No, I’m not being cheeky calling the knuckleduster revolver my friend. Instead, I’m using its actual name.
James Reid got a wonderful belated Christmas present in 1865. On December 26, he was granted US Patent number 51,752 for his new revolver that could fit in the palm of your hand. He would refer to the gun later as “My Friend,” even stamping that moniker into the frame.
Reid’s background in firearms goes back to his time in Europe. Born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1827, he apprenticed with a gunsmith there. Later, he moved to Glasgow, Scotland, before coming to the United States in 1857. He settled in the Catskills where he opened up a mill and a gun shop.
The design known as the knuckleduster is named as such because it could be rotated on your finger and the butt of the piece could be used as a singular brass knuckle. The gun had no barrel and fired directly from the cylinder, adding to its ability to be concealed, but relegating it to a close-quarters firearm. They were available in .22, .32, and .41 calibers.
The small and concealable design made it popular with women and travelers so that they could have something handy when out on the dangerous roads. It was also a popular design with gamblers who might need some concealed backup when the other players found the fifth ace they were hiding in their sleeve.
Despite their small size, the all-metal guns were well made and even featured scroll engraving on both sides of the frame, the topstrap, and even the front of the cylinder, making the gun both practical and attractive.
Even though Reid received his patent in 1865, he didn’t actually advertise “My Friend” until 1873. That first ad appeared in the J.H. Johnson catalog of the Great Western Gun Works of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At that time, the .32 caliber model could be purchased – with a box of 50 cartridges – for $12. Within three years, the price had dropped to $10 for the gun and cartridges. The .22 caliber model could be had, with 100 cartridges, for only $8.
Reid also offered his gun with a barrel, first a 3-inch model and then a 1¾-inch version in 1875 and 1877 respectively. This gave the guns a bit more accuracy at a little more distance, but the carrier sacrificed some concealment due to the added length.
All told, Reid made approximately 13,940 of his standard knuckledusters. He only made around 1,160 of the barreled models. Despite the low numbers, you can still find them if you look carefully at gun shows around the country. One even walked into the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop of History Channel’s Pawn Stars fame and was featured in an episode that aired in March 2014.
Reid’s “My Friend” knuckleduster is an odd little gun, but sometimes the most interesting designs come in the smallest packages. Plus, you’ve got to hand it to him with the clever name. I’ll admit that I’ve referred to my carry gun as my friend on at least one occasion.
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.