Sunday, December 4, 2016

Allen & Wheelock Lipfire Revolvers


Like many other arms makers of the era, Ethan Allen saw that the "bored-through cylinder", which allowed for rear loading of self-contained metallic cartridges, as the wave of the future. Unfortunately, the patent holder Rollin White, had sold exclusive rights to this patented innovation to Smith and Wesson, preventing other companies from making firearms to this design.
This legal constraint proved no barrier to Ethan Allen, who made two different rimfire revolvers that hit the market possibly as early as 1857 - Simultaneous to the Smith and Wesson model 1.

As a holder of many patents, it is unlikely that Ethan Allen was ignorant of patent law - he simply chose to ignore it. Perhaps, he reckoned that he could outlast the upstart Smith and Wesson in legal maneuvering.

He soon invented the 'lipfire' cartridge, a modified rimfire that only held the priming compound in approximately 1/8th of the circumference of the base of the cartridge.


This made the cartridge base much stronger, as early rimfire cartridges had a tendency to split at the base, causing extraction malfunction. It was also more economical, as only 1/8th of the expensive fulminate was required.


Production of lipfire revolvers likely began around 1859. With the coming of the War Between the States, Allen likely smelled immense profits for his 'better mousetrap'. However, the conservative procurement agents of the US Government awarded only small contracts - likely not trusting the technology or the supply of cartridges. By 1863, Rollin White finally won his patent infringement lawsuit, and production of all Allen and Wheelock cartridge revolvers ceased.

Pictured below is the 1st Model Lipfire, (loading gate hinged at the top), this revolver was manufactured in the early 1860s with a total production of only about 250.  The lipfire is sometimes confused as a conversion from percussion but was actually manufactured before the percussion model. It has no manufacturing stamping other than assembly numbers.

Pictured below is the 2nd Model Lipfire, (loading gate hinged at the bottom), this revolver was manufactured in the early 1860s with a total production of only about 250. The left side barrel flat is marked "ALLEN & WHEELOCK, WORCESTER, MS. U.S./ALLEN'S PAT'S SEP. 7, NOV. 9, 1858" and the matching serial (batch) number is marked on the frame, loading gate, grips, and cylinder.

Pictured below is the Navy or "3rd Model". Only a total of around 500 total Center Hammer Lipfire revolvers were manufactured by Allen & Wheelock in the early 1860s. This example has the longest barrel length available: 8 inches. It is stamped "ALLEN & WHEELOCK. WORCHESTER. MS. U.S./ALLEN'S PAT'S. SEPT 7. NOV. 9. 1858." same as the 2nd Model.


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