Mc Pheeters Antique Militaria
Home Page About Us Ordering Information Links



ALLEN & WHEELOCK .44 CALIBER “ARMY MODEL” CENTER HAMMER LIPFIRE REVOLVER – SCARCE EARLY METALLIC PATENT CARTRIDGE PISTOL IN EXCELLENT CONDITION:  This is a very nice example of an Allen & Wheelock “Army Model” Center Hammer .44 Caliber Lipfire Revolver, also known as the “2ND Model Lipfire” - one of the scarcest of the limited number of large frame, large caliber patent metallic cartridge revolvers produced before, or during, the early years of the Civil War.   

Ethan Allen entered the marketplace in 1831 as a cutlery maker.  He soon moved into the field of firearms, gaining a reputation as a prolific American gun maker and designer, securing over 20 patents on his firearm designs.  Allen partnered with Thomas Wheelock in 1857.  

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 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 Revolvers were in production as the Civil War ignited. 

In September of 1860 Allen obtained a patent for his Lipfire Cartridge – a metallic cartridge featuring a copper case containing the bullet, propellant, and primer which was contained in a small single tab, or “lip”, projecting from the base of the cartridge.  The primer lip mated with a small slot at the rear of each chamber in the revolver’s cylinder which in turn indexed under the point of the hammer strike when the cylinder was rotated.  An additional benefit of the cartridge design was that it was no longer necessary to prime the entire base of the cartridge as with other rimfire cartridges of the period, but rather only under the case lip, resulting in an economic savings in production.  

Not only did Allen & Wheelock accomplish a breakthrough in their cartridge design, they also provided their revolvers in .38 and .44 calibers – a considerable improvement over the relatively anemic .22 and .32 caliber revolvers offered by Smith & Wesson.  Particularly with the nation in a state of war, these larger calibers coupled with the robust design of the revolvers, Allen & Wheelock stood to capture a significant slice of the market.  The observation has been made that the proprietary nature of the lipfire cartridge, and that Allen held the patent on it, served to cool the interest of the U.S. Army in purchasing the revolvers.  The last thing the army needed during the war was another proprietary cartridge to introduce into an already challenged ordnance supply system dealing with other similar situations such as the myriad of metallic cartridge carbines and their special cartridges.  This issue soon became a moot point.   

Allen and Wheelock presumably began production of the revolvers shortly after the cartridge patent was awarded in September of 1860.  Due to the successful efforts to protect their rights to the Rollin & White Patent, Smith & Wesson obtained an injunction against Allen & Wheelock in November of 1863 ordering the cessation of production of the lipfire revolvers.  According to Flayderman, the total production of these .44 lipfire revolvers was limited to approximately 250.    

In spite of the injunction which interrupted the production of Allen & Wheelock’s lipfire revolvers, they remained an active presence in the market, continuing to produce their line of percussion revolvers and long arms, and as history would soon record, their revolver design was durable enough to survive with some relatively easy conversions. 

From all appearances, Allen & Wheelock developed their large frame lipfire revolvers from the same design concepts which produced their percussion revolvers, as they share all the same features, save for those specifically related to the type of ammunition they were intended to fire.  Both designs employed the single action mechanism, the same overall frame configuration and size, the same barrel profile, the same size and profile of the cylinder and cylinder pin, and the company’s signature trigger guard rack and pinon system – as a loading lever on the percussion revolvers and as an extractor on the lipfire models.   

While showing evidence of having seen use, this Allen & Wheelock .44 Caliber Army Center Hammer Lipfire Revolver is in very good to excellent condition, having survived in the original Lipfire chambering and in full form.  The revolver is in excellent mechanical condition, properly indexing at full cock and at half cock allowing the cylinder to rotate.  The trigger to hammer mechanics function properly as well, as tight as the day the pistol was manufactured.   

The barrel is full length and retains the original high profile brass front sight.  The bore is in excellent condition, retaining sharp rifling throughout, with a bright, shiny finish with only the most minor of scattered frosting.  All the corners and edges of the barrel, frame, cylinder, hammer and trigger guard/extractor lever are distinct and the contours are not worn or altered.  

This revolver presents with two features which should be highlighted at this point in the description, as both suggest this pistol was used long after the Civil War.  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 otherwise gently used Allen & Wheelock with no finish whatsoever.  This revolver was nickel plated during the period of use, probably to replace the factory applied blued finish which had worn or flaked away.  The plating shows evidence of wear - especially on the grip frame and the area between the top of the grip panels and the hammer, where the pistol would have been exposed above the mouth of the holster.  Obviously, after being plated, the pistol was then carried often enough, and for enough years, for the plating to have been subjected to such wear.  The balance of the nickel plating has survived with very good coverage exhibiting only minor wear on the high points, and the result is a very attractive revolver with a unique finish which was not offered by the company at the time of manufacture.       

The other feature involves the cylinder pin release catch.  As originally designed, the removable cylinder arbor, enclosed in a channel below and parallel to the barrel, was held in place by a spring loaded latch.  When the latch lever was depressed, the arbor could be withdrawn and in turn, the cylinder could then be removed from the frame.  This latch was held in place by a small pin through the left side, and close to the leading edge, of the frame.  Between the slot milled for the latch proper and the hole drilled for the retention pin, enough metal was removed from this small area to create a weakness.  In the case of this pistol, and that of at least one other Allen & Wheelock revolver with the same frame design that I’ve seen, the latch and pin broke out of their milled slot and were lost.  A gunsmith executed a very simple and effective repair by drilling and tapping a small hole in the left side of the frame just forward of the cylinder opening (see photo below), and threaded a small set screw which when tightened, applied sufficient pressure against the cylinder arbor to keep it in place.  All that was required to disassemble this pistol for cleaning or maintenance was to loosen the screw and withdraw the cylinder arbor.  This proved to be a much simpler fix than attempting to fashion a new latch assembly and repair the missing piece of the frame.  The set screw is obviously contemporary to the use of the pistol, it blends in well with the surrounding surfaces, and it holds the arbor very securely with no play.     

The pistol has survived intact with all of the matching numbered components – frame, grip panels, cylinder and cylinder pin, loading gate, trigger guard/extractor lever, and extractor rod – bearing the number “16”.  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, WORCESTER, MS. US ALLEN’s PAT’s SEPT. 7, NOV 9, 1858”. 

The overall finish of the metal is clean and smooth with no signs of heavy use or abuse and only some very minor pin prick sized pitting at the barrel’s end where it rested in a holster. 

One of the unique design features of these pistols is the combination trigger guard/extractor 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 extractor rod and move the rod to the rear and into the chamber aligned with the rod, pushing the expended cartridge case out through the loading ramp.  This assembly is complete and intact with all the original parts and it functions as it should.    

The original six chamber cylinder is full form with no damage.  The chambers of the cylinder are likewise bright and smooth with no pitting or signs of wear.  The exterior of the cylinder is in excellent condition with all the cylinder stop notches retaining crisp edges, both faces of the cylinder are bright and clean, the advancing notches on the rear of the cylinder are still sharp, and the serial/assembly numbers are legibly stamped on the rear face.  The second pattern loading gate with the hinge point at the bottom of the gate is full form and it retains catch which functions properly.   

Due to discontinuation of production of the lipfire revolvers, it stands to reason that the production of the special lipfire cartridges was drastically reduced.  Without a ready supply of the proprietary cartridges, the revolvers became worthless; however the quality of the revolvers and the robust design was still recognized.   After the expiration of the Rollin White Patent, a significant number of these Allen & Wheelock Lip Fire revolvers were converted to fire rimfire cartridges which were considerably more common, especially in the far reaches of the expanding American West.   

The conversion of these lipfire revolvers to fire rimfire cartridge was infinitely simpler than the conversions of the percussion revolvers.  As the cylinder was already bored through, and the dimensions of the lipfire and rimfire cartridges were basically identical, all that was required was to mill a mortise around the mouth of each cylinder in which the rimfire cartridge rim would seat, and make a minor alteration to the profile of the hammer face.  As a result, a significant number of these Allen & Wheelock Center Hammer .44 Caliber Lipfire Revolvers were converted to fire rimfire (and ultimately centerfire) cartridges, resulting in even fewer of the original 250 .44 caliber lipfire revolvers surviving in the original lipfire cartridge configuration, and making these .44 caliber lipfire revolvers such as this specimen quite scarce.   

The two original, matching walnut grip panels are in very good to excellent condition with no heavy dents or handling marks, nor any cracks or splits, and they retain their original sharp, clean edges.   

Due to the original low production of these revolvers as discussed above, and then the subsequent conversions of a large percentage of the original production to rimfire, these Allen & Wheelock “Army Model” Center Hammer .44 Caliber Lipfire Revolvers are seldom encountered on the market, often missing from even the most advanced collections.  This is an excellent specimen which will be not only a key addition to any collection of relative rare Civil War cavalry revolvers, but also is one that obviously spans the transition onto the western frontier after the war.  Gently used and well care for, this Lipfire Revolver presents very well, and would be very difficult to upgrade. (0804)  $3250



Ordering Instructions

Identified Items  


Edged Weapons

Saddles and Horse Equipment


Collectors Ammunition

Uniforms, Insignia, Hats

Canteens and Mess Gear

Gun tools, Bullet molds and Parts

Field Equipment and Artillery

Original Ordnance Manuals, and Photos 

US Army Medical

Reference Books and Reprints