This is an about FINE condition example of a Whitney Navy percussion revolver that bears interesting markings suggesting it may well have been acquired and used by the Missouri State Guard during the American Civil War. The Whitney Navy was a 6-shot, .36 caliber, single action percussion revolver that was manufactured from the late 1850s through the early 1860s. The revolver went into production after Colt’s patent on his revolver mechanism expired in 1857. The first 1,500 or so (aka “1st Model Whitney Navy revolvers) were manufactured without a loading lever and were of lighter construction than the later 2nd Model revolvers. Between the Whitney desire to improve upon the guns, and the habit of making design changes when parts on hand ran out, both the 1st and 2nd Models were manufactured in a number of different “types’ with a clear pattern of evolution that took place throughout their production. Some 33,000 Whitney Navy revolvers were produced during the production run, with many seeing US government use. The US Army acquired 10,587 of the revolvers between 1861 and 1864 and the US Navy purchased an additional 6,226 between 1863 and 1865. The state of New Jersey purchased 920 Whitney Navy revolvers in 1863, but 792 of those guns were subsequently resold to the US Army in 1863 and 1864. Those guns are included in the US Army purchases listed above. A number of Whitney Navy revolvers also appear to have been acquired by the South and saw service during the American Civil War. Some were purchased prior to the outbreak of hostilities, and these guns tend to early production 2nd Model revolvers produced prior to the spring of 1861. A good example is Whitney Navy #3110, which was owned by Confederate cavalry general J.E.B. Stuart, and is now in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society. However, Confederate forces acquired many more Whitney Navy revolvers after the conflict started. These later production guns were no doubt obtained through a combination of capturing weapons and purchasing the guns surreptitiously from secondary retailers rather than Whitney. At least two-dozen Whitney Navy revolvers are known to have been repaired for use by the 4th Virginia “Black Horse” Cavalry, and a handful of identified Whitney Navy revolvers with Confederate provenance exist was well. It is not surprising that the revolver found favor on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, as the robust design with a reinforcing top strap, a solid frame with a screwed in barrel and the simple turn of a wing nut to release the loading lever and cylinder arbor were all significant improvements over the open topped frame and wedge-retained barrel of the Colt design. The popularity of the revolvers in the south is further indicated by the fact that the design was copied by Confederate gunmakers Spiller & Burr and T.W. Cofer, both of whom produced Whitney-like revolvers for the south.
This Whitney Navy Revolver is serial number O 12091, and is a transitional example showing features of both the 2nd Model, 2nd Type and 2nd Model, 3rd Type. The gun falls in the serial number range of the 2nd Model 2nd Type, which runs from 1,200 to about 13,000. The 2nd Model, 2nd Type revolvers typically have a loading lever retained by a ball detent catch, a system introduced on the 2nd Model, 1st Type. The 2nd Type guns introduced 6 safety notches machined on the rear of the cylinder, between the chambers, while the earlier 1st Type pistols only had one. The 3rd Type guns (serial number range 13,000 to 15,000) introduced a “Colt style” loading lever catch. This was no doubt an improvement over the earlier ball detent catch design. This revolver, while serial #12091 and clearly within the standard range given for 2nd Model, 2nd Type gun has the “Colt style” loading lever, and is likely one of the earliest revolvers so equipped, making it a transitional revolver between the 2nd and 3rd types. The pistol bears the matching serial number 12091 on the loading lever, on the bottom of the barrel (concealed by the loading lever), on the rear face of the cylinder and stamped inside both of the grip panels. The top of the 7 ““ octagon barrel is crisply and clearly stamped in two lines: E. WHITNEY / N. HAVEN. The only other external marking is MoG, which is stamped in both grips like a cartouche, and on the front extension of the brass triggerguard plate. The stamp is struck with a single-die stamp, and is either an ownership mark, an inspection mark, or both. The most likely hypothesis appears to be that it is the mark of the Missouri Guard, a reference to the Missouri State militia units that served during the Civil War, protecting the state from Confederate sympathizers and guerillas. The Missouri Quartermaster General reports for the period of 1862-1865 are not complete, nor are they horribly detailed, but they do list 50 Colt Navy revolvers, 273 Remington .44 caliber revolvers, 292 Savage revolvers and an additional 242 “Holster Pistols’ among the arms turned in by the Missouri Guard in 1865. Since the Colt, Remington and Savage arms are listed by manufacturer, it suggests that the 242 “holster” pistols were not of those makes, and quite possibly could have been Whitney Navy revolvers. While not definitive proof, it does support the theory that the MoG mark could refer to the Missouri Guard. This MoG marked Whitney Navy Revolver is in about FINE condition. The gun retains strong traces of original finish, probably about 10%+ overall. The original bright blue is most plentiful under the barrel, where it has been protected by the loading lever and in the groove along the top strap. The balance of the finish is confined to the nooks, crannies and protected areas like the frame and barrel junction. The rest of the gun has a wonderful plum-brown patina that is slick and smooth and blends wonderfully with the remaining original finish. The metal of the gun is almost entirely smooth throughout, with only some lightly scattered patches of minor pinpricking, mostly on the front edge of the frame, in front of the cylinder chambers and at the muzzle. There are also a few small, scattered patches of very light surface oxidation, which could probably be lightly cleaned off the barrel if so desired. The loading lever retains about 10%+ of its original case coloring, which has dulled to a tobacco brown patina with scattered mottling and traces of blue and purple coloration. The most obvious patch of dulled case coloring is on the top of the loading lever where the serial number is stamped. The gun appears to be 100% complete and correct in every way and bears strong markings throughout. The serial number O 12091 is clearly stamped on the bottom of the barrel (concealed by the loading lever) and on the top loading lever. The number is stamped on the rear of the cylinder a couple of numbers at a time on the stops between the cones (nipples). These numbers are much fainter, and omit the “O” prefix. The serial number is also stamped inside both of the grip panels. Typically Whitney Navy revolvers retain no cylinder scene, due the fact that scene was often lightly rolled and the hard service that they tended to see. Even Whitney Navy revolvers that did not see hard use typically have weak or non-existent scenes due to how lightly they were applied. This gun retains about 50% of its cylinder scene that includes an eagle, lion, and shield. This revolver predates the inclusion of the naval engagement scene that appears on later examples. The action of the revolver is mechanically excellent and the gun times, indexes and locks-up exactly as it should. However, the mainspring seems a bit weak, likely the result of year of service. All of the original cones (nipples) are present, and are in good, usable condition. The original brass-post front site is in place at the end of the barrel and is in fine condition as well. The bore is in about FINE condition. It is mostly bright, and retains fine, crisp 7-groove rifling. The bore does show some lightly scattered pitting along its entire length, with a couple of small patches of more moderate pitting noted about the middle of the barrel. The original arbor pin retention thumbscrew is in place and still operates exactly as it should. The hammer retains some very light traces of case coloring, which have faded and blended to a tobacco brown and plum patina with some light mottling still present. The trigger retains about 40% original blue, which has faded to a deep, smoky plum patina. The small brass trigger guard (correct for this model) has a pleasing deep ochre patina and has not been cleaned. The pistol remains very crisp throughout with sharp edges on the barrel, and crisp screw heads showing almost no slot wear. The screws even retaining some of their fire blued finish, with the grip screws retaining about 50%+ fading blue, and the rest of the screws retaining anywhere from traces to about 25% of their faded original blue. The two-piece varnished walnut grips are in about NEAR FINE condition. They are complete and solid with no breaks, cracks or repairs. The right grip, which is the “outside” grip when the pistol is carried butt forward in a typical strong side military holster of the period, shows some wear along the sharp bottom edge, and the MoG mark on that grip is more worn than the opposing one. The left grip shows a clearer and crisper mark and about 1/3 the wear evident on the right. The grips do show the normal expected bumps and dings from service and use, but show absolutely no abuse or damage.
Overall this is a very crisp and complete example of a Whitney Navy revolver with some intriguing markings. While the Missouri Guard interpretation of the MoG markings is not definitive, it is quite likely and certainly worthy of additional research. This is 100% complete and correct example of a Whitney Navy in much better condition than they are typically encountered. The gun is very attractive, and in person (under normal lighting) appears to have more finish than the harsh photographic lights tend to indicate. This will be a fine addition to your collection of Civil War secondary martial revolvers and is a gun you will be proud to display.SOLD