This is a very early example of the short-lived Prescott Navy Cartridge Revolver made in .38 Rimfire with the stop notches located at the front of the cylinder instead of the rear. Next to the Allen and Wheelock .44 Lipfire, the Prescott is one of the largest and earliest full sized rimfire cartridge revolvers produced during the American Civil War. Only a few hundred were made, of which 400 were sold to the state of Kansas in 1862. Others were privately purchased by Union officers as there seems to be ample photographic evidence to support this claim of its use in the war.
Unfortunately for Prescott, and the Union (which badly needed revolvers larger than the .22 and .32 RF models offered by Smith and Wesson), Rollin White (the patent holder) successfully sued the company for infringement of his April 3rd, 1855 patent for the bored through cylinder. Production was suspended. The result was that gun manufacturers were legally kept from the cartridge revolver market until the White patent expired in 1870. Only Smith and Wesson had rights to the patent. In 1870, Rollin White filed for a hardship extension of his patent claiming his royalties from Smith and Wesson were largely wiped out by legal fees in protecting his patent. By this point, White had had to sue Moore (National Arms), Merwin and Bray, Allen & Wheelock, Prescott, Bacon, Manhattan Arms, and others. While Congress passed the White's extension through both houses, President Grant returned the measure unsigned with a number of grievances. As a Union general in the West and later the overall Union commander, Grant likely had personal experience with Union troops not being able to take full advantage of full sized cartridge weapons technology more suited to combat during the Civil War. Grant mentioned the objections by the Chief of Ordnance Alexander Dyer citing that Rollin White's patent litigation during the American Civil War served as an "inconvenience and an embarrassment" to Union forces for the "inability of manufacturers to use this patent". Not only that but that its "extension would operate prejudicially to its interests by compelling it to pay to parties already well paid a large royalty for altering its revolvers to use metallic cartridges." This scarce Prescott revolver is one of the few full sized cartridge revolvers that was furnished to Union forces during the Civil War. As cartridge technology and metallurgy was in its infancy, most early cartridge guns were limited to .22 and .32 Rimfire. The .38 Rimfire Prescott was Navy Model was perhaps a bold but necessary move towards suiting the needs of soldiers although it had ambitions to produce an Army Model in .44 Rimfire...which other than a handful made, never came to fruition.
This particular example is in NRA Antique Good Plus Condition. Standard 6.5" octagon barrel, early six shot cylinder in .38 Rimfire with front stop notches, brass frame, and walnut grips. The serial number is 52. Good working order and a decent bore. Barrel and cylinder have turned to a light brown patina. Top of barrel clearly reads "E.A. PRESCOTT PAT'D OCT. 2. 1860. Original German silver front sight and rear sight which are integral to the top of the frame. See photo. Walnut grips are solid and numbered to the gun with what looks to be 50% of the original varnish intact. There is some slight shrinkage along the edges meeting up to the frame and what appears to be seven notches on the bottom edges of the panels. Brass frame and bowed trigger guard have aged to a mellow patina. Good example of a very scarce Civil War Revolver.