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Rare Tranter Model 1878 450CF British Military Revolver with New Zealand Armed Constabulary Markings

Rare Tranter Model 1878 450CF British Military Revolver with New Zealand Armed Constabulary Markings

  • Product Code: FHG-2360-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

William Tranter was one of the most prominent Gun, Rifle & Pistol Makers in the Birmingham gun trade during the mid-19th century. Tranter was born in 1816 and died in 1890. During his working life, his name became synonymous with quality handgun design and manufacture, although he produced small arms of all types and held patents related to all types of firearm actions. He went into business for himself circa 1840, after completing his apprenticeship with Hollis Brothers & Co, which he had begun in 1830. Tranter continued working actively in the gun trade until 1885, just five years before his death. 


After his decade of work learning the gun trade at Hollis Brothers & Co (later Hollis & Sheath), in 1840 Tranter bought the established gun making business of Robert Dugard at 29 ½ Whitehall Street. Over the next decade, he worked for himself and in joint ventures with his old employers John & Isaac Hollis as well as with Isaac Sheath. By 1850 he had located his primary business at 50 Loveday Street, where he was listed as having “shops, sheds, steam machinery, yard & premises” and became one of the first of the Birmingham gunmakers to utilize steam powered machinery. Tranter secured his first British patent related to firearms in October of 1849 when he registered a “pepperbox mechanism and lever catch for pistol locks”. In January 1853, he registered British Patent Number 212 (1853) for a pair of “self-cocking” pistol mechanisms and a safety mechanism. In December of the same year, he registered designs for a double-action revolver mechanism, lubricated bullets and wadding, as well as a breech loading mechanism, all of which were covered by Patent Number 2921 (1853). In August of 1856 he registered the designs for a “double trigger revolver mechanism”, along with several other designs, all of which were covered by British Patent Number 1913 (1856). Tranter continued patenting firearm designs as late as 1887, after he had left active participation in the gun trade. 


One of Tranter’s most successful series of arms were his “self-cocking” percussion revolvers, which were initially introduced in 1853. The earliest revolvers utilized Robert Adams patent for a solid, one-piece frame and barrel that were machined from a single forging. Tranter’s initial production run of revolvers included both Model 1851 Patent Adams style lock works, and Tranter's own patented lock works. The original “Tranter” type revolvers, known to collectors as 1stModel Tranters had no provision for an attached loading lever. Later production 2nd and 3rd Model guns offered improvements to the loading system with attached levers. All of these first three models were based on his “double-trigger” system (initially referred to as his “hesitating mechanism” on the early production guns), which utilized a second “trigger” under the trigger guard to rotate the cylinder and cock the hammer. The trigger inside the triggerguard was used to trip the sear and release the hammer. Tranter then introduced his 4th Model Tranter revolvers (circa 1856), which used a single trigger, and had what would today be called a conventional “double action” lock work. These guns had a projection on the rear of the trigger that entered the frame when it was pulled, which released the sear and dropped the hammer. 


The Tranter patent revolver was the primary competitor with the Adams and Adams-Beaumont patent revolvers in England and was also exported widely. Pre-Civil War Tranter revolvers are known with US retailer marks, indicating that his designs were at least somewhat successful in the United States. The majority of the retailer marked guns are from the south, with the largest majority of them being marked by New Orleans retailers. Based upon extant examples, the firm of Hyde & Goodrich (later Thomas, Griswold & Co) appears to have been the primary importer of Tranter Patent revolvers into the southern United States. Most of these retailer-marked guns were sold cased with accessories, although some guns were certainly sold without the expensive casings and accouterments. During the course of the Civil War, it appears that the importation of Tranter revolvers was somewhat limited, at least in terms of Confederate central government purchases. However, period advertisements in the south and extant examples with southern provenance make it clear that the guns were imported by blockade-runners as speculative items for sale in the south. 


Despite his success both in England and abroad, William Tranter kept looking forward to new markets and designs. It was clear to him that the self-contained metallic cartridge was the wave of the future and he put significant efforts in design in that direction. His first cartridge offerings were made available at the height of the American Civil War period. He received English Patent #2067 (1862) for a variety of revolver improvements that he would subsequently include in his new line of cartridge revolvers, and the following year received English Patent #1862 (1863) for more improvements to cartridge revolvers. The first cartridge handguns to be introduced by Tranter were spur trigger, small caliber rimfire pistols in .230 and .320 calibers. The guns had solid frames and were direct competitors to the hinged frame Model 1 and Model 2 revolvers from Smith & Wesson. However, Tranter knew that pocket sized spur trigger revolvers with low power cartridges were not going to win military contracts and he went to work on creating a larger, more powerful revolver. His offering was based upon his large frame 4th Model percussion revolver, and was initially manufactured in .442 rimfire, although a .450 centerfire variant was offered fairly soon after the initial introduction. The most identifiable feature of the new Tranter Model 1863 “Army” revolver was the side mounted, compound ejector mechanism that resembled a percussion revolver’s ramrod much more than an ejection system. The system was mounted on the right side of the barrel and frame and by lowering the lever, a plunger was pushed into the chamber push out the spent cartridge. The plunger was roughly the internal diameter of the casing, as Tranter had discovered that a simple, thin ejector rod could actually punch through the bottom of a soft copper rimfire case, leaving the case hopelessly stuck in the cylinder chamber. A conventional loading gate at the rear of the recoil shield allowed the loading and unloading of the cartridges. A smaller framed variant of his Model 1863 was also introduced as the “House Defence” Revolver, in small calibers like .230, .297, .320 and .380. In typical Tranter style, the revolvers rarely bore his mark beyond a “Tranter’s Patent” mark on the frame and ejector system, and usually were left otherwise blank for retailer to apply his mark on the topstrap. A serial number and sometimes assembly numbers were usually the only other markings. 


With the introduction of the .450 CF version of the revolver, Tranter also introduced a floating firing pin in the frame of the gun, which was struck by the blunt nose of the hammer when the trigger was pulled. By 1868 Tranter had received a new patent for a series of improvements to the cartridge revolver (English Patent #282 of 1868) and his Model 1868 revolver quickly superseded the Model 1863. The new Model 1868 was also a solid frame, gate loading revolver based upon Tranter’s 4th Model double-action lockwork. The revolver had a somewhat fragile looking ejector rod mounted on a pivot under the barrel. To use the rod, the revolver was placed on half-cock the loading gate opened, and the rod swivels to the right, allowing it to be used to push empty cartridges out of the chambers. Unlike the ejector on the M1863, the new rod did not have a large head, but was a more traditional thin rod ejector. The M1868 was offered in compact, 5-shot pocket sizes, chambered for the .320RF and .380 CF and RF cartridges, and in a larger frame, 6-shot variant, chambered in .442RF, .450CF and .500CF. These revolvers remained in fairly constant production through the late 1870s, when the new Model 1878 and Model 1879 revolvers superseded them.


The Model 1878 was the last of the Tranter solid frame revolver designs and in many ways did not look like a typical Tranter handgun. The unique features of the Model 1878 for a Tranter cartridge revolver were the attached ejector rod on the right side of the barrel, the self-securing cylinder arbor pin and the fluted cylinder. In the past Tranter had used ejector rods that were of very different designs, had invariably used more traditional, “percussion” style arbor pin retention systems and had been a devotee to the smooth, round cylinder. The new Model 1878 had the distinction of being the first of the Tranter revolvers to be produced on the principle of interchangeable parts. More importantly, after some twenty five years of producing handguns, he finally received a British military contract for his revolvers. The contract, in and of itself was faint praise, as it was only issued due to the inability of his primary rival, Robert Adams, to delivery sufficient quantities of the newly adopted Adams Patent Model 1872 (MK III) revolvers in .450CF. 


The revolver was officially designated “Pistol Revolver BL Tranter Interchangeable” (List of Changes – Number 3567/19th July 1878) by the British military. In addition to being Tranter’s first official foray into the world of parts interchangeability, it was also the first interchangeable parts revolver to be adopted by the British military. An order for 2,000 was received in 1878 but only about 400 were delivered prior to the cancellation of the contract. Some of the guns were also purchased from the open market, which likely resulted in the contract in the first place, during a military revolver shortage in 1878-1879. However, Tranter’s success was short lived as the M1878 was removed from British service in 1881, in anticipation of the arrival of the new Enfield MkI revolver, which had been adopted the prior year. The Mk1 Enfield was a break-top revolver and the desire to move towards a simultaneous extraction design by the British military had probably inspired Tranter to introduce his Model 1879 revolver, which was also a hinged frame design. However, the British military would decide to stay with their Enfield revolver and Tranter never again received a British military handgun contract. With sales and interest in his designs waning and Tranter entering the final years of his life, he retired in 1885 and formally leased his Aston gun factory to George Kynoch. There some of his designs were still manufactured in limited quantities, while new Tranter-Kynoch designs were introduced and manufactured as well, although with limited success when compared to other competitors like Webley.

The Tranter Model 1878 was a solid frame, six-shot double action revolver with a 6” octagonal barrel and an overall length of about 11 ¾”. It was chambered for the .450CF cartridge, also known as .450 Adams, .450 Boxer and a variety of other proprietary names and was essentially the same cartridge as the .476CF adopted for use in the British military Enfield MkI and MkII revolvers. The cartridge 
fired a nominally 225-grain bullet at a velocity of about 650 ft/s, propelled by 13 grains of black powder. Later loadings with smokeless powder increased the velocity slightly to around 700 ft/s. Loading was accomplished through a hinged gate on the right side of the frame, in the same manner as the Colt Single Action Army and was unloaded with a permanently mounted ejector rod on the right side of the barrel, one case at a time, through the same gate. Total production of the guns from its introduction in 1878 through the end of Tranter’s tenure at his own manufactory, is believed to be about 4,000. In addition to the 400 or so officially delivered to the British military under contract, at least a few hundred more were purchased on the open market (not by official contract) and taken into British service. The contract produced guns were marked with the British Government’s “Broad Arrow” and “WD” (War Department) ownership mark, while those procured in other manners were not. However, it does appear even these “open market” guns were still subject to British military inspection, as those military used guns that do not bear a “Broad Arrow” or “WD” mark still have a British military {CROWN}/BR/18 inspection mark. The mark is normally located on the upper left of the grip and on the underside of the grip frame, to the rear of the triggerguard. “BR” indicates “Birmingham Repair Facility”, a British government repair facility established on Bagot street in the heart of the Birmingham gunmaking district during the early 18th century and which remained in operation through 1906. This is likely where the “open market” Model 1878 revolvers were inspected, rather than the official military contract revolvers, which would have been inspected by government viewers and marked with the “Broad Arrow” upon delivery. It appears that a reasonable number of the M1878 Tranters that were acquired by the British Government eventually found their way to New Zealand, where they were issued to the New Zealand Armed Constabulary. The Tranter 1878 Revolver remained in service with the NZAC from its official adoption in 1880 through the early 1900s, when Colt Model 1903 .32ACP semiautomatic pistols replaced the venerable Tranters. The very fact that these guns saw some two decades of service in the somewhat harsh environment that the NZAC exposed them to during their service is testament to the sturdy and reliable design. By the same token, that use in the wilds of New Zealand has made examples of the M1878 Tranter on the collector market relatively scarce and has made high condition examples extremely rare.


Offered here is a very scarce British Military Inspected and New Zealand Armed Constabulary Marked Tranter Model 1878 .450 Center Fire Revolver. As noted, these guns were not produced in large numbers and in particular the British military and NZAC used guns are quite scarce. The revolver bears the usual TRANTER’S / PATENT mark in a two-line, oval cartouche on the lower right front edge of the frame. Immediately behind that mark is the serial number 2023 and behind that is a Birmingham commercial proof mark. The opposite side of the frame is stamped N80Z below the cylinder, indicating that the gun was taken into New Zealand service in 1880. The only other external markings are the caliber mark 450  on the upper left angled barrel flat, near the frame, with Birmingham proof marks on either side. Birmingham commercial proof marks also appear in each cylinder flute. Finally, a pair of British military Birmingham Repair Depot inspection marks are present on the gun, clearly struck {CROWN}/BR/18 is present at the top of the left side of the grip and in the grip strap behind the triggerguard.


This Tranter Model 1878 Revolver remains in FINE condition overall. The gun retains about 60%+ of its original blued finish, mostly on the frame and cylinder with less on barrel. The barrel has apparently flaked and has a streaky appearance with some strong areas of blue mixed with a mostly smooth, plum brown patina. The loss is likely due to hoster wear on the barrel, particularly since the ejector housing retains no real blue to speak of and has a mottle grayish-brown patina, again suggesting holster wear. The balance of the gun retains significantly more of the blued finish, with some wear and loss along the high edges and leading edges of the frame. The color casehardened loading gate retains some nicely muted mottled color, and the bright hammer shows scattered light surface oxidation. The revolver is free of any real pitting but does show some very lightly scattered minor surface oxidation as well as some tiny flecks of pinpricking here and there. Unlike most of Tranter’s revolvers that usually have at least some light engraving on the frame or some boarder line decorations, this gun is all business without any embellishments. The revolver has a 6” octagonal barrel with a narrower top flat than the rest of the flats, which gives the barrel a slightly peaked appearance. This narrow top flat is typical of many of Tranter’s cartridge revolver models from the mid-1850s onward. The gun is approximately 11 ¾” in overall length and has a solid frame with a hinged loading gate on the right side of the frame that opens down and to the right. The barrel is rifled with five wide grooves and measures about .446” groove-to-groove at the muzzle and about .435” land-to-land. The six-shot cylinder rotates clockwise, and the chamber mouths measuring about .453”, with the rear of the chambers measuring about .482”. The chambers are recessed to accept a thin, narrow cartridge rim. The double action mechanism functions flawlessly as does single action operation, and the revolver times, indexes and locks up exactly as it should. The barrel-mounted ejector system and loading gate both function appropriately as well. The bore of the revolver is in VERY FINE condition and remains almost entirely mirror bright with frosting in the grooves and a few flecks of oxidation. The original rounded blade front sight is in place on top of the barrel, near the muzzle of the revolver and the original small, fixed lanyard ring is present in the buttcap. The one-piece checkered walnut grip is secured by two screws, one in the upper tang and one in the bottom of the gripstrap, much like the percussion revolvers that preceded this design. The grip is in about FINE condition as well and remains extremely solid and complete with no breaks, chips, cracks or repairs. The grip does show some light wear and some smoothing to the checkering, as well as some lightly scattered bumps and dings from handling and use.


Overall, this is a very attractive and extremely crisp condition example of a fairly uncommon Tranter Model 1878 .450 CF revolver. The gun is clearly one of the “open market” British military purchased revolvers that was subsequently sent to New Zealand, where it no doubt saw service through the turn of the century. The gun shows some real-world use and carry wear, but absolutely no abuse and remains 100% complete, correct and fully functional. It is an extremely nice example of a pattern of English revolver that is rarely found for sale in America or anywhere else for that matter. This is a great opportunity to own a scarce British military revolver from a period when the British Empire was in conflict around the globe, including the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), the Anglo-Zula War (1879), the Second Anglo-Marri War (1880) and the First Boer War (1880-1881). The period that revolver saw use in New Zealand was during the final years of the Maori conflicts which were coming to an end in the early 1880s, but much like the Indian Wars on the Great Plains in America, would not fully come to an end until around 1890. This is a fine and scarce gun with interesting history that would be a wonderful addition to any collection of 19th century British military revolvers.


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Tags: Rare, Tranter, Model, 1878, 450CF, British, Military, Revolver, with, New, Zealand, Armed, Constabulary, Markings