Extremely Rare US Navy Marked Joslyn Army Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-2424
- Availability: In Stock
The B.F. Joslyn Revolver is one of the more rarely encountered of US made percussion revolvers used during the American Civil War. The Joslyn Army revolver was a 44-caliber, five-shot, side-hammer, single action percussion revolver. The revolvers were blued with color casehardened hammers and loading levers and checkered two-piece walnut grips. Only about 3,000 Joslyn revolvers were manufactured, including approximately 500 “First Models” which were produced by the Freeman Firearms Company of Worchester, MA and approximately 2,500 “Second Models” which were produced by Freeman’s own company in Stonington, CT. This is one of the early production “Second Model” Revolvers, with the serial number 372. The 1st Model guns and the very end of the production run of 2nd Model guns were produced with an iron butt cap on the bottom of the grips. This feature was not present on the majority of the production run of the guns. It is even more special because it is part of the very small group of 100 revolvers that were delivered by Joslyn to the US Navy during 1861.
The Joslyn revolver was based upon US Patent #20,160, which was issued to Benjamin F Joslyn on 4 May 1858. With the coming of the Civil War and the US Ordnance Department finding itself woefully short of military style percussion revolvers, the US Government placed an order with Bruff Brothers of New York, who were acting as Joslyn’s sales agent, for 225 revolvers. This order was placed in November or December of 1861. Over the next few months, the government ordered an additional 875 revolvers, bringing official US military purchases to 1,100 revolvers, which were delivered at the rather exorbitant price of $22.50 each! It appears that the initial order of 225 revolvers was delivered to the Navy Department, and some of the additional revolvers were delivered to the Navy as well. These US Naval used revolvers are very scarce, and when encountered have full US military martial markings, inspectors’ marks and often a small anchor mark on the bottom barrel flat, hidden by the loading lever. This latter mark was a post-Civil War naval reinspection mark. A handful of Joslyn’s have also been encountered with USN marks on the bottom of the butt strap or butt cap. The majority of the estimated 3,000 revolver production run was offered for sale on the commercial market but many of these still appear to have found their way onto Civil War battlefields as the result of additional government commercial purchases and individual state purchases.
Joslyn Army revolvers were issued to the 16th Illinois, 3rd & 7th Iowa, 7th Kansas, 1st Missouri and 5th & 6th Ohio volunteer cavalry units. This indicates that many more than the 1,100 officially purchased revolvers, of which at least 225 went to the Navy, ended up in US military service. This theory is further supported by the fact that an early order for Joslyn revolvers had been placed with the William Freeman Company of New York. Freeman has operated as both an agent for Joslyn and had also contracted to produce the revolvers and Joslyn’s patent carbines at their Worcester, MA factory. However, Freeman was unable to fulfill this order or manufacture the guns in a timely fashion. As a result, Joslyn cancelled their contract to have Freeman produce any guns and the 1862 Holt-Owens Commission, which investigated US governments arms contracts that had been let early in the war, nullified the Freeman contract for Joslyn revolvers. The commission also recommended that any additional Joslyn revolvers that were to be acquired be purchased on the open market, at a price not to exceed $15.00 each. The guns that were procured on the open market were not marked with US inspector marks or cartouches. Only those guns acquired by official government contract directly with the manufacturer were inspected. As a result, any US martially marked Joslyn revolvers is extremely scarce.
The 5th & 6th Ohio Volunteer cavalry used their Joslyn revolvers at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862), where the field reports were not positive. In fact, the report of Lt. Charles Murray of the 5th Ohio Cavalry, Company I read in part:
“We are in possession of but 28 pistols (Joslyn) and they are long since condemned as wholly unfit for service. They are a spurious weapon, made out of cast iron, and one half of the time will neither cock nor revolve….”
As a result of this, and similar reports that vilified the pistols as less than serviceable, most of the US military purchased Joslyn revolvers were removed from active service by the end of 1862 or beginning of 1863 and were subsequently held in reserve at US arsenals until the end of the war.
The US Government began disposing of Joslyn revolvers in October of 1865, and a total of 393 revolvers were sold off over the next 36 years. The guns initially sold for between $3.65 and $4.00 each, and by the time the last guns in inventory were sold on June 19, 1901, they were selling for a mere $.16 each. These guns were sold from the Watervliet, Allegheny, Columbus, Washington & New York Arsenals.
The story of the US Navy acquired revolvers is interesting as well. William Freeman, the initial manufacturer of Joslyn’s patent carbines and revolvers had been pursuing a naval contract in addition to army contracts. His selling point for the Joslyn was that it was a larger bore than most other US Navy handguns, being .44 and not .36 but that it weighed less than the comparable Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver; no doubt due to being a 5-shot rather than 6-shot revolver. The other big selling point was that the Joslyn’s “fixed ammunition”, simply waterproof cartridges similar to those used by Colt and other makers. However, testing at the Washington Navy Yard in June of 1861 proved that the guns were reliable, as was the ammunition and a loaded cylinder that had been submerged in water for more than 22-hours was fired without incident. As a result of the successful testing, a contract for 100 guns was given to Joslyn, rather than Freeman. The contract was dated 1 July 1861 for $25 each. The first 50 revolves were delivered on September 24. The second group of 50 were delivered slightly more than a month later on October 26. There were several performance issues with the first 50 guns that were inspected by US Navy Lieutenant Badger, but he noted that navy yard machinists corrected the problems with little trouble. The second group of guns had some issues as well and the following guns and their problems were listed in Lt. Badger’s report, which was quoted by John McAulay in his book Civil War Pistols of the Union. The report noted that:
Serial No 325, 374 and 399 – Revolved with difficulty.
Serial No 474 – Barrel not sufficiently countersunk at the breech.
Serial No 394 – Rammer too long.
Serial No 364 and 379 – Would not revolve properly.
Badger further suggested returning guns #364, #379 and #394 be returned to Joslyn for replacement.
The US Navy Marked Joslyn Army Revolver offered here is in about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition. It is one of the fairly early guns from the “second model” production made by Joslyn and does not have the iron butt cap on the bottom of the checkered walnut grips, which is found on the earliest and latest production guns. Most references suggest that the “second model” Joslyn revolvers started to appear around serial number 500 or so, however this gun and the other Navy contract guns listed above suggest that information is not correct. The revolver is serial number 372, two numbers from #374 that “revolved with difficulty” and seven numbers from one of the guns that was recommended to be returned for replacement. The serial number is found on the left side of the grip frame under the grips, on the inside of the loading lever web, on the side of the loading plunger, on the rear of the cylinder, on the cylinder rotation bushing and inside both grips. Interestingly the number under the grip on the frame has a factory error with the "3" in 372 stamped backwards. I have noted other such factory stamping errors on other early Joslyn produced Joslyn revolvers. The butt of the revolver is stamped U.S.N which is extremely uncommon for these navy contract revolvers and the interior of both grips is also stamped U.S.N. The grips are also cartouched on both sides, with a clear script JH for arsenal sub-inspector Joseph Hannis on the left grip and a weaker and not fully legible cartouche on the right grip that appears to end in a “P” or an “R” but which I could not read. The fact that this revolver is cartouched with standard Ordnance Department contract inspections suggests that this revolver may have been a replacement gun that had been destined for the army that was sent to replace one of the three Joslyn revolvers from the second batch of 50 that Badger rejected in October of 1861. The bottom of the frame, forward of the triggerguard, is stamped with a B inspection, the left side of the loading lever knuckle is marked with a P and the bottom of the barrel is inspected with an R. Tiny Tinspection marks are found in the bottoms of the two grip panels and under the barrel as well. The top of the octagonal barrel is very clearly marked in two lines:
B. F. JOSLYN.
PATD MAY 4TH 1858.
Interestingly the gun does not show the “Anchor” naval inspection found on some examples, but those guns had that mark applied during a reinspection period that started towards the end of the Civil War, which is why the mark is found on numerous guns that are not navy marked in any other was as some of the guns were open market purchases and others were likely acquired from the army in one way or another.
As noted, the gun is in about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition. The gun shows moderate wear and use with an even, salt & pepper, speckled gray and brown patina over all of the metal surfaces and no finish to speak of. The metal show even pinpricking over all the surfaces with some areas of pitting that range from light to moderate, most notably around the last one or two inches of the barrel near the muzzle. External markings on the metal are weak, like the barrel address, due to wear and oxidation. The condition is exactly what would be expected of a revolver that saw service in the caustic environment of salt air and spray. The pistol has a GOOD bore that retains strong rifling. The bore is heavily oxidized and shows scattered light to moderate pitting along its length. The gun is mechanically VERY GOOD and times, indexes, and locks up exactly as it should. As noted in the field reports, these revolvers often had mechanical issues and that is true of many surviving examples. The trouble likely relates to the cylinder arbor pin that is threaded into the rear of the frame. The defect of the design means that the same types of mechanical issues are also common on Colt Root pattern handguns and long arms, which use the same style of side mounted hammer with an indexed cylinder arbor pin that enters through the rear of the cylinder. Those mechanical issues were what caused the pistols to develop such a bad reputation for reliability during the Civil War. As such, it is very nice, and somewhat uncommon, to find a Joslyn revolver that is fully mechanically functional without any of the issues most of the guns appeared to have. The knurled disc at the rear of the cylinder pin does show some moderate wear, along with the damage and tool marks often found on these arbor pins, no doubt from ham-handed attempts to work on a gun that did not function correctly. The small screw that retains the pin in the upper left rear of the frame is missing, but this does not affect the functionality of the gun. The loading lever works as it should as well, and snaps firmly into place under the barrel when not in use. The original dovetailed blade front sight is in place on the top of the barrel, near the muzzle. The two-piece checkered walnut grips rate about VERY GOOD as well. They are solid and complete with no breaks or repairs. The grips do show a couple of chips at the sharp leading and trailing edges. Otherwise, the coarse checkering remains fairly sharp, but the grips do show light to moderate wear and handling marks, with some minor bumps and dings that are typical of real-world use. As noted, they are cartouched and inspected examples of Joslyn revolvers are extremely uncommon, about as scarce as Naval marked guns.
While more Joslyn revolvers were produced than many of the other US Civil War era secondary martial percussion revolvers like the Butterfield or some Allen & Wheelock revolver patterns, they seem to be encountered for sale much more rarely. Over the last several years I have had the opportunity to offer several Butterfield revolvers for sale on this site, but this is only the seventh Joslyn that I have had the pleasure to offer for sale. To put it simply, the guns are truly scarce and seem to only occasionally be found for sale. This one is a very interesting example that is fully sub-inspected and cartouched and also US Navy marked. As noted, cartouched Joslyns are very rare as are Navy marked ones. Finding both sets of markings is truly rare and is best explained by my hypothesis above. I am quite certain that this is one of the replacement revolvers delivered to the Navy after the rejection of guns #364, #379 and #394. In addition, the gun works as it is supposed to! This would be wonderful addition to any advanced collection of Civil War US Navy small arms or to an advance collection of secondary US military revolvers from the war. The gun has condition issues that are the result of the environment in which it was used, but it is honest wear. This is a rare gun in its own right with an extremely rare set of markings that make it extremely desirable and an important gun when studying the naval contract Joslyn revolvers.