This is a fascinating Civil War-era revolver by James Reid of New York City. Manufactured from 1863-65, the total production for the Model 4 was 1,070 units, which were serialized from 2,230 to 3,500. This example is in the 2,900 range. Barrel marked "J. REID N.Y. CITY/PATD, APL 28. 1863". This is one of the few revolvers you'll ever see that was designed to work as both a cartridge and a percussion revolver. It also sports a very rare 8" barrel which almost gives it a "Buntline"-style appearance. What made this unique revolver more amazing to us, was these would have seen use during the American Civil War. While James Reid is well known by collectors for his distinctive Knuckle Duster-style pocket revolvers of the 1870's and 80's, his early work in NYC from 1861-65 reveals a man of substantial knowledge and mechanical intellect in spite of only being in his early- to mid-thirties. Reid was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1827 where he developed a strong mechanical aptitude from factories there and later Glasgow, Scotland. He immigrated to the United States in 1857 where he soon set up shop in New York City under the name "James Reid Manufactory". See Flayderman's 9th Edition pg. 507. Reid later moved his shop to the Catskill Mountains where he continued manufacturing pistols into the early 1880's.
This early Reid is one of the few revolvers I've seen that appears to have successfully circumvented the Rollin White patent for bored-through cylinders. The patent was owned by Smith and Wesson who did everything in their power to sue all infringements. This gave Smith and Wesson a virtual monopoly in the cartridge revolver business from the late 1850's until the early 1870's. During the Civil War, with demand for personal carry weapons at an all-time high, many companies couldn't resist the temptation to capitalize from their own cartridge revolver designs. It appears that most, if not all, were sued by Smith and Wesson's lawyers for patent infringement. Courts usually ordered the guilty parties to pay damages to S&W and cease all production of their product. This prompted companies like Moore and Brooklyn Firearms to make lengthy treks around S&W's patent by developing new designs like the front-loading teat fire cartridge or sliding mortised plates along the outer walls of a cylinder. These designs worked but were far more complex and impractical in comparison to S&W's cartridge revolver. That brings up this gun. This Reid is about the closest thing we've seen to effectively out-smarting a very solid patent. Rather than go to a grand production, it sliced right through the patent by adding a few threads at the back of each chamber. This clever design was marketed as a .31 caliber percussion revolver with the rear portion of the chambers in the cylinder threaded (instead of bored smooth) to accommodate percussion nipples which screwed into the back of each chamber. There was even a traditional percussion-style loading lever mounted underneath the barrel. However, if the percussion nipples were removed, the revolver could be loaded with standard .32 rimfire cartridges...the same as the Smith and Wesson No. 2 Army Revolver. What apparently kept the Reid safe from violating S&W's Rollin White patent were the fine threads at the back of each chamber. Technically, and more importantly; in the eyes of the law, this exempted Reid's design from being a "bored-through cylinder". The simplicity of Reid's design not only allowed it to get around S&W's patent, it even used the same ammunition as the S&W. AND if cartridges weren't available, it could quickly be converted back to a percussion weapon by re-installing the nipples. For a Civil War-era soldier marching through enemy territory with sometimes shaky supply lines (e.g. Sherman's March through Georgia and the Carolinas in 1864/65), having a gun that could fire water-tight rimfire cartridges but still fall back on traditional powder and ball should the former be depleted would have been more comforting than having a S&W No. 2 Army in .32 rimfire or a percussion Colt Model 1849 Pocket Revolver. In the end, not only was Reid able to circumvent S&W's patent, but he was awarded his own patent for the dual ignition concept in April 1863.
Overall condition of this gun grades to NRA Antique Very Good. The metal has turned mostly to a smooth brown patina with nice markings, smooth surfaces, and well-defined edges. Traces of original blue can be found in protected areas along the barrel. The iron frame shows strong traces of copper plating which no doubt acted as the intermediary metal for what once was silver plating...now long gone. The action is in nice working order. The cylinder still has its original chambers with threading at the rear portion of each chamber. The original percussion nipples are no longer present. Very Good rosewood grips are solid with no chips, cracks, or repairs, and 70% original varnish remaining. Overall length with the extra-length barrel measures just over 12". We have taken this Reid to only one show and were pleasantly surprised at the number of second glances and inquiries we received...it seemed to stop anybody who looked at it including several well-seasoned dealers in their tracks. Most had never seen a Reid revolver like this before including an older gentleman who commented it had been several decades since he'd last seen one with the rare 8" barrel.