Antique Tranter Revolvers


2015-06-26 11:18:10

Antique Tranter Revolvers

Antique Tranter Revolvers are double action cap and ball revolvers invented around 1856 by English firearms designer William Tranter, and produced until 1885.


Background & history of production

Early Tranter revolvers modelled themselves on the Robert Adams revolvers, which Tranter had mass-manufactured prior to 1853. His own design therefore based itself on the Adams frame, with a modification in the mechanism Tranter had developed with James Kerr. Therefore the first model was known as the Tranter-Adams-Kerr.

The revolvers were solid-frame designs. Three different models were developed, yet with only one significant change – the attachment of a ramrod. The first model had a detachable ramrod, on the second it was attached by a hook on the fixed barrel, and the third, attached by a screw.

On the double-trigger Tranter revolvers, a second trigger below the trigger guard cocked the gun. The hammer had no spur, and therefore could not be cocked with the thumb. For single action, one must first press the lower trigger to pull the hammer back and rotate the cylinder, then fire with the upper trigger. For rapid fire, both triggers could be pulled simultaneously, making it a double-action weapon.

At the start of the American Civil War, there was an influx of demand for foreign firearms from the Confederate States, who had no access to Northern weapons factories and little manufacturing capabilities of their own. At the start of the war, Tranter was contracted to provide revolvers.

The reliable, functional and proven design of the Tranter revolver proved popular among Confederate soldiers. It was produced in six different calibres, with .36, .44, and .50 the most widely used. Tranter developed a .44 Army model and a .36 Navy model specifically for the U.S. market.

Production of Tranter’s percussion revolvers continued after the civil war ended. Despite the introduction of cartridge based designs, many people stuck with what was familiar and reliable, and thus the popularity of the Tranter persevered.

Tranter secured a patent for rimfire cartridges in England in 1863. He used the same frame as his existing models. He also began to produce centrefire cartridge revolvers, as early as 1868. He opened the Tranter Gun and Pistol Factory in Aston Cross, England, and in 1878 received a contract from the British Army to supply revolvers for the Zulu War. This was the last official use of Tranter revolvers by the British military, and Tranter retired in 1885.

Did you know?

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes famously used a Tranter revolver.

Collecting guide

The most famous of William Tranter’s guns, the Tranter revolver was produced over a course of 26 years with very little modification. It was used in two popular eras of militaria collectibles, the American Civil War and the Zulu War. Tranter revolvers are therefore very popular among collectors, particularly when connected with a significant historical figure. They are more valuable if they retain their original cases and accessories.

Price guide and notable auction sales

Tranter revolvers usually sell for a few thousand. The more valuable Tranter revolvers come in original cases with accessories. If they have an interesting history or provenance, especially in connection with Confederate soldiers in the American Civil War, they can fetch tens of thousands.

  • Tranter English revolver, .44 caliber, sold for $7,170 at Heritage Auctions in June 2007.
  • Cased 54-bore Tranter third model self cocking five shot percussion revolver, circa 1855, sold for £7,200 at Bonhams in April 2007.
  • Cased 54-bore Tranter third model five-shot self-cocking percussion revolver, circa 1875, sold for £9,360 at Bonhams in April 2011.
  • Confederate Thomas Griswold & Co, cased ,engraved, gold washed Tranter double action .44 Caliber percussion revolver. Sold for $14,340 at Heritage Auctions in December 2007.
  • Cased Tranter 80-bore percussion double action revolver, New Orleans Agent’s markings, Confederate Louisiana General F. R. T. Nicholls, sold for $14,340 at Heritage Auctions in June 2009.
  • Cased gold-mounted Royal presentation 54-bore Tranter five-shot Double Action percussion revolver, supplied to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, in 1869. Sold for £16,100 at Christie’s in July 1997.
  • Rare cased pair of Presentation Tranter 54-bore third model five-shot self cocking percussion revolvers, sold for £22,500 at Bonhams in April 2012.
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