View Full Version : Unidentifed BP pistol

January 1, 2009, 08:19 PM
A friend of mine in our church here in Montana got this several years ago. It looks to be either a Whitney or Spiller and Burr. The frame is brass. Lots of pitting with no markings. It also looks to be .36 cal. Any ideas?
Can't get the URL. Will try again
maybe this is it

January 1, 2009, 09:21 PM
That's a tough one. I'd say Spiller & Burr but it has a round barrel - Spiller & Burrs and Whitneys had octagonal barrels.
How long is the barrel?
It's .36 caliber, six shots, right?
There is a .36 caliber, six shot, 8" barrel, brass framed revolver made by Shawk & McLanahan in St. Louis. According to Flaydermans, only 100 were made in 1858. If they were marked at all, it was on the backstrap: SHAWK & MCLANAHAN. They were inspired by the Whitneys and were actually Northern revolvers.
Any other ideas?

January 2, 2009, 12:19 AM
If I'm not mistaken the Shawk and Mclanahan was an open top. I'd say it's a Spiller and Burr with a round barrel installed. Note the ram doesn't sit right.

January 2, 2009, 12:23 AM
It is an 8" barrel but does not have anything on the backstrap. One sight said there should be a serial number on the inside of the trigger guard but I could find none. However there are lots of small pits on this gun. It looks like it may have been ground dug. If it were one of those guns, what would it be worth given the rarity?

January 2, 2009, 12:48 AM
It most definitely was not ground dug. If it were the grips would be gone and it would be rusted solid and the pits would be much, much, much worse. A barn find maybe.

Fingers McGee
January 2, 2009, 12:49 AM
The Shawk & McLanahan was a solid frame pistol with a top strap; but it had a grip frame profiled like the Colt Navy, not the Remington. This does look more like a round barreled Spiller & Burr.

January 2, 2009, 12:53 AM
I don't have any of my books here so can't verify anything. Weren't they made on Leech and Rigdon Machinery?

January 2, 2009, 01:01 AM
Here's another pic
The spring and trigger internals must be rusted through for the hammer does not cock when pulled back and the cylinder will spin freely

Fingers McGee
January 2, 2009, 01:34 AM
Shawk & Rigdon were in Cincinnati at the same time - mid 1850s. Shawk was an inventor and maker of steam fire engines while Rigdon was a member of Rigdon & Harmstead, scale manfacturers. Rigdon had moved to St Louis and started a scale company when Shawk arrived there in 1855. Shawk started Shawk & McLanahan in Carondelet MO - a suburb of St Louis in 1858 to make locks and fire engines. While there, Shawk invented a rifling machine and started making revolvers on a small scale. His revolver making probably lasted til 1863, when he failed to get a contract to make Union Muskets. He sold the plant & left St Louis.

The Leech and Rigdon company was formed in the spring of 1862 to make swords. They made some revolvers during that period; but weren't making revolvers in earnest until March 1863 when they received a contract from the Confederate Government. Leech & Rigdon's partnership disolved in Dec 1863. A New partnership with Jesse Ansley, A.J. Smythe, and C.R. Keen started in Jan of 1864 under the name Rigdon, Ansley & Company.

January 2, 2009, 01:36 AM
The spring and trigger internals must be rusted through for the hammer does not cock when pulled back and the cylinder will spin freely

Could be or could just be rusted in place or both. I've cleaned up and fired worse guns. If it is a verifiable S&B it's still worth something but it's a shame the barrel has been swapped out. That will cut the value considerably.

January 2, 2009, 01:40 AM
Had it backwards. D'OH!

Founded by Able Shawk and J. K. McLanahan

.36 caliber percussion, 6 shot revolver, 8" round barrel, brass frame, produced in the suburb of Carondelet.

Shawk was an inventor and maker of steam fire engines and it was with his machinery at his two story stone building on Market Street where one hundred of the revolvers were made in 1858. They had solid brass frames patterned after the Whitney and an 8 inch round barrel. The plain round cylinder was six shot of .36 caliber. Some were marked "Shawk & McLanahan, St. Louis, Carondelet, Mo." on the backstrap and others were unmarked except for serial numbers which are all under 100. No patent was ever obtained and only very view examples are known today. It is supposed that Leech & Rigdon, Columbus, Mississippi used the machinery of Shawk & McLanahan.

January 2, 2009, 02:56 AM
Leech and Rigdon is an openr top Reb Reb...
I din't catch if it is a Brass Frame or not... if it's Brass it's a Spiller&Burr especially with no markin's.


January 2, 2009, 06:18 AM
Yeah SG, I know. Fingers and I were discussing the Shawk and Mclanahan. I was thinking it was an open top too since they were made on the same machinery. You need to go back and read all the posts.:p:D

January 2, 2009, 08:12 AM
SG, check out the round barrel. I say it's not a Spiller & Burr. Maybe a mix and match at some point, or a copy of a copy. The Shawk & McLanahan is the closest match but like Fingers McGee pointed out the grip is not quite right.

January 2, 2009, 10:32 AM
Pohill, go back and look at the frame really close. Forget the barrel for now, just concentrate on the frame. Find a pic of an original S&B if you need to and compare. It's an S&B right down to the grips that somebody has installed a round barrel on.

January 2, 2009, 10:59 AM
Yeah, that was my first thought, too, but I don't know much about the manufacturing processes and capabilities of that time period - would they have been able to produce a barrel with the exact thread size, barrel diameter, etc to make it fit? And why would they do it?
Also, I don't see the loading lever release knob on either side.
Maybe it's an early Cabelas Pietta prototype. Does it say BLACKA POWDA OHNLY anywhere on it?

January 2, 2009, 11:35 AM
Yeah they could do it. Any number of reasons for doing it just like today.

I missed the release knob meownself. Also taking a closer look the trigger guard isn't right either. I was convinced last night but now I dunno what the heck it is. Sure looks like an S&B frame tho.

James K
January 2, 2009, 09:16 PM
Whatever it might have been, it has been beat the heck out of and gunsmithed about to extinction. IMHO, it is not a Spiller & Burr, or any of the above suggestions, just a local gunsmith/blacksmith attempt to make a revolver. I don't think it is a prototype, as there does not appear to be anything new to indicate a prototype or a patent model.

It is obviously a copy of the basic Whitney design, but I don't think any factory ever made that frame or did that machine work. Everything about it screams crude tools and hand work. Even Confederate makers never turned out anything that poorly made and if they had the C.S. inspectors would have had kittens, gray of course.

Is it Civil War era? Your guess is as good as mine. Could it be an aged repro? I don't think so; the far better quality of the repro would show through. It looks like good old Mike, the village blacksmith, was standing under the spreading chestnut tree one day, when someone handed him a Whitney revolver. "Heck," said good old Mike, "I bet I can make one of those." And he did.


January 4, 2009, 12:44 AM
Hey, Pohill and Hawg. What other CS guns were brass-framed Remington copies?

It looks as if the frame and trigger guard came off of something like a S&B, but then again, not quite the S&B frame in the front bottom. It looks, as others have mentioned, to have a replacement barrel and pretty obviously, a replacement rammer.

I agree that it has been gunsmithed a lot, and it might just be an attempt by some smith to make his own gun. However, I'd like to know what other brass-framed Remington copies were out there before throwing my hat on that peg.

Just for laughs, a Whitney? Frame looks the same. http://www.antiques-arms.com/catalog/soldcivil-war-confederate-whitney-navy-revolver-pi-478.html

The Doc is out now. :cool:

PS, is it loaded?

January 4, 2009, 01:10 PM
Actually, the brass framers were usually copies of Whitneys - the SPILLER & BURR and the SHAWK & MCLANAHAN. Whitney frames were actually made of iron (mine, at least).

Maybe, back in the day, they had telegraphs set up and shooters communicated with each other as we do, but at a slower pace. A Western Union Forum:
dot dot dot dash dash dot dot dash dot (Hi, guys, I'm new to the telegraph, but I have a Spiller and Burr handed down to me from my Pappy but the barrel is broke and I was wondering if I could swap it out for a Colt round barrel)

17 Replies: dot dash dot dot dash (Sure, why not, these old guns will never be worth anything anyways)

January 4, 2009, 03:12 PM
I find all the posts very interesting. I spoke with the owner of it this morning and he too finds it a great curiousity. I have found very little info concerning the Shawk and Mclanhanan that goes beyond that which has already been supplied here. I also find it interesting that there are no pictures of said pistol. I know there were only 100 made but one would think that at least some drawings would have survived. I would really be intersted to see it next to a pic. I also was wondering if the Rebs made the 58 in .36 cal? If not then perhaps it was was a reb .44 frame that someone converted to a .36. That would require a new barrel would it not? O well, so many questions and so few answers. But it continues to fascinate. The next time I get a chance I'm going to reexamine it for serial numbers on the trigger guard. I'll also try to take more and better pics. I enjoy the discussion and the sluething.

January 4, 2009, 04:00 PM
Finally worked up the ambition to go grab my copy of Roland Thalheimer's Percussion Revolvers of the United States. Paged through almost 200 full-page pictures of different makes and models. There were a bunch of Whitney-esque things that started to get me going "Ah ha!", but there was always a hitch. Always. Take the Western Arms Co. Navy Revolver as an example: had the Whitney frame knockoff like the one pictured in the links has, right down to the shallow "s-curve" on the bottom front of the frame, was a .36 and was made in round and octagon barrelled versions. But appears to have an iron frame and a notable identifying feature is a distinctive flat-bottomed trigger guard, nope...and so on and so on.

Forgot to mention: there's a pic of a Shawk & Mclanahan in the abovementioned book, as well as one in William B. Edwards' Civil War Guns. Both photos are of the same gun, serial #2. Believe me, that particular example doesn't look like this revolver's photo: there's an extension of the frame under the barrel, almost like a shelf supporting it out forwards a ways.

There was a list of another 78 people or companies that were supposed to have made percussion revolvers that the author of that book was trying to get pictures and specs of, so just because it's not pictured in there...

Right now, I'm w. the folks that figure it's likely a one-off product or a forced crossbreeding of parts.

January 4, 2009, 04:44 PM
Colt made several prototypes that were never produced: a Dragoon with a topstrap, an 1860 .44 Army with an octagonal barrel, a .70 caliber revolving rifle to name a few. I'm sure there were many more hybrids that we'll never know about.
Check out this gun: what were they thinking?

January 4, 2009, 06:33 PM

January 4, 2009, 06:56 PM
Probably, I have something better than you!

Since we do not see this one as a 'standard' model, we can pretty much assume that this better idea fell flat on its' face.

The nice thing is that they were thinking back then or we might still be using matchlocks! ;)

I'm beginning to think that it was at one time this:

Burton adapted this pattern in its entirety except for a few minor substitutions. Due to material shortages, the Southern Whitney differed in two ways. Brass was to be substituted for iron in the fabrication of the lock frame, and iron was to be substituted for steel in the fabrication of the cylinder. Strength was added to the iron cylinders by heating and then twisting the round bars of iron. This process prevented any single chamber from being in parallel alignment with any fault lines in the bar iron. Even though brass was the metal used for the lock frame, the Southern Whitney was to be electroplated in silver. This electroplating made the Confederate copy look very similar to the original Whitney Navy revolver. Also, Burton proposed to round off the muzzle of the barrel instead of manufacturing sharp edges like the model. from http://www.csarmory.org/spiller/spiller.html

The Doc it out now. :cool:

January 4, 2009, 07:18 PM
I'd say Spiller & Burr but it has the round barrel and there is no release knob for the loading lever, or a hole where there had been one. The SHAWK & MCLANAHAN makes sense, too, but for the grip.
Also, look at this pic of the Spiller & Burr - the barrel threads do not extend inside the frame as they do in the mystery gun (but other models of the S&B did have the threads inside the frame).

It also looks like the mystery gun only has two screws in the side of the frame over the trigger, not the three of the S & B,

Riot Earp
January 4, 2009, 07:27 PM
It looks like a crude bastardization of the Spiller & Burr, First Model. The triggerguard is wrong for a real S&B. And so is the barrel, as mentioned.

By the way, there is mention of two "Shawk & McLanahan six-shooters" in Louis L'Amour's novel To Tame A Land, one of his better books. I had no idea what they were when I read the story.

January 4, 2009, 07:35 PM
Take a look at this Shawk and McLanahan - it doesn't have a release knob in the frame, either.


January 4, 2009, 08:24 PM
Close but not exact.

January 4, 2009, 09:53 PM
Looks like the S&M (yeah, try saying that with a straight face :rolleyes: ) was a knock-off patent infringment of the Whitney and Remington, both.

I guess they did that a lot before China got into the manufacturing age. :rolleyes:

The Doc is out now. :cool:

January 4, 2009, 11:11 PM
If anything, the Remington was a knockoff since it came later. I wonder why Colt didn't produce the full framed revolver that he had a patent for in the 1850s (other than the Root).

January 6, 2009, 07:07 PM
To the OP Have you sent the photo to the guys at the firearms museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY? They would probably be able to shed a bit more light on its origins. Depending on were you're at in MT, you may be able to drive the revolver down there to show it to someone at the museum.