When my buddies ask me why I collect antique guns, I explain that it’s not unlike collecting old timepieces: Their varied designs are fascinating works of art, and you can still take them out and use them from time to time. So imagine my enthusiastic reaction when I discovered the Mershon and Hollingsworth revolver, an age-old design featuring a winding mechanism just like that of an old pocket watch. This self-cocking revolver—the first of its kind, predating the Webley-Fosbery by 30 years—is the perfect bridge between my analogy and reality.


The year was 1863, and the U.S. was busily fighting that disputatious disagreement known as the American Civil War. As with any pitched battle, both sides were desperately pursuing any and all possible leads to new, more fearsome weaponry to outdo their opponents. The problem with being desperate is, you’re apt to entertain ideas that would otherwise be considered too convoluted for practical use. Such was the case with the Mershon and Hollingsworth self-cocking revolver. Essentially a modified Colt Army Model 1860—a standard-issue, muzzle-loaded, cap and ball, .44-caliber revolver—the Mershon and Hollingsworth had one insurmountable flaw: It sought to fix a problem that didn’t exist. The designers argued that standard single-action revolvers like the Colt 1860, and even double-action revolvers like the Beaumont–Adams revolver, required too much effort to cock and fire:

“In this very important particular consists its great superiority over all other self-cocking arms, all of them requiring so much muscular effort in pulling the trigger as to wholly defeat or disturb the aim and object of an arm, except at very close quarters.”