY GOOD condition as well. Like the grips on similar guns, where the wood provides part of the sideplate for the revolver, they show some moderate wear and some minor repairs to cracks. These are on both sides, on the lower edge, immediately behind the cylinder. The two areas of diagonal cracking and repair are detailed in the photographs of the revolver. The grips retain nice, clear and crisp checkering over the majority of their surfaces and remain quite attractive. The grips do show some light to moderate wear with scattered bumps, dings and marks from handling and use. They also show what appears to be some old, added finish. The original fixed rear sight is present on the top rear of the topstrap and the original dovetailed front sight blade with its large base is present on the top of the barrel near the muzzle as well. The original rotating ejector rod is in place under the barrel and the mechanism functions exactly as it should, rotating to the right for use when the frame latch is pushed to the left. The rod functions correctly and smoothly.


Overall this is a solid and attractive example of a scarce Devisme M1858/59 Cartridge Belt Revolver. The gun remains in nice condition and is 100% complete, period and correct in every way. This gun almost certainly dates to between the late 1850s and mid-1860s and has survived in very nice, if used condition. It is a historically important revolver when looking at the various mechanisms that were used during the mid-19th century. A revolver of this pattern would a nice addition to any 19th century handgun collection and would fit right in with a collection of early cartridge revolvers like those by Perrin, Pidault & Cordier’s “Raphael” and Lefaucheux, all contemporary competing French cartridge revolver designs.


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Tags: Rare, Devisme, Model, 1858/59, Cartridge, Belt, Revolver