Misc Double Action Top-break Pocket Pistols
Iíve always been fascinated by the variety of top-break pocket pistols produced in the 1880 through early 20th century period. It presents an opportunity to build an interesting and varied collection with a wide variety without having to take out a second mortgage. The historical time frame is a fascinating era and itís interesting to track down the obscure pieces in addition to the many variations by major manufacturers such as Harrington and Richardson, Hopkins and Allen, Iver Johnson, and Forehand and Wadsworth. They are nearly always chambered for the 32 S&W or 38 S&W cartridges which are still available, and many of the smokeless powder era top-breaks by the better manufacturers can be candidates for the "shootable" collectibles after being okíd by a gunsmith. It can be hard to find information on the more obscure of these, but often guns that are not listed in other price guides can be found in R.L. Wilsonís Official Price Guide to Gun Collecting.
continued below photo, click photo to enlarge - sample top-breaks.
Early I.J. and H&R DAís
The Iver Johnson Model 1879 has the distinction of being the First DA revolver with a swing out cylinder, although admittedly somewhat different than what we are customed to seeing today. IJ acquired the design and patent from Shattuck, who had used the principle on a spur-trigger SA, (see spur trigger section of this Dispatch). The design was invented and patented by Andrew Hyde in 1879. Limited numbers of the I.J. DA version were produced from 1883 to 1887. Colt introduced its First side-swing cylinder revolver in 1889 and Smith and Wesson in 1896. This revolver has an interesting system of extraction Ė once the cylinder is swung open at a 90% angle to the barrel, the cylinder is grasped and pulled towards the barrel for the fixed ejector star to push out the shells.
H&R had made solid frame DA revolvers earlier in the 1880ís, but their "H&R Shell Extracting Revolver" was introduced in 1886 and made until 1888 as their first top-break design. It is interesting in that, unlike its S&W predecessors and later top-breaks made by H&R, it did not feature automatic ejection of shells upon opening the revolver. Instead the shells are manually ejected by pushing on the ejector rod laying underneath the barrel. In some respects, this seems to be a more practical, if somewhat slower, design. Also unique to this H&R model are the abstract floral pattern hard rubber grips.
Iver Johnson Revolvers
Iver Johnson is often overlooked by collectors as a significant American arms manufacturer. From 1871 throughout the 20th century they have produced many revolvers with a great number of them in the top-break 32 S&W and 38 S&W calibers. An excellent book is available to guide collectors to the sometimes confusing variations Ė Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works Handguns 1871-1978 by W.E. Goforth. Iver Johnson model terminology can be a bit confusing, in that most of their top-break revolvers are known as Safety Automatics, referring to their "Hammer the Hammer" transfer bar safety system and to the automatic ejection of cartridges upon opening these revolvers. For simplicity sake here, we will refer to the models as either "Iver Johnson Hammer" or "Iver Johnson Hammerless" models, although the correct model name according to Goforth would be more like " Small (or Large) Frame Safety Automatic Hammer (or Hammerless) Model."
In the standard Safety Automatic revolvers with the traditional exposed hammer, the First Model was made from 1894 through 1895 and is identified by itís single post latch system. The Second Model was made from 1896 to 1908, and the Third Model was made from 1909 to 1941. Both Second and Third Models have the double post latch system. Quick visual clues that identify a Third Model include a longer rear sight on top of the latch and the owl head on the grips is looking directly at you , rather than towards the muzzle end of the barrel as was the case on the Second Model. The Third Model changes were intended to accommodate the higher pressure of smokeless powder loads.
In the Hammerless Iver Johnsons Safety Automatic Models, the First Model was made from 1895 to 1896 and can be quickly identified by the single post frame latch. The Second Model was made from 1897 to 1908, and there is a safety lever added onto the face of the trigger ( not unlike modern day Glocks). The Third Model was designed for smokeless powder and was made from 1909 to 1941. It is also known as "the New Model" and can be quickly identified by the lack of a safety lever on the face of the trigger.
Harrington & Richardson Top Breaks
The original H&R firm was in business for over a century from 1871 to 1986. Itís roots are deep in the mid-19th Century Connecticut Valley firearms industry where the Wesson brothers loom large in the history of American firearms innovation. Edward Wesson was a noted maker of fine percussion rifles. Daniel B. Wesson was the co founder of Smith and Wesson, and design genius behind many of their break-through innovations. Baby brother Frank Wesson started his own firearms manufacturing firm in 1859, sharing an early patent with Nathan Harrington. Wesson produced his famous two trigger rifles and spur trigger pistols and pocket rifles. He shared a brief partnership with his nephew Gilbert Harrington, as Wesson and Harrington. In 1875 Harrington and another former Wesson employee, William Richardson formed the new H&R company next door to the Wesson factory. Along with many other firearms H&R made between 1887 and 1940, were about 1.3 million of these top break revolvers. They are known as "Automatic Ejection" revolvers.
Photos & for sale listings of misc. top-break DA's
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