Original U.S. Merwin Hulbert 1876 Frontier Army 2nd Model Revolver
Original Item: Only One Available. The story of Merwin & Hulbert & Company is a somewhat confusing one, which may one day be clearer through additional research. The firm is probably the most famous and successful gun making company that never actually manufactured a single gun! Even more amazing is that the 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 the 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 and Remington, and eventually Winchester. They also imported and distributed high quality English arms. 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 to Merwin, Taylor & Simkins, when Charles Taylor also joined the venture. By 1869 the short-lived partnership was dissolved, and a 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 offered 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 1880s, in a variety of frame and action configurations, but always in a .44 caliber format. The calibers offered included 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 best-built revolvers of their time, but amazingly, Merwin, Hulbert & Company did not actually manufacture 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 & Company 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. This unlocked the action of the revolver. This allowed the user to rotate the cylinder, the forward portion of the frame, and the entire barrel to the right, and push it forward. This caused any 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 ¼ 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. Many of the earliest Frontier Army single action revolvers had mottled orange and brown hard rubber grips that were very attractive and are very desirable today. Merwin abandoned the use of these grips fairly early in the production life of the Frontier Army due to the expense to produce them.
Merwin, Hulbert & Company 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 & Company name, but also with the name of the actual manufacturer, Hopkins & Allen. Had the source of production remained a secret, the Merwin, Hulbert & Company Frontier 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 & Company Army revolvers were even tested by the US Ordnance Bureau and found to be superior on a number of points to the Colt M-1873 then in service, 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 & Company 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 loss of his $100,000.00 investment in the Evans Repeating Rifle Company when it failed, 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) carried a medium frame seven-shot .32 Merwin, Hulbert & Company DA revolver. Pat Garrett (the killer of Billie the Kid) was presented with an inscribed .38 Medium Frame Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolver 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 & Company revolver as well. More notorious frontiersmen known to have owned and carried Merwin, Hulbert & Company 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 & Company revolvers as gifts during his lifetime.
Offered here is a very nice condition example of a Merwin, Hulbert & Company Factory Engraved Frontier Army Revolver. This is a 2nd Model Frontier Army, as classified by Art Phelps in his book on Merwin, Hulbert & Company, and according to Phelps these revolvers were manufactured between about 1878 and 1882. These extremely desirable single action revolvers were an improvement on the initial Merwin, Hulbert & Company Frontier Army, with most of the changes being in the lock work design. The 2nd Models retained the scooped cylinder flutes and open top frame (without a top strap) of the 1st Model guns, and are highly sought after by collectors, especially those with the early production mottled orange and brown composite grips such as the ones seen on this example. As is typical of about 95% of Merwin, Hulbert & Company production, the revolver is nickel-plated.
The left side of the frame has no caliber marking under the cylinder, indicating the pistol is chambered for the .44 Merwin & Hulbert cartridge. The revolvers chambered for .44 Russian were marked Russian Model and the ones chambered in .44-40 were marked Caliber / Winchester 1873. The .44 Merwin & Hulbert cartridge was comparable to Smith & Wesson’s 44 American cartridge, but had a slightly longer case. The top of the 7 round barrel is marked: MERWIN HULBERT & C0. New York, U.S.A. Pat. Jan, 24. Apr. 21. Dec. 15. 74. Aug 3. 75. July 11. 76. Apr. 17. 77. Pat’s Mar. 6, 77. . The left side of the barrel is also marked in a single line: THE HOPKINS & ALLEN Manufacturing Co. Norwich, Conn. U.S.A. . The serial number 8544 is present on the bottom of the flat grip frame. Like the majority of Merwin, Hulbert & Company arms, the gun is assembly numbered on the major parts. In this case the assembly number 6254 is found on the frame under the grips, on the rear face of the cylinder, and on the rear face of the lower barrel web are all numbered. As noted, the condition of the gun is very good. Overall, the revolver retains about 80% of its original nickel finish. There are some areas of minor flaking and bubbling scattered over the entire revolver, much like lightly scattered pinpricking on a blued gun.
The hammer, triggerguard and trigger are all nickel plated as well. This is not common on Merwins, as the standard plated revolvers had case hardened hammers, triggerguards and triggers which suggests this may have been more of a special order gun.
The revolver is mechanically excellent and the single action mechanism works flawlessly exactly as it should. The revolver cycles, indexes, times and locks up very crisply. The locking system of the revolver works correctly 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 retains strong suction (where the action draws itself closed about halfway after it has been opened and released), but still operates smoothly and correctly. The mechanism locks the gun up securely, exactly as it should. All of the screws remain relatively crisp and sharp with very little slot wear. The innovative sliding loading gate functions smoothly and opens and closes exactly as it should.
The two-piece, mottled orange and brown hard rubber composite grips are in very good condition. They are completely original and fit the revolver perfectly. They are solid and free from any breaks, cracks or repairs. The grips show very minor wear and handling marks, and the impressed checkering remains visible.
Overall this is a very good condition example of the scarce and desirable Merwin, Hulbert & Company 2nd Model Factory Engraved Frontier Army Revolver. The Frontier Army is a scarce gun in its own right, as the open top, scoop fluted Frontier Army revolvers were only made for a few years, during the height of American western expansion. The fact that this is one with mottled orange grips only makes it rarer and more desirable. These large frame, long barrel Merwin, Hulbert & Company 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 serious collection of pistols from the American west needs at least a couple of Merwin, Hulbert & Co revolvers in it, and this one would be a truly wonderful addition to your collection.
Over the last few years the prices of Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolvers have steadily increased, along with 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 Merwin, Hulbert & Company Frontier Army to your collection. Don’t miss your chance to own a high quality Merwin, Hulbert & Company revolver now, before the prices double over the next few years!
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