Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. Navy 6″ Belt Model .41 Rocket Ball Pistol, 1856

SOLD FOR: $14775

LSB#: 230509SH002

Make: Volcanic Repeating Arms Company

Model: Navy “Belt” Model

Serial Number: 1759

Year of Manufacture: Ca. 1856

Caliber: No. 2, .41 Caliber Rocket-Ball

Action Type: Lever-Action, Tubular Magazine Fed, Cartridge Firing Handgun

Markings: The top of the barrel is marked “THE VOLCANIC / REPEATING ARMS CO. / PATENT NEW HAVEN CONN FEB. 14. 1854”. The right of the frame under the right grip panel is marked “1759”.

Barrel Length: 6”

Sights / Optics: The front sight is a steel post fixed to the top-front of the magazine sleeve’s front band. The rear sight is a “V”-notch dovetailed to the top-rear of the frame.

Stock Configuration & Condition: The grips are two-piece smooth walnut. The grips have scattered nicks, scuffs and scratches, more on the left panel. The finish is thinning at the bottom edges. There is a tiny loss at the bottom-front corner of the left panel. There are no cracks. Overall, the grips are in Very Good-Fine condition as Antique.

Type of Finish: Blue & Brass

Finish Originality: Original

Bore Condition: The bore is dark gray with well defined rifling. There is scattered erosion and pitting in the bore. In this writer’s opinion, the bore rates about 4 out of 10.

Most antique firearms have bores that will show erosion. This is not only due to age but to the use of black powder. When fired, black powder reacts corrosively. NRA Antique Firearm Conditions Standards are quite lenient for bores. In some cases the NRA standards disregarded the bore’s condition for collectors firearms.

Overall Condition: This pistol retains about 50% of its metal finish. The barrel and magazine assembly has mostly worn to white, showing scattered erosion. The frame has gone to a fairly uniform mustard patina with some scattered nicks and small scratches. There are some casting pores, mostly in the backstrap The lever has worn or polished to white, the hammer’s exposed case color has mostly muted, but there is good color on the interior portion of the hammer, visible when cocked. The extractor is eroded, as is common for this model. The screw heads are tool marked with strong slots. The markings range from clear to worn, but legible. Overall, this handgun is in Good-Very Good condition as Antique (see Mechanics).

Mechanics: Please note, this pistol is designed to be operated by first cocking the hammer, then operating the lever. The design is not intended to be operated using only the lever. The magazine spring has been cut, it is not long enough to give positive tension on the follower all the way back to the receiver. Otherwise, the action functions correctly. The extractor is eroded, but not as much as is common for this model. The hammer spring is strong, the trigger is crisp. As with all used firearms, a thorough cleaning may be necessary to meet your maintenance standards.

Box, Paperwork & Accessories: None.

Our Assessment: The Volcanic pistols and carbines are an incredibly important piece of American firearms history, being a part of the beginnings of both Smith & Wesson as well as Winchester. The original 1848 “Volition Repeating Rifle” design by Walter Hunt was revolutionary, introducing an early iteration of the lever action repeating mechanism and the tubular magazine still common today. However, Hunt’s design was far from perfect, and only a couple of prototypes were developed. Lewis Jennings patented an improved version of Hunt’s design in 1849, and versions of the Jenning’s patent design were built by Robbins & Lawrence Co. (under the direction of shop foreman Benjamin Tyler Henry) and sold by C. P. Dixon. Horace Smith was also hired by Courtlandt Palmer to improve the Jennings Rifle, patenting the Smith-Jennings in 1851.

By 1854, partners Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson along with Courtlandt Palmer and B. Tyler Henry, continued to further improve on the operating mechanism, developing the Smith & Wesson Lever pistol, and a new Volcanic cartridge. The new cartridge improved upon the Hunt Rocket Ball with the addition of a primer. Originally using the name “Smith & Wesson Company”, the name was changed to “Volcanic Repeating Arms Company” in 1855, with the addition of new investors, one of which was Oliver Winchester. The Volcanic Repeating Arms Company obtained all rights for the Volcanic designs (both rifle and pistol versions were in production by this time) as well as the ammunition, from the Smith and Wesson Company. Wesson remained as plant manager for 8 months before rejoining Smith to found the “Smith & Wesson Revolver Company” upon obtaining the licensing of the Rollin White rear loading cylinder patent.

Winchester forced the insolvency of the Volcanic Arms Company in late 1856, took over ownership and moved the plant to New Haven, Connecticut, where it was reorganized as the New Haven Arms Company in April 1857. B. Tyler Henry was hired as plant superintendent when Robbins & Lawrence suffered financial difficulties and Henry left their employ. While continuing to make the Volcanic rifle and pistol, Henry began to experiment with the new rimfire ammunition, and modified the Volcanic lever action design to use it. The result was the 1860 Henry rifle. By 1866, the company once again reorganized, this time as the Winchester Repeating Arms company, and the name of Winchester became synonymous with lever action rifles.

This is a great example of a rarely seen Volcanic Repeating Arms Navy Pistol. Its 6″ barrel makes it a “Belt” model where the 8″ examples were referred to as the “Holster” model. Only 3,000 repeaters were produced under the Volcanic Repeating Arms name, with about half being the Holster model and a few hundred fewer Belt models made. This pistol remains in nice condition given its age and is a wonderful piece of American history. Please see our photos and good luck!

Please forgive any typos, I was educated in California. -Bud

Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. Navy 6" Belt Model .41 Rocket Ball Pistol, 1856
Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. Navy 6″ Belt Model .41 Rocket Ball Pistol, 1856