James D. Julia: An Assortment of James Reid “My Friend” Knucklers

James Reid was a Catskills gunsmith who emigrated form Ireland by way of Scotland. He made a number of different revolvers, but is best known for his line of “My Friend” knuckleduster pepperboxes (or “knucklers”, as he called them). At the height of their popularity, Reid had 17 employees, and made a total of about 23,000 of these guns. They were available in .22, .32, and .41 caliber rimfire cartridges, with both brass and iron frames. A revolver version with a single longer fixed barrel was available by special order.

In this video, we will take a look at each of the major variants, as well as a special-order revolver model.


  1. Ian:
    Once more a great video of a unique weapon from the past. I had never seen nor had I heard of the revolver version, but a question: did he ever offer an additional cylinder that could be carried loaded and quick-changed like some of the earlier Colts? Of course, in the majority of scenarios where this design would be employed additional rounds were not necessarily all that critical in most instances where one of these were useful. But VERY interesting collection. Thanks!!

  2. I think it would have been handier to carry 2 My Friend Knucklers than a spare cylinder and have to unscrew the axis pin Ect. to reload. You can never have too many Friends, as proved by this collector. Ian I think you should grasp the cylinder like a roll of quarters (a U.S $. 25 coin) and put your little finger into the hole and deliver blows on a downward arc. Try it with that grip at the next auction. to see if you agree.

  3. Ian referred to three of these weapons, the ones sans barrel, as pepper boxes. I thought that pepper boxes were handguns that had a barrel for each chamber, usually four in toto, and an equal number of chambers that did not revolve. I would think these were all revolvers because of their revolving cylinder and only one firing hole, though not quite a barrel. Am I mistaken?

  4. The “pepperbox” is defined as a revolver-type weapon with a group of rotating barrels, rather than a cylinder and separate barrels.

    The concept is actually one of the oldest ones for a repeating firearm. Matchlock arms with hand-rotated barrels and a single lock date as far back as the 16th century. The first pepperboxes with mechanically-rotated cylinders were built in the 18th century, notably by Twigg in London;


    The typical flint pepperbox has an internal gearing system that rotates the barrel cluster 1/6 turn every time the cock is pulled all the way back, and also closes the frizzen and primes the pan. There is also generally a central seventh barrel that has its touch-hole connected to barrel no. 6, so that both fire together. (Hint; loading no. 7 first makes the whole business much easier.)

    The later percussion pepperboxes were mostly variations of the single-action or double-action top-hammer type, typified by the Allen;


    Or the French Mariette pure trigger-cocking type which has its hammer mounted internally and hits the percussion cap from behind like a modern “in-line” blackpowder rifle;


    As far as one with a revolving cylinder and stationary barrels, there isn’t one AFAIK. What there is, is this one;


    The Ladies’ Companion by Continental Arms Co., a .22 rimfire five-shot that looked like it had a separate cylinder. It was less a “true” pepperbox than a Smith & Wesson “evasion”, with a frame and action like the S&W No. 1 .22 revolver but a rotating barrel cluster instead of a cylinder and barrel, thereby getting around the Rollin White patent on a bored-through cylinder.

    Reid, BTW, was also sued by White. White lost because Reid argued successfully in court that since his My Friend did not have a separate, fixed barrel, it was not by definition a revolver, but a pepperbox. The barreled versions of Reid’s My Friend pistols were apparently all made after 1869-70, when the White patent expired.

    The final versions of the Reid My Friend were more typical low-end single-action revolvers in .22 rimfire, with only a vestigial “ring” in the frontstrap of the butt behind the sheath trigger. They were really just typical single-action “Suicide Special” types with the peculiarity of an all-metal grip.

    I hope this was helpful.




    • Because it’s heavier, more expensive, and less stress resistant? Go ask the guys who make the cartridge conversion cylinders for black powder revolvers: “DO NOT USE IN BRASS FRAMED GUNS!” Brass was used for a bunch of arms back before the mass-production of quality cast iron became a thing because it was cheap and could be produced easily (kinda like polymer today, eh?) but as soon as the more durable iron and steel became affordable, manufacturers dropped brass (except for a few soecialty uses, like some naval stuff) like it was hot.

      • While we automatically think “brass-framed” when we think of the Henry repeating rifle, toward the end of production Henry went to iron receiver frames because the brass frames showed both stress cracking and frame stretch after about 2,000 rounds. The “brass-framed” Winchester Model 1866 “Yellowboy” actually had a brass-plated iron frame.

        Colt Dragoon and 1851 Navy revolvers had brass plating on the grip/trigger guard frame assembly, which were actually steel. The plating generally wore off in service, which is the reason that today, you rarely see anything except unfired “presentation” pieces with the plating still present.

        Modern-day reproduction makers who use brass instead of brass-plated steel for percussion revolver or rifle components are engaging in a false economy. It isn’t authentic for the most part (unless you’re repro’ing something like a Griswold & Gunnison “Confederate Colt”), it’s weaker than even iron, let alone steel, and today good-quality steel is actually cheaper. Even if you take the extra time and effort to brass-plate it.

        BTW, a magnet is the fastest way to check if your percussion revolver has a brass-plated steel frame or not. Brass is non-ferrous and a magnet won’t “stick”.

        Sometimes steel parts can actually become magnets themselves. The barrel on my S&W 645 carried a heavy enough Gauss load that I could literally pick up the gun’s recoil spring with it. No, I don’t know how it got that way unless it was remanence induction during the manufacturing process.



        • Apparently steel parts can pick up magnetism by “induction” — typically sharp impact while oriented north-south:

          Was your S&W 645 magnetized when you acquired it? Or is it possible firing it provided the “sharp impact” — Ever been to a precisely north-south oriented firing range?

          • I noticed the magnetization the first time I field-stripped it, before I ever fired it. Granted, I bought it used, so it certainly could have been fired on N/S axis repeatedly, although it had been very gently used.

            Mostly, I wondered if the part of the production line where the barrels were machined was oriented exactly N/S.



      • HNS Sheffield- launched 1936 was nick named ” the shinny Sheff ” because she had her “Bright Work ” made of stainless steel in an attempt to trial the replacement of brass for naval vessels.

  5. Another neat gentleman’s weapon. The name conjures up memories of the My Buddy doll T.V. commercial jingle for me. “My friend. My friend. He fits in my vest pocket. My friend. My friend. My friend and me.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.