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The Spiller and Burr factory was originally established in Richmond, Virginia, as the brainchild of wealthy businessmen Edward Spiller and David Burr, along with firearms expert James Burton.

Burr was a southern sympathizer running a commission business in Baltimore, Maryland; Spiller was born and raised in Richmond where he made steam engines and locomotives.

Burton had worked at Harper’s Ferry Arsenal, Hall’s Rifle Works, Ames Manufacturing Company, and the Royal Small Arms Manufactory. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederate Army and he held the role of Superintendent of Armories for the Bureau of Ordnance.

Spiller and Burr’s Richmond factory moved south in 1862 because Burton had been directed to set up an armory near Atlanta, Georgia. Land proved too expensive in Atlanta, so a site in Macon was selected when the city offered up the land free of charge. After getting settled in Macon in early 1862, production began and continued until the war’s end in 1865. Total production was approximately 1,500 units, or only 10% of the optimistic goal of 15,000 set out in their government contract negotiated by Burton.

When it came to the actual design of the revolver, the contract specified it to be a Colt copy. Burton overruled this stipulation and decided that the new southern revolver should be based on the Whitney Navy because of reliability, ease of manufacture, and the added strength of a solid frame with a top strap.

Despite the frame being made from brass, the guns were initially supposed to be electroplated in silver, giving them an even closer appearance to the Whitney Navy. This idea was eventually scrapped and most examples are found without plated brass frames. Like the Griswold and Gunnison, the cylinder is also made of twisted iron. This ensured that any flaws in the bar iron would not be in direct alignment with the cylinder chambers, helping to make it safer and less susceptible to failure.

(Firearm 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.

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  1. What does an original trade hands for? I’m always curious about this aspect of these articles. Plus living in Virginia now it might be nice to have one in the collection.

    • Rarity first, condition second. Since there were only 1500 of these, you are looking at $15,000 PLUS. Lotta hops, that. Or you could be cheap and get a Pietta reproduction for under $300.

  2. The british Spitfire looked “right”. This gun doesn’t look “right”. The elegant lines of a cap and ball colt look “right”.

    • I have a feeling their priorities were cranking these things out in a hurry, and to hell with elegance. Not that it did the Confederacy much good in the end.

      • At a production level of about 2 pistols per day (1,500 / 3 years) their pistols cold hardly have made a dent in the effort against the north. More importantly it showed just how much difference the industrial capacity of the northern states affected the war.

  3. Can someone tell me ow you can tell if I have a spiller & Burr, Pietta, or other I was given a 36 cal single action ball & cap revolver 42 years ago by a very close friend. it was given to him by his grandfather he said had it for years. I have had it apart looking for stamps or marks but found none. it doesn’t matter if it’s a repo or real I still like it but would like to know… If real i’ll take better care of it. Thanks.

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