Merwin Hulbert Pistol, ca. 1880

Value (2006) | $3,000 Auction$5,000 Auction

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.

When was this? At what time?

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.

And do you know what the pistol is?

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.

Well, 1877 on the pistol is the patent date.

Oh, okay.

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.


What's also interesting, too, is the quality of the pistol, and that whoever used it must have been a gentleman.

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?

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,


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.

Oh, my God. Oh, that's fantastic.

Yeah. Thanks for bringing it in.

Oh, gee. Thank you very much.

Appraisal Details

Bonhams, San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
Appraised value (2006)
$3,000 Auction$5,000 Auction
Honolulu, HI (August 26, 2006)
19th Century

Executive producer Marsha Bemko shares her tips for getting the most out of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.

Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."

Note the date: Take note of the date the appraisal was recorded. This information appears in the upper left corner of the page, with the label "Appraised On." Values change over time according to market forces, so the current value of the item could be higher, lower, or the same as when our expert first appraised it.

Context is key: Listen carefully. Most of our experts will give appraisal values in context. For example, you'll often hear them say what an item is worth "at auction," or "retail," or "for insurance purposes" (replacement value). Retail prices are different from wholesale prices. Often an auctioneer will talk about what she knows best: the auction market. A shop owner will usually talk about what he knows best: the retail price he'd place on the object in his shop. And though there are no hard and fast rules, an object's auction price can often be half its retail value; yet for other objects, an auction price could be higher than retail. As a rule, however, retail and insurance/replacement values are about the same.

Verbal approximations: The values given by the experts on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW are considered "verbal approximations of value." Technically, an "appraisal" is a legal document, generally for insurance purposes, written by a qualified expert and paid for by the owner of the item. An appraisal usually involves an extensive amount of research to establish authenticity, provenance, composition, method of construction, and other important attributes of a particular object.

Opinion of value: As with all appraisals, the verbal approximations of value given at ROADSHOW events are our experts' opinions formed from their knowledge of antiques and collectibles, market trends, and other factors. Although our valuations are based on research and experience, opinions can, and sometimes do, vary among experts.

Appraiser affiliations: Finally, the affiliation of the appraiser may have changed since the appraisal was recorded. To see current contact information for an appraiser in the ROADSHOW Archive, click on the link below the appraiser's picture. Our Appraiser Index also contains a complete list of active ROADSHOW appraisers and their contact details and biographies.