|How do I know if it was a genuine Civil War pistol? - 1
Isn't that a terrific question? If antique pistols could only talk to us and tell us all
about their histories! Unfortunately they cannot, so we need to rely on other
means to learn about them.
Provenance is a term frequently encountered when a person reads an
advertisement for the sale of an antique gun either on the Internet, at an auction,
in a store, from an owner describing his/her favorite pistol, or a seller
embellishing the gun to make a sale. Provenance is a confirmation of an
artifact's origin, chain of ownership, or historical background. It can be oral
(passed on from person to person, even over many generations) or written
(found in official records, diaries, journals, bills of sale, etc.). A photograph can
also provide provenance for an antique pistol. And provenance can also be a
combination of oral, written, and photographic.
When an antique gun has accompanying provenance, we have to weigh the
truthfulness of that provenance very carefully. If you approach an unscrupulous
dealer and tell him you have always wanted a Civil War pistol carried by a
Confederate soldier during Pickett's famous charge at Gettysburg, that dealer
might just have such a gun in his display case. What a coincidence!
Two-thirds of the handguns purchased by the Federal government for use during
the Civil War were Colt and Remington pistols. These carried government
inspector marks on the wooden handgrips. There were other pistols purchased
by the Federal government, including approximately 15,000 Whitney, a number
of Starr revolvers, and a small number of Savage pistols. There were some
others. The Federal government issued contracts to large companies capable of
high production and good quality. Pistols sold by companies not having the
government contracts were known as secondary martial arms.
The Manhattan, Bacon, and Nepperhan companies were very small operations
that could not compete with the large companies. Consequently, their guns were
sold to the civilian market and to soldiers who purchased their pistols privately.
In the early years of the Civil War, demand outstripped supply for pistols for
officers. They snapped up quality guns wherever they could find them. Many
privates, realizing that their single-shot muskets had limitations, carried pistols.