The Savage “Navy”self-cocking percussion revolver is one of the weirdest, most recognizable and possibly most ungainly handguns of the Civil War era. The .36 caliber, 6-shot revolver had a 7” octagon barrel and a unique action. The gun featured a unique ring shaped cocking lever inside, the heart shaped trigger guard, which was used to advance the cylinder and cock the hammer. The shooter could then fire the gun with the traditional trigger. The gun was the final version of a family of self-cocking revolvers that were built upon the “Figure-8”design of JS North. Beyond its unique action, the gun was revolutionary in that it was a “gas seal” revolver. The cylinder moved forward when the action cocked, and a recess in the chamber mouth engaged a tapered forcing cone at the rear of the barrel. The effect was a gas seal between the chamber and the barrel, which practically eliminated the loss of gas and pressure from the usual gap between the barrel and cylinder. This meant that the gas from the powder charge was more effectively converted into propulsion for the bullet and increased the bullet’s velocity for a given powder charge over convectional revolver designs. This innovative design would not be revisited on a widespread basis for a military revolver until the adoption of the M1895 Nagant by the Russian military. From the very beginning, the revolver had been intended as a martial arm by its inventors and manufacturers. Thus, significant effort was put forth in the years preceding the war to obtain a US military contract for the innovative, if somewhat cumbersome revolvers. With the coming of the Civil War, the need for revolvers by the US military outweighed any misgivings that the Ordnance Department may have had about the design, and the coveted contracts were almost immediately forthcoming. The state of Massachusetts procured 285 of the Savage revolvers early in the conflict. Additional arms were sold to military outfitters and arms retailers like Schuyler, Hartley & Graham and William Syms & Brothers. Both of these companies sold Savage Navy revolvers to the US government during early 1862, for as much as $25 per gun. The Savage Revolving Firearms Company secured the first US military contract, directly with the US government on October 16, 1861. This contract called for Savage to deliver 5,000 pistols, complete with appendages, between October 1861 and March 1862 at the price of $20 per revolver. Another contract was received from the government in November of 1861 to supply an additional 5,000 revolvers, at $20 each, between November 1861 and May of 1862. Savage completed their initial contract in a timely fashion, but had trouble delivering the guns from the second contract on the agreed to schedule. The second contract was temporarily voided by the Ordnance Department, but after negotiating with Savage, an agreement was reached where the 4,500 outstanding guns from that contract would be delivered at the lower rate of $19.00 per pistol. The deliveries under the second contract were completed by July of 1862. Of the approximately 20,000 Savage “Navy” models produced during the Civil War the US Ordnance Department took delivery of 11,384 of the guns, and the Navy took delivery of 1,126. The balance of approximately 8,500 guns were offered for civilian sale, although most those revolvers no doubt ended up seeing action during the war as well. The pistols saw significant field service during the war and were issued to at least 26 US cavalry regiments and were listed among the arms of some half dozen or more Confederate cavalry regiments. US volunteer cavalry regiments that were issued Savage Navy revolvers included the 6th, 10th& 13thIllinois, the 5th& 15thKansas, 11thKentucky, the 3rd, 4th& 7thMissouri, 7thNew York 3rdOhio, 7thPennsylvania, 1st& 2ndWisconsin, 1stVermont and the Potomac Brigade. The revolvers were also issued to the 1stthrough 9thMissouri State Militia Cavalry. The two regiments who carried the most Savages on their ordnance rolls were the 4thMissouri State Militia Cavalry with 714 and the 2ndWisconsin with 400. Confederate cavalry units that listed the Savage Navy among their arms were the 11thTexas, 7thVirginia, and the 34th& 35thVirginia Cavalry Battalions. After the Civil War was over, the Ordnance Department disposed of the Savage Navy revolvers rather quickly. They sold some 773 during 1866 at prices varying from $1.50 to $3.45 each. During 1875 they sold some 3,951 for prices as low as $0.35 to as high as $.058 each; a far cry from the $19 to $25 each they paid during the war years.
Offered here is one of the rarely seen “appendages” for the Savage Navy revolver, a Savage Navy Revolver Bullet Mold. While I have been unable to determine the ratio that the molds were purchased by the US military, most revolver contracts of the Civil War era required that molds be provided at a ratio of between 1 mold for 10 guns to 1 mold for 20 guns. The mold was purchased just as an emergency backup method of creating ammunition for the revolvers, as the Ordnance Department intended to supply the troops in the field with pre-packaged paper, linen or skin cartridges that were produced by the Ordnance Department laboratories, or by private contractors. It was only when such cartridges became unavailable due to manufacturing shortages or supply line problems that the bullet molds were intended be used by troops in the field. In the case of the Savage Navy, with its unique bullet designed for the gas seal system of the revolver, I have a feeling the molds in the field saw more use than those issued with the more conventional Colt and Remington revolvers.
The Savage Navy Revolver Bullet Moldoffered here is in VERY GOODcondition and is 100% complete, correct and original. The iron mold is 5 ¼” long with 3 ½” handles and 1 ¾” mold block. The handles terminate in a tapered point, rather than the typically fully rounded profile of Colt or Remington mold handles. The single mold cavity casts a round nosed bullet that is .686” long and that has two grease grooves, a regular sized standard groove above the obturation ring of the bullet and a thinner groove below it. The main bullet body cavity measured .356”, with a wider obturation ring near the base that measures .382”. This enlarged ring ensured the gas seal as the bullet passed from the chamber mount into the forcing cone and then into the barrel. The cavity ends with a thin, flat, .350” base to which the cartridge paper or skin was attached. The mold cavity is in VERY GOODcondition and is free of any obvious damage or deformities. There is some minor surface oxidation in the cavity, but that could easily be cleaned out if so desired. The mold has the typical iron sprue cutter attached to the top of the block. The sprue cutter moves smoothly and operates correctly. The iron body of the mold has a mottled gray and brown patina, with a basic smoky gray base color, covered with moderately freckled age discoloration and some scattered surface oxidation. While the metal is mostly smooth, there is scattered surface roughness as well, and some small patches of very light pitting. The mold also shows a number of scattered minor bumps and dings from carry and use. The mold block is well aligned, and the bock opens smoothly and correctly and closes tightly. The mold would more than likely cast very nice, and quite usable, Savage Navy bullets today.
Overall this is nice, complete example of a rare Civil War era pistol mold. It would be a great addition to any collection of Civil War bullet molds, or as an accompaniment to the display of a Savage Navy revolver. These molds don’t come along too often and cannot be found half as easily as Colt or Remington molds. This will be a nice, reasonably priced addition to your collection for display with your Civil War period revolvers.