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Author Topic: Spiller & Burr History  (Read 2695 times)

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Jaxenro

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Spiller & Burr History
« on: November 12, 2012, 07:05:30 AM »

Established by Lt. Col. James H. Burton at the request of the Confederate Chief of Ordnance, the private manufacturing firm of Spiller & Burr set out to manufacture 15,000 revolvers over two and one half years for the Confederate cavalry. All three of the principals involved, James H. Burton, Edward N. Spiller, and David J. Burr, stood to profit enourmously if successful in their venture into arms manufacturing that would "be purely southern in its character." Each man would have profits in excess of $116,000 with very little starting capital needed and just two and a half years of time invested. The contract between Spiller & Burr and the Confederate States of America stipulated that the firm would be paid between $25 and $30 (1861 CSA dollars). The contract called for a .36 calibre Navy revolver, Colt's model. Colt's Navy revolver had been adopted by the Confederate government as a standard revolver, but James Burton felt another type of revolver was superior to Colt's.

Burton selected the Whitney revolver, Second Model, First Type as a model arm for Spiller & Burr. Burton based his decision on the merits of the arm's performance, stability, design, and ease of construction. The arm was a descendant of Eli Whitney, Jr.'s .36 caliber, single action, percussion revolver, which was patented in 1854 as U.S. Patent No. 11,447. This model was in production at the Whitneyville factory outside of New Haven, Connecticut in 1861.

The Whitney revolvers were probably the first solid frame pistols to go into full production. The gun had a 7-5/8 inch, blued steel, octagonal barrel that was screwed into the frame. A portion of the thread of the barrel was exposed at the breech as a result of an opening in the frame. A brass pin was attached as a sight. The barrel was rifled with seven lands and grooves. The loading lever was held adjacent to the barrel with a spring and ball type catch. The rammer entered the frame, which had been angle cut to allow insertion of powder and ball. The grip straps were integral with the frame and held black walnut grips. An oval capping groove was cut out of the right recoil shield. A rearsight groove was cut in the top strap. A thumb bolt was located on the left side, which when turned properly would allow the removal of the cylinder axis-pin. The hammer, cylinder axis-pin, and trigger were all rotated on axes created by individual frame screws. The cylinder axis-pin, which was inserted into both ends of the frame, held the 1-3/4 inch long, six shot, steel cylinder suspended in its proper position. The nipples, or cones, were set at a slight angle to the chambers. The oval trigger guard was made of brass. The pistol's length from the end of the backstarp to the muzzle was slightly more than thirteen inches, and each weighed about 2-1/2 pounds.

Burton adapted this pattern in its entirety except for a few minor substitutions. Due to material shortages, the Southern Whitney differed in two ways. Brass was to be substituted for iron in the fabrication of the lock frame, and iron was to be substituted for steel in the fabrication of the cylinder. Strength was added to the iron cylinders by heating and then twisting the round bars of iron. This process prevented any single chamber from being in parallel alignment with any fault lines in the bar iron. Even though brass was the metal used for the lock frame, the Southern Whitney was to be electroplated in silver. This electroplating made the Confederate copy look very similar to the original Whitney Navy revolver. Also, Burton proposed to round off the muzzle of the barrel instead of manufacturing sharp edges like the model.

The silverplating was dropped on later models


« Last Edit: November 12, 2012, 07:59:06 AM by Jaxenro »
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cousin brucie

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Re: Spiller & Burr History
« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2014, 07:55:38 PM »

The above post is a very good, brief introduction to the Spiller & Burr revolver and how it came to be.  Mentioned therein is that “the Whitney (Navy) revolver, Second Model, First Type (was chosen) as a model arm for (the) Spiller & Burr.”  This short passage clearly defines that the first revolvers manufactured by Spiller & Burr were to be, with a few exceptions, almost exact copies of the Whitney Navy revolver.

The first lot of 12 revolvers (known to today’s collectors as the First Model, First Type Spiller & Burr) was submitted to the Confederate Ordnance Department for inspection and acceptance in Richmond, Virginia on the day after Christmas, December 1862. All 12 revolvers were accepted. The second lot of 40 revolvers (known to today’s collectors as the First Model, Second Type Spiller & Burr) was submitted to the Macon Armory, Macon, Georgia in late April 1863 for inspection and acceptance. Of the 40 revolvers submitted, only 7 revolvers were accepted by the Confederate Ordnance Department as being “up to standard.” The remaining 33 revolvers were returned to Spiller & Burr.

The first 2 lots of revolvers submitted to the Confederate Ordnance Department for inspection and acceptance consisted solely of the First Model Spiller & Burrs.
The first lot of 12 revolvers had silver-plated frames. By the time the 40 revolvers in the second lot were submitted for inspection, the silver-plating of the frames had ceased.

For those wishing to learn a bit more about the Spiller & Burr revolvers, I suggest you try the following links: 

http://www.csarmory.org/spiller/spiller.html
http://www.csarmory.org/spiller/page2.html

This is a 2 page description, with photographs, of both the First Model and Second Model Spiller & Burr revolvers. By scrolling to the bottom of either of the 2 pages, you can find a number of links related to the revolvers, their production, and pictures of a number of the men who were directly involved in the production of the revolvers.
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Frank Graves

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Re: Spiller & Burr History
« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2014, 07:43:15 AM »

Very interesting thread on this rare Confederate revolver. 

From what I have read in various places, the number of the first models actually made seem to vary a little but there is little argument that it wasn't very many. 

I also wonder if there has been any sort of survey made that would show this as they transitioned to the Second Model.  And I would like to know if there are any estimates of how many of both types survive today.
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cousin brucie

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Re: Spiller & Burr History
« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2014, 06:49:43 PM »

The number of fully assembled, and functional First Model Spiller & Burr revolvers was estimated by two well known authors writing in the 1970’s as ranging from the low-40’s to the mid-50’s in number. Based on my earlier thread dealing with the two lots of revolvers submitted to the Confederate Ordnance Department for inspection and acceptance, we know at least 52 revolvers (12 + 40) were assembled.

Two of the three surviving First Models are pictured in the links referenced just above. Additionally, a third complete example of the First Model has survived the years. It has mixed serial numbers. The highest serial number found on this gun is “79.” For no other reason than the “79” serialized part, I feel that circa 80 First Model revolvers were assembled. Not an absolute figure, by any means. But it works for me, until I can establish a number that authoritatively tells me otherwise.

Thus, 19 revolvers (12 + 7) were accepted by the Confederate Ordnance Department as “up to standard.” At present, the 3 known examples are the sole original, and complete survivor’s of the First Model Spiller & Burr revolver.

There was a very abrupt transition from the First Model to the Second Model Spiller & Burr revolver in mid-May 1863 following an official review of the company’s contract performance as directed by the Chief of Confederate Ordnance, Colonel Josiah Gorgas. No more First Model revolvers were made after that point.

The Second Model Spiller & Burr revolver is far better known to today’s collectors than the First Model.  Based on the highest known serial number of the surviving Second Models, it appears as if just below 1250 revolvers were assembled.  Again, based on surviving examples of the Second Model, approximately 12% of the original revolvers are still with us.

I hope the above points addressed all of your questions.
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JCKelly

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Re: Spiller & Burr History
« Reply #4 on: October 25, 2016, 05:04:37 PM »

We've all heard the phrase "...seen the elephant.. ." I'm inclined to think the elephant, or at least the entire Confederate cavalry, may have run over this one -

Wife calls this my "ratty" gun. Yeah, guess the guys who were supposedly bidding against me did too. But me, I like it anyway. A lot.

A comment on that "brass" frame. The Confederates used copper, zinc and tin as raw materials - no church bells for Spiller & Burr. The result was a bronze known in the 20th century as Valve Bronze, Unified Numbering System number C92200, NOMINAL chemistry is 88% copper, 6 % tin, 4% zinc and 1% lead  The revolver frame shown here was tested by an X-ray fluoroscope, which does not mar the antique, and found to be: 88.3% copper, 5.82 % tin, 3.8% zinc 1.5% lead, with a residual 0.7% nickel thrown in somehow. I think the use of raw copper, tin and zinc is mentioned in Col. Burton's Spiller & Burr Revolver, Matthew W. Norman, First Edition, 1996
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