James D. Julia

October 8, 2007
Fairfield, ME, US

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Description: SPILLER & BURR REVOLVER REVOLVER WITH HOLSTER AND BELT. SN 190/387. Cal. 36. This scarce low serial numbered Spiller & Burr revolver is accompanied by a great Confederate flap holster and roller buckle belt. This gun was once in the collection of Fred Edmunds and he states in his accompanying letter as follows: "David J. Burr, of Richmond, Virginia, was an enterprising gentleman whose company had built a locomotive (1836) and a steam packet named the "Gov. McDowell", which navigated the James River and the Kanawha Canal (1842). In 1880, he is listed as a commission merchant in Richmond. Also a commission merchant but established in Baltimore, was one Edward N. Spiller. Being of strong Southern leanings, Spiller moved to Richmond in 1861, where he joined forces with David Burr and a Lt. Col. James H. Burton, to manufacture revolvers for the Confederacy. James H.. Burton was born in Virginia and was educated in Pennsylvania, apprenticed in a Baltimore machine shop, and in 1844, went to work at Harper's Ferry Arsenal where he became a foreman a year later. He was a mechanical genius: he then became a master armorer (1854). He became chief engineer of the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, England, where he remained until 1860 when he returned to Virginia, and was commissioned Lt. Col. in the Ordnance Dept., and placed in charge of the Virginia State Armory. Upon the capture of Harper's Ferry by the Virginia Militia, Burton took charge of the removal of the rifle and musket-making machinery to Richmond. Muskets were made there for a short time by the State of Virginia under Burton's supervision, before the machinery was "loaned" to the Confederate Government. Spiller, Burr and Burton became partners, with the latter securing a contract with the Confederate Government for the manufacture of 15,000 revolvers (navy size). The contract date was Nov. 30th, 1861, but was renegotiated and made anew March 3, 1863, for the same 15,000 revolvers. The pistol factory was removed from Richmond to Atlanta in May of 1862. Falling far behind in production, the Confederate Government bought out Spiller & Burr near the end of 1863, and moved the operation to the Macon Armory, with Burton commanding. The manufacture of pistols continued without a break in serial numbers. Production continued in fits and starts from August, 1864, on through the following months until mid-November when, because of enemy operations, a move was made to Columbia, S.C. After that time, some pistols were assembled from parts, and some small parts were made until near the end of the war. The Spiller & Burr revolver was copied from the US Model Whitney Navy, which was made in New Haven, Connecticut. The Whitney, of course, had an iron frame, while the Spiller has a brass frame, backstrap and triggerguard. Most Spiller parts have serial numbers, although such numbers are often omitted from the loading lever assembly. Spiller frames are generally stamped with a "C.S." (sometimes on the right side, sometimes on the left, sometimes upside down!). Less than half of the Spillers noted have serials on the cylinders. Examination, Description and Authentication of Spiller & Burr #190 The overall look of Spiller # 190 showa a pistol with an even brownish patina: a most pleasing appearance and an expected one for an original untampered-with specimaen. The one-piece solid brass frame, backstrap and triggerguard show a most pleasing patine, as does the upside-down "C.S." stamped at the lower left side portion of the frame. Barrel is 6 and 7/8 inches long in its entirety, and protrudes 6 inches from the frame, which is the correct length: it has its original brass post front sight in excellent condition. The octagon barrel is correctly crowned at the muzzle. The serial number 387 is stamped on the bottom flat of the barrel about an inch form the frame. The barrel is 100% original Spiller & Burr and stamped with the correct dies. The triggerguard-plate, which fits into the frame, is also made of brass, and is stamped 190 at the front, as is the bottom right inside surface of the frame. The same 190 is stamped at the inside left surface of the backstrap where it meets the butt. The usual brass casting flaws are evident on the inside surfaces of the backstrap. There is an "E" stamped on the inside surface of the forward portion of the backstrap. The serial #190 is stamped also on the bottom outside surface of the buttstrap. The original iron pin which functions as a stabilizer for the grip halves, is present. As is often the case with Spillers, the original mainspring is thin at the base and has an iron wedge in place as a stabilizer filling in the cut-out in the frame. Some Spillers have wider main-springs. The original walnut two-piece grips have some dongs and minor dents, but fit perfectly, showing surprisingly little shrinkage. They are most attractive with their brass escutcheons and iron screw holding them in place. "190" is pencil;ed-in on the inside of the left grip. The unnumbered original cylinder shows a most pleasing patina which matches perfectly the remainder of the gun: it is in excellent condition with its original percussion nipples intact. Also original in every respect, but unnumbered is the loading lever assembly, very similar to the Whitney revolver, from which it was copied, of course, but far more crudely made and finished: unnumbered loading lever assemblies in Spillers are often observed, prompting many collectors to question their originality and giving rise to the suspicion of replacement. More often than not, such feelings are unwarranted. The loading lever assembly has the same pleasing patina as does the original hammer (both having originally been casehardened). Loading lever catch is original and inlets into the barrel precisely. In so far as it is possible to determine, all screws appear to be original. CONCLUSION Spiller & Burr #190 is an excellent example of one of the rarest Confederate manufactured handguns. It is in original untouched condition, having an aged patina overall. Pistol #190 was one of the 700+ guns made and assembled at the Spiller & Burr Atlanta factory before the operation was taken over by the Confederate Government and moved to Macon in late 1863, where some 600+ or - (more) were made or assembled. The observation that the serial number 387 appears on the bottom of the barrel, rather than the #190 serial on the remainder of the gun, should not be of any concern, for the reason that it is a Spiller barrel: its numbers are Spiller dies: post front sight and loading lever catch are original Spiller manufacture. The undersigned ahs observed at least twelve other Spillers where the barrel was stamped with a different number than the remaining parts. For example, one which readily comes to mind is Spiller #548, an excellent original Spiller which has its barrel stamped "488" with the large Spiller dies. Her again, #548 has its original barrel with its crowned muzzle: post front sight and loading lever catch are original. The reason for this mis-numbering? Possibly occurred at the time of assembly, either by mistake or because correctly-numbered barrel was defective. Another theory: Correctly numbered barrels might not have passed inspection and were discarded. Remember, serial numbers were only important to the Confederate gun makers to aid them in fitting together the various parts: function was their goal. Thus, Spiller & Burr #190 takes its place as being one of the approximately 1300 revolvers made by that company, joining the small overall production of what are considered to be the primary Confederate handguns: Griswold & Gunnison, 3600: Leech & Rigdon, 1500: Rigdon & Ansley, 900. A grand total 7306! With the high mortality rate of Confederate handguns, combined with the hard use they generally received rendering most in poor condition, Spiller #1990 is truly a collector's Treasure! Frederick R. Edmunds Curator Gettysburg, Pennsylvania December 1, 1998". CONDITION: Metal surfaces gray with scattered pitting. Loading assembly is possibly replaced since there are no serial #s. Brass is patinaed with scattered scratches and nicks. Stocks are well fit and exhibit scattered scratches and dings.  Holster & belt are solid & sound with some crazing to the holster and new black dye added to flaked areas. 4-32947 JS509
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