When thinking about guns of the Wild West, you can’t help but conjure up images of lawmen and outlaws armed with firearms made by Colt, Remington, and Smith & Wesson. While these are accurate images, it isn’t a complete picture. Plenty of companies filled the niche market of inexpensive yet functional firearms. Not everyone decided to (or, sometimes, could afford to) carry the “name brand” guns, so they went with perfectly serviceable firearms whose names and histories are relatively obscure in today’s world.
MERWIN & BRAY
Before Merwin & Hulbert, there was Merwin & Bray. Begun in 1856, the company tried to carve out a place in the competitive revolver market of the mid-19th century. In an attempt to circumvent the Smith & Wesson-held patent by Rollin White for bored through cylinders, Merwin & Bray manufactured a cupfire revolver. The front-loading design effectively skirted White’s rear-loading patent, but it didn’t take off. By 1874, Merwin & Bray called it quits and went separate ways.
MERWIN & HULBERT
After splitting with Mr. Bray, Joseph Merwin teamed up with the Hulbert brothers, William and Milan, who owned a 50% share of the Connecticut-based manufacturer known as Hopkins & Allen. A deal was struck where Hopkins & Allen would make the actual firearms, but they would be marketed under the Merwin & Hulbert name.
All told, more than a dozen different models were created and sold as Merwin & Hulbert revolvers. The most interesting feature of the guns was that their barrels twisted sideways and were pulled forward with the cylinder to remove spent cartridges. Because the tolerance was so tight, suction pulled the barrel and cylinder back to the frame. Their large-frame Frontier Model was designed to compete directly with the Colt Model 1873 Single-Action Army, Smith & Wesson’s Model 3, and the Remington Model 1875.
While still chambered for .44 caliber cartridges, the Pocket Army was essentially the Frontier Model, but with a 3.5” barrel – half the length of the Frontier’s 7” barrel.
To keep up with concealable options offered by the larger companies, Merwin & Hulbert made the Pocket Model, which featured a six-shot cylinder chambered for .38 caliber cartridges. Smaller still, they also offered a model with a five-shot cylinder chambered for .32 caliber cartridges.
Another smaller option, known as the “Baby Merwin,” was a copy of the Smith & Wesson Model 1, which held seven rounds of .22 Short ammo. Smith & Wesson sued, won, and the remaining parts were destroyed.
In 1894, the company declared bankruptcy and its holdings were liquidated in 1896. Hopkins & Allen continued to sell guns under the Merwin & Hulbert name until the company folded in 1916.
(Firearms courtesy of NRA Museums)
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.