Merlin, Hulbert & Company 2nd Model Pocket Army
- Product Code: FHG-1884-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
The story of Merwin, Hulbert & Company is a somewhat confusing one, which may one day be more clearly delineated through additional research. The firm is probably the most famous and successful “gun making company” that never actually manufactured a single gun, and whose principle officers appear to have had no design input into the revolutionary arms that they sold! The firm had its genesis in 1859, when Joseph Merwin and his partner Edward Bray started a firearms and sporting goods store in New York City. Merwin was certainly a shrewd businessman and a visionary when it came to new and innovative firearms designs. Very quickly, Merwin became the primary (and in some cases sole) distributor for a variety of new, metallic cartridge firearms, including those produced by Plant’s Manufacturing Company, Eagle Arms, Daniel Moore, Ballard patent firearms (as produced by Dwight, Chapman & Company and Ball & Williams), Bacon Manufacturing Company (eventually Hopkins & Allen), and eventually the Evans Repeating Rifle Company; just to name a few. Merwin also worked as a sales agent for such major firearms manufacturers as Colt, Winchester and Remington, and imported and distributed high quality English arms as well. Merwin succeeded in securing several US and state military contracts during the American Civil War (primarily for Ballard rifles & carbines) and continued to expand his retail and wholesale distribution business during the course of the war. By 1866 Edward Bray left the company and Charles Simkins became a partner, leading the company to change its name to Merwin & Simkins, and later that year to Merwin, Taylor & Simkins, when Charles Taylor also joined the venture. By 1869 the short-lived partnership was dissolved, and a new partner, William Hulbert, joined Merwin, forming Merwin & Hulbert. About three years later the half-brother of Hulbert joined the partnership, and sometime around 1872 the name of the company changed again to Merwin, Hulbert & Company. The company would continue to operate under that name for the next 20 years, even though Joseph Merwin would die in 1879. During his final decade in the firearms business Merwin became an investor, partial owner and eventually controlling partner of what would become the Hopkins & Allen Company (formerly the Bacon Manufacturing Company) of Norwich, CT. He would also invest some $100,000 dollars (a significant sum at that time) in the Evans Repeating Rifle Company of Mechanic Falls, ME. Merwin’s goal appears to have been to bring revolutionary firearms market that offered superior fit, finish and operation to those of his competitors. The first products brought to market by Merwin, Hulbert & Company were a series of large frame revolvers, initially in single action, and eventually in double action as well. These guns were introduced in 1876 and were produced well into the 1880s, in a variety of frame and action configurations, but always in a .44 caliber format, including the .44 Merwin & Hulbert, .44 Russian and .44-40 (.44 Winchester Center Fire). Merwin’s hope for these large frame revolvers was to secure lucrative US or foreign military contracts, which were an essential part of any major 19th century firearms manufacturer’s business plan. The revolvers that Merwin brought to market were probably the most technologically advanced and possibly the best-made revolvers of their time, but Merwin, Hulbert & Company did not actually make them. Rather, the Hopkins & Allen Company manufactured them, under Merwin’s watchful eye. This very fact is probably responsible for the lackluster success of such a truly impressive line of products. The Merwin, Hulbert & Co revolvers utilized a revolutionary system for loading and unloading. After placing the revolver on half cock, the action was opened by depressing a spring loaded catch on the lower left side of the forward portion of the frame, and pulling a similar catch under the frame to the rear, unlocking the action of the revolver. This allowed the user to rotate the cylinder, forward portion of the frame, and the barrel to the right and push it forward. This caused the spent cases to be ejected, leaving the unfired ones in the cylinder chambers. Fresh cartridges could then be inserted in the empty chambers. The tight mechanical tolerances of the design actually made the action “suck” itself back together, and with a simple twist, the gun was closed and locked up and ready to be put back into service. The unique design also made it possible for users of the revolvers to swap barrels in a matter of seconds, with no tools or mechanical skill necessary. As a result, Merwin & Hulbert large frame (aka “Army” or “Frontier”) revolvers were often sold with both short and long barrels. This allowed the owner to use a longer, more accurate 7” barrel for holster carry, but swap to a concealable 3 ““ barrel for situations where a more discretely carried weapon was appropriate. The earliest versions of the “Army” pattern revolver were manufactured with a squared butt profile, with a single action lock work, with an open top frame and with “scooped” cylinder flutes. As production continued and improvements were made, a top strap was added to the frame for strength (introduced with the 3rd model guns), and the cylinder flutes were changed to the more traditional flutes that ran from the face of the cylinder back towards the rear, without the scooped out profile. The guns were also made available with a more concealable “bird’s head” butt with a metal “skull cracker” projection on it. These “bird’s head” guns were initially introduced in the 2nd Model revolvers with a single action mechanism. They were sometimes marked “Pocket Army” on the frame. Later, when they started to market these revolvers with a double action mechanism were nearly always marked and marketed as “Pocket Army” revolvers. Merwin also introduced an inexpensive “punch dot” engraving system that made embellished and highly decorated guns less costly and more easily within the reach of average customer. Despite the revolutionary designs and meticulous attention to fit and finish, Merwin, Hulbert & Company had only moderate success with their large frame handguns. This appears to be due to the fact that the guns were marked not only with the Merwin, Hulbert & Co name, but also with the name of the actual manufacturer, Hopkins & Allen. Had the source of production remained a secret, the Merwin, Hulbert & Co “Army” revolvers may well have eclipsed the Colt Single Action Army as the most successful handgun in the expanding American west. However, Hopkins & Allen had made a name for themselves in the manufacture of inexpensive, low to mid quality arms, and even though the Merwin, Hulbert & Co arms were anything but low quality, the association with Hopkins & Allen appears to have hampered sales. As Art Phelps opined in his book, The Story of Merwin, Hulbert & Co. Firearms, “if Merwin would have insisted and prevailed upon the Hopkins and Allen Co. partners to keep their cheap name off his most perfect guns ever made”, things would have worked out much differently for Merwin, Hulbert & Company. Examples of the Merwin, Hulbert & Co Army revolvers were even tested by the US Ordnance Bureau and found to be superior to the Colt M-1873, then in service, on a number of points. Unfortunately, no contracts were ever forthcoming from the US military. Joseph Merwin did eventually manage to obtain a Russian contract for “three ship loads’ of his Army revolvers, but the Russians defaulted and never paid their bill, resulting in not only the loss of the cash, but also many revolvers that had already been shipped! In the end, as Merwin, Hulbert & Co historian and author Art Phelps notes, Joseph Merwin “died of a broken heart”. Between his failure to make his guns the success they should have been, the duplicity of the Russians in their dealings with him, and the loss of his $100,000.00 investment in the Evans Repeating Rifle Company, Merwin appears to have finally succumbed. Even though his partners continued to operate the company until the early 1890s, their success was limited. The company appeared to have achieved greater acceptance of their medium frame, .38 caliber double action pistols than they ever did with their large Frontier Army series. Interestingly, those who really appreciated fine firearms in the late 19th century developed a real affinity for their high quality products. Merwin, Hulbert & Co arms were owned or carried by number of famous frontier lawmen and notables, including Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (who ambushed and killed Bonnie & Clyde) carried a medium frame seven-shot .32 Merwin, Hulbert & Co. Pat Garrett (the killer of Billie the Kid) was presented with an inscribed .38 Medium Frame Merwin, Hulbert & Co in September of 1881 from the “grateful citizens of Lincoln County”, and Diamond Dick of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show carried a Merwin, Hulbert & Co as well. More notorious frontiersmen known to have owned and carried Merwin, Hulbert & Co revolvers include Bob Dalton, Sam Bass, and John Wesley Hardin, just to name a few. Even Theodore Roosevelt, probably one of the most gun savvy outdoorsmen of the late 19th century, gave a number of Merwin, Hulbert & Co revolvers as gifts during his lifetime.
Offered here is a NEAR EXCELLENT condition example of a Merwin, Hulbert & Company “Pocket Army” Revolver. This is a “2nd Model” as classified by Art Phelps in his book on Merwin, Hulbert & Company, and according to Phelps these revolvers were manufactured between about 1878 and 1882. These extremely desirable single action revolvers were an improvement on the initial Merwin, Hulbert & Company “Frontier Army” design, with most of the changes being in the lock work design. The 2nd Models retained the “scooped” cylinder flutes and open top frame (without a top strap) of the 1st Model guns, and are highly sought after by collectors. As is typical of about 95% of Merwin, Hulbert & Company production, the revolver is nickel-plated. It is not clear exactly how many of the 2nd Model Pocket Army revolvers were produced, due to an erratic serial numbering system and an 1891 fire that destroyed all of Merwin, Hulbert & Company records. It is believed that at most only a few thousand of the revolvers were manufactured, and that includes all 2nd Model guns “ Pocket Army production was certainly much smaller. The left side of the frame is marked in two lines: CALIBER / WINCHESTER, followed by a large 1873. This indicates that the gun is chambered for the .44 Winchester Center Fire cartridge, better known as the .44-40. The left side of the 3 ““ round barrel is marked:
THE HOPKINS & ALLEN Manufacturing Co. Norwich, Conn. U.S.A. Pat. Jan, 24.
Apr. 21. Dec. 15. 74. Aug 3. 75. July 11. 76. Apr. 17. 77. Pat’s Mar. 6, 77.
The right side of the frame is also marked in a two lines:
MERWIN HULBERT & Co. New York, U.S.A.
The serial number 2798 is present on the right side of the “skull cracking” grip frame. Like the majority of Merwin, Hulbert & Company arms, the gun is assembly numbered on the major parts. In this case the left side of the frame (under the grip), the rear face of the cylinder, the rear face of the lower barrel web, and the cylinder arbor pin are all numbered 2959. The right grip panel is also scratch numbered 2959 on its interior. As noted, the gun is truly in near excellent condition. Overall, the revolver retains about 80%+ of its original nickel finish. There are some very tiny areas of minor flaking and bubbling scattered over the entire revolver, much like lightly scattered pinpricking on a blued gun. A small amount of nickel has flaked and thinned on and around the around the muzzle, at the front sight, and on the face of the cylinder, face of the barrel web and inside the frame. The flecked bubbling and loss is fairly evenly distributed over the entire surface of the revolver. The loss here is a combination of light holster wear and probably from real world use. The areas of loss have developed a smooth, oxidized brown patina. The overall condition of the revolver and its finish is clearly represented by the photos below. Due to the highly reflective nickel finish and the photographic lighting, there are some reflected anomalies that look like various colors on the pistol. These colors are not actually present on the gun and are only the reflected optical illusions from objects in my office. As is typical of 19th century nickel finishes, the finish shows some minor frosting from age, giving some of the areas a slightly dull or milky color. The bore of the revolver rates about GOOD and is very dark with visible rifling along its entire length. The bore shows moderate pitting along its length. The hammer retains about strong traces of case hardened colors, with the expected fading and wear. The trigger guard retains strong traces of the original case coloring as well, but it is even less vivid and has a more mottled dark gray patina than found on the hammer. The trigger retains about strong traces of its original fire blued finish as well. The revolver is in fine mechanical condition and the single action mechanism works exactly as it should. The revolver cycles, indexes, times and locks up very crisply and tightly. The locking system of the revolver works correctly as well, with the forward portion of the frame, barrel and the cylinder unlocking, rotating and sliding smoothly forward as they should. The revolver mechanism does not retain any “suction” (where the action draws itself closed about halfway after it has been opened and released), but still operates smoothly and correctly. The mechanism locks the gun up securely, exactly as it should. All of the screws remain relatively crisp and sharp with very little slot wear noted. The innovative sliding loading gate functions smoothly and opens and closes exactly as it should. The two-piece, checkered hard rubber grips bird’s head shaped grips are in about VERY FINE to NEAR EXCELLENT condition. As is typical of 19th century hard rubber grips, their original black color has toned slightly to a sort of dark chocolate tone, which is more noticeable in bright light. Under normal light the grips still look quite black. The grips are very crisp and the checkering remains very sharp with only minor wear noted. The grips are solid and complete without any breaks, cracks, chips or repairs. As noted earlier, the right grip panel is scratch numbered to match the assembly numbers on the gun.
Overall this is a really wonderful example of the scarce and popular Merwin, Hulbert & Company 2nd Model Pocket Army Revolver. The pistol is simply very nice to look at and the pictures probably don’t do the overall condition of the revolver justice. The open top, scoop fluted Frontier Army revolvers were only made for a few years, during the height of American western expansion, and are difficult to find in any state of preservation, let along in NEAR EXCELLENT condition. These large frame, short barreled “Pocket Army” Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers saw use by the good, bad and the ugly during America’s westward expansion and are an important part of old west firearms history. Every serious collection of pistols from the American West needs at least a couple of Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers in it, and this one would be a really fantastic addition to your collection. Over the last few years the prices of Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers have steadily increased, along with their desirability and popularity. Very high condition examples of the large frame revolvers are commanding higher and higher prices every day, and often result in strong competitive bidding at auctions. This is a great chance to add a truly great condition Merwin, Hulbert & Company Frontier Army to your collection. It is a gun that can truly be the centerpiece of any serious old west revolver collection. Until about 2 decades ago, these revolvers were underappreciated and even today they remain undervalued. With Colt Single Action Army revolvers in this condition regularly bringing high low to mid five figure prices at auction, I don’t think it will be long before the much rarer Merwin, Hulbert & Company guns start to give the Colt Single Actions a run for their money in the value department. Don’t miss your chance to own an exceptional quality Merwin now, before the prices double over the next few years.SOLD