The Raphael revolver is distinguished among Civil War used handguns for its rarity, high price during the war, and the fact that the name we refer to the gun comes from the arms seller who provided the guns to the US government, not its manufacturer or inventor. According to US records, approximately 106 of these French made, double action, 6-shot revolvers were purchased for US military use on September 21, 1861. The guns were purchased from the firm of George Raphael & Company. The high price of $26.33 paid for the guns (when Colt revolvers were priced at between $15 and $25 and Remington Army’s were only between $12 and $15 each) is an indication how desperately the US Ordnance Department needed revolvers in the field. It also indicates the Ordnance department actually saw the advantages of a revolver that fired a self-contained metallic cartridge, instead of a typical cap & ball revolver. While they may have been interested in experimenting with self-contained metallic cartridges with revolvers, it took Presidential intervention to get them to change their minds about metallic cartridge repeating long arms!
The Raphael fired an early version of a center fire cartridge that was 11mm (or roughly .42 caliber). The back plate had six holes through which the firing pin on the hammer could contact the primer in the cartridge. There was one additional “blind hole”, between two firing pin holes, that allowed the firing pin to rest in it, as a primitive form of safety. To take the revolver “off safe”, you merely needed to pull the trigger. The gun was loaded through a gate on the right hand side of the frame. This gate was actually part of the revolving back plate at the rear of the cylinder. This back plate normally revolved with the cylinder, but when the loading gate was opened, the back plate was unlocked from the cylinder. In order to open the gate, the firing pin must be in the “blind hole” on the back plate. Once the gate was open, the cylinder was allowed to rotate freely to load cartridges or remove spent rounds. In order to eject the spent cases, the user simply unscrewed the lanyard ring from the butt of the gun, and used the rod projecting from it to push the empty cases out of the chambers. Once the cylinder was rotated completely, the loading gate could be closed to lock the back plate and the cylinder to each other again. The lock work of the gun is what we would call “conventional double action” today. The user could fire the gun by a long, deliberate pull on the heavy double action trigger, or manually cock the hammer and have a lighter pull for more accurate shooting. The guns were typically blued and unmarked, except for a serial or assembly number on the left side of the frame forward of the cylinder, and occasionally on the front of cylinder face, the front of the cylinder pin housing and on the bottom of the barrel, under the cylinder pin. The guns had two-piece walnut grips that were typically smooth and lightly varnished. Some estimates place the Civil War purchases of Raphael revolvers as high as 1,000 and according the Fredrick Todd’s seminal work “American Military Equipage 1851-1872” these revolvers were imported by the Confederacy as well as the US government. However, Todd rightly points out that the unique cartridge required for the revolver makes any CS purchases a questionable decision.
The Raphael revolver offered here is in nearly excellent condition. It is still fully functional and the unique loading gate and rotating back plate all function exactly as they should. The gun is marked with the serial number 283 on the left side of the frame, forward of the cylinder. This is the second time that I have had the privilege to offer a Raphael for sale, and the previous one was only 9 numbers off from this one, number 274! No other markings are present, which is typical of Civil War used Raphael’s. The metal is smooth throughout, with the large majority of the original blue finish present. The frame retains roughly 80%+ bright, deep blue, and the cylinder retains about the same level of bluing. The rotating back plate of the cylinder retains about 30%+ blue with significant thinning and has “silvered out”. The grip frame retains more than 50% original blue, with the majority on the backstrap and the upper rear of the frame under the hammer. The front strap shows the most finish wear. The barrel retains about 50%-60% original blue with thinning and fading to a medium plum gray color. The gun retains the original combination lanyard ring and ejector rod, which screws into the butt for storage. The ring still retains the functional mechanical ability to rotate freely as a lanyard ring, with a quarter turn the correct direction; the ring locks into place and allows you to remove the ejector rod. The grips are in very good condition, with only minor wear and some handling dings present. There are no chips, breaks or repairs present on the grips. These grips do not appear to have ever been varnished, and have a typical military revolver oil finish. The bore is rifled with 8 grooves and is in very good condition. The bore is dark, but the rifling is very crisp.
Overall this is an extremely fine example (that is nearly in overall excellent condition) of one of the rarest of Civil War used revolvers. When you consider the overall rarity of this model and its condition the price seems quite low. A comparable condition Starr 1858 Army would be priced at least $500 higher than this gun is, and a comparable condition Remington Army would be at least $500 more as well. A common Colt Navy in this condition would be priced at $3,500 or higher! All of those guns were produced and purchased in the thousands, not in the very small quantities that these revolvers were. Even the many of the most advanced collections of Civil War handguns are unlikely to have a Raphael in it. It would be equally appropriate in a collection that centered on US or CS handguns, early cartridge guns, or imports arms. This is a stunning example that should be the centerpiece of a fine Civil War handgun display.SOLD