Hopkins & Allen XL Navy Rimfire .38 Service Revolver

Lot 3204 in the September 2020 RIA Premier auction.

At the top end of Hopkins & Allen’s revolver line were the XL Navy, XL Police, and XL-8 Army. We covered the Army in a separate video, and today we are looking at an XL Navy. This was a .38 caliber rimfire revolver with a 6-shot cylinder and a 6 inch barrel. It was single action only, with a pivoting ejector rod – so in general a rather early or conservative design. The XL Police was the same gun, but with a shorter 4 inch barrel. These were good quality guns and handled well, but were a victim of Hopkins & Allen being pigeonholed as a cheap low quality brand. Less than a thousand of each pattern were made between 1877 and 1885 when produced ceased.


  1. I agree w/ the YouTubers, Ian. Looks like the SN is 657 from here. Neat gun, but I’m suspecting .38 rimfire is harder to get than 7.5mm French pistol ammo…

  2. The main reasons it failed in the marketplace were most likely first, it showed up in rimfire just when the big shift to centerfire was well underway, and second, it was a .38 (.36) at a time when everybody defined a “service” revolver as one with a bore spec starting with “four” instead of “three”.

    Which made perfect sense at the time. Since the combination of black powder and short barrels (compared to rifles) put an upper limit of about 1,000 F/S or less on pistol velocities, the only practical way to get greater results in the E(k)=1/2(mv\2) department, and thus greater “stopping” (i.e., killing) power, was to increase projectile mass, which meant a larger bore.

    The XL Navy and its siblings were ahead of their time in caliber considerations, but behind the curve in cartridge technology. Introduced a decade later in centerfire and with even early smokeless powder, things might have been different.



    • I think being rimfire when centerfire was the new thing was the big problem (plus the rep as a maker of Saturday Night Specials). .38-40 (.38 WCF) was popular in the late 1800s – you could get a Winchester rifle and a good revolver in the same cartridge. The .44 – .45 Army cartridges were good if you needed to shoot horses or buffalo, but not as useful hunting deer or in a feud in the Appalachian Mountains.

        • Correct. .40 caliber 180-grain bullet, 38 grains of black powder. It really should have been called a .40-38.

          Note that if not for .38-40 and its .40 caliber bullets, there probably never would have been a 9.8mm Browning, a .40 G&A, a 10mm Auto, or a .40 S&W. All of the above started out using bullets originally designed for the .38-40 cartridge.



    • “(…)showed up in rimfire just when the big shift to centerfire was well underway(…)”
      But the .38 Long rim-fire cartridge according to https://naboje.org/node/10530 production ended in 1920s, which suggest there was demand for that cartridge.

      “(…)was a .38 (.36) at a time when everybody defined a “service” revolver as one with a bore spec starting with “four” instead of “three”(…)”
      In 1870s .38 S&W (de facto .36) was introduced and become long-lived.

  3. Good grief. Set the hammer in the safety notch and one chamber is perfectly aligned to drop its cartridge out the loading notch.

  4. I think it wasn’t the cartridge that killed him. In the sense of Ballistics, it is practically equal to the rest of the then nines.
    Rather, a lack of understanding of what a pocket revolver should be.
    No double action, stupid grip and too long barrel.
    They tried to get into the positions of both a pocket and a service revolver with one model.
    As a result, they missed both.

  5. He is being held.
    Exactly until the moment when the hammer is cocked.
    If the barrel is directed upwards, the cartridge will move backwards under its own weight and lock the mechanism.

  6. H and A are not well known or appreciated in France. Last year i picked up one of their 1885 rolling blocks in 50-70 for only 250 euroes unfortunatly 50 empty cases are 110 euroes
    no one else was interested they only want stevan favorites in .22
    As an interesting side note as a boy in Canada a family friend gave me a scaled down version of the 1885 in .38xl smooth bore I used 38 special cases loaded with a 9 mm case of black powder and 2 .36 cal balls for a colt navy At 25 yards the balls grouped about 3 inches apart. Good fun for short ranga groundhogging

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