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ALLEN & WHEELOCK CENTER HAMMER .44 CALIBER ARMY PERCUSSION REVOLVER – SCARCE CIVIL WAR PISTOL – WITH PERIOD IDENTIFICATION:  This is a very nice example of the Allen & Wheelock Center Hammer .44 Caliber “Army Model” Percussion Revolvers - one of the scarcest of the secondary US Martial revolvers to see service with the Federal Army during the American Civil War.  According to Flayderman, the total production of this revolver was approximately 700 pieces, of which 536 were purchased by the U.S. Government in December of 1861.  Surviving regimental returns made during the Civil War record that troopers in the 2ND and 3RD Michigan Volunteer Cavalry Regiments were armed with these Allen & Wheelock Revolvers in 1864. 

Ethan Allen, a prolific American gun maker and designer, held some 22 firearms patents - five specific to the development of the percussion revolver – and was well established in the firearms industry for some twenty years before partnering with Thomas Wheelock in 1857 – an important year in the chronology of revolver production in America.   

As was case with a number of other contemporary gun makers, Allen & Wheelock were very aware that the patents held by Colt would expire in 1857, and it is quite possible this new partnership was specifically formed to take advantage of this opportunity.  It is believed that at a number of gun makers, including Allen & Wheelock, had viable designs for mechanically rotated revolvers prepared in anticipation of the expiration of Colt’s patents and were ready to begin immediate production.  Developing a series of revolvers between 1857 and 1861, the company’s .44 caliber Army Model Center Hammer Revolver was in production as the Civil War ignited and the government began buying arms to equip the soldiers.  The U.S. Ordnance Department is believed to have purchased 536 of the 700 produced, and through surviving records, it is known that a significant number of those purchased by the government were issued to the 2nd and 3rd Michigan Cavalry Regiments.   

In spite of obvious evidence of having seen use, this Allen & Wheelock .44 Caliber Army Revolver is in very good condition.  The pistol has survived intact with all of the matching numbered components – frame, loading lever/trigger guard, grip panels, cylinder and cylinder pin – bearing the number “450”.  The company’s maker stamp and patent information is present and very legible on the left flat of the full length octagon to round 7 ½” barrel: “ALLEN & WHEELOCK WORCHESTER, MASS. U.__ / ALLEN’S PT’S . JAN . 13 . DEC . 15 . 1857 . SEPT. 7, 18__”   [It is an interesting footnote to Allen’s manufacturing practices that he had a reputation for being somewhat parsimonious.  These barrel stampings bear that out in that it is known he used the same stamping die from one model to the next, with little regard to whether all of the characters in the die would fit in the area available.  Hence the final “S.A.” of U.S.A. at the end of the top line and the last two digits of the year date at the end of the bottom line were not struck simply because there wasn’t sufficient room – a characteristic regularly found on these Army pistols.]

It has been noted that the blued finish applied to Allen & Wheelock firearms was not particularly durable, often prone to flaking and commonly missing altogether, so it is not unusual to find an Allen & Wheelock with no finish whatsoever.  Such is the case with this revolver.  While all the corners and edges are distinct and the contours are not worn or altered, there is no finish save for some traces of blue present on the well protected areas inside the frame, on the rear of the cylinder and on the interior surfaces between the bottom of the frame and the trigger guard/loading lever. 

One of the unique features of these pistols is the combination trigger guard/loading lever assembly that hinges at the front-bottom of the frame.  Described as a “creeping” or rack and pinion design, the lever arm is contoured to form the trigger guard, latching to the static rear bow of the guard.  When the trigger guard/lever is released and rotated away from the frame, studs on the forward swell of the lever engage corresponding holes in the ram and move the ram into the chamber aligned with the ram.  This assembly is complete and intact with all the original parts and it functions as it should. 

The original cylinder pin, enclosed in a channel below and parallel to the barrel, is held in place by a latch.  When the catch is depressed, the pin can be withdrawn and in turn, the cylinder can be removed from the frame.   

The six chamber original cylinder is full form with no damage and all six of the original nipples are present and in excellent condition - full form with no chips, cracks or excessive peening.  The nipples are another interesting feature of this pistol as rather than being screwed into the rear of the cylinder with a wrench in the method common to many revolvers of this period, each nipple is cut with a screwdriver slot on the end of the nipple that is exposed inside the chamber and they are screwed into place from inside each chamber.   

The barrel is full length and the brass front sight is present and full form.  The bore is clean with distinct rifling and no heavy pitting.    

The two original, matching walnut grip panels are in very good to excellent condition with much of the original varnish present.  There are no heavy dents or handling marks, no cracks or splits and the only sign of wear is a minor chip missing from the rear lower corner of the left panel.   

The overall finish of the metal is clean and smooth with no signs of heavy use or abuse.  There are small scattered patches of light pitting that are well and accurately shown in the photographs below.  None of these patches are particularly unsightly, nor do they detract from the way in which this scarce pistol presents or displays.   

The mechanical function of the pistol is excellent, properly indexing at full cock and at half cock allowing the cylinder to rotate.  The trigger to hammer mechanics function properly as well.   

The left panel of the frame below the hammer and behind the cylinder is hand engraved with the name, "John J. Hampson".  While examining the pistol I removed the grip panels to determine if they were numbered to this pistol.  Once the panels were removed, I found a wad of folded paper approximately ¾” long and ½” thick wedged between the inside surface of the backstrap and the mainspring.  Obviously old and quite fragile, once the paper wad was removed and unfolded to its full size of 6” by 3 ½”, I found it was a piece of desk notepaper with the printed letterhead:

John J. Hampson

71 Cutler Street

   Newark, New Jersey 

Hand written in ink on the paper is: 

"This Allen & Wheelock Pistol was owned by John J. Hampson, 71 Cutler St., Newark, N.J. and presented to the Newark Museum by him in the year of 1925." 

The handwriting on the note, particularly the man's name, is an exact match for the engraving on the side of the pistol's frame, indicating the same man who authored the note also engraved his own name on the pistol.  

Researching John Hampson revealed that he was a machinist (b.1874 d.unk) and was residing at 71 Cutler Street, Newark, New Jersey when he registered for the draft in 1918. 

His father, also named John (NMN), emigrated from England in 1860, and while not yet a citizen, during the Civil War he was employed by the U.S. Navy as a machinist.  In February of 1865, the elder Hampson enlisted in the Navy for three years, entered in the rolls as a “Landsman” (a title which indicated he was not yet qualified as an Able Bodied Seaman).   He settled in Newark in 1877 with his family and at some point he was employed by Thomas Edison in the inventor’s Menlo Park laboratory.  Senior Hampson died in 1923 in Newark and it is possible his son, John J., obtained this pistol from his father’s estate.   

How this Allen & Wheelock came to be in the possession of John J. Hampson and why he engraved his name on the frame is information that is lost to history.  The pistol obviously held some import to Hampson, and it is possible his father purchased and carried the pistol during his enlistment in the Navy.  There is at least one report of a U.S. Navy sailor being armed with an Allen & Wheelock revolver during the Civil War.  Whatever the reason, Hampson thought highly enough of the pistol to engrave his name on it and then felt it was of sufficient significance to donate the pistol to the Newark Museum before he died.  While we will never know his thinking, it is of some interest to know where this pistol was at one point in history.  The original note found inside the grip and a small amount of biographical material will accompany the sale of the pistol.   

This .44 Caliber Center Hammer Revolver is one of the rarest of the Allen and Wheelock revolvers, and is one of the least common secondary US martial percussion revolvers which were issued during the Civil War.  As such, these Allen & Wheelock Army Pistols are a key addition to any collection of Civil War cavalry firearms, and as compared to many of the other pistols carried by the mounted soldiers, decent, complete specimens are increasingly scarce.   This is a very nice specimen which has survived intact with all its original parts, as well as having the added value of retaining some family history.  (0227)  $3250

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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