French 1858 Navy pattern revolver

  • Country: France
  • Ignition System: Pinfire
  • Calibre: 12mm Pinfire

Introducing a privately purchased model 1858 single-action pinfire revolver, chambered in 12mm Lefaucheux.

This pistol conforms 100% to the military pattern and bears the mark of the StEtienne imperial arsenal.

The pistol however bears no model designation as one would find on a military issued pistol, but instead is stamped with the mark of the entrepeneur Felix Escoffier.

The term entrepreneur in this case is what we now refer to as a consultant, one of a few such persons who advised on production processes and procurement for the national arsenals. Such persons had the privilege of being allowed to sell a small number of issue pattern firearms produced at the national arsenals to the civilian market for their own profit. This is an example of one such pistol. It would have been extremely expensive at the time and would probably have been bought by an officer wanting to have the very latest pistol.

The pinfire system was the invention of Casimir Lefaucheux, patented in 1835; it uses a cartridge in which a pin protrudes radially from the rear of the case and sits in a slot in the wall of the revolver cylinder.

When the pin is struck by the hammer of the firearm, the head of the pin which sits in a percussion cap housed within the cartridge base, ignites the powder charge in the cartridge. The system was the first user friendly metallic cartridge system and was widely used for revolvers and in particular shotguns well after the arrival of centerfire cartridges. Pinfire cartridges were underpowered compared to percussion revolvers but far quicker to load, and the cartridges could be reloaded with very basic equipment.

The French navy had independence with regards to weapons procurement and thus was armed with the pinfire revolver from 1858 while the French army was still using muzzle-loading percussion pistols. Both the Union and Confederate States imported large quantities of pinfire revolvers during their conflict and numerous European countries adopted this pattern of revolver for their naval and cavalry units.

One of the characteristics of the St Etienne revolvers is the L shaped mainspring which is fixed to the grip frame by one of the butt-plate screws.

The hammer features a larger square reinforced strike face compared to the more common tapering flat strike face. The rear sight groove is located on the top of the hammer much like Colt percussion revolvers.

Note also that the front sight is securely soldered in place instead of simply being dovetailed in as on most civilian models which are prone to being knocked off.

Contrary to most modern revolvers in which the cylinder stop is linked to the trigger, the cylinder stop on this revolver is a pin linked to the hammer. When the hammer is pulled fully back a locking pin protrudes from the recoil shield below the loading gate to block the appropriate lug on the cylinder, thus locking the cylinder.

Another useful feature is the tubular lip on the front of the cylinder which sits in a recess in the frame when assembled, this lip prevents fowling from getting between the cylinder and the cylinder pin which can cause the cylinder to seize up. This feature is found again decades later on centerfire revolvers.

The system was superseded quickly by rimfire and centerfire systems which were more practical since they did not have any protrusions on the cartridge case likely to ignite the cartridge accidentally in a pocket or when dropped. The French navy continued its loyalty to the Lefaucheux brand by adopting a Lefaucheux designed centerfire revolver in 1870.