William Tranter was one of the most prominent Gun, Rifle & Pistol Makers in the Birmingham trade during the mid-19th century. Tranter was born in 1816 and died in 1890 and during his working life his name became synonymous with quality handgun design and manufacture, although he produced small arms of all types and held patents related to all types of firearm actions. He went into business for himself circa 1840, after completing his apprenticeship with Hollis Brothers & Co, which he had begun in 1830. Tranter continued working actively in the gun trade until 1885, just five years before his death. After his decade of work learning the gun trade at Hollis Bros & Co (later Hollis & Sheath), in 1840 Tranter bought the established gun making business of Robert Dugard at 29 “ Whitehall Street. Over the next decade, he worked for himself and 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 as having “shops, sheds, steam machinery, yard & premises” and became one of the first of the Birmingham gunmakers to utilize steam powered machinery. 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, after he had actually left the gun trade. One of Tranter’s most successful series of arms were his “self-cocking” percussion 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 M-1851 Patent Adams style lock works, and Tranter's own patented lock works. The original “Tranter” type revolvers, known to collectors as 1st Model Tranters had no provision for an attached loading lever. Later production 2nd and 3rd Model guns offered improvements to the loading system with attached levers. All of these first three 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. Tranter then introduced his 4th Model Tranter revolvers (circa 1856), which used a single trigger, and had what would today be called a conventional “double action” lock work. 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 south, with the largest majority of them being marked by New Orleans retailers. Based upon extant examples, the firm of Hyde & Goodrich (later Thomas, Griswold & Co) appears to have been the primary importer of Tranter Patent revolvers into the southern United States. Most of these retailer marked guns were sold cased with accessories, although some guns were certainly sold without the expensive casings and accouterments. During the course of the 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. Despite his success both in England and abroad, William Tranter kept looking forward to new markets and designs. It was clear to him that the self-contained metallic cartridge was the wave of the future and he put significant efforts in design in that direction. His first cartridge offerings, as the height of the American Civil War period. He received English Patent #2067 (1862) for a variety of revolver improvements that he would subsequently include in his new line of cartridge revolvers, and the following year received English Patent #1862 (1863) for more improvements to cartridge revolvers. The first cartridge handguns to be introduced by Tranter were spur trigger, small caliber rimfire pistols in .230 and .320 calibers. The guns had solid frames, and were direct competitors to the hinged frame #1 and #2 revolvers from Smith & Wesson. However, Tranter knew that pocket sized spur trigger revolvers with low power cartridges were not going to win military contracts and he went to work on creating a larger, more powerful revolver. His offering was based upon his large frame 4th Model percussion revolver, and was initially manufactured in .442RF, although a .450 centerfire variant was offered fairly soon after the initial introduction. The most identifiable feature of the Model 1863 “Army” revolver was the side mounted, compound ejector mechanism that resembled a percussion revolver’s ramrod much more than an ejection system. The system was mounted on the right side of the barrel and frame and by lowering the lever, a plunger was pushed into the chamber push out the spent cartridge. The plunger was roughly the internal diameter of the casing, as Tranter had discovered that a simple ejector rod could actually punch through the bottom of a soft copper rimfire case, leaving the case hopelessly stuck in the cylinder chamber. A conventional loading gate at the rear of the recoil shield allowed the loading and unloading of the cartridges. A smaller framed variant of his Model 1863 was also introduced as the “House Defence” Revolver, in small calibers like .230, .297, .320 and .380. In typical Tranter style, the revolvers rarely bore his mark beyond a “Tranter’s Patent” mark on the frame and ejector system, and usually were left otherwise blank for retailer to apply his mark on the topstrap. A serial number and sometimes assembly numbers were usually the only other markings. With the introduction of the .450 CF version of the revolver, Tranter also introduced a floating firing pin in the frame of the gun, which was struck by the blunt nose of the hammer when the trigger was pulled. By 1868 Tranter had received a new patent for a series of improvements to the cartridge revolver (English Patent #282 of 1868) and his Model 1868 revolver quickly superseded the Model 1863. As a result of the fairly short production life and the somewhat complicated extractor system, Model 1863 revolvers are not particularly common, and the center fire version is incredibly rare. The Model 1863 remains an important step in the history of the English cartridge revolvers, as it was one of the first large frame, large caliber cartridge handguns to be available from an English maker.Offered here is what at first glance appears to be a very scarce Tranter Model 1863 .450 Center Fire Revolver. The gun has the usual earmarks of such pistols with the specialized compound ejector system on the right-hand side and a 6” barrel, rather than the 6 ““ barrel that was standard on the rimfire version. However, the gun is completely unmarked, with the exception of Birmingham commercial proofs on the upper left barrel flat and between the cylinder chambers, and the number 1945.2 stamped on the interior of the ejector rod operating lever. Under close scrutiny, other small differences quickly become apparent. The Tranter revolver has a 6-shot cylinder and the centerfire variant used a frame mounted firing pin. Additionally, the Tranter version had a loading gate that rotated to right hand side. This example has a 5-shot cylinder, a conventional firing pin on the face of the hammer and a loading gate that rotates to the rear, with a long spring under it that is similar to that found on some of the Tranter “House Defence” pistols. Other small differences between the Tranter revolver and this pistol include a two-piece, rather than the usual Tranter one-piece grip, a hammer screw that enters from the left, rather than the right side of the frame, and a slightly shorter than usual spur at the rear of the trigger to trip the sear. It is generally believed that Tranter relied upon many smaller Birmingham makers to produce some of his smaller frame revolvers under contract for him, in an attempt to keep costs down and to increase production capacity. This revolver, may well be an example of such Tranter sub-contracting, or may simply be a direct patent infringement that would rely upon the instantly recognizable Tranter features to create a gun that appeared to be a Tranter. No matter who the maker was, they executed the Tranter design with a high level of competency, fit and finish and produced a very high quality double-action centerfire revolver.
This Tranter Model 1863 Type Revolver is in NEAR FINE condition overall. The gun retains about 10%-15% of its original blued finish, mostly on the barrel with some blue in the protected areas of the frame. The balance of the gun has a smooth brownish gray patina with some darker age discoloration and minor surface oxidation. The revolver is free of any pitting, but does show some very lightly scattered pinpricking and minor surface oxidation. The frame of the revolver is finely engraved with tight floral scrolls, with the first 1 ““ of each of the upper angled barrel flats engraved en-suite. The same patters are used very delicately on the leading edge of the cylinder between each chamber. The front edge of the cylinder is engraved with a delicate boarder line pattern that is duplicated around the muzzle and the outer edge of the topstrap, terminating in more floral splays at each end and a shell pattern at the rear, near the hammer. The quality of the engraving in no way suggests “cheap knockoff” and is all expertly applied. Delicate floral scrolls enhance the backstrap as well. As noted, other than the Birmingham proof marks and the number on the reverse of the ejector system handle, there are no other markings present on the gun. The center of the topstrap was obviously left unadorned to allow the application of a retailer’s name. The revolver has a 6” octagonal barrel with a narrow top flat that gives the barrel a slightly peaked appearance. The gun is approximately 10 ““ in overall length, and has a solid frame with a reward hinged loading gate on the right side. The right side also has the Tranter M-1863 compound ejector system. The barrel is rifled with eight deep, narrow grooves and measures .471” groove-to-groove at the muzzle and .430” land-to-land. The five-shot cylinder rotates clockwise, and the chamber mouths measure .448”, with the rear of the chambers measuring .454”. The chambers are not recessed to accept a cartridge rim. The double action mechanism functions flawlessly as does single action operation, and the revolver times, indexes and locks up exactly as it should. The compound ejector system and loading gate work appropriately as well. The bore of the revolver is in VERY GOOD condition, and remains mostly bright with lightly scattered pitting along its length and a few small patches of more moderate pitting. The original peppercorn front sight is dovetailed in place near the muzzle of the revolver and the original small lanyard ring is present in the buttcap. The two-piece checkered walnut grips are secured by a single screw in the bottom of each grip, which passes through the buttcap of the revolver, and by a tab at their top edge that engages the frame. The grips are slightly loose due to wear in the screw holes, preventing the screws from applying enough torque to properly secure the panels. The grips are in about VERY GOOD+ condition and are solid and complete with no breaks, chips, cracks or repairs. They do show some light wear and some smoothing to the checkering as well as some minor bumps and dings from handling and use. Otherwise they remain in very nice condition with no indication of sanding.
Overall this is a crisp condition example of a Birmingham trade made Tranter Model 1863 .450 CF revolver. The gun shows some real-world use, but no abuse and remains 100% complete, correct and fully functional. It is a very nice example of a pattern of English revolver that is rarely found for sale in America and when it is, the gun is the .442 RF version. These are nearly never found in .450 CF. This is a great opportunity to own a very important transitional revolver design that helped to forge the path from percussion to cartridge revolvers in Great Britain.SOLD