Merwin, Hulbert & Co DA Automatic Revolver - Blued
- Product Code: FHG-1630-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 principles 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 Merwin, Taylor & Simkins, when Charles Taylor also joined the venture. By 1869 the short-lived partnership was dissolved, and 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 first 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, which 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 1880’s. They were produced 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 finest made revolvers of their time, but Merwin, Hulbert & Company did not make them. Rather the Hopkins & Allen Company manufactured them all under Merwin’s watchful eye. This very fact is probably responsible for the lackluster success of a truly impressive product. The Merwin & Hulbert 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 and spent cases to be ejected automatically, 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 of the large frame guns “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, in single action, 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, and the cylinder flutes were changed to the more traditional flutes that run 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 with a double action mechanism were 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 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 name, but also with the name of the actual manufacturer, Hopkins & Allen. Had the source of production remained a secret, the Merwin & Hulbert Frontier Army revolvers may well have eclipsed the Colt Single Action Army as the most successful handgun in the west. The problem was that Hopkins & Allen had made a name for themselves in the manufacture of inexpensive, low to mid quality arms, and even though the Merwin, Hulbert & Company arms were anything but low to mid quality, the association with Hopkins & Allen severely 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 & Company Frontier 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. However, no contracts were ever forthcoming. Joseph Merwin did eventually manage to obtain a Russian military contract for “three ship loads’ of his Army revolvers, but the Russian’s defaulted and never paid, resulting in not only the loss of the cash, but also of the 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 Russian’s in their dealings with him and the los 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 1892, their success was limited, and they appear to have achieved greater acceptance and success with their .38 and .32 “Pocket Model” revolvers. The revolvers were initially offered in 1878 as “medium” frame, spur trigger, single action .38 caliber guns. However, they soon evolved into double action revolvers and by the early 1880’s were offered in two frame sizes and two calibers. The double action pocket revolvers were sold in “Medium” and “Small” frame sizes, with the medium being available as a 5-shot .38 or a 7-shot .32. The small frame was only available as a 5-shot .32. The double action pocket revolvers soon became popular with city and municipal police departments, many of which were just starting to arm their patrolmen during that era. According to research by Art Phelps, the December 31, 1886 annual report for the Cincinnati Police Department showed some 365 medium frame Merwin & Hulbert revolvers were purchased that year for a total expenditure of $2,998.35, or just under $8.22 per revolver. His research indicates that the medium Merwin, Hulbert & Co saw use with the police departments of the cities of Detroit, Miami, Cleveland, Charleston, and Boston, just to name a few of the larger ones, as well as with a significant number of smaller New England towns and cities. It is interesting to note that Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, who ambushed and killed Bonnie & Clyde, privately purchased and carried a medium frame, seven-shot, .32 Merwin, Hulbert & Co. Additionally, famous western sheriff Pat Garrett, who killed 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”. It was the medium frame Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers that were often made as presentation and showpiece guns, with extensive engraving and high quality grips. While the top engravers of the era like Nimschke, Ulrich, and Young are known to have enhanced Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers; this was typically on a one-off, contract basis for a retailer like Hartley & Graham of New York. Factory engraved Merwin & Hulberts were typically enhanced with a type of “punch dot” engraving that was simpler to render and less time consuming than traditional European cut engraving. This allowed Merwin, Hulbert & Co. to offer these decorated guns at a much lower price than their competition. Engraving motifs included geometric and floral designs as well as game scenes and even the likenesses of people, such as Calamity Jane! The cardboard boxes for these punch dot engraved guns were sometimes marked “Intaglio Floral” in reference to the engraving. Sometimes the engraving was further enhanced by the addition of red (and more rarely green) lacquered dots within the engraving, to make it appear the gun was inlaid with rubies and emeralds. These enhanced guns often had upgraded grips as well, including mother of pearl or ivory, and the grips were sometimes decorated with carving as well. While Merwin, Hulbert & Company engraved revolvers are scarce and highly collectible, it is the simple blued finish revolvers that are the rarest. The large majority of Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers were produced with nickel plated finishes. It is believed that only 5% of all Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers were produced with factory blued finishes.
Offered here is an VERY FINE condition example of a Merwin, Hulbert & Company “Automatic” 38 Caliber Double Action Revolver with the extremely rare factory blued finish. These medium frame double action revolvers were introduced in 1879 or 1880 and remained in production through the late 1880’s and probably until the company’s demise around 1892. As with all Merwin & Hulbert revolvers, it is not clear exactly how many 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 only a few thousand of these revolvers were produced, but probably more than of its larger brother the Pocket Army. The term “automatic” in the official Merwin & Hulbert product name for the revolver refers to the automatic extraction mechanism, that same as found on the larger “Frontier Army” models. In fact, Merwin & Hulbert used the term to describe all of its automatic extraction revolvers. The medium frame, 5-shot .38 (or 7-shot .32) were both chambered for the proprietary Merwin & Hulbert calibers of .38 Merwin & Hulbert and .32 Merwin & Hulbert. For all practical purposes, there was little difference between .38 M&H and .38 Short Colt or .38 S&W Short, nor was there a reasonable difference between the .32 M&H and .32 Short Colt or .38 S&W Short, and the ammunition appears to have been used somewhat interchangeably during the 1880’s and 1890’s, with any of the .38s or .32s having been used in a gun of that caliber. The guns were available with 5 “, 3 ““ and 2 ““ barrels, as well as with multi-barrel sets. This factory blued Merwin, Hulbert & Company DA “Automatic” .38 has the long and desirable 5 ““ barrel, is chambered for .38 M&H, has a lanyard ring on the bottom of the square butt, and has a folding hammer spur. The gun has the early production era hard rubber grips with a dog's head motif at the top of the grip. The top of the 5 ““ ribbed round barrel is marked in two lines: MERWIN HULBERT & CO. NEW YORK U.S.A. / PAT. APR. 17, 77. JUNE 15, 80. MAR. 14, 82. JAN. 9, 83.. The there are very few other markings on the gun. The left side of the frame, below the cylinder, is marked in a single line: 38 CAL.. The bottom of the butt is marked with the assembly number 25 / 186. While this is typically where you expect to find the serial number, on some Merwin & Hulbert revolvers this is the assembly number, and the serial number is concealed by the grips. On this revolver, the matching assembly number 25 / 168 appears on the rear of the cylinder and on the rear of the barrel web. The serial number 6368 is located on the left grip frame, under the grip panel. The folding hammer spur is marked: Pat’d / Jan. 27, 85. Overall, the revolver retains about 70%+ of its original blued finish. There is the expected wear and loss around the muzzle, grip strap and the butt where the assembly number is struck. There is also fading and loss along the contact points and high edges, suggesting significant holster or pocket carry during the days of its use. The areas where the blue has faded and worn has developed a lightly oxidized plum-brown patina that blends well with the original blue. The overall condition of the revolver and its significant amount of original finish is well depicted by the photos below. The bore of the revolver rates about GOOD+. It is somewhat dark and dirty with rifling and light to moderate scattered pitting along its entire length. The folding hammer retains about 70%+ vivid case hardened colors, with some minor fading and light edge wear noted. The trigger retains about 40% of its case coloring as well, which is most evident on the wider web at the rear of the trigger. Most of the color on the trigger has faded and is muted. The revolver is in good mechanical condition and functions correctly in both single and double action modes about 80% of the time. Sometimes, the trigger appears to fail to reset properly, resulting in the hammer and cylinder not responding to its pull. This suggests that that there is some old grease or oil impeding the reset of the trigger. Otherwise, the revolver cycles, indexes, times and locks up perfectly, when it cycles. The frame locking system of the revolver works flawlessly, with the forward portion of the frame, barrel and the cylinder unlocking, rotating and sliding smoothly forward as they should. The medium frame revolver mechanisms are not known for having the “suction” of the large frame mechanism, and none is noted in this example. The mechanism locks the gun up securely, exactly as it should. All of the screws remain crisp and sharp with practically no slot wear. The innovative sliding loading gate functions smoothly and opens and closes exactly as it should. The two-piece, hard rubber grips are in equally wonderful condition, rating about NEAR EXCELLENT condition, with no breaks, chips or repairs noted. The grips show only the most minor wear and lightly handling marks. The grips are from the early production era of the DA Automatic revolvers, and are identified as such by the presence of a dog's head motif at the top of the grip panels. Later production revolvers had either plain circles or geometric designs in circles in this location. The condition and state of preservation of this Merwin, Hulbert & Company “Automatic” 38 Caliber Double Action Revolver is really nice.
Overall this is a really VERY FINE condition example of the Merwin, Hulbert & Company “Automatic” 38 Caliber Double Action Revolver. The gun is very attractive, with a wonderful factory blued finish and outstanding condition hard rubber grips. Over the last two to three decades, the guns of Merwin & Hulbert have really come into their own and have finally achieved a notable place in realm of historic and collectible firearms. Today’s collectors appreciate the quality craftsmanship and mechanical engineering of what quite possibly were the finest made revolvers of the late 19th century. As a result, Merwin, Hulbert & Company prices have climbed steadily over the last few years and are continuing to increase. The desirability for high condition examples, oddities and factory engraved specimens have driven the prices for those guns at an even greater rate. This has resulted in rare Merwin, Hulbert & Company guns (like engraved or blued ones) selling for as much as 3 to 4 times the price of a comparable condition revolver without the factory enhancements. This is a really attractive example of a factory blued Merwin, Hulbert & Company “Automatic” 38 Caliber Double Action Revolver, in a great state of preservation, and at a very reasonable price. This gun will be a wonderful addition to any collection of Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers, revolvers of the old west, or potentially as a long-term investment as these revolvers continue to increase in value, especially the rarer variations.SOLD