Sunday, June 11, 2017

Jesse Butterfield of Philadelphia received a patent for his revolver and pellet or "wafer-primer" mechanism design on December 11, 1855.

In 1861, Butterfield received a contract to produce just under 2,300 of the guns for the Ira Harris Guards of New York state, the contract was cancelled for some unknown reason and Butterfield only produced an estimated 640 of the revolvers.

The Ira Harris Guards were eventually re-designated as the 5th & 6th New York Volunteer infantry regiments. It is unclear whether any of the guns were actually issued to them, but there is some evidence that at least some members of the 5th NY purchased the revolvers privately. There is also evidence that some of the guns were sold in 1861 in the Carolinas, so potential Confederate usage cannot be ruled out. Either way, the revolver has always been considered, by collectors, as a secondary martial revolver of the Civil War era. The majority of the limited production run of these guns were marked on the brass top-strap with the Butterfield patent information and address, as well as with serial numbers on nearly all of the components, both internal and external. The last 50 or so produced were completely unmarked and all were produced before the spring of 1862.

None of these revolvers are known to be stamped with U. S. proofs or inspector marks, however it is assumed that many were in service during the Civil War.

The Butterfield Army revolver was a single action, five shot, .41 caliber pistol is 13.75-inches in length; octagonal barrel is 7-inches and the cylinder is 1-11/16-inches long. It weighs 2 pounds, 10 ounces. The revolver had a unique automatic priming system built into it. Butterfield’s patented priming pellets were inserted into a spring loaded feeding tube that screwed into the bottom of the frame of the revolver, just in front of the trigger guard. The tube would push a primer up against a feeder bar that would push a primer out onto the percussion cone each time the hammer was released by the trigger. This kept the primers safely inside the frame of the pistol until the trigger was pulled. The mechanism was quite similar to the sliding primer bar system that feeds primers into a progressive reloading press today. The intent of the design is to save time whereas one did not have to manually put percussion caps on the nipples or remove them after firing.


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