Engraved Merwin, Hulbert & Co. 2nd Model Frontier Single Action Army - Outstanding
- Product Code: FHG-1631-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
The story of Merwin, Hulbert & Company is a somewhat confusing one, which may one day be more clearly delineated through additional research. The firm is probably the most famous and successful “gun making company” that never actually manufactured a single gun, and whose principle officers appear to have had no design input into the revolutionary arms that they sold! The firm had its genesis in 1859, when Joseph Merwin and his partner Edward Bray started a firearms and sporting goods store in New York City. Merwin was certainly a shrewd businessman and a visionary when it came to new and innovative firearms designs. Very quickly, Merwin became the primary (and in some cases sole) distributor for a variety of new, metallic cartridge firearms, including those produced by Plant’s Manufacturing Company, Eagle Arms, Daniel Moore, Ballard patent firearms (as produced by Dwight, Chapman & Company and Ball & Williams), Bacon Manufacturing Company (eventually Hopkins & Allen), and eventually the Evans Repeating Rifle Company, just to name a few. Merwin also worked as a sales agent for such major firearms manufacturers as Colt, Winchester and Remington, and imported and distributed high quality English arms as well. Merwin succeeded in securing several US and state military contracts during the American Civil War (primarily for Ballard rifles & carbines) and continued to expand his retail and wholesale distribution business during the course of the war. By 1866 Edward Bray left the company and Charles Simkins became a partner, leading the company to change its name to Merwin & Simkins, and later that year Merwin, Taylor & Simkins, when Charles Taylor also joined the venture. By 1869 the short-lived partnership was dissolved, and new partner, William Hulbert, joined Merwin, forming Merwin & Hulbert. About three years later the half-brother of Hulbert joined the partnership, and sometime around 1872 the name of the company changed again to Merwin, Hulbert & Company. The company would continue to operate under that name for the next 20 years, even though Joseph Merwin would die in 1879. During his final decade in the firearms business Merwin became an investor, partial owner and eventually controlling partner of what would become the Hopkins & Allen Company (formerly the Bacon Manufacturing Company) of Norwich, CT. He would also invest some $100,000 dollars (a significant sum at that time) in the Evans Repeating Rifle Company of Mechanic Falls, ME. Merwin’s goal appears to have been to bring revolutionary firearms market that offered superior fit, finish and operation to those of his competitors. The first products brought to market by Merwin, Hulbert & Company were a series of large frame revolvers, initially in single action, and eventually in double action as well. These guns were introduced in 1876 and were produced well into the 1880’s, in a variety of frame and action configurations, but always in a .44 caliber format, including the .44 Merwin & Hulbert, .44 Russian and .44-40 (.44 Winchester Center Fire). Merwin’s hope for these large frame revolvers was to secure lucrative US or foreign military contracts, which were an essential part of any major 19th century firearms manufacturer’s business plan. The revolvers that Merwin brought to market were probably the most technologically advanced and possibly the best-made revolvers of their time, but Merwin, Hulbert & Company did not actually make them. Rather, the Hopkins & Allen Company manufactured them, under Merwin’s watchful eye. This very fact is probably responsible for the lackluster success of such a truly impressive line of products. The Merwin, Hulbert & Co revolvers utilized a revolutionary system for loading and unloading. After placing the revolver on half cock, the action was opened by depressing a spring loaded catch on the lower left side of the forward portion of the frame, and pulling a similar catch under the frame to the rear, unlocking the action of the revolver. This allowed the user to rotate the cylinder, forward portion of the frame and the barrel to the right and push it forward. This caused the spent cases to be ejected, leaving the unfired ones in the cylinder chambers. Fresh cartridges could then be inserted in the empty chambers. The tight mechanical tolerances of the design actually made the action “suck” itself back together, and with a simple twist, the gun was closed and locked up and ready to be put back into service. The unique design also made it possible for users of the revolvers to swap barrels in a matter of seconds, with no tools or mechanical skill necessary. As a result, Merwin & Hulbert large frame (aka “Army” or “Frontier”) revolvers were often sold with both short and long barrels. This allowed the owner to use a longer, more accurate 7” barrel for holster carry, but swap to a concealable 3 ““ barrel for situations where a more discretely carried weapon was appropriate. The earliest versions of the “Army” pattern revolver were manufactured with a squared butt profile, with a single action lock work, with an open top frame and with “scooped” cylinder flutes. As production continued and improvements were made, a top strap was added to the frame for strength (known as the 3rd model), and the cylinder flutes were changed to the more traditional flutes that ran from the face of the cylinder back towards the rear, without the scooped out profile. The guns were also made available with a more concealable “bird’s head” butt with a metal “skull cracker” projection on it. These “bird’s head” guns with a double action mechanism were marketed as “Pocket Army” revolvers. Merwin also introduced an inexpensive “punch dot” engraving system that made embellished and highly decorated guns less costly and more easily within the reach of average customer. Despite the revolutionary designs and meticulous attention to fit and finish, Merwin, Hulbert & Company had only moderate success with their large frame handguns. This appears to be due to the fact that the guns were marked not only with the Merwin, Hulbert & Co name, but also with the name of the actual manufacturer, Hopkins & Allen. Had the source of production remained a secret, the Merwin, Hulbert & Co “Army” revolvers may well have eclipsed the Colt Single Action Army as the most successful handgun in the expanding American west. However, Hopkins & Allen had made a name for themselves in the manufacture of inexpensive, low to mid quality arms, and even though the Merwin, Hulbert & Co arms were anything but low to mid quality, the association with Hopkins & Allen severely hampered sales. As Art Phelps opined in his book, The Story of Merwin, Hulbert & Co. Firearms, “if Merwin would have insisted and prevailed upon the Hopkins and Allen Co. partners to keep their cheap name off his most perfect guns ever made”, things would have worked out much differently for Merwin, Hulbert & Company. Examples of the Merwin, Hulbert & Co Army revolvers were even tested by the US Ordnance Bureau and found to be superior to the Colt M-1873, then in service, on a number of points. Unfortunately, no contracts were ever forthcoming from the US military. Joseph Merwin did eventually manage to obtain a Russian contract for “three ship loads’ of his Army revolvers, but the Russians defaulted and never paid their bill, resulting in not only the loss of the cash, but also many revolvers that had already been shipped! In the end, as Merwin, Hulbert & Co historian and author Art Phelps notes, Joseph Merwin “died of a broken heart”. Between his failure to make his guns the success they should have been, the duplicity of the Russians in their dealings with him, and the los of his $100,000.00 investment in the Evans Repeating Rifle Company, Merwin appears to have finally succumbed. Even though his partners continued to operate the company until the early 1890’s, their success was limited. The company appeared to have achieved great acceptance of their medium frame, .38 caliber double action pistols than they ever did with their large Frontier Army series. Interestingly, those who really appreciated fine firearms in the late 19th century developed a real affinity for their high quality products. Merwin, Hulbert & Co arms were owned or carried by number of famous frontier lawmen and notables, including Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (who ambushed and killed Bonnie & Clyde) who carried a medium frame seven-shot .32 Merwin, Hulbert & Co. Pat Garrett (the killer of Billie the Kid) was presented with an inscribed .38 Medium Frame Merwin, Hulbert & Co in September of 1881 from the “grateful citizens of Lincoln County”, and Diamond Dick of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show carried a Merwin, Hulbert & Co as well. More notorious frontiersmen known to have owned and carried Merwin, Hulbert & Co revolvers include Bob Dalton, Sam Bass, and John Wesley Hardin, just to name a few. Even Theodore Roosevelt, probably one of the most gun savvy outdoorsmen of the late 19th century gave a number of Merwin, Hulbert & Co revolvers as gifts during his lifetime.
Offered here is an EXCELLENT condition example of a Merwin, Hulbert & Company “Frontier Army” Revolver. This is a “2nd Model “Frontier Army”, as classified by Art Phelps in his book on Merwin, Hulbert & Company, and according to Phelps these revolvers were manufactured between about 1878 and 1882. These extremely desirable single action revolvers were an improvement on the initial Merwin, Hulbert & Company “Frontier Army”, with most of the changes being in the lock work design. The 2nd Models retained the “scooped” cylinder flutes and open top frame (without a top strap) of the 1st Model guns, and are highly sought after by collectors. As is typical of about 95% of Merwin, Hulbert & Company production, the revolver is nickel-plated. The revolver is also enhanced with New York style scroll engraving over about 75%+ of the revolver and with a pair of period ivory grips. While Merwin factory engraved guns with their “punch dot” decorations are found from time to time, New York style floral engraved Merwins are very scarce. The revolver was almost certainly retailed through Hartley & Graham, or possibly another high-end New York retailer, who had the gun engraved and then added the smooth, two-piece ivory grips. It is not clear exactly how many of the 2nd Model Frontier Army revolvers were produced, due to an erratic serial numbering system and an 1891 fire that destroyed all of Merwin, Hulbert & Company records. It is believed that at most only a few thousand of the revolvers were produced. The left side of the frame has no caliber marking under the cylinder, indicating the pistol is chambered for the .44 Merwin & Hulbert cartridge. The revolvers chambered for .44 Russian were marked “Russian Model” and the ones chambered in .44-40 were marked “Caliber / Winchester 1873”. The .44 Merwin & Hulbert cartridge was comparable to Smith & Wesson’s “44 American” cartridge, but had a slightly longer case. The top of the 7” round barrel is marked: MERWIN HULBERT & C0. New York, U.S.A. Pat. Jan, 24. Apr. 21. Dec. 15. 74. Aug 3. 75. July 11. 76. Apr. 17. 77. Pat’s Mar. 6, 77.. The left side of the barrel is also marked in a single line: THE HOPKINS & ALLEN Manufacturing Co. Norwich, Conn. U.S.A.. The serial number 13772 is present on the bottom of the flat grip frame. Like the majority of Merwin, Hulbert & Company arms, the gun is assembly numbered on the major parts. In this case the frame under the grips, the rear face of the cylinder are numbered, and the rear face of the lower barrel web are all numbered 3130. As noted, the condition of the gun is truly excellent. Overall, the revolver retains about 93% of its original nickel finish. There are some very tiny areas of minor flaking and bubbling scattered over the entire revolver, much like lightly scattered pinpricking on a blued gun. A small amount of nickel has flaked and thinned on the bottom of butt, and both the front and rear of the grip strap show some fading, thinning and loss from handling and wear. The cylinder shows a couple of areas with very minor flecks of flaked nickel, primarily within the scooped cylinder flutes. Most of the areas where the small amounts of nickel have flaked now show a lightly freckled, oxidized patina. The overall condition of the revolver and its finish is clearly indicated by the photos below. Due to the highly reflective nickel finish and the photographic lighting, there are some reflected anomalies that look like red discoloration on the pistol. This is not actually present on the gun and is only a reflected optical illusion from an object in my office. As is typical of 19th century nickel finishes, the finish shows some minor frosting from age, giving some of the areas a slightly dull or milky color.. The bore of the revolver rates about EXCELLENT and is mostly bright with crisp rifling. The bore shows some scattered frosting and lightly scattered pinpricking along its length in the grooves, and some lightly scattered patches of pitting as well. The hammer retains about 50%+ vivid case hardened colors, with some fading and light edge wear noted. The trigger guard retains a similar amount of case coloring, but it is less vivid and has a more mottled dark gray patina. The revolver is mechanically excellent and the single action mechanism works flawlessly exactly as it should. The revolver cycles, indexes, times and locks up very crisply. The locking system of the revolver works correctly as well, with the forward portion of the frame, barrel and the cylinder unlocking, rotating and sliding smoothly forward as they should. The revolver mechanism does not retain much “suction” (where the action draws itself closed about halfway after it has been opened and released), but still operates smoothly and correctly. The mechanism locks the gun up securely, exactly as it should. All of the screws remain relatively crisp and sharp with very little slot wear, with the exception of the wedge screw in the barrel, which shows moderate slot wear. The innovative sliding loading gate functions smoothly and opens and closes exactly as it should. The two-piece, ivory grips are in about FINE condition. They show the typical age cracks expected from 19th century ivory, and have nice grain lines. The ivory shows some darkening and minor discoloration from age and handling. The grips were either not perfectly fit to the revolver, have shrunk some, or a combination of both. Both grip show some minor gapping at the upper frame juncture, but otherwise show relatively good fit along the frontstrap, backstrap and along the butt. The grips are numbered to the gun in pencil on the inside with the number 772, the last 3 digits of the serial number. This suggests the grips are not Merwin factory grips, as they would have been numbered with assembly number of the gun, 3130, not the serial number. The retailer who had the gun engraved, to further enhance it, probably added the grips or they may have been later replacements after the hard rubber grips wore or broke. The grips certainly appear to be 19th century and seem to have been on the gun for a very long time. They only enhance the wonderful condition of the gun and the fantastic engraving, and have a great look to them.
Overall this is a really EXCELLENT condition example of the scarce and popular Merwin, Hulbert & Company 2nd Model Frontier Army Revolver. The pistol is simply stunning to look at and the pictures really don’t do the condition of the revolver and the quality of the engraving justice. This is a scarce gun in its own right, as the open top, scoop fluted Frontier Army revolvers were only made for a few years, during the height of American western expansion. The fact that this is New York style floral scroll engraved gun and not a punch dot engraved gun makes it even more rare. These large frame, long barrel Merwin, Hulbert & Co revolvers saw use by the good, bad and the ugly during America’s westward expansion and are an important part of old west firearms history. Every serous collection of pistols from the American west needs at least a couple of Merwin, Hulbert & Co revolvers in it, and this one would be a truly stunning addition to your collection. Over the last few years the prices of Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers have steadily increased, along with their desirability and popularity. Very high condition examples of the large frame revolvers are commanding higher and higher prices every day, and often result in strong competitive bidding at auctions. This is a great chance to add a truly exceptional condition, engraved Merwin, Hulbert & Co Frontier Army to your collection. It is a gun that can truly be the centerpiece of any serious old west revolver collection. Until about 2 decades ago, these revolvers were underappreciated and even today they remain undervalued. With Colt Single Action Army revolvers in this condition regularly bringing high low to mid five figure prices at auction, I don’t think it will be long before the much rarer Merwin, Hulbert & Company guns start to give the Colt Single Actions a run for their money in the value department. Don’t miss your chance to own an exceptional quality, New York engraved Merwin now, before the prices double over the next few years.SOLD