James D. Julia: Confederate Cofer Revolver

T.W. Cofer was a Virginian gunsmith who made revolvers for the Confederate cause during the Civil War – although he never had a formal contract with the CSA. His pistols were sold privately to individual soldiers, and in at least one case bought in bulk by a unit commander.

One thing that makes Cofer stand out is that he tried to develop newer and better designs rather than simply copying the existing technology – although the demands of the war forced him to abandon his new ideas. Just a few weeks after the opening of the CSA’s formal patent office, Cofer submitted a patent for a two-part revolver cylinder using self-contained cartridges.

22 Comments

  1. Hmm… It appears that another genius got ignored. The two-part cylinder and percussion cap nipple cartridge get around the old lack of proper ammo issue unlike rim-fire or pin-fire cartridge revolvers. Just remember to save the spent brass and get more caps and bullets from the quarter master. The downside to this is that there needs to be a good production line of reusable revolver cartridges but it appears that the concept was sound, just like the reloadable Maynard cartridge. Were it not for the obvious “traitor” label, Cofer could have created a niche market for people who could afford handguns themselves but not the proprietary ammo from Smith & Wesson (no thanks to Rollin White being a patent troll). I assume, of course, that a mid-19th century box of Smith & Wesson type rim-fire brass cartridges cost way more than the combined price of gunpowder, lead, pistol bullet mold and tooling, and percussion caps.

    Did I mess up?

    • “It appears that another genius got ignored.”
      Reminds me about Ukrainian Шевченко ПШ automatic pistol, however in this case I am not sure: is that design mad xor genius?

      “The two-part cylinder and percussion cap nipple cartridge get around the old lack of proper ammo issue unlike rim-fire or pin-fire cartridge revolvers.”
      During American Civil War auxiliary chamber or adapter which turn pin-fire revolver into percussion revolver:
      http://freemycollection.com/?page=articles/pinfireauxiliaryadapter
      Also, I think that there should be not big problem in crafting percussion cylinder for pin-fire revolver. I once heard that French Navy used percussion cylinders which can be fitted into Modele 1858 revolver, for use in area with no supply of proper cartridges, however I am not sure whatever it is true or not.

    • The Rollin White patent covers the “bored through cylinder”, not the ammunition.

      Rimfire ammunition was covered by an 1831 patent that had expired by the time Smith & Wesson started the manufacture of their revolvers. Several companies made rimfire ammunition with no need to pay royalties to anyone other than those that developed their cartridge and packaging manufacturing machines.

      What you couldn’t do until the 1855 patent expired in 1869 was produce a revolver with a cylinder with cylindrical chambers bored straight through it and sell that on the open market. (This didn’t prevent some from producing just that sort of thing, but it invited a lawsuit.)

      Most folks who carried these guns for protection only bought enough ammo to fill the cylinder. As strange as it may seem in these days of hoarding, back in the day folks didn’t buy ammunition that they didn’t need and every hardware store had open boxes that they would sell individual cartridges out of for a few pennies, (which of course was more than they cost the manufacturer to produce, only surplus ammo is priced lower than it costs to produce).

      • Brian, I understand that White sued people over the cylinder, but do you see any practical mid-19th century handgun chambered for a rim-fire cartridge that isn’t a revolver? Unless you’re going to build a break-action pistol/carbine or use a Slocum revolver, your choices for American rim-fire guns are limited to revolvers built solely by Smith & Wesson. The alternative is purchasing a foreign design like a Lefaucheux pin-fire revolver.

        • “any practical mid-19th century handgun chambered for a rim-fire cartridge”

          There are a few listed here:

          1866 UMC ammunition catalog, (during the term of the Rollin White patent … no secrets here):

          http://cartridgecollectors.org/content/catalogs/U.M.C/1866%20UMC%20and%20CAP%20CO%20S-H-G.pdf

          You’ll note in the above that the single shots were so numerous that they aren’t even individually named. My point is simply that the Smith & Wesson revolver did not use “proprietary ammo.” As you can see above, it was available for purchase from UMC, not a division of Smith & Wesson, and also you can see from the above that other manufacturers chambered their firearms for the cartridges that fit Smith & Wesson handguns. I imagine that if there weren’t a large crowd of firearms chambered for it UMC wouldn’t have bothered loading it.

          • Okay, but if we’re talking about service side arms that fire metallic cartridges, then your choice is clearly limited. Get a foreign revolver, a rim-fire pepper box, or a Smith & Wesson if you clearly do not want to be in the category of “shoot once and run away screaming ‘Mommy’ while reloading.”

          • Not sure what you mean here by “service side arms” … Smith & Wesson’s of this era were pretty puny little pocket guns. If you wanted a powerful cartridge handgun at this time, let’s see, Remington Navy Rolling Block maybe? The big .44 caliber Smith & Wessons didn’t show up until after the Rollin White patent had expired.

            A quick flip through Flayderman’s found pre-1869 rimfire pistols in the same calibers as Smith & Wesson revolvers, with more than one shot, by the following “popular” makers: Allen & Wheelock, Ethan Allen, Manhattan, Remington (Zig-Zag, Remington-Elliot, Double Derringer), Sharps, Sharps & Hankins, Frank Wesson, plus multitudes of other guns in the “less popular” section.

            The legit, non-Smith & Wesson-knockoffs, were variations on the pepperbox revolving barrels concept, or sequentially fired, fixed-barrel derringer types mostly with two or four barrels.

          • Brian;

            The S&Ws weren’t really all that “puny” in their time. The .32 S&W Long rimfire used in the No. 2 SA revolver (introduced 1861) had almost exactly the same muzzle energy as the standard service load in the Colt M1851 and M1861 “Navy” revolvers in .36 percussion. All hit with about 100 FPE, or about the power of the later .32 S&W centerfire.

            This may explain why cavalrymen on both sides preferred .44 revolvers by any maker, but especially Colt and Remington. Still, by the standards of the day the .32 rimfire was technically a “medium-powered” combat pistol load, at least the equal of a .36 Navy.

            cheers

            eon

          • eon,

            “The .32 S&W Long rimfire used in the No. 2 SA revolver (introduced 1861) had almost exactly the same muzzle energy as the standard service load in the Colt M1851 and M1861 “Navy” revolvers in .36 percussion.”

            I think you’re mixing this up with the Colt 1862 Pocket Navy and Pocket Police. The rimfire .32 Smith & Wesson Long of 1861 had a 90 gr. bullet and about 12 to 13 grains of black powder. The 1851 Colt Navy could be loaded with a 139 grain conical bullet and 21 grains of black powder, although I’ve heard that some of the prepared paper cartridges could have up to a 155 gr. bullet with as little as 12 grains of powder, (darn those government contractors!). Standard ordnance manuals called for a 145 gr. conical bullet over 17 gr. of powder.

            The ’62 Pocket Navy and Pocket Police revolvers have a more equivalent load, and are nice little pop-guns, but they don’t come anywhere near the power of what became the standard cartridge “service revolver,” the Smith & Wesson Model 3 “Schofield,” and Colt Model P (Single Action Army).

        • As the Lefaucheux pin-fire revolver actually predated White’s patent and was arguably a better design than the original White patent which sealed the breech with a leather plug, wouldn’t that mean that revolvers with that patent could be imported into the United States? Also, since every revolver since Colt’s first actually required that the cylinder be “bored through” just to allow the installation of a percussion nipple, wouldn’t that have invalidated White’s claim as well? After all, all he did was bore it through a little larger in diameter than Colt did

          • The original patent is here:

            http://www.google.com/patents/US12648

            The reason that the original term of 14 years wasn’t extended to the maximum, at the time, of 21 years is that it was, by 1869, realized that there was prior art in the form of the pin-fire, and Rollin had made a nuisance of himself during the Civil War. (That second bit was also why he wasn’t granted “Relief” in the form of a government pension. He had pretty much spent all the money he made in royalties on litigation.)

        • “The alternative is purchasing a foreign design like a Lefaucheux pin-fire revolver.”
          Now I noticed that France was leader cartridge development:
          pin-fire: invented by Casimir Lefaucheux
          rim-fire: invented by Louis Nicolas Auguste Flobert
          center-fire: invented by Clement Pottet
          smokeless (as Poudre B): by Paul Vieille
          Spitzer bullet (as Balle D, for 8x50R Lebel): by Captain Desaleux
          If I am not mistaken Rolling White much slow-down development of new metallic-cartridge revolver designs, because many issue was rather to go around patent than deliver revolver with superior parameters.
          Also, I am under impression that USA was never leading in cartridge development:
          just see .308 Winchester (1952) which can be seen (ballistic-wise) as:
          7.5×54 French (1929) copycat
          7.5×55 Swiss (1911 – Spitzer version) copycat

      • Would a cylinder with non-cylindrical bored out chambers be sufficient to overtake White’s patent?
        (ex : put standard cylindrical pinfire cartridges in square-shaped adaptor to fit square-shaped bored out cylinder. Square, polygonal or other shape)

        • C.G.,
          If you read the patent, it seems like the main claim was to a revolver cylinder that could be loaded from the rear of the cylinder. So, we get the patent-avoiding systems like the “teat-fire” and “lip-fire” cartridge revolvers that were loaded from the front, and the various “pepperbox” systems that load from the back, but have rotating chambered barrel clusters without a separate cylinder.

          I have seen rimfire revolvers with what look like pinfire notches cut in the cylinder, but a rimfire firing pin. These were also judged to be infringements in a court case at the time.

          If that is the case, this Cofer system of reloadable chamber inserts shown in the video would also have probably been deemed an infringement since they look to have loaded from the rear of the cylinder.

  2. I have never fired a spur trigger in my lifetime, everything has that loop that you have to stick your finger through to make it go off.

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