We just bought a small collection of Whitney Percussion revolvers. In the group were not one, but three rare Whitney Navy Conversions to .38 rimfire. These are so uncommon that they are not even mentioned in Flayderman's Guide to Antique Firearms....which is in our opinion probably the most informative work both in terms of broadness and depth ever written on early American weapons. That said, these Whitney cartridge revolvers are still a fairly unknown chapter on the subject of Cartridge Conversions. Here are not one, but three...as they say, when it rains, it pours. These probably took many years of collecting and a little bit of luck to find. Personally, until these, I had never seen one before either. Each one is slightly different...two are US Navy Marked..one is in the Navy Range, and there are two slightly different variations of conversion. If you like Whitneys, Cartridge Conversions, guns issued to the United States Navy, Marines, or just antique American weapons in general, these would be an invaluable addition to your collection.
This particular one is US Navy marked and in the 22,000 serial range...right there in the Navy range...so we know it had a least one tour of duty with the Navy during the Civil War. The top of the barrel is marked with an small anchor near the Whitney New Haven address. Whitneys purchased by the US Navy were inspected by Frank C Warner 1863-64, Henry K. Hoff (HKH) 1862-68 or Captain John R. Goldsborough USN 1864-65. In addition to Henry Hoff's inspector initials on the cylinder (partially obscured by the conversion), this revolver has another inspector on the left side of the frame marked "FCW" (Frank Warner). More than likely, most of these were probably bought as surplus from the Navy, converted by Whitney or Remington, nickel plated (which wasn't in use commercially until the late 1860's/early 1870's), and then sold on the Civilian market. However, I still can't help wonder if this was converted by the factory and sent back to the Navy. After all, if they Navy sent Percussion Colts and Remingtons for Conversion, then why not the same with its inventory of several thousand Whitney revolvers? Just look in Flayderman's and you'll find 1851 Navy Conversions 5B-122 were "returned to the factory" (41000-91000) with USN markings. You will also see the same thing for Remington revolvers. Flayderman's Guide notes that 1000 Remington New and Old Model Navy Revolvers were returned for Conversion to 38 centerfire. Seems possible. Warner also inspected the Remington 1867 Single Shot pistol for the Navy 1867-69. Since this is a Remington-style conversion, could this have been converted by Remington? A very interesting Whitney that warrants more research.
Overall condition is NRA Antique Fine+ condition with 65-70% original nickel mixed with a dark uncleaned patina. Some collectors call these "dirty nickel" guns. Very Good walnut grips. Nice working action and good bore. Good screws and very good markings. Nice example of a rare Whitney variation.