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Author Topic: Starr M-1858 “Navy” Percussion Revolver  (Read 1998 times)

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Starr M-1858 “Navy” Percussion Revolver
« on: November 22, 2012, 07:03:28 PM »

Starr M-1858 “Navy” Percussion Revolver is a rarely encountered percussion pistol from the American Civil War era. While its larger caliber brother, the M-1858 “Army” is a commonly encountered piece, with some 23,000 having been produced, only 3,000 of the .36 “Navy” revolvers were produced, making them quite scarce on today’s market. Even Flayderman notes in his description of the Starr 1858 Navy revolver that “The Navy is the most difficult Starr revolver to acquire, due to its limited production in comparison to the Army types.” Of those 3,000 revolvers, 2,002 were purchased by the US government. However, very few of those pistols were marked with government inspector marks, as the majority of them were acquired on the open market and not via Government contract. In fact, it is reasonable to believe that only 562 of the revolvers would have been subjected to the standard government inspection process and would have been marked in any.

The M-1858 Starr Percussion Revolver was the result of patents and design work of Ebenezer Starr, whose family had been engaged in the arms making business since the 1790’s, and had received US Government arms contracts for much of that time. Starr actively sought government contracts for his improved “self cocking” pistols, as well as his breech-loading carbine and in early 1858 he submitted sample pieces to Washington Navy Yard for trials. The initial trials of the .36 caliber “double action” revolver were promising enough for the Ordnance Department to place an order for 500 of the revolvers at a rate of $20.00 each (including appendages) on November 24, 1858. Starr quickly went to work establishing a new company, the Starr Arms Company of Binghamton, NY to produce the revolvers and possibly his carbine design, which he felt would be contracted for soon as well. After nearly two years of work establishing the factory, and acquiring the necessary machinery and tooling, the initial order of 500 Starr M-1858 Navy revolvers were ready for inspection and delivery on December 15, 1860. John Taylor was dispatched from the Ordnance Department to inspect the revolver and found that Starr had not proved them. Furthermore, he quickly determined that the guns would not pass a 25-grain proof test, nor even remain functionally reliable after more than a few firings of the 20 grain service load! Taylor left the Starr factory, looking for instruction from Col. Craig of the Ordnance Department in how to proceed, and no further Starr revolvers were inspected prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. With the coming of the war and the pressing need for military revolvers, the Ordnance Department finally accepted these original 500 revolvers on August 8, 1861. During 1861 the Ordnance Department acquired an additional 1,250 Starr Navy revolvers on the open market, and in January 1862 they purchased 150 more from William B Hartley. As was the common practice at the time, none of these additional 1,750 pistols were subject to inspection or marking in any way. The only other order for Starr Navy revolvers from the Ordnance Department was for the Navy. In the fall of 1861, 100 pistols were shipped to the Navy for inspection and acceptance. Forty of the pistols went to the Washington Navy Yard on December 4, 1861, and sixty went to the New York Navy Yard. The 40 sent to the Washington Navy Yard (all in the 26XX to 28XX serial number range) were all rejected due to various defects. The biggest complaint was that the caps tended to come off the cones and foul the mechanism, locking up the revolver and rendering it inoperable. The 60 sent to the New York Navy Yard were accepted into service. Based upon the above information, it appears that only the 2 sample revolvers from 1858, the 500 from the 1858 contract and the 60 accepted by New York Navy yard would have received any government inspection marks. All other guns purchased by the Ordnance Department would have been unmarked. This means that less than 1 in 5 Starr Navy revolvers would have received US government markings.

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