The Raphael revolver is distinguished among Civil War used handguns for its rarity, high price during the war, and the fact that the guns name comes from the arms seller who provided the guns to the US government, not its manufacturer or inventor. According to US records, approximately 106 of these French made, double action, 6-shot revolvers were purchased for US military use on September 21, 1861. The guns were purchased from the firm of George Raphael & Company. The high price of $26.33 paid for the guns (when Colt revolvers were priced at $15-$25 and Remington Army’s were $12-$15) is an indication that they were badly needed in the field and that the Ordnance Department saw the advantages of a revolver that fired a self contained cartridge, instead of a typical cap & ball revolver. The gun fired an early version of a center fire cartridge that was 11mm (or roughly .42 caliber). The back plate had six holes through which the firing pin on the hammer could contact the primer in the cartridge. There was one additional “blind hole”, between two firing pin holes, that allowed the firing pin to rest in it, as a primitive form of safety. To take the revolver “off safe”, you merely needed to pull the trigger. The gun was loaded through a gate on the right hand side of the frame. This gate was actually part of the revolving back plate at the rear of the cylinder. This back plate normally revolved with the cylinder, but when the loading gate was opened, the back plate was unlocked from the cylinder. In order to open the gate, the firing pin must be in the “blind hole” on the back plate. Once the gate was open, the cylinder was allowed to rotate freely to load cartridges or remove spent rounds. In order to eject the spent cases, the user simply unscrewed the lanyard ring from the butt of the gun, and used the rod projecting from it to push the empty cases out of the chambers. Once the cylinder was rotated completely, the loading gate could be closed to lock the back plate and the cylinder to each other again. The lock work of the gun is what we would call “conventional double action” today. The user could fire the gun by a long, deliberate pull on the heavy double action trigger, or manually cock the hammer and have a lighter pull for more accurate shooting. The guns were typically blued and unmarked, except for a serial or assembly number on the left side of the frame forward of the cylinder, and occasionally on the front of cylinder face, the front of the cylinder pin housing and on the bottom of the barrel, under the cylinder pin. The gun had two-piece walnut grips that were typically smooth and lightly varnished. Some estimates place the Civil War purchases of Raphael revolvers as high as 1,000 and according the Fredrick Todd’s seminal work ”American Military Equipage 1851-1872” these revolvers were imported by the Confederacy as well as the US government. However, Todd rightly points out that the unique cartridge required for the revolver makes any CS purchases a questionable decision.
The Raphael revolver offered here is in very nice condition. It is still fully functional and the unique loading gate and rotating back plate all function as they should. The gun is marked with the serial number 274 on the left side of the frame, forward of the cylinder. No other markings are present, which is typical of Civil War used Raphael’s. The metal is smooth throughout, with large amounts of original blue finish present, most of which has faded to a deep plum-brown patina. The cylinder has mostly “silvered out”. The gun retains the original combination lanyard ring and ejector rod, which screws into the butt for storage. The grips are in good condition, with the typical bumps and dings of an antique military pistol. There are no chips, breaks or repairs present on the grips. Traces of the original varnish remain on the grips. The bore is rifled with 8 grooves and is in decent condition.
Overall this is an extremely nice example of one of the rarest of Civil War used revolvers. Even the most advanced collection of Civil War handguns is unlikely to have a Raphael in it and it would be equally appropriate in a collection that centered on either US or CS handguns. This is a rare opportunity to obtain a truly rare revolver, and at a price that is about 20% or more lower, when compared to what these rare revolvers have brought in the past.