This is a rare example of an early metallic cartridge revolver. It's a First Model Prescott Navy Cartridge Revolver made in .38 rimfire. Only a few hundred of these were built but the very first ones had the stop notches located at the front of the cylinder instead of the rear as found on the majority of Prescotts. The other unique characteristic of this revolver is that it is fully nickel-plated on the barrel, cylinder, and brass frame. Flayderman's Guide to American Antique Firearms notes nickel plating as one of the finishes offered on Prescotts. In fact, the NRA Museum has a nearly identical 1st Model Prescott also with a fully nickel-plated finish just like this one. I believe there is currently a Youtube video of their nickel Prescott on the NRA channel. Check it out!
This one has the 6-1/2" octagon barrel, six shot cylinder, with varnished walnut grips. Overall Condition grades to NRA Antique Excellent with 95% original nickel plate that is starting to blister a little around the frame edges just ahead of the cylinder on the right side. Walnut grips are a nice medium even brown with 95% original varnish. Top of barrel is marked "E.A. PRESCOTT" / "PAT'D OCT. 2 . 1860". The serial number is "33" which is found in several places on the gun. Action functions nicely, cylinder fully indexes, and locks. Being early, the hammer appears to have never been manufactured with a half cock notch...also similar to guns of this era like the Henry rifle. The bore has decent rifling with some scattered pits but no rings or bulges. It's fairly typical for a black powder era bore and grades Fair Plus to Good Overall.
History: Next to the Allen and Wheelock .44 Lipfire, the Prescott is one of the largest and earliest full sized rimfire cartridge revolvers produced during the American Civil War. Only a few hundred were made, of which 400 were sold to the state of Kansas in 1862. These are regarded by Civil War collectors as secondary martial handguns. Many were also privately purchased by Union officers as there seems to be ample photographic evidence to support this claim of its use in the Civil War. Unfortunately for Prescott, and the Union (which badly needed revolvers larger than the .22 and .32 RF models offered by Smith and Wesson), Rollin White (the patent holder) successfully sued the company for infringement of his April 3rd, 1855 patent for the bored through cylinder. Production was suspended. The result was that gun manufacturers were legally kept from the cartridge revolver market until the White patent expired in 1870. Only Smith and Wesson had rights to the patent. In 1870, Rollin White filed for a hardship extension of his patent claiming his royalties from Smith and Wesson were largely wiped out by legal fees in protecting his patent. By this point, White had to sue Moore (National Arms), Merwin and Bray, Allen & Wheelock, Prescott, Bacon, Manhattan Arms, etc, and was broke. While Congress passed the White's extension through both houses, President Grant returned the measure unsigned with a number of grievances. As a Union general in the West and later the overall Union commander, Grant likely had personal experience with Union troops not being able to take full advantage of full sized cartridge weapons technology more suited to combat during the Civil War. Grant mentioned the objections by the Chief of Ordnance Alexander Dyer citing that Rollin White's patent litigation during the American Civil War served as an "inconvenience and an embarrassment" to Union forces for the "inability of manufacturers to use this patent". Not only that but that its "extension would operate prejudicially to its interests by compelling it to pay to parties already well paid a large royalty for altering its revolvers to use metallic cartridges."
All in all, this is only the second example of a first model we've had, the previous only about 12 numbers from this one. This one is by far the nicest and next to the one at the NRA Museum, we feel it might be a bit of a challenge to improve upon given the rarity and Civil War timeframe in which it was used.