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Adams M1851 Revolver

Adams M1851 Revolver

  • Product Code: FHG-2055
  • Availability: In Stock
  • $2,250.00


This is a very attractive example of an English Adams M1851 self-cocking (double action) revolver from the first part of the 1850’s. These fine quality, solid frame revolvers were as important to the history and development of the revolving handgun as were the developments and designs of Samuel Colt. Robert Adams received his patent for a solid frame, one-piece revolver design in 1851. The patent covered his novel concept for a very strong revolver, where the frame and barrel were machined from a single steel forging. Unlike practically every other revolver design of the period, where the barrel and frame were separate components that were joined by wedges, screws or some other mechanical system. Adams additionally patented a self-cocking lockwork, which today would be referred to as “double action only”. This mechanism cocked the hammer, rotated the cylinder and released the hammer, all as the result of a single pull of the trigger. While this allowed for rapid fire, the long, heavy trigger pull inhibited accurate firing. These designs were incorporated into Adams M1851 self-cocking revolver. The major drawbacks to Adams’ M1851 design were the heavy double action only trigger and the lack of an integral loading lever, requiring lading tools to be transported with the gun if it needed to be reloaded while being carried. In 1854 Lt. Frederick Beaumont developed an improvement for Adams’ lockwork, which produced what would be called a traditional “double action” revolver today. The new lockwork allowed the revolver to operate in the fashion of Adams’ original design (double action), but also added the facility to cock the revolver manually and fire it with a lighter “single action” trigger pull. This refinement allowed for more accurate shooting. Interestingly the development still required the trigger to rotate and index the cylinder on most versions, unlike Colt’s design, which rotated the cylinder simultaneously with the cocking of the hammer. In 1854 Adams also patented refinements to his original frame design by adding a sliding frame mounted safety on the right side of the frame and an improved cylinder arbor retaining mechanism as well. The resultant combination of design improvements was manufactured as the M1854 revolver, known to most as the Beaumont-Adams revolver. The revolvers were produced directly by Adams as part of his partnership with the London based Deane, Adams & Deane (circa 1853-1855), as well under license by gunmakers like Joseph Brazier and Isaac Hollis & Sons. Brazier and Hollis also produced frames under Adams’ license, which they subsequently provided to Adams for his company to build revolvers. Birmingham gunmaker William Tranter also employed Adams’ solid frame in the production of his revolvers but utilized lock works of his own design. Upon the dissolution of the Deane, Adams & Deane firm, Adams went to work for the London Armoury Company, and his revolvers were produced there as well; both while he worked there from 1857-1858 and well into the production of the London Armoury made Kerr revolvers, circa 1860. Upon leaving the London Armoury Company, Adams went back to work producing his own revolvers, many of which were retailed by other London and Birmingham gun dealers and were often marked with the retailer’s name on the top strap. While most of the Beaumont-Adams revolvers were produced with loading levers designed by Adams, Joseph Rigby, or those patented by James Kerr (especially the guns manufactured by the London Armoury Company), a few were manufactured with a rather complex loading lever designed by Joseph Brazier. Joseph Brazier was a very successful gun, rifle & pistol maker in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire. He was most famous for producing extremely high-quality gunlocks and many of the top target rifle manufacturers utilized Brazier locks in their rifles. Brazier established his business in 1827, and in 1849, the firm became Joseph Brazier & Sons. That firm remained in business under varying versions of the Brazier name until 1987. The greater part of the firm’s 19th century manufacturing took place at their works known as “The Ashes” on Great Brickklin Street, from 1834-1880. In 1855, Brazier received British patent #760 for a loading lever for percussion revolvers. Brazier applied this lever to the Adams revolvers that he manufactured under license and offered them for sale to other gun makers who wanted to include the loading lever on the pistols they made or sold. All his levers were numbered, and to the best of my knowledge, the highest number encountered is around 900. Thus, these loading levers are relatively rarely encountered on Adams revolvers. Many of the Beaumont-Adams revolvers encountered today are double “serial numbered”, with one “serial number” actually being the number that tracked the royalty payments due to Adams on his solid frame patent. These numbers are typically marked with a suffix letter that indicates the manufacturer using the patent (for example “T” for Tranter, “B” for Brazier and “X” for Hollis & Sons). Those pistols produced by Adams himself are usually suffixed with an “R” or with no letter at all. The second number has a “B” prefix to track the royalty payments due to Beaumont on his lock work patent. However, after the expiration of both patents, the guns are normally marked with only a single serial number and without any prefix or suffix letter. The Beaumont patent expired in early 1862, so these single serial number guns were most likely assembly after the expiration of his patent. As Adams allocated serial number ranges to licensees who had the right to manufacture guns on his solid frame principle, it can be quite difficult to date Adams revolvers by serial number, especially prior to the expiration of the Beaumont patent. According to English revolver authors & researchers W.H.J. Chamberlain and A.W.F. Taylerson, Brazier was allocated some numbers in the 30,000 B range prior to 1854, with the “B” suffix, while Adams himself produced revolvers in the same serial number range with an “R” suffix. They note that Hollis & Sheath never had their own serial number range but used their “X” suffix to distinguish their work, and that Adams often relied upon frames manufactured by William Tranter to manufacture his own revolvers! All of this clearly muddles the serial number picture for Adams handguns from about 1854-1860. From extant examples, however, it does appear that sometime in the mid-30,000 range serial numbers do become somewhat more consistent, and some inferences regarding dates of manufacture, attributed use, etc. can be drawn from the serial numbers of extant examples.

The Beaumont-Adams revolvers, in their .54-Bore configuration (about .442 caliber), were one of the best combat revolvers of the mid-19th century and as such a number of them were imported for use during the American Civil War. However, the lack of records makes it is difficult to ascertain exactly how many Adams patent revolvers were imported for use during the American Civil War. At least 1,075 were purchased directly by the US government. It is known that some military outfitters like Schuyler, Hartley & Graham purchased quantities of these revolvers for private sale to officers and those volunteer groups who looked to their state and local government (rather than the US government) to purchase arms. Some of the Schuyler, Hartley & Graham guns (about 300) are reported to have been purchased by the state of Alabama prior to the start of the war. Virginia and Georgia are reported to have made pre-war purchases of these revolvers as well. While the Confederate central government never directly contracted to purchase Adams patent revolvers (they concentrated on purchasing Kerr’s Patent revolvers from the London Armoury Company), Confederate speculators and individual states did purchase these fine English revolvers in some quantity. In fact, many Adams revolvers, manufactured by the London Armoury Company, are believed to have been in the L.A.C. in inventories at the outbreak of the war. It seems quite probable that when Major Anderson and Commander Bulloch initiated their relationship with Archibald Hamilton (of Sinclair, Hamilton & Co, and the managing director of the London Armoury Company) that they arranged for a substantial number of these revolvers to be delivered to various Confederate states and to the Confederate Navy. Several Confederate identified and presented Beaumont Adams revolvers exist in public and private collections, including #40537 in the Museum of the Confederacy. This revolver is cased with an engraved presentation plaque from Robert Adams to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. Two other Adams revolvers in the low 41,XXX range are attributed to Confederate naval use aboard the CSS Shenandoah. Most Confederate war time purchases are believed to have fallen within the 33,000 to 42,000 serial number range, although it is quite likely that guns produced prior to that range (and imported to America) were used, and in some cases old stock, sitting on the shelves of London and Birmingham retailers, was sold to Confederate speculators. This resulted in some pistols that were several years old, but were actually “new, old stock” passing through the blockade. Civil War regiments that are known to have carried or been issued Adams Patent revolvers include the 8th PA and 2nd MI cavalry on the US side and the 1st, 5th & 18th VA and 5th GA cavalry on the CS side. Two Beaumont-Adams are specifically listed by serial number on the Pratt List, a list of the revolvers (by make & serial) in the possession of the cavalry squad of Lt. G. Julian Pratt, who served in Company H of the 18th VA Cavalry. The guns are #36604, carried by trooper James Tharp and #36609 carried by George Conrad. The squad roll is from July of 1864, and lists not only Adams, but also Kerr, Webley and Bentley revolvers. This primary source document is often used as a time point to determine when certain English revolver serial numbers can be determined to have been in field service for the Confederacy. The list is often used as an indication that Kerr’s in the 9XXX range were in service at that point in time. In the case of the Adams revolvers, it shows they were in field service, but the serial numbers are from guns produced much earlier than 1864. A Confederate identified Beaumont-Adams; serial number 36853 is in a private collection, with a New Orleans retailers mark on the topstrap. Realistically, this places any Beaumont-Adams under that number as having been produced prior to the fall of New Orleans in April of 1862. It is generally assumed that the majority of the Adams pattern revolvers in Confederate service were 54-Bore bore (about .442 caliber), but a handful of 38-Bore (.50 caliber) of the earlier M-1851 pattern have Confederate provenance as well.

This M1851 Adams Pocket Revolver is a FINE condition example of a 54-Bore (.442 caliber) handgun with a 5-shot cylinder and a 6 ½” long octagon barrel. The obverse frame is engraved in a single line below the cylinder: ADAMS’ PATENT . No. 13,765 R. The “R” suffix indicates that Robert Adams, as part of Deane, Adams & Deane, was the maker of the gun. The lower front of the frame web is marked 54 over DA&D, indicating the caliber as “54-Bore” and that the frame had been produced by Deane, Adams & Deane as well. The top barrel flat is engraved in a single line:

DEANE ADAMS & DEANE . 30 . KING WILLIAM STT LONDON BRIDGE.

The cylinder bears the matching serial number and is engraved in two lines: No / 13765 / R. The cylinder has the expected London commercial proof marks between the chambers, a (CROWN) / Vand a (CROWN) / GP. The barrel has a London commercial view mark, a (CROWN) / V on the upper left angled flat, as well as the expected (CROWN) / GP proof mark. The initials G.C. are engraved in Gothic letters on the lower portion of the reverse of the frame, below the cylinder. These are likely the initials of the original 19th century owner of the gun. It is difficult to date Adams revolvers from their serial numbers the way you can with Colt revolvers. However, it is reasonable to assume the revolver was produced circa 1853-1854 by Adams. The revolver in unadorned and shows no engraved embellishments other than some simple boarder line engraving around the edges of the frame. The octagonal barrel is 6 ½” in length and is rifled with three wide grooves, roughly twice the width of the lands. The bore rates about VERY GOOD+ and is mostly bright along its length but shows some light pitting in the grooves along its length as well. As previously noted, the gun is in about FINE overall condition and retains much of its original finish. The barrel retains about 40%+ of the original bright polished blue, with the expected fading, dulling and loss due to handling and use, with the usual loss along the high edges and contact points. The frame retains about 60%+ of its original finish, again showing the expected fading, thinning and loss from handling and use. The barrel and frame are almost entirely smooth and are free of any real pitting, with only some small areas of lightly scattered oxidized surface freckling and pinpricking present, most of which is on the underside of the topstrap, inside the frame and along the sides of the topstrap. The cylinder retains only dull traces of its original color casehardened finish, which is not uncommon. The casehardened cylinders typically “silvered out” if the revolvers were a lot, as the heat generated in firing the revolver quickly dulled the finish. The cylinder has a dark, mottled smoky blue-black patina, typical of an Adams cylinder that has seen some real use and service. Under strong light the patches of mottled color that have darkened and dulled can still be seen. The cylinder shows scattered surface oxidation and discoloration, along with some scattered pinpricking and some very lightly scattered pitting. There is also some minor pitting and moderately oxidized roughness in the recesses where the cones (nipples) are, typical of the wear caused by caustic percussion caps. The cylinder retains all of its original cones and all are in fine and crisp condition. The hammer appears to have been casehardened as well and has also dulled to a similar patina as the cylinder and shows some speckled minor age discoloration and some light pinpricking. The trigger retains some traces of its original fire blue, but most of the finish has faded to a mottled silvery-gray color. The iron trigger guard retains only traces of its original blue, with the metal having a mostly smooth, untouched mottled gray-brown patina. The butt cap has a dark, even, plum brown patina. The gun retains its original M1851 patent spring safety on the reverse of the frame, which functions smoothly and correctly. By barely pulling the trigger the safety can be pressed into the frame, engaging the hammer and creating a hammer block that also frees the cylinder to rotate for loading and unloading. The system is nearly identical to that found on the French Perrin revolver. Pulling the trigger automatically disengages the safety, allowing the gun to fire once the trigger is pulled fully to the rear. The Adams M1851 patent spring arbor pin retention mechanism is in place on the right side of the frame, forward of the cylinder and functions exactly as it should. The assembly number 973 is found inside the triggerguard, on the rear of the cylinder and on the top edge of the cylinder arbor pin. The gun was not further disassembled to look for other assembly numbers, due to the delicate nature of the action. The action of the revolver is mechanically EXCELLENT, and the gun times, indexes and locks up perfectly, as well as the day it was made. As with all the M1851 Adams revolver I have encountered, this one was produced without a loading lever apparatus. The checkered one-piece walnut grip is in about FINE condition as well. The grip is solid with no cracks or repairs noted. The grip remains in very nice shape, showing only the minor wear, due to handling with very fine, crisp checkering that shows only the most minimal flattening to some of the sharp points. Overall, the condition of the revolver is indicative of a gun that saw some real use and was actually fired to some degree during its lifetime but was always well cared for.

Overall this is a FINE condition example of a relatively early production Adams M1851 Revolver from the period of the Crimean War. These guns were popular with young officers who were required to provide their own sidearms and many of Adams early revolvers got their first combat testing during this conflict. This would certainly be a worthy addition to any collection of mid-19th century percussion revolvers, particularly one that centered on English handguns.

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Tags: Adams, M1851, Revolver