The story of the various gun companies that were established and run by Thomas Bacon is rather interesting and is a tale that has yet to be fully told in detail. From most accounts it appears that Bacon was a machinist, who appears to have had his first brush with firearms manufacturing in 1840, when he purchased some property in Grafton, Massachusetts from gun maker Ethan Allen. Two years later, both Allen and Bacon relocated to Norwich, Connecticut and it seems that the nearly simultaneous migration was not coincidental. By 1846 Allen’s factory records show that Bacon was operating as a parts supplier, producing “cones and triggerguards”. Bacon’s work as a “jobber” for Allen probably came to an end when Allen relocated his company to Worcester, Massachusetts in 1847. As a result, it appears that Bacon went into the firearms production business on his own, forming Bacon & Company in Norwich, which he ran until 1857. The firearms produced by this early Bacon company were primarily inexpensive single-shot percussion arms such as pocket, bar hammer, ring trigger and under hammer pistols as well as some pepperboxes. In 1857, after an unsuccessful attempt to raise the necessary capital to expand his business, Bacon & Company went out of business. His goal had been to enter the fairly new and very lucrative percussion revolver business. Bacon spent the next year working as the plant superintendent for the Manhattan Firearms Company (also located in Norwich) but was very soon operating his own business again. The newly formed Bacon Manufacturing Company was established in Norwich in 1858 and Bacon went into the business of producing revolving handguns. His initial product line included percussion pocket revolvers based upon the Colt 1849 “Pocket” model and were offered under both the Bacon moniker and various tradenames, as well as with his customer’s retailer markings. In addition to the traditional percussion revolvers, Bacon also introduced a line of self-contained cartridge revolvers in .22, .25, .32 and even .38 rimfire. However, most of these revolvers were manufactured in violation of the Rollin White patent for the bored-through cylinder, which was held by Smith & Wesson. As a result, Smith & Wesson successfully sued Bacon, resulting in a monetary damages award, as well as requiring all subsequent Bacon revolvers that utilized bored through cylinders to be marked with Rollin White and Smith & Wesson patent information, with royalties paid to Smith & Wesson for each revolver of that pattern subsequently sold. In 1863, the chief shareholder of the Bacon Manufacturing Company became displeased with Thomas Bacon’s performance with the company and forced him out of the business. With Bacon gone, the company continued in business through 1868 but with lackluster sales and minimal success. The firm was subsequently reorganized in 1868 and was reestablished as the Hopkins & Allen company, remaining in business through the second decade of the 1900s.
But Thomas Bacon was not to be defeated and by 1864 had started his third firearms company in Norwich, CT; the Bacon Arms Company. His triumph was short lived however, as he sold the assets of his new business in December of 1865. This might have been a financial moved due to the sudden changes in the firearms market brought on by the end of the American Civil War. With the large government contracts cancelled, the large American arms makers turned their attention to the civilian market and would certainly have been able to out produce and out promote any smaller maker. The sudden flood of cheap surplus military arms on the market as well certainly would not have helped the market share for a small, start-up firearms company. The result is that Bacon’s final company became little more than a footnote in firearms history. Thomas Bacon worked at various jobs in the gun business for the next few years but died in 1873 and never achieved the level of success that his designs probably warranted.
His “Navy” sized .38 rimfire revolver was certainly ahead of its time and one of the first American cartridge revolvers to be chambered in a potentially man-stopping caliber. His removable triggerguard pocket .32 rimfire revolver was also innovative, if somewhat short lived due to the Smith & Wesson lawsuit. Bacon also developed one of the first American cartridge revolvers to use a “swing out” cylinder, a truly innovative concept that was again stopped in its tracks by the Smith & Wesson suit. This feature was available in a pocket variation as well as the 2nd Model of his Navy revolver. Had Bacon been able to produce his “Navy” revolver with the swing out cylinder in sufficient quantities to attract the attention of the Ordnance Department, the history of self-contained cartridge United States military revolvers would probably be quite different.
Offered here is one of Thomas Bacon’s historically important and relatively scarce Bacon Manufacturing Company Navy Model Revolvers (Flayderman 8A-013). Based upon available information, less than 1,000 of these .38 caliber rimfire revolvers were produced, in two distinct types and some sub-variations. The amount of minor manufacturing differences found in a revolver produced in relatively small quantities suggests that Bacon was never fully satisfied with the design and may have been making the improvements not only to try to evade the Smith & Wesson held White patent, but in an attempt to secure Ordnance Department contracts. The features common to all the Bacon Navy Model Revolvers were that they were single-action, solid frame designs with a sheathed spur trigger. The guns had a six-shot cylinder and were chambered for the .38 rimfire cartridge. The revolvers had nominally 7 ½” long octagonal barrels (some minor variations in length have been noted) with a dovetailed front sight and sighting groove in the topstrap for a rear sight. The guns were all blued with two-piece walnut grips and typically were decorated with loose scroll engraving on the frame behind the cylinder. Markings were sparse, with only a simple barrel mark reading BACON MFG CO. NORWICH. CONN on the top of the barrel and with serial numbers on most of the major components. All the 1st Model variants had to have their cylinders removed from the frame to load and unload the revolver, and for the most part the variations found in these 1st Model revolvers relate to the process of securing the cylinder to the frame and how the cylinder was removed from the frame.
Some early examples relied upon a push button release, and one early variation had a knurled plate attached to the rear of the cylinder, which may have been an attempt to circumvent the Rollin White patent for the bored through cylinder. The 2nd Model Bacon Navy revolvers introduced Bacon’s innovative swing out cylinder design to large frame cartridge revolvers. It is generally estimated that only about 600 1st Model Bacon Navy revolvers were produced (in all variants), with about 325 of the 2nd Model guns manufactured, all between about 1860 and 1863, with the loss of the Smith & Wesson lawsuit in 1862 sounding the death knell for the design.
Offered here is a NEAR VERY GOOD example of a 1st Model Bacon Navy Revolver. This is the “most common” 1stModel variation, but with all first model production estimated at about 600 units with only about 400 of this particular type manufactured, it is certainly an oxymoron to refer to it as “common”. It is simply the type you are most likely to encounter when you find one of these extremely rare guns for sale. The revolver is serial number 17, and this number is found stamped under the left grip panel on the frame, under the barrel (concealed by the articulating cylinder arbor pin), on the top flat of the arbor pin, and on the rear face of the cylinder. It is also written in pencil inside the right grip. The only other marking on the exterior of the gun is found in a single line on the top of the barrel and reads:
BACON MFG CO. NORWICH. CONN
The barrel is slightly shorter than the "standard" 7.5" for most examples, measuring 7.4375", but for all practical purposes is a nominal 7 1/2". The gun remains in fairly crisp condition and appears to be 100% complete and correct in every way. As noted, all serial numbers match and the barrel is clearly marked. The rear portion of the frame is engraved with the typical loose foliate scrolls typical of these handguns. The engraving continues onto the head of the single external frame screw, confirming its originality to the gun. Light boarder line engraving is also present at the frame to grip juncture. This variant is considered the standard production first model and utilizes a hinged rod that serves as the cylinder arbor pin. The rod is round to square to round in profile, with a hinge about three-quarters of the way towards the front portion of the square section. By lowering the front portion of the hinged rod 90-degrees, a locating pin on the forward round portion is disengaged from a locating hole on the bottom barrel flat. This allows the entire rod to be drawn out of the frame, releasing the cylinder to be removed from the revolver’s frame. Once freed of the frame, spent cartridges could be removed and fresh ones inserted in the chambers. The rear portion of the articulated arbor pin was also designed to operate as an ejector rod, if needed to push the spent cartridge casings out of the chambers. After loading the fully charged cylinder was returned to the frame, the arbor pin reinserted and the forward portion folded back up along the bottom of the barrel, locking the cylinder in place.
As noted, the gun is in NEAR VERY GOOD condition and remains mechanically functional, operating crisply and correctly in every way. The revolver times, indexes and locks up exactly as it should. The hinged cylinder arbor pin rod functions smoothly and locks securely into place as it should. The revolver retains no original finish and was likely cleaned at some point in the past. The metal has a medium dull pewter patina over all of its metal surfaces. The metal shows some scattered light age staining and minor patches of light surface oxidation and discoloration scattered over the surfaces, along with some minor dings and light impact marks. The cylinder has a slightly darker gray patina with more of a smoky dark gray appearance. The metal is mostly smooth but does show some scattered areas of pinpricking and some small patches of light pitting that is most notable on the top flat of the barrel, near the end of the address. The scroll engraving and the boarder lines on the rear portion of the frame remain clear and fully visible, with some of the lines a little soft. The bore of the revolver is in VERY GOOD+ condition and retains strong 5-groove rifling that is fairly crisp and well define the entire length of the bore. The bore is mostly bright with some scattered oxidation and some areas of lightly scattered pitting here and there. The original front sight is in place in the dovetail on the top of the barrel, near the muzzle. There are four dots that have been stamped into the bottom of the grip frame in a single line, and appear to be an old, rudimentary form of decoration of the revolver. The dots were likely applied by a period owner. The two-piece walnut grips are also in NEAR VERY GOOD condition, like the rest of the gun. They are solid and complete with no breaks, cracks, or repairs. The grips retain none of their original varnish but have not been refinished. They are decorated with a series of small punch dots, forming a pattern of five dots around a central dot on both grips, below the grip screw. The meaning or nature of this decoration is not known. The dots match a pattern of four dots in a line that are stamped into the bottom of the grip frame. The grips do show numerous bumps, dings, and minor surface marks, as well as some minor chipping at the leading edge of the lower left-hand grip. The condition of the grips matches the balance of the revolver perfectly and they fit the gun well. The most interesting feature of the grips is that on their interiors the left grip has a set of initials scratched into it and the right grip appears to have a name scratched into it. To my eyes, and even with enhanced photos, I cannot determine the initials or name, but the writing appears to be period and the intrepid investigator may be able to determine the identity of the original mid-19th century owner of this revolver.
Overall, this is a very nice, solid, complete, and correct example of a scarce 1st Model Bacon Navy Revolver. With only about 400 of these rare revolvers produced, these guns rarely appear on the market for sale. This is a very nice example that has no major issues that has an old name and set of initials scratched into the grips that may allow the new owner to fully identify this revolver. This is one of those rare, early Civil War period cartridge handguns that is missing from even many of the most advanced Civil War revolver collections. As such I am sure you will be glad to add this uncommon secondary marital revolver to yours.