Outstanding Merwin, Hulbert & Company Pocket Army Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-1590-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 Simkins 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 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 1880’s, 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, 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, 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 at “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 Army revolvers may well have eclipsed the Colt Single Action Army as the most successful handgun in the 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 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 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, but no contracts were ever forthcoming. Joseph Merwin did eventually manage to obtain a Russian 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 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 the early 1890’s, their success was limited, and they appear to have achieved greater acceptance of their medium frame, .38 caliber double action pistol 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 arms were owned or carried by number of famous frontier lawmen and notables, including Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (who ambushed and killed Bonnie & Clyde) who carried a medium frame seven-shot .32 Merwin & Hulbert. Pat Garrett (the killer of Billie the Kid) was presented with an inscribed .38 Medium Frame Merwin & Hulbert 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 as well. More notorious frontiersmen known to have owned and carried Merwin & Hulbert 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 revolvers as gifts during his lifetime.
Offered here is an EXCELLENT condition example of a Merwin, Hulbert & Company “Pocket Army” Revolver. The “Pocket Army” was introduced in 1883 and remained in production through the 1880’s. 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 the revolvers were produced. This is a 3rd model gun, with a top strap and traditional cylinder flutes, and is made with the double action trigger mechanism. The right side of the frame is marked in two lines below the cylinder: MERWIN, HULBERT & CO. N.Y. / POCKET ARMY. The left side of the frame is crisply marked in two lines, below the cylinder: CALIBER / WINCHESTER followed by a much larger 1873, indicating the revolver is chambered for the .44 Winchester Center Fire cartridge (also known as the .44 WCF or .44-40). The top of the 7” round barrel is marked: MERWIN HULBERT & CO. New York, U.S.A. Pat. Apr. 17, 77. June 15, 80. Mar. 14, 82. Jan 2, 83.. The left side of the barrel is also marked in a single line: THE HOPKINS & ALLEN Manufacturing Co. Norwich, Conn. U.S.A.. All of the markings are very crisp and clear, with only the “Pocket Army” marking being somewhat lightly struck. The serial number 7158 is present on the right side of the exposed “skull cracker” portion of the bird’s head grip. Like the majority of Merwin & Hulbert arms, the gun is assembly numbered on the major parts. In this case the frame under the grips and the rear of the cylinder are numbered 5608. The rear of the barrel web is numbered 5802. A mismatched barrel number is not uncommon on the Pocket Army model, as barrels were frequently changed, and replacement barrels of various lengths (3 ““ , 5 ““ and 7”) were easily purchased. The closeness of the assembly number may indicate an extra barrel ordered not long after the gun was purchased, or possibly a factor error in the numbering. As noted, the condition of the gun is truly excellent and the condition and patina of the barrel and the balance of the gun match perfectly and the two pieces have clearly been together since the period of use. Overall, the revolver retains about 93% of its original nickel finish. There is some very minor flaking and bubbling present on the left side of the barrel and barrel web, just in front of the cylinder. A small amount of nickel has flaked and thinned on the left side of the “skull cracker” grip projection, and there is a small amount of minor flaking on the left side of the barrel at the muzzle. The barrel shows a couple of minor, pinprick flakes as well. There is some minor flaking on the backstrap as well. The cylinder shows the largest amount of loss, which is really quite minimal, with some flaking and loss of nickel in a couple of the cylinder flutes. Most of the areas where the small amounts of nickel have flaked now show a lightly freckled, oxidized patina. The overall condition of the revolver and its finish is clearly indicated by the photos below. As is typical of 19th century nickel finishes, the finish shows some minor frosting from age. The bore of the revolver rates about EXCELLENT and is mostly bright with crisp rifling. The bore shows some scattered frosting and lightly scattered pinpricking along its length in the grooves, and some lightly scattered patches of pitting as well. The hammer retains about 80%+ vivid case hardened colors, with some minor fading and light edge wear noted. The trigger guard retains a similar amount of case coloring, which is most evident on the wider web portions at the front and rear where the guard meets the frame of the revolver. The revolver is mechanically excellent and the double action mechanism works flawlessly in both double and single action modes. The revolver cycles, indexes, times and locks up perfectly. The locking system of the revolver works flawlessly 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 still retains strong “suction”, with the action drawing itself closed about halfway after it has been opened and released. 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, black hard rubber grips are in equally EXCELLENT condition, with no breaks, cracks, chips or repairs. They still retain crisp checkering and fit the frame perfectly.
Overall this is a really EXCELLENT condition example of the scarce and popular Merwin, Hulbert & Company Double Action Pocket Army Revolver. The revolver is in the most popular and desirable caliber, .44-40 and has a great 7” long 3rd Model round barrel. These large frame, long barrel Merwin & Hulbert 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 serous collection of pistols from the American west needs at least a couple of Merwin & Hulbert revolvers in it, and this one would be a great addition. Over the last few years the prices of Merwin & Hulbert revolvers have steadily increased, as has 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 wonderful condition Merwin & Hulbert Pocket Army to your collection for a very reasonable price. 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 four to low five figure prices at auction, I don’t think it will be long before the much rarer Merwin & Hulbert guns start to give the Colt’s 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