When most people think about the handguns of the American West, the Colt Single Action Army revolver, followed quickly by the revolvers produced by Smith & Wesson are the ones that probably first come to mind. Further reflection usually provides a somewhat longer list that includes the names Remington, Merwin, Hulbert & Company, and maybe even some less widely known makers like Hopkins & Allen, Forehand & Wadsworth and even Iver Johnson. What does not come to mind are the numerous Belgian made large frame revolvers that were imported by catalog sales companies like Montgomery Ward (established in 1872) and later Sears, Roebuck & Company (established in 1886). These guns rarely bore any specific makers’ name, but rather would carry names like “Frontier Army” and would be described in terms that inferred that the guns were almost as good as Colt’s (or Smith & Wesson’s, etc.) but were usually priced between about ¼ or 1/3 of the price of the name brand competition. While these guns were certainly not the equal of American made arms of the period, they did offer what many inexpensive handguns offer today; a reasonably priced opportunity to take the protection of one’s self, family and property into their own hands, and to be self-reliant in a harsh and often dangerous environment. These guns were typically solid frame guns with a double action lockwork that resembled the profile of large frame Smith & Wesson revolvers, but were not actual copies of any specific American brand or model. While these Belgian guns from the late frontier period of the American West are certainly not uncommon, they are difficult to find in better grades of condition. These guns got carried, handled and used a lot, and are usually found well-worn and often with mechanical problems. While certainly not as sexy or popular as the other large frame revolvers of the period for today’s collectors, these Belgian made guns are an opportunity to buy real “old west” revolvers much more reasonably than their American competition, making them attractive for the same reasons today as they were during the 1880s, 1890s and early years of the 20th century.
Offered here is one of those late-19th century, large frame Belgian revolvers that was likely retailed by Montgomery War or Sears, Roebuck & Company. The revolver is clearly stamped
in two lines on the top strap of the frame. The revolver appears to be serial number 21, and is so marked on the upper left side of the frame, forward of the cylinder and where the barrel mates with the frame. This number appears nowhere else on the gun. The number 27, which appears to be an assembly number, is stamped on the lower left side of the frame, as well as inside the triggerguard, and on the rear face of the cylinder. The cylinder arbor pin is marked with the assembly file slash marks | | \ / | |. These same marks appear on the ejector rod and inside the right grip panel of the revolver. The only markings are the Belgian proof mark E / LG / * and the Belgian controller mark * / E on the rear face of the cylinder, with the controller mark found on the upper right side of the frame, between the cylinder and barrel, as well. The revolver has a 5 5/16” long round barrel with a peaked top rib and has an overall length of approximately 9 ¾”. The bore is rifled with five narrow grooves and five wide lands, with a measurement of .407” land-to-land and .426” groove-to-groove. The cylinder has chamber mouths that measure an average of approximately .448”, and measure an average of .464” at their rears. The revolver appears to be chambered for the .44WCF (.44-40) cartridge, and those cartridges fit the cylinder well, and their nominal .427” bullets would be appropriate to the groove diameter of the revolver. As these guns were intended for relatively low-pressure black powder rounds, they should NEVER be fired with modern .44-40 smokeless loads, not even the reduced pressure “Cowboy” loads. Only black powder should be used, and only after the guns are inspected by a qualified gunsmith.
The revolver remains in about FINE condition, and retains the large majority (at least 80%+) of its original nickel plated finish. The majority of the noticeable loss is along the sharp edged, points of contact and handling, the top strap and the muzzle, mostly from handling and holster wear. The revolver does show some flecks and scattered patches of light surface oxidation and even some small areas of light surface rust. Much of this could be carefully cleaned off the revolver, should the new owner choose to do so. The revolver is in FINE mechanical condition and functions correctly in every way, timing, indexing, and locking up exactly as it should. The action works perfectly in both single and double action modes. The loading gated operates smoothly and locks securely into both the closed and open positions. The flimsy ejector rod that is stored in the center of the cylinder arbor pin operates as it should as well, pivoting to the right, allowing it to be used to push spent cartridges out of the chambers. The checkered hard rubber grips remain in FINE condition as well, and are free of any breaks, cracks or repairs. The grips do exhibit a very small amount of shrinkage, but this is minimal and only results in some very minor gapping near the butt of the revolver.
Overall this is a really high condition example of a late 19th century Belgian made “catalog” revolver. The “Frontier Army” marking clearly indicates the gun was produced for the American market, the only place where such a moniker would influence sales. This would be a nice addition to any collection of firearms from the period of the American West, and is a nice opportunity own a fairly high condition old west handgun for less than a mid-grade 1860 cavalry saber!