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Little has been known or written about James Warner of Springfield, Massachusetts. He is one of many influential gunmakers of the percussion period that have been somewhat obscured by history. We will attempt to explore his background and will learn that he was involved in many different firearms making ventures, some surprisingly famous by today’s standards.
It is known from the headstone on his grave in Florida that he was born May 16, 1817 in South Hadley, Massachusetts. James Warner’s first professional association with firearms was in 1847. At that time he worked for a subcontractor of Eli Whitney who was making the Colt Walker revolvers in the factory at Whitneyville, Connecticut in 1847 in the capacity as rough turning and boring the cylinders for the revolvers. Based on some letters to Samuel Colt and others that were signed by him, he must have been subsequently promoted to more responsible positions within the company. He was a younger cousin
(sometimes erroneously reported as a younger brother) of Thomas Warner who also worked there employed as Superintendent and had been known as Chief Armorer at the National Armory. James had a lesser prominent job but review of letters to Colt and others on behalf of Eli Whitney do show that James was never the less an important figure in the production of the Colt Walker revolver.
James Warner & Co. Pistol Factory
Once their work was completed at the Whitney factory, the two cousins then went on to getting more primarily involved in the revolver making business although along separate paths. Thomas went off to become the Superintendent of the Massachusetts Arms Company of nearby Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. James would set up a factory on Lyman Street in Springfield for a short time, then on to a factory located on South Main Street, also in Springfield. At these two sites he produced the several different variations of the revolving rifles that will be explained shortly as well as some small revolving pistols. Shortly after this time, he became the Agent and Superintendent for the newly formed Springfield Arms Company still located at the South Main factory site about 1851 or 1852.
The Springfield Arms Company
James Warner was no doubt anticipating the expiration of Colt’s patents regarding the revolving of the cylinders in revolvers, as did other makers. Upon Colt’s gaining of an extension until 1857, Warner would have to design his revolvers so as not to infringe on those patents that Colt was so vigorously defending in court. Perhaps the Springfield Arms Company was formed as a way to insulate himself. While at the Springfield Arms Company, James Warner patented several different improvements --of revolving firearms. Among those were patents for the barrel attachment used in the Springfield Arms Company’s later versions of the Dragoon, and all of the Belt and Pocket Model revolvers produced at that time in very limited numbers. The Springfield Arms Company apparently ceased operation after a short time and James Warner re-established his own company in the same factory.
James Warner Manufacturing Company Resumed
Warner had a patent (#15202 of June 24, 1856) for an adjustment screw in the face of the recoil shield to keep the cylinder pressed close to the breech end of the barrel as wear occurred. As a part of this same patent, he called for a shield on the frame in front of the cylinder with a supposed way to deflect the lead from a multiple discharge and contain the explosion from same. Some of the earliest solid frame revolving rifles had the shield but without the angular projections to deflect as covered in the patent. These shields were apparently eliminated quickly as being more dangerous to the shooter in the event of a multiple discharge.
For some reason, this patent #15202 was reissued ten years (April 10, 1866) later and assigned to J. J. Greenough of New York City. Greenough was a buyer of patents at the time, but it is unclear why he would have bought it as no other firearms appeared at this time with these “improvements”. Warner also had a patent (#17904 issued July 28, 1857) for a different revolving mechanism that is seen in his revolvers made at his own factory.
The first revolving rifles that were open on the bottom were revolved upon the cocking of the hammer or movement of the trigger. But apparently as a result of Colt’s successful lawsuit of the Massachusetts Company’s use of a revolving mechanism that was ruled an infringement, Warner then had to retool for the cylinders to be hand revolved to avoid similar litigation. So there will be several variations of rifles.
In 1857, after the final expiration of Colt’s patent for revolving the cylinder, Warner was able to finally produce a self-revolving percussion pistol which was at last a successful product in terms of quantities made. As the cartridge era came into being, James Warner made a similarly appearing cartridge revolver, but ran afoul of Smith and Wesson’s patent for the bored through cylinder, thus ending Warner’s efforts to produce successful revolving firearms. In 1863 he was forced to relinquish to Smith and Wesson some 1,500 cartridge revolvers and finally shutter the Springfield Arms Company.
James Warner Produced Pistols
James Warner Belt Model Revolver
It has been estimated that only Warner produced a few hundred of these about 1851. ˝e revolving of the cylinder was with a linkage connected to the trigger. ˝ese are unmarked as to maker and bear only serial numbers. Once Colt’s lawsuit over the Massachusetts Arms Company was won, production of this model ceased. It is believed that at this point, James Warner became involved with the Springfield Arms Company.
James Warner Sidehammer Pocket Model
These diminutive revolvers, at first glance appearing similar to the Colt Model 1855 Sidehammer revolvers, were made in numbers estimated to be less than 100. they were .28 caliber with round 3” barrels. They had a capbox located in the butt of the grips. With the cylinder pin entering from the rear of the frame, similar to that of the Model 1855 Colt, it would certainly seem that the resemblance was no coincidence. they were unmarked except for a serial number.
Springfield Arms Company Revolvers
During the period of from 1851 to about 1853, the Springfield Arms Company produced the most types of revolvers during this time, but relatively very few of most of them. Apparently about this time, James Warner, still using the facilities that were the Springfield Arms Company, quietly dropped that name and simply marked his revolvers “James Warner Springfield Mass.” Although some of the self-revolving rifles towards the end of production were marked
“Springfield Arms Co.” and “Warner’s Patent”. All Springfield Arms Co. revolvers have cylinders that revolve by cocking the hammer or a second trigger. All models and types are of very high quality of manufacture.
Springfield Arms Company Dragoon
There are four types classified of this largest revolving pistol made by Warner. They are all in .40 caliber with a 6 shot cylinder and most have 7-1/2” barrels but the earliest versions have 6” barrels. It has been reported that there was slightly more than 100 of all types combined manufactured. They are simply marked “Springfield Arms Co.” on the topstrap as seen here:
Finishes are blued and casehardened with no embellishment. ˝e hammers are mounted on the right side of the frames.
First Type Dragoon
Has a metal grip and grip frame with a 6” barrel. There is no provision for a loading lever.
Second Type Dragoon
Will have the usual square butt walnut grip frame. The nipples within the cylinder are shielded by a shield much like an Allen Pepperbox. It has a gate to stop the hammer from striking the nipples.
Third Type Dragoon
Has the walnut grip like the second type but no nipple shield. This type will have an attached loading lever somewhat similar to that seen on Colt revolvers.
Fourth Type Dragoon
This type is like the third type except that the walnut grip is rounded with an iron strap similar to that seen on U. S. martial pistols.
Springfield Arms Navy Type Model
There are two types known to collectors of this size. They are all in .36 caliber with a 6 shot cylinder and will have 6” round barrels. It has been estimated that only 250 of these were made total of both types. Top straps are marked “Springfield Arms Co.”. Finishes are usually blued and casehardened but several are known with silver plated frames. Walnut grips. ˝e cylinders are usually etched with a pattern, sometimes there is etched engraving on the barrels and the lockplates are engraved. The hammers are at top center of the frames.
Single Trigger Navy Model
This type is a smaller version appearing very similar to the third type Dragoon. The cylinder revolves by cocking the hammer. The frames are also stamped “Warner’s Patent Jan. 1851”.
Figure 7- This rather deluxe finished Springfield Arms Company revolver serial number 42 has a silver plated frame, burl walnut grips and more etched designs on the barrel as is normally seen. It is cased with correct accessories, including a Springfield Arms Co. marked bullet mold and must have been a special presentation gun.
Double Trigger Navy Model
This type is similar to the first type Navy but will have two triggers. The forward trigger rotates the cylinder after the hammer is cocked. The rear trigger releases the hammer to fire the pistol. The lockplate is marked only “Warner’s Patent”.
Springfield Arms Company Belt Model
There are three types known to collectors of this size. They are all in .31 caliber with 4”, 5” and 6” round barrels with 6 shot cylinders. It has been estimated that only 250 of these were made total of all types combined. Top straps are usually marked
“Springfield Arms Co.”. Finishes are usually blued and casehardened but several are known with silver plated frames. Walnut grips. ˝e cylinders are usually etched with a pattern, sometimes there is etched engraving on the barrels and the frames are usually engraved. The hammers are at top center of the frames.
There was an early association with Jacquith but none of the features of his patents are evident in this model. It has been speculated that this marking was simply to detect infringement problems with Colt. ˝is type will not have a loading lever. The frame is stamped “Jacquith’s Patent 1838”.
Warner Patent Belt Model
Similar to the Jacquith Model except frame is marked “Warner’s Patent/Jan. 1851”.
Warner Model With Lever
Similar to the preceding except the revolver is fitted with a loading lever.
Double Trigger Belt Model
They are unmarked except for serial numbers. Apparently anticipating infringement problems with Colt these were made right at the time of the settlement of the Massachusetts Arms Company suit from Colt. They are very similar to the Navy Model, the only difference being in the barrel lug in front of the cylinder.
Springfield Arms Company Pocket Model
There are four types known to collectors of this size. They are all in .28 caliber with 2-1/2” round barrels with 6 shot cylinders. It has been estimated that 1,500 of these were made total of all types combined. Top straps are usually marked with variations of “Springfield Arms Co.”, “Warner’s Patent/Jan. 1851”, and “Warner’s Patent/James Warner, Springfield, Mass.”, but not all are. Finishes are usually blued and casehardened. Walnut rounded grips. The cylinders are usually etched with a pattern, sometimes there is etched engraving on the barrels and the frames are engraved. The hammers are at top center of the frames. All types are made without loading levers.
First Type Pocket Model
Can be marked or unmarked. Cocking the hammer revolves the cylinder. They are very similar to the Double Trigger Model following except that they have a single trigger. Very rare.
Ring Trigger Model
The ring trigger in front rotates the cylinder after the hammer is manually cocked. The rear trigger releases the hammer to fire the pistol.
Figure 12 - This Springfield Arms Company Ring Trigger Model is cased with all accessories in a leather covered box, very rarely seen. It has all of the correct accessories, including a Springfield Arms Co. marked bullet mold.
The forward one rotates the cylinder after the hammer is cocked. The rear trigger releases the hammer to fire the pistol.
Similar to the first type with a few manufacturing modifications. Usually marked “Warner’s Patent/James Warner Springfield Mass” which is believed to indicate that these were made after Springfield Arms Co. was shut down. They were produced in the same factory. They are very similar to the First Type Pocket Model with a slightly different barrel lug.
These small revolvers were made in the late 1850s and into the mid 1860s. As Colt’s patent for the revolving mechanism had finally expired, Warner was at last able to sell his revolver without fear of being sued for patent infringement. ˝is revolver was his most produced and successful revolver with approximately 10,000 produced. They were made in three variations, being of .28 or .31 caliber and with markings: “James Warner Springfield Mass.” on the topstrap and sometimes an additional “Warner’s Patent 1857” on the cylinder. Round barrel lengths are from 2-5/8” to 4”. ˝ese were usually plain and blued with walnut grips but there are known examples that are engraved and have silver plating and ivory grips, one of which is pictured below.
To Be Continued and Concluded Next Issue