Scarce A.B. Griswold New Orleans Retailer Marked 3rd Model Tranter Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-JM133
- Availability: Out Of Stock
The revolvers produced by English gunmaker William Tranter were some of the most advanced and modern handgun designs to see use by the Confederacy during the course of the American Civil War. Tranter was born in 1816 and died in 1890, and during his working life he was one of the most prominent Gun, Rifle & Pistol Makers in the Birmingham (England) gun trade. He went into business for himself circa 1840, after completing his apprenticeship with Hollis Brothers & Co, which he had begun in 1830. Tranter continued in the trade until 1885, just five years before his death. In 1840, after spending a decade learning the gun trade at Hollis Bros & Co (later Hollis & Sheath), Tranter bought the established gun making business of Robert Dugard at 29 ½ Whitehall Street. Over the next decade he worked for himself and was also involved 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 in a period directory as having “shops, sheds, steam machinery, yard & premises”. 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, and 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, even though he was no longer directly active in the gun trade.
Tranter’s most successful series of arms were his “self-cocking” 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 Adams 1851 Patent lock works, and Tranter's own patented lock works. The original “Tranter” type revolvers, known to collectors as 1st Model Tranter revolvers had no provision for a fixed loading lever. The lever swiveled on a stud that projected from the left side of the frame, which had no provision to retain the lever when it was mounted on the revolver. The lever was intended to be stored in a case or carried in the pocket; hardly a practical solution if the user had to reload the revolver in the field. Most of these guns were manufactured on Adams Patent frames and have Adams Patent serial numbers (actually patent tracking numbers to pay royalties to Adams) and these numbers are followed by a Y suffix. The 2nd Model Tranter revolvers also had a pin on the frame that allowed the attachment of a removable loading lever, but the pin had a small projection that allowed the lever to remain attached to the gun unless a notch in the lever was aligned with the stud projection to remove it. The later example of these guns, manufactured after about 1856, have Tranter Patent serial numbers and end with a T suffix. These guns not only include Tranter Patent lock works, but also a newly improved version of the Adams solid frame, which was patented by Tranter in 1856. At this point Tranter revolvers rarely have Adams serial numbers. The 3rd Model Tranter revolvers had a more permanently attached loading lever, which was secured by a screw. The 3rd Models appear to have all been produced in the T suffix Tranter serial number range. All three of these 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 to fire the revolver. The 4th Model Tranter revolvers (which were introduced in 1856 and are all in the Tranter T-suffix series) used a single trigger and utilized a lock work that would be referred to as a conventional “double action” mechanism today. Each of the Tranter revolver patterns were produced in a variety of calibers, with 54-Bore (.442) “Holster Size” and 120-Bore (.338) “Pocket Size” revolvers being the most commonly encountered calibers and frame sizes, and the mid-sized 80-Bore (.387) “Belt Size” being less often encountered. Some of the guns were also produced in the exceptionally large and powerful 36 and 38 bore sizes, which were larger versions of the holster size guns, and were about .50 caliber! Barrel lengths varied as well, with the larger caliber arms typically having longer barrels, and the smaller caliber guns having shorter barrel. All of the guns were 5-shot percussion revolvers, and typically featured checkered one-piece walnut grips, although smooth wooden grips and other grip materials are known to have been used on a special order basis.
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 southern states, with the largest number of them being marked by New Orleans firms. Based upon extant examples, the firm of Hyde & Goodrich, later Thomas, Griswold & Co and eventually A.B Griswold after the war, appears to have been the primary importer of Tranter Patent revolvers into the southern United States. Many of these retailer-marked guns were sold cased with accessories, although some guns were certainly sold without the expensive casings and accouterments.
During the American 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. Such famous Confederates as General John Hunt Morgan (3rd Model #3758T), General J.E.B. Stuart (4thModel #8673T), General John Magruder and Colonel Dabney H. Maury (3rd Model #7993T), who served on the staff of General Earl Van Dorn, all owned documented 54-Bore Tranter revolvers. The famous “Pratt Roll”, which lists the revolvers in the possession of Lt. Julian Pratt’s squad of troopers in Company H of the 18th Virginia Cavalry in July of 1864, lists two Tranter revolvers, with the serial numbers 15,465 and 15,476. This indicates that Tranter revolvers in the mid 15,XXX serial number range were in use by southern forces, and in the field by that time. While models are not listed in the list, it is generally assumed that these guns were either 3rd of 4th model revolvers and were likely 54-Bore. Other Tranter revolvers with southern provenance include guns which are retailer marked by T.W. Radcliffe of Columbia, SC. Additionally, a March 10, 1863 advertisement in the Richmond Times Dispatch for H. E. Nichols of Columbia, SC read in part: “Fine English Revolvers. Just received from England, six Tranter’s fine revolving pistols, 80 and 120 bore. Price $220 each”. All this evidence indicates that at least some of the Tranter revolvers produced during (as well as prior to) the Civil War, saw Confederate use. Dating Tranter revolvers based upon their serial numbers is somewhat problematic, as frames were sometimes produced and numbered in advance, with the guns completed at a later date. What we do know is that the “T” serial number suffix came into use around serial number 2200, sometime between 1854 and 1856. We also know that Tranter produced revolvers using Adams’ patent serial numbers and a “Y” suffix from about 1853 through about 1856. These guns appear in several serial number ranges, as assigned by Adams, including the 2X,XXX range. All “Y” suffix guns predate the Civil War by at least four or five years. From extant examples of Tranters with specific presentations, dated invoices and dates of usage associated with them, it appears that those Tranter revolvers with serial numbers through about the 20,XXX range, and possibly some of the earliest guns in the 21,XXX range, with T suffixesappear to have been produced prior to the end of 1865, making them “Civil War era”. Post-Civil War southern retailer marks begin to appear in the 21,XXX range, suggesting that these guns are likely 1865 production, or possibly slightly later.
Offered here is one of those scarce and desirable southern retailer-marked Tranter revolvers that almost certainly dates to late-1865 or early 1866. The gun is retailer marked by the firm of A.B. Griswold and Company and is clearly engraved in a single line along the topstrap and part of the barrel:
MANUFACTURED. FOR. A.B. GRISWOLD. & Co NEW. ORLEANS.
The firm of A.B. Griswold & Company was the last incarnation of the famous New Orleans based merchant, importer, retailer and jeweler Hyde & Goodrich. The firm was initially established in 1819 at the corner of Canal & Royal streets in New Orleans. The firm became Thomas, Griswold & Company in 1861 and by 1865 was doing business as A.B. Griswold & Co. Apparently, the fall of New Orleans to US forces in June of 1862 eventually caused the company to fail at least temporarily, but it soon rose from the ashes without Henry Thomas as one of the partners and continued with the name of Arthur Breese Griswold only. The company only appears to have been out of business for a very short time, as in New Orleans & The New South author Andrew Morton sites a local New Orleans newspaper article from 1888 that says in part about the company:
AB Griswold & Co Retail and Manufacturing Jewelers of the corner of Canal and Royal streets is one of the oldest houses of the city. It was established in 1819 and is consequently now in its sixty ninth-year. Mr Hyde its founder and Mr Griswold who was for many years in partnership with him have long since passed away, and the house has for many years been managed by Mr Henry Ginder. A.B. Griswold & Co have traded all over the South. They have about twenty employees, among them expert jewelers, diamond setters and engravers They occupy four floors of the corner of the old Touro buildings, in which, by the way, they were the first tenants and have numerous valuable agencies among them that for the Vacheron and Contantin watches. They are direct importers of clocks, bronzes, Geneva watches, etc and they can repair the finest and most complicated works. In fine jewelry they have repeatedly distanced all rivals at competitions in the fairs of this and adjacent states.
This indicates that the company was essentially in business, uninterrupted from 1819 through the post-Civil War era. The company, while doing business under all of those names, had established a long-term relationship with Birmingham England gunmaker William Tranter and examples of Tranter’s revolvers exist with all three retailers marks.
The A.B. Griswold New Orleans Retailer Marked 3rd Model Tranter 80-Bore Percussion Revolver offered here is in about FINE condition. The revolver is in the very desirable, and less commonly encountered 80-Bore, which is approximately .386 caliber. The mid-sized revolver has a 4 ½” octagonal barrel and measures about 9 ¾” in overall length, making is large enough for belt carry and yet small enough for pocket carry. The pistol is serial numbered No21,113 T on the right sides of the frame. This serial number suggests mid-to-late 1865 production, although dating Tranter revolvers by serial number is problematic and no factory serial number records exist. The left side of the frame of the gun is additionally marked with the typical arched two-line W. TRANTER’S / PATENT cartouche. This mark is also present on the screw-retained loading lever and on the left side of the trigger.
As noted above, the revolver is in about FINE condition. The gun is in relatively crisp condition with good edges and lines throughout, despite showing real world carry and use. The gun retains about 30%+ of its original blued finish, with moderate amount of loss from flaking and wear along the sharp edges along much of the barrel. The areas that show finish loss have toned and oxidized to a brownish-gray patina with some scattered minor surface roughness and mottling. There is also some very lightly scattered pitting, most notable along the edges of the topstrap and lower leading edges of the frame, forward of the cylinder. The 4 ¼” octagonal barrel bears the expected Birmingham commercial view and proof marks on the left angled flat, forward of the frame juncture. The cylinder is also marked with the usual Birmingham commercial proof and view marks, alternating between the chambers. The cylinder was originally color casehardened, as were many Tranter and Adams cylinders, but now retains none of that finish. Instead, the cylinder has a moderately oxidized mottled brownish and gray patina with some minute hints of plum and the original case coloring. The cylinder retains all of its original cones (nipples) and they are all in fairly crisp, very good condition with relatively sharp edges and no significant battering or damage. The buttcap and backstrap were case hardened as well, and neither retain any of their finish either, again showing a dark, somewhat oxidized patina that tends more towards plum brown and darker blues than gray. The bore of the revolver rates about VERY GOOD with clearly defined five-groove rifling. The bore is fairly bright but shows moderate oxidation as well as some light pitting scattered along its length, with a couple of spots of more moderate pitting. The metal of the pistol is nearly all smooth and is essentially free of any pitting with the notable exception of the topstrap and the lower leading edges of the frame, which do show some pitting. The pistol also shows some very lightly scattered areas of pinpricking, mostly around the chamber mouths on the face of the cylinder and on the face of the muzzle. There are some small, scattered flecks of minor surface oxidation present shot through the streaky, aging blue finish, but these are only obvious under strong light and magnification. The frame, rear of the barrel, backstrap, triggerguard and butt cap are engraved with loose foliate scroll patterns, with about 20%-30% overall coverage. The engraving remains clears and well defined throughout the pistol and is well executed. The cylinder shows beaded borderline engraving at its front and rear, which is also crisp and sharp, as does the muzzle and the loading lever. The left side of the frame retains the original Tranter’s patent spring safety that prevents the hammer from contacting the cones unless the trigger is pulled. Using the safety also allows the cylinder to be turned freely for loading. The original arbor pin retaining spring catch is also present on the forward right side of the frame. Both the safety and the arbor catch are in perfect mechanical condition which is uncommon as both parts are regularly found broken on Tranters that saw any real use. The original cylinder arbor pin is in place, but the right side of the half-round face of the frame pin is broken off and missing, likely from being forced out of the frame at some point in time. The original, screw-retained Tranter “3rdModel” loading lever is attached to the right side of the frame. The loading lever is marked with a two-line cartouche that reads: W. TRANTER’S / PATENT. The lever functions smoothly and locks securely into place when not in use. The original “barley corn” style front sight is dovetailed in place near the muzzle as well. The checkered walnut grip is in about FINE condition as well and matches the condition of the pistol perfectly. The grip is solid and free of any breaks, cracks, or repairs. The checkering remains extremely sharp but does show some light to moderate wear and handling marks. The action of pistol work very well and the revolver times, indexes and locks up, exactly as it should.
Overall, this is a very nice example of a scarce and desirable southern retailer marked Tranter revolver from the very beginning of the Reconstruction Era. The gun is complete, functional with a clear retailer mark engraved on the topstrap and retains some nice original finish. For a collector of English revolvers or southern retailer marked guns, this one is from end of the percussion era and the end of the Civil War period, making it a fine “bookend” to a collection with a Hyde & Goodrich marked gun to represent the Antebellum period. For years the A.B. Griswold guns were sold as being Civil War period. We now know this is not quite true, but any serious Civil War collector will appreciate a gun from the Antebellum period in New Orleans, Louisiana. The war did not really end in April of 1865 for many in that state, and Reconstruction was a particularly violent and sad part of that state’s history, a period when any citizen might have considered carrying a gun for personal protection a good decision.
ON HOLD / LAYAWAY