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Maltby Curtiss & Co. -Scarce Early 1880's Double Action Revolver-


What a unique little revolver this is!  I've only seen a couple of these in my lifetime and this is the first example to come our way.  It's called a 'Maltby Curtis & Co.' revolver. They're pretty scarce and Flayderman's Guide to Antique Firearms only lists only one variant of the Maltby name with no mention of this specific company or model.  The left side of the barrel is marked:

MALTBY, CURTISS & CO. NEW YORK, U.S.A..
PAT APR 23 78 AUG 28, 83 FEB 26, 84

The top of the barrel is stamped 'Metropolitan Police'.  This was most likely a ruse to make customers believe it had the acceptance of law enforcement but that's not even half the number of tricks pulled on this little revolver.  The 1870's saw a huge number of cheap nickel-plated single action pocket revolvers hit the market.  Today, collectors tend to dub them 'suicide specials'.  Except for a nickname or alias on the top of the gun, most of these were unmarked. Personally,  I have always suspected that a great many of these were secretly cranked out by the Hopkins and Allen Company. While companies like S&W had these low end competitors eat into their market share, they were able to stay partially above the fray with improved technology.  The development of their double action pocket revolver introduced in 1880 helped them stay ahead of the competition.  This is one of the few double action designs of that period that was crafted to go up against the S&W Double Action.

FEATURES:  Caliber is .32 Rimfire Long. 5-shot cylinder.  3" octagon barrel.  Full nickel plated with ornate hard rubber grips very similar to S&W's ornate relief style grips.  These feature fish, flamingoes, butterflies, snakes, clovers, boats, and a domed temple.  The grip screw is surrounded by a shield design and the top has a fancy 'M' interwined with a 'C' Maltby Curtiss monogram that's almost identical in style to the S&W monogram.   The design incorporates a solid frame that's cleverly sculpted to look like it has a top-break action like the Smith and Wesson.  The front of the frame devotes an entire inch at the front to secure the barrel in place...which is more than enough to sufficiently secure a rifle barell...let alone a 3" barrel in a small caliber.  The rear sight is long with  checkered sides giving it a deceptive resemblance to a latch for a top break Smith and Wesson.  They S&W facade didn't stop at the fake latch. What looks like a hinge at the lower front of the frame is actually nothing more than a spring loaded catch for securing the cylinder pin.  To augment the elusion of it being a hinge, the spring-loaded catch was over-sized about 3x too large, placed as low as possible, and even has a screw running through the middle to resemble a hinge pin. The first time I picked it up, I have to admit, I truly thought this was a top-break design like a Smith and Wesson.  The trigger is a webbed at the back which is unique and gives this gun an almost toy-like appearance.  Loading is accomplished the old-fashioned way; through a milled slot cut at the back of the recoil shield.  Cylinder secured by a traditional cylinder pin with an over-sized checkered knob resting underneath the barrel!

Who Built the Maltby?  We could find almost no information on the Maltby Curtiss Company which for me is always a bad thing because it gets the wheels turning.  The following is some of that internal discusion or me just thinking out loud. There are three or four different scenarios I have come up with as to who made this gun vs. designed it, financially backed it, etc.  The First one would be that Maltby Curtiss & Co. had its own standing factory that produced these revolvers.  To do so would have been a monumental task and very few people could have pulled this off.  That seems a bit far-fetched for me as this revolver is well-built with good quality in terms of fit and finish.  It would have been difficult for a start-up company to build such a complicated gun with a double action design back in the 1880's.  That leads to the Second theory.  Was the Maltby built by a larger existing firm and if so, who?  Well, before I give you my opinion, let us just remind you that this is simple speculation on the part of the seller and nothing more.  The late Lewis Grizzard, a well-known sportswriter and columnist for the Atlanta Journal & Constitution once responded to a reader's complaint about why newspapers couldn't be more truthful and accurate by saying, "Hey, it only costs a quarter."  That said, I'm writing for free so here goes nothing.  Hopkins and Allen could have easily built this revolver for Maltby Curtiss & Co.  After all, they did the same thing for Merwin Hulbert & Co., producing their designs during this same time period.  Many of these ventures were not unlike today where you have an inventor, some investors, and an outside manufacturer.  The name implies this...Maltby, (the inventor?), Curtiss (the investor?) and Company (other investors? the mfr?).  The other reason I'm leaning towards Hopkins and Allen is that the front sight of this revolver has a unique profile that appears identical to a Hopkins & Allen XL #4 and the #5 models.  They also used the same style slots for the cylinder stop as the MC & Co.  The venture almost certainly ended in failure as these guns are quite rare; however, Flayderman's Guide to American Antique Firearms mentions the name 'Maltby, Henley & Co.' associated with the Otis Smith company in the 1890's and their building of a revolver known as the 'Spencer Safety Hammerless'.   Flayderman attributes Maltby Henley as more of a trade name for Otis Smith which also used the name US Arms.  Could this have been Maltby coming up with a better mousetrap, a new investor (Henley) and a new firm to produce his gun (Otis Smith)?    That would tie in with this earlier gun being built by another mfr like H&A with financial backing from Curtiss.  That leads us to the Third scenario: Was Maltby simply just another alias for the Otis Smith Company all along?  The Fourth and final scenario also pointed out in Flayderman's is regarding the Spencer Hammerless revolver when he states that Maltby Henley & Co. were just the New York based agents which I surmise to mean 'middle men' or 'retailers'.  In that case, we could assume that the Maltby Curtiss Revolver could have been a custom-designed gun by a firm like Hopkins and Allen or Otis Smith.  That said, it would be interesting to learn who in fact applied for the three patents listed on the barrel of this revolver.

Overall condition grades to NRA Antique Fine+ to Excellent with 85% original nickel plating remaining overall. Hammer shows most of its original case colors.  There are a few spots towards the front of the barrel where the nickel has lifted with some areas of light roughness and pitting.  Markings, edges, and knurlings are sharp and crisp.  The ornate hard rubber grips are in excellent condition with no chips, cracks, or repairs.  The action is in surprisingly nice working order.  Everything works properly in double and single action modes.  Bore is Good overall with rifling consisting of five wide lands with narrow grooves.  All in all, a very interesting and rare little early American double action revolver that would make a positive addition to any Smith and Wesson collection, general American Arms collection, or possibly Hopkins & Allen, Otis Smith, and Merwin Hulbert & Co. collections.

Item# 1274

$675

 
     

 

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