1st Model Allen & Wheelock Center Hammer Army Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-JM057
- Availability: In Stock
The Allen & Wheelock Center Hammer Army percussion revolver was manufactured in rather limited quantities, with production estimated by most published arms historians at only about 700 guns. These estimates are based primarily upon the “serial numbers” of known surviving examples. However, for a gun with production figures so low, the survival rate of the revolvers appears relatively high, leading some to assume that the “serial numbers” were really batch or assembly numbers and do not really indicate total production. In fact, many have long believed that the total production was likely three to four times the published estimates. The existence of at least a couple of duplicate “serial number” examples certainly supports this theory, and the gun offered for sale here may finally prove that the actual production figures were likely in the 2,500 to 3,000 gun range.
No matter how many were actually produced, we do know that 536 were purchased by the Federal government in 1861. Nearly all those guns were subsequently issued to the 2nd & 3rd Michigan Volunteer Cavalry regiments. These revolvers were purchased on the open market, they were not marked with any US military markings. The small letter sub-inspection marks on the metal and cartouches on the grips are only found on the revolvers acquired via an official Ordnance Department contract. This means that there is no way to verify whether an Allen & Wheelock Army revolver is a US military acquired gun or not, other than the few “serial numbers” that have been found in various records.
The Allen & Wheelock Army Revolver was a .44 caliber, six-shot, percussion single action revolver that had a 7 ½” half-round and half-octagon barrel that utilized a unique ratcheting loading lever that formed the trigger guard of the revolver. The frames and barrels of the revolvers were blued with the hammers and loading lever/triggerguards color casehardened. The grips were smooth two-piece walnut that were usually varnished but appear to have been oil finished on some extant examples. Despite the relatively small number produced, the revolvers were manufactured in three distinct variants. These variations help the collector to categorize and date them chronologically. The earliest guns used a complicated and fragile “hinged pawl” action. This produced a smooth action but was expensive and time consuming to produce and difficult to repair. These guns also had the hammer mounted on the screw that secured the side plate and entered through the right side of the frame. This made disassembly very difficult. The final feature of the 1st variant revolvers was that the cones (nipples) were screwed into the cylinder from the inside of the chambers, which was a very unconventional feature. The 2nd variant revolvers retained all the mechanical features and designs of the 1st variant but had cones (nipples) that were installed in the conventional fashion, from the rear of the cylinder. The 3rd variant revolvers used a pin that was cast into the right side of the frame to provide a pivot for the hammer to rotate on, with the screw that secured the sideplate entered from the left side of the frame. This made the revolver much easier to disassemble and repair. These guns also utilize a simplified internal action that was cheaper and easier to produce. The guns were normally marked in two lines on the left side of the octagonal portion of the barrel with the name, address, and patent information about the gun, however, these stampings were often quite light and as a result are usually only partially legible. Since Allen was the ultimate “cheapskate” it was not uncommon for the company to use the same dies to mark different models of guns, even if the die did not quite fit in the space where the markings were to be applied. This resulted in Allen revolvers that often have letters and/or numbers missing from the name and patent information stampings, since the die simply did not fit in the area where it was stamped. It seems fairly certain that the guns were not “serial numbered” per-se but were marked on major parts with assembly numbers. The numbers were usually placed on the left side of the frame (under the grip), on the inner surface of the triggerguard portion of the loading lever, on the rear of the cylinder, on the cylinder arbor pin and inside both wooden grip panels.
The Allen & Wheelock Center Hammer Army offered here is in about GOOD+ condition. It is a one of the early production, 1st variant, revolvers with the cones (nipples) installed from the interior of the cylinder, with the complicated lockwork and the hammer suspended from the side plate screw, which enters from the right side of the frame. The revolver is serial (or assembly) numbered 46. This two-digit number appears on the expected parts of the gun, with one exception. The number is found stamped in the usual location on the frame under the left grip, on the rear face of the cylinder, on the inner face of the triggerguard portion of the loading lever and on the interior of both grips. The cylinder arbor pin is mismatched and is numbered 14. It is not clear if this is the result of the pin being replaced at some point in time, or just as likely it could be a factory error. Hand stamped numbers with individual dies often resulted in transposed numbers or even incorrect ones if the wrong die was accidently grabbed.
The gun appears to be essentially complete, correct and period, with the cylinder arbor pin being an original, period piece. Only the brass front sight may be a more recent addition, but it is not clear if the slightly short sight was simply worn or modified or is an excellent modern made replacement. The sight does show evidence of having been reinstalled on the barrel. The gun retains none of its blued finish, a not uncommon condition to find Allen revolvers in. The blue tended to flake very badly on Allen & Wheelock revolvers, so finding one with more than traces of finish is quite difficult. The gun has a mostly smooth, mottled oxidized brownish-gray patina that is not unattractive. The metal appears to have been cleaned at some point in the past and the gun is now developing an attractive patina with hints of plum. There are some small, scattered patches of light pitting here, which are more apparent on the right side, where thumb-sized patches are present behind the flash shield of the frame and forward of the cylinder on the lower portion of the frame. There are also scattered patches of moderate surface oxidation and some areas of minor roughness here and there. The metal shows scattered impact marks with dings and mars scattered around the gun. As would be expected, the cylinder chambers and percussion cone recesses show moderate oxidation and some pitting as well. The bore of the revolver rates about VERY GOOD and is mostly bright, with strong rifling. The bore shows some scattered pinpricking and oxidation along its length and shows some frosting in the grooves. Normally the guns are marked in two lines, on the left octagonal barrel flat and read ALLEN & WHEELOCK . WORCHESTER, MASS. U.S. / ALLEN’S PT’S . JAN . 13 . DEC . 15 . 1857 . SEPT. 7, 1858. In typical Allen & Wheelock fashion the markings are from a die that is too big to fit in the space provided, leaving some of the marking missing. On this gun, the two-line stamping actually reads:
ALLEN & WHEELOCK . WORCHESTER, MASS. U.S
ALLEN’S PT’S . JAN . 13 . DEC . 15 . 1857 . SEPT. 7, 1
The last three numbers of the date on the second line are missing in action due to the way the die was struck on the barrel. Allen & Wheelock markings are notoriously light, but in this case the parts of the marking that light, most notably the top portion of the upper line, were the result of an old cleaning, not weak stamping.
The pistol functions correctly and remains mechanically functional, however there is no longer a functional half cock. In terms of firing, the revolver times, indexes and locks up as it should. The cylinder rotates when the hammer is cocked and the trigger functions correctly as well. However, the half-cock notch is apparently worn, and the hammer will no longer engage in that position to free the cylinder to rotate for loading. The hammer can be held in that position to release the bolt stop and free the cylinder, but it will not hold in that position. The loading lever functions correctly and smoothly and operates exactly as it should. All of the six cones (nipples) are original, and they are in very good, usable condition. The walnut grips rate about GOOD overall. The grips show moderate wear and what appears to be some old added finish. The left grip has a repaired crack on the interior that runs from the bottom of the grip to its top, located about a ¼” from the backstrap. The crack is visible on the bottom of the left grip panel and appears to be only a minor grain crack on the bottom of the grip’s side. The balance of the crack is on the interior and cannot be seen from the exterior. The grips show scattered bumps, dings and mars and were probably lightly sanded long ago when the gun was cleaned.
Overall, this is a solid example of a very early production Allen & Wheelock Center Hammer Army percussion revolver. The gun is in nice, complete condition, and displays well with an attractive patina. Several revolvers close to the number of this gun are listed in the Springfield Research Service Serial Number Book #4, with numbers 26, 61, 65 and 68 all being listed as having been in the possession of I troop of the 3rd Michigan Cavalry during 1864. As only two small record groups of Allen & Wheelock Army serial numbers are known, Troop I 3rd MI Cavalry and Troop A 2nd MI Cavalry, it is quite likely that this gun was issued to another Troop of the 3rd MI Cavalry. This would be a good addition to any collection of secondary martial revolvers and will certainly look nice in your collection.