The story of the various gun companies that were established and run by Thomas K. Bacon is rather interesting and is a tale that has yet to be fully told in detail. From most accounts it appears that Bacon was a machinist, who seems to have had his first brush with firearms manufacturing in 1840, when he purchased some property in Grafton, Massachusetts from gun maker Ethan Allen. Two years later, both Allen and Bacon relocated to Norwich, Connecticut and it appears that the nearly simultaneous migration was not coincidental. By 1846, Allen factory records show that Bacon was operating as a parts supplier, producing “cones and triggerguards”. Bacon’s work as a “jobber” for Allen probably came to an end when Allen relocated his company to Worcester, Massachusetts in 1847. As a result, it appears that Bacon went into the firearms production business on his own, forming Bacon & Company in Norwich, which he ran until 1857.
The firearms produced by this early Bacon company were primarily inexpensive single-shot percussion arms such as pocket, bar hammer, ring trigger and under hammer pistols as well as some pepperboxes. In 1857, after an unsuccessful attempt to raise the necessary capital to expand his business into the fairly new, and very lucrative percussion revolver business, Bacon & Company went out of business. Bacon spent the next year working as the plant superintendent for the Manhattan Firearms Company (also located in Norwich), but was very soon operating his own business again. The newly formed Bacon Manufacturing Company was established in Norwich in 1858 and Bacon went into the business of producing revolvers. His product line included pocket percussion revolvers based upon the Colt 1849 “pocket” model and were offered under both the Bacon moniker and under various tradenames, as well as with custom retailer markings. In addition to the traditional percussion revolvers, Bacon introduced a line of self-contained cartridge revolvers in .22, .25, .32 and even .38 rimfire. However, the majority of these revolvers were manufactured in violation of the Rollin White patent (#12,648) for the bored-through cylinder, which was held by Smith & Wesson. As a result, Smith & Wesson successfully sued Bacon, resulting in a monetary damages award, as well as requiring all subsequent Bacon revolvers, as well as those unsold and remaining in inventory, that utilized the bored through cylinders to be marked with Rollin White and Smith & Wesson patent information, with royalties paid to Smith & Wesson for each revolver of that pattern subsequently sold.
In 1863, the chief shareholder of the Bacon Manufacturing Company became displeased with Thomas Bacon’s performance with the company and forced him out of the business. With Bacon gone, the company continued in business through 1868 but with lackluster sales and minimal success. The firm was subsequently reorganized in 1868 and was reestablished as the Hopkins & Allen company, remaining in business through the second decade of the 1900s.
However, Thomas Bacon was not to be defeated. By 1864 he had started his third firearms company in Norwich, CT; the Bacon Arms Company. His triumph was short lived however, as he sold the assets of his new business in December of 1865. This might have been a financial move due to the sudden changes in the firearms market brought about by the end of the Civil War. With the lucrative government contracts cancelled, the large American arms makers turned their attention to the civilian market and would certainly have been able to out-produce and out-promote any smaller maker. The sudden flood of cheap surplus military arms on the market certainly would not have helped the market share for a small, start-up firearms company either. The result was that Bacon’s final company became little more than a footnote in firearms history. Thomas Bacon worked at various jobs in the gun business for the next few years but died in 1873 and never achieved the level of success that his designs probably warranted.
Offered here is one of Thomas Bacon’s early production repeating handguns, a Bacon & Company Underhammer Pepperbox Pistol. These were produced in very small quantities during the latter part of Bacon & Co’s existence, circa 1852-1857. Production estimates are quite low, at about 200 total. The .31 caliber, 6-barreled percussion pepperboxes were fairly unique within that genre of handgun in that they were both single action and underhammer designs. The most common variant of pepperbox during that period was a double action only, bar hammer design, as typified by most of the guns of that pattern produced by Ethan Allen and his later Allen & Thurber and Allen & Wheelock companies. The guns produced by Bacon were produced in both ribbed and fluted barrel variation with barrel clusters of 3”, 4” and 5” with the longer and shorter barrels being quite uncommon and the 4” cluster being the standard. Most surviving examples have ribbed barrels, with the flute barrels being uncommon as well. The standard finish was blued with two-piece, oil finished walnut grips. As was common on many pepperboxes produced during this period, the gun was typically enhanced with simple scroll engraving on the frames and recoil shields. As percussion arms required a number of tools and implements to load them, cased sets that included powder flasks, bullet molds, etc. were often made available to the public by both manufacturers and retailers to make the entire package more convenient, attractive and to simplify the process of gathering everything necessary to operate the gun.
This Bacon & Company Underhammer Pepperbox Pistol is accompanied by its original factory casing of the type encountered on other Bacon produced guns with a series of implements that are also associated with other Bacon cased sets. The gun is one of the more common examples with a 4” ribbed barrel cluster, but with the production totals for this model estimated at around 200 units, none of these guns are remotely “common”. The gun is assembly numbered 26, and this number is found on the barrel cluster, on the left side of the frame under the grip, on the left side of the two primary springs and stamped into both grip panels. The barrel cluster is marked on two of the ribs in a single line:
BACON & CO NORWICH – CT
There are no other markings. The gun remains in about VERY GOOD condition and retains none of the original finish. The frame has a lightly cleaned pewter gray patina with the barrel having a somewhat darker, mottled plum brown and gray patina. The frame and recoil shield of the pepperbox is decorated with simple flowing foliate engraved patterns with some geometric boarders. The metal remains mostly smooth with some scattered surface oxidation and minor roughness on the barrel cluster and some scattered patches of minor pinpricking here and there. There is moderate surface erosion around the breech of the barrel cluster and the percussion cone seats, as would be expected from the caustic cap flash. The pistol is in FINE mechanical condition and operates correctly with a crisp action. The barrel cluster times, indexes and locks up as it should when the hammer is cocked and the hammer releases correctly with the trigger is pulled. The smooth bores of the barrel cluster are dark and show moderate oxidation and scattered pitting along their lengths. The two piece smooth walnut grips are in VERY GOOD condition and are solid and complete without any breaks or repairs. The grips show light wear and some scattered minor bumps, mars and dings and the grip escutcheon screw shows moderate slot wear.
The pistol is accompanied by a VERY GOOD original Bacon & Company style casing, which measures 9 ¼” long by 5 3/8” wide and 2” tall. The case shows a moderate amount of wear on its exterior but retains much of its period finish, despite the numerous scratches and scrapes. The case retains its original locking mechanism and the original key still operates the lock, although the lid must be pushed down for the lock to engage as the top is slightly warped. The interior of the case is lined in a dark brown velvet with a slightly olive tinge, which appears to be original to the casing. The lining shows light to moderate wear and some loss, particularly to the pillow in the lid, which has worn through due to friction against the recoil shield. The casing contains an original Eagle and Shield powder flask that is not maker marked but is appropriate for the set and often associated with these casings. The flask is in about VERY GOOD condition and has an attractive ocher patina. The flask shows some minor bumps and dings, primarily on the bottom where the seam has separated ever so slightly. The charging mechanism remains fully functional and the flask is a nice component of the set. An original, unmarked, single cavity round ball bullet mold is included as well. It is of the correct style and has a nominally .30 caliber cavity. The mold has a mottled, moderately oxidized patina and crisp cavity and operates smoothly. The set also includes several round lead balls that appear to have been cast from the mold and the key to the case. Only tin of percussion caps would be needed to round the set out.
Overall, this is a nice, attractive and relatively scarce example of a Cased Bacon & Company Underhammer Pepperbox Pistol. The gun remains in nice condition with clear markings, engraving and a crisp action. The casing and accessories are equally nice and make a very attractive set for display. This is fairly rare gun with low production numbers that will be a nice addition to any collection of pepperboxes, antebellum cased guns or a collection that centers on the many gunmakers of Norwich, CT. It is also a lot of gun and cased accessories for the money.