T. Logan Metesh
All in the Family: Slocum Revolver
It's not every day that you get to meet someone descended from an inventor in the firearms community, and yet that's exactly what happened to me at The Gun Collective's GunCon event hosted at Brownells when I met Cody Slocum of Swamp Dog Armory.
Cody's 6th great-uncle was Frank Slocum, and if his name doesn't ring a bell, that's OK. Most people have never heard of him, but he was one of many ingenious arms designers in the mid-19th century who was trying to come up with a way to circumvent Rollin White's patent on the bored-through revolver cylinder that he had licensed exclusively to Smith & Wesson.
While percussion revolvers ruled the day as officially-issued sidearms during the Civil War, Smith & Wesson did a brisk business with private-purchase sales of their rimfire revolvers. It was this market that led the charge of patent-evading designs.
Frank Slocum's design was the Side-Loading Revolver. Instead of loading the cartridges from the back of the cylinder, Slocum's revolver loaded - you guessed it - from the side. Technically, this didn't violate White's patent because the cylinder wasn't bored through. Instead, it slid open on each side to permit the loading and unloading of each .32 rimfire cartridge. (Interestingly, David Dardick cited Slocum in his own 1955 patent for his own cylinder design utilizing Dardick Trounds.)
Patented in 1863, Slocum assigned his patent to the Brooklyn Arms Company. The revolvers were just over 7" in length and weighed 14 ounces. Unlike most guns, factory engraving was standard on each revolver, but who did the work is unknown.
The sole agent for the gun's distribution was Howard, Sanger & Co, located at 105 & 107 Chambers Street in New York City, which was in the Cary Building, constructed in 1857. Howard, Sanger & Co was a wholesaler, selling "1,500 different kinds of foreign and domestic fancy goods, comprising jewelry, perfumes, watches, cutlery, guns, musical instruments, combs, brushes.'' The store grossed annual sales of $3 million.
No longer housing commercial enterprises, the building is now "a landmarked boutique condominium nestled in the heart of Tribeca" with 9 separate units. They average 1,300 square feet in size and sell for an average of $2.3 million.
Brooklyn Arms Company touted many of the gun's features that they felt made it better than all others. Among them were:
easier to load in the dark due to the cylinder's "peculiar arrangement"
safe to carry loaded (thanks to individual chamber safety notches)
strong design thanks to a solid, one-piece frame
used the same ammo as the competition's guns (take that, Smith & Wesson!)
Neither the Brooklyn Arms Company nor the Slocum revolver was long-lived. The company produced approximately 10,000 revolvers in 1863 and 1864. When production ceased, so did the company.
Today, the revolvers hold a unique place in the history of American arms development, providing a tangible link to a time when necessity truly was the mother of invention so as to legally skirt White's patent and make some money. Speaking of money, you can still find the revolvers for sale at auction, where they typically fetch $800-$1,000.
While this was not the first Slocum revolver I've handled, it is indeed the most special since it belongs to a direct descendant of the inventor. I thank Cory Slocum for the opportunity to have some "hands-on history" time with his gun.
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