Merwin Hulbert Pistol, ca. 1880
Appraised Value: $3,000 - $5,000
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So, Whose Pistol Is It?
In the early 20th-century, this Merwin-Hulbert revolver was evidence in a Wisconsin murder trial. Now, the judge's grandson owns it. Find out why
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Appraisal Video: (2:58)
Arms & Militaria
Bonhams & Butterfields, SF
GUEST: I've brought in a pistol that's been in my family for a couple of generations anyway. My mother told us that her father, who was a federal district court judge in Wisconsin, took this gun after a murder trial. The gun was apparently the murder weapon and he presided over the trial and the murderer, he was put away; he was found guilty, and the gun's been in our family since then.
APPRAISER: When was this? At what time?
GUEST: That would have been, probably the 1920s or so. I think things were a lot looser back then. In fact, he used to ride the circuit between northern Wisconsin and southern Wisconsin. It was a little bit Wild-West-ish and also it was Prohibition back then and there was a lot of bootlegging in Wisconsin and through Wisconsin to Chicago.
APPRAISER: And do you know what the pistol is?
GUEST: Just what the box says. It's a .38 caliber. The marking looks like it says 1877 on the pistol and in the box, but other than that, no.
APPRAISER: Well, 1877 on the pistol is the patent date.
GUEST: Oh, okay.
APPRAISER: And it was patented by the manufacturers Hopkins and Allen in Norwich, Connecticut. Now, what this also says, it says "Merwin, Hulbert." Now, Merwin and Hulbert, they were the agents and dealers for Hopkins and Allens. Hopkins and Allens was the successor firm to the Bacon Manufacturing Company, also of Norwich, Connecticut, and they started business in 1868 and went on to make many hundreds of thousands of guns until 1915. Merwin Hulbert, they represented Hopkins and Allens in the 1880s. So this pistol was probably made around the 1880s. Which is interesting because it was used in a crime at some time in the 1920s. So you have somebody using an almost 40-year-old pistol.
APPRAISER: What's also interesting, too, is the quality of the pistol, and that whoever used it must have been a gentleman.
GUEST: Well, you see, I always thought that, you know, with all the engraving on it, it's really pretty, and I assumed this seems a lot fancier than just a murderer's pistol, you know?
APPRAISER: Yeah, the majority of Merwin Hulberts were made in this nickel finish and with a black, hard rubber grip. I mean, this is obviously a very deluxe pistol. It has this fine engraved and punched scrollwork, and it has this little scene panel of a game bird and these ivory grips which have this wonderful mellow patina. What's also very special about this is that it appears to be in its original box with the instructions on how to use it. This also shows the international basis in, essentially, the arms trade even in the 1880s is because not only are the instructions in English, but they're also in Spanish,
APPRAISER: which meant that many of them were destined for export. Well, in this condition and this quality, and with the original box, even though the box obviously has some significant damage to it, I would estimate at auction it would probably fetch somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000.
GUEST: Oh, my God. Oh, that's fantastic.
APPRAISER: Yeah. Thanks for bringing it in.
GUEST: Oh, gee. Thank you very much.
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