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Old July 10, 2007, 02:02 PM   #1
Boertjie
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Help with ID of US revolver used in Boer War

Hello everyone, this is my first posting on the site. I am from South Africa and was given a revolver around 1972 when I was a kid by an old lady who's father was a Boer soldier in the 1899-1902 Boer War. She told me her father took this from a captured British Soldier.

This arm was registered as a relic and thus no licence was necessary. All these years while the gun was in my posession I really never bothered about it until I discovered your site and saw an opportunity to try and match this item with history.

1) Can someone help me with the ID, was this a common handgun in US or is it quite a rare item?

2) Did the US supply the British Army with handguns in the time of the Boer War, as I understand the Brits standard handgun then was the Webly and Scott mark 4.

3) I read there were US observers in South Africa on both the Boer and British sides, maybe this is where it comes from?

4) Another possibility is that a British officer obtained this arm in his private capacity and took it along to war?(Young Winston Churchill was an officer in the Boer War and there is a famous picture of him with a mauser pistol)

Attached the 3 pictures:

The large ring on the bottom of the butt maybe indicating it as a military item?

The pictures show the unique way of assembling this gun.

3 groups of wording:

a) CALIBRE winchester 1873

b) MERWIN HULBERT & CO. N.Y.
POCKET ARMY

c) written on the barrel
HOPKINS AND ALLEN???? NORWICH,CONN, U.S.A.
PAT. APR 7.77 JUNE 15.80 MAR 14.82 JAN 9.88

d) ser no. 421
thanks
boertjie
Attached Images
File Type: jpg P1000611.JPG (95.9 KB, 181 views)
File Type: jpg P1000622.JPG (90.0 KB, 129 views)
File Type: jpg P1000623.JPG (104.4 KB, 125 views)

Last edited by Boertjie; July 10, 2007 at 03:08 PM.
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Old July 10, 2007, 03:49 PM   #2
Scorch
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Although I am not knowledgeable on H&A revolvers, I can try to help a little.
* Hopkins & Allen made revolvers up to about the 1920's (?). If this one is actually a Boer War relic, it would be dated prior to 1880 (if 1st Boer War) or 1899 (if 2nd Boer War). Since it is dated Jan 1888, it would fit with the 2nd Boer War.
* Merwin Hulbert & Co, NY, NY is likely the seller or exporter.
* The ring on the grip is called a lanyard ring. It may or may not indicate it is a military weapon, as many police revolvers also had lanyard rings. Since it is called the Pocket Army, it may have been intended to look like a military revolver and provided with a lanyard ring.
* Calibre Winchester 1873? That would likely be 44-40 Winchester. For a revolver named Pocket Army, I would have expected 45 Colt, 45 Government, or 45 Schofield, as these were actually used by the US military.
* It is possible that there were contracts to supply the British or British Colonial troops. Most likely the revolver was a private weapon, and it was purchased in England or British-controlled area judging from the spelling of the word "calibre". In the US, the 44-40 Winchester cartridge was referred to as 44 WCF or 44-40.
* As to whether this was a common revolver in the US or elsewhere, I have no idea. I have never seen one like it, but that means little.
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Old July 10, 2007, 04:22 PM   #3
Wildalaska
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Looks like you have a true Merwin Hulbert Pocket Army. On the basis of the pics alone, that revolver could be worth $5,000 USD.

WildcongratsAlaska

PS I have studied up a bit on these cuz I just had one in 32 that I sold for a nice $$
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Old July 10, 2007, 04:23 PM   #4
Jim Watson
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Merwin, Hulbert & Co. were a firm of revolver designers and promoters operating from 1874 - 1891. Their guns were made in the Hopkins & Allen Mfg. Co. plant but as a separate operation with its own equipment and staff. They have no parts or design elements in common with H&As.

The M.H. revolvers were finely made to an unusual design. There were never a lot made - Flayderman estimates about 9000 of the Pocket Army in all variations, single action, double action, open top and topstrap. Yours is the last variation, double action with topstrap. The "skull crusher" pommel and fitment for lanyard ring were standard on that model.

Some more thousands of the full size Army and small calibre Pocket models were made over the 16 years M.H. was in business. They have been attracting collector interest and high prices, largely because a lot of them were exported to Latin America and pretty much used up.

I see option 4 as the most likely, a private purchase. By an "observer" or a "soldier of fortune" or by a serving officer, cannot be told at this late date.

I never heard of the US supplying either side during the Boer War, and model nomenclature to the contrary, M.H. were never able to secure a government contract for sidearms.

Winchester 1873 indeed refers to chambering in .44 WCF = .44-40. They also made guns in .44 Russian and their own .44 M.H., never in .45 Colt, .45 S&W, .476 Enfield, or .455 Webley that would have been standard issue in US or British armies.
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Old July 10, 2007, 04:42 PM   #5
Boertjie
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Thanks for quick info

Thanks Jim, Wildalaska and Scorch; you guys are really knowledgable

I must say that the machining and finishing is extremely well done on this revolver, I just can't imagine how they did it with those ancient machines of 120 years ago! If you put a bit of oil on the centre shaft and pull the barrel part forward, on releasing it again it pulls the barrel right back due to the perfect machined air tight fit!

The sad part is that the gun laws here in South Africa have changed and I will most probably soon have to get it de-activated this or hand it in to Police

regards
boertjie
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Old July 10, 2007, 04:50 PM   #6
Boertjie
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Thanks for quick info

Thanks Jim, Wildalaska and Scorch; you guys are really knowledgable

I must say that the machining and finishing is extremely well done on this revolver, I just can't imagine how they did it with those ancient machines of 120 years ago! If you put a bit of oil on the centre shaft and pull the barrel part forward, on releasing it again it pulls the barrel right back due to the perfect machined air tight fit!

The sad part is that the gun laws here in South Africa have changed and I will most probably soon have to get it de-activated this or hand it in to Police

regards
boertjie
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Old July 10, 2007, 04:51 PM   #7
Wildalaska
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Export it out....and hten have it sold

WildeasytodoAlaska
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Old July 10, 2007, 05:06 PM   #8
Jim Watson
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A sad tale, your gun represents a significant fraction of the output of a small but well thought of company. Maybe WildrevolutionarygunrunnerAlaska can help you export it and help your bank account and a US collector.

As to the fine fit, a major gun company rep once told a writer that the M.H. could not be duplicated in a modern factory.
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Old July 10, 2007, 05:43 PM   #9
Wildalaska
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You get it over here my friend and Ill market it for you (at my usual low low fee)...with the circumstances of it's history (that you could document) and the condition (how is the bore and lock up?) that gun could make a collector very happy...it is WONDERFUL ( just in terms of its sheer mechaincal ingenuity...it and revolvers like Nagants were the useless cutting edge...sort of like HK P7s)

Exporting isnt hard, just a bit pricy...more importantly, I would bet my britches that no import/export paperwork is necessary as it is an antique. Just Fed Ex it

Whatever you do, please dont let this wonderful piece of history get destroyed or harmed

WildnicegunAlaska
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Old July 11, 2007, 03:41 PM   #10
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Jim W. is correct. AFAIK, there was no H&A contract to supply any one in the Boer War. But H&A, like many American companies, had a British agent and those guns were sold in England. Since at the time, British officers purchased their own sidearms, it is most likely that a British officer bought the gun and carried it as his own personal property. Why he chose to carry a gun with a limited ammunition supply rather than one in the standard .455 will probably never be known, though he may have felt (with good reason) that the British cartridge was underpowered and the .44-40 would be better.

It is not usually understood why M&H had their own ammunition, but the way the guns work is that the cylinder is pulled forward while the cartridge is held back. If the cartridge is the right length, the bullet of a loaded round will be left in the cylinder, retaining an unfired round, while an empty case will fall out of the gun. But if the cartridge is too long, none will fall out; if it is too short, loaded rounds will fall clear. So it is not accurate to say (for example) that a .32 M&H cartridge is identical to .32 S&W; the latter will load and fire in a .32 M&H revolver, but the revolver will not work as designed.

The .44-40 revolvers were made to work with the standard cartridge, so there was no ammunition problem.

Jim
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Old July 11, 2007, 05:34 PM   #11
Tom2
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I thought I read that the M&H guns were very well fit and finished. So well made and tight, in fact, that they could be bound up by dirt or firing residue quicker than other revolvers. A design that was ahead of it's time. Looks more like it would have done well with smokeless loads in that regard? I would think if it was owned by a British officer, it would have had marks to the extent that it was "not British made" and probably even British proofs to allow it to be sold in Britain? The M&H guns I have seen photos of, had the "skull cracker" ridge on the bottom, possibly even the hole thru, but have never seen with a lanyard ring thru that hole. Seems best place to connect a lanyard to me! I suppose in desperate times, you aquire your arms where you can and what you can. Secondary wild west type revolver that perhaps suffered more from more popular brands marketing and distribution rather than flaws.
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Old July 12, 2007, 09:38 PM   #12
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Good point on the proof marks. I was just speculating about how a M&H got into the hands of a British officer, but there are other ways; he might even have travelled in the U.S. There was no Brady check at that time, so he could easily have bought it here.

There is a bit of a drawback to the M&H that is not obvious until you use one. While extraction of fired cases is quick, almost as fast as a top break, loading is fairly slow. You don't just stick cartridges in the cylinder and close it up. You close the gun, then open the loading gate and insert loaded cartridges one at a time, just like the Colt SAA. So in reloading speed it is somewhere between a gun like the S&W American and the Colt SAA. Also, the empty cases do not always drop free if there are unfired cases in the cylinder; you can find yourself sort of picking cases out and dropping them.

Jim
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Old July 12, 2007, 10:16 PM   #13
Wildalaska
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the .32 M&H I had recently locked up like a bank vault!

WildverycoolAlaska
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Old July 16, 2007, 02:08 AM   #14
4V50 Gary
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How it'd get there? Officers were gentlemen and well travelled. It would not be surprising for an officer to purchase his own pistol to carry off to war. Remember that Winston Churchill carried his own Broomhandle Mauser when he served in the 17th Lancers.

BTW, selling it is better than surrendering it to the police.
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