To modern cap and ball revolver shooters, Remington is best known for the .44 caliber New Model Army revolvers the company sold to Union forces during the Civil War. Quite a few of these big manstoppers made their way to the Western frontier, but many people don’t realize that Remington’s first revolvers were pocket pistols. Samuel Colt developed the first concealed carry revolver when he designed the .31 caliber 1848 Baby Dragoon. It was a good seller, and it paved the way for the even more popular Model 1849 Pocket Revolver. However, his competitors weren’t going to let Colt have that lucrative market all to himself for long. Among those eager to take a piece of the pocket pistol pie was Eliphalet Remington.
By the mid-1850s Remington was already a successful rifle and shotgun manufacturer. In 1856 he turned his attention to the handgun market with a .31 caliber pocket pistol designed by Fordyce Beals. Remington marketed three generations of Beals’ pocket pistol, but the first model was the bestseller by far, moving nearly 5,000 units. During the Civil War years, Remington concentrated on building full-sized revolvers to meet government contracts. But, when the war was over, the government cancelled unfilled contracts, and the handgun market was flooded with surplus .44 caliber sixguns. So Remington decided to concentrate their handgun manufacturing on the .36 caliber police market
and the .31 caliber concealed carry market.
In 1865 they developed a new five-shot, .31 caliber pocket pistol. The new offering used design improvements developed for Remington’s bigger Army revolvers, resulting in a sleek little revolver that was well suited for concealed carry. Remington developed three variations of their new pocket pistol. The first version, of which very few were ever produced, making originals very valuable today, had a brass frame and a brass guard for the spur trigger, what Remington called a “sheath.” The second model of the new pocket pistol featured an iron frame and a brass sheath. The third variation, and the most common, featured all-iron construction. These re-volvers were equipped with cap and ball cylinders chambered for .31 caliber. They were also available with two-piece cartridge conversion cylinders for .32 rimfire cartridges. All the variations of the New Model Pocket Revolver were available in four
barrel lengths—3 inches, 3½ inches, 4 inches and 4½ inches.
Between 1865 and 1873, Remington sold about 25,000 new model pocket revolvers. In 1870 the price for one of these little five-shooters was $8.25. If you wanted one with the optional .32 rimfire cylinder, the price was a princely $9.50. If we account for inflation that would be between $144.74 and $231.00 in today’s money, depending on the computational method you use. Even the higher price is significantly less than the cost of modern made replicas. So, these guns were not out of reach for the average man on the street in 1870. Of course originals cost quite a bit more today. The all-iron variation, in excellent condition commands $850 on the antique arms market. But, thanks to Taylor’s & Company, we can have a high quality replica if this handgun for a fraction of the price of an original.
Taylor’s has dubbed their replica of the Remington New Model Pocket Revolver, the model 1863 Pocket Remington. I can forgive them jumping the gun on the original 1865 debut because Taylor’s has made both the brass-framed/brass-sheathed first model and the iron-framed/iron-sheathed third model, available to today’s shooters. Taylor’s replica 1863 pocket revolvers are faithful reproductions of the Remington originals. Our test gun was a replica of the all-iron third model. It came with an optional cartridge conversion cylinder chambered for .32 S&W centerfire cartridges. If you plan to fire cartridges in an 1863 pocket revolver, you have to shoot the all iron model. Brass frames are not strong enough for use with centerfire cartridges.
The original Remington’s were made of iron, but the Italian firm of Pietta builds Taylor’s replica out of modern ordnance steel. Like the originals, Taylor’s replica has a 3½-inch octagon barrel with a low brass blade front sight. Under the barrel, the loading lever and rammer are clearly patterned on the .44 caliber Remington New Model Army revolver. And, as on its .44 caliber big brother, the basepin of the pocket revolver is secured in place by the closed loading lever. By the way, Fordyce Beals 1858 patent on that loading lever-basepin design is the reason the .44 caliber Remington New Model Army revolver of 1863 is erroneously called the Model 1858 by today’s importers and shooters.
The five-shot cylinder looks pretty dainty when you compare it to its .44 caliber relatives, but it is well designed. The nipple cones angle outwards, which gives you better access for capping. The safety notches between the chambers fit the hammer nose well, so they are fully functional. You can load all five chambers on this gun. Setting the hammer nose into a safety notch renders the revolver safe to carry. The blued steel frame has a typical single-action sight groove milled into the revolver’s top strap. Coupled with the brass front sight, this provides an excellent sight picture. I found I could aim the 1863 Pocket Revolver with precision. The grip frame is integral with the receiver. The grips themselves follow the familiar Remington New Model Army pattern, just greatly downsized. The wood is nice, dark walnut with a subdued oil finish. The blued steel trigger sheath protects the color casehardened trigger from lateral stress. The spur trigger is dictated by the dainty overall size of the New Model Pocket Revolver. Any triggerguard big enough to comfortably accommodate a big man’s finger would overpower the streamlined design of the revolver.
It has been quite awhile since I played around with a Remington Pocket Revolver. The last one I used had a mainspring that could have easily handled suspension duties on a ’32 Ford. Such a heavy spring, coupled with the tiny grips, made cocking that old Pocket revolver difficult, even if you ate your Wheaties. As a consequence, the trigger pull was abysmal. When I cocked Taylor’s 1863 Pocket Revolver I got quite a surprise. The hammer came back easily, and the trigger broke cleanly at an astonishing 2.5 pounds. Along with the revolver, Taylor’s sent along one of their cartridge conversion cylinders. Like all their cartridge conversion cylinders, the New Model Pocket Revolver conversion cylinder is machined from 4150 arsenal-grade steel. The cartridge conversion consists of the body of the cylinder itself and a cap the goes over the rear of the cylinder and contains an individual firing pin for each chamber. This is exactly like the original Remington conversion cylinders with one exception. The originals were for rimfire cartridges.
These cylinders are not designed for high-pressure ammunition. Taylor’s literature warns you to use only cowboy ammunition that does not exceed 850 feet per second (fps). The factory loaded .32 S&W cartridge doesn’t even approach that limit, but hand loaders can hotrod the round. There is no good reason to do that. If you handload, stick to factory ballistics. Luckily, the .32 H&R Mag round is a ¼-inch too long to fit in the conversion cylinder. I was surprised how well the Pocket Revolver shot with round balls. I loaded the tiny chambers with a tiny 10-grain charge of 3Fg Goex black powder and a .323-inch, 51-grain round ball and I capped it with a Remington #10 cap. That load turned in an average velocity of 611 feet per second (fps). Groups averaged 1.5 inches in diameter when shot from a bench rest at seven yards. Before you poo-poo benchrest results at that difference, let me assure you that I could name to you several modern-made pocket revolvers that did not perform as accurately in the same test. The best group I fired during testing measured only an inch across, and the biggest group was only 2.25 inches in diameter. The only fly in the ointment was that the point of impact was a full 7 inches higher than the point of aim, so a judicious use of hold-under was needed.
I had been a little concerned about using the Lilliputian loading lever on the pocket revolver. It looks in no way equal to the task of seating a ball, but in actual use it did the job easily. After testing with cap and ball loads, I gave the little revolver a quick clean up and loaded up the cartridge conversion cylinder with Winchester, 85-grain, lead, round-nosed .32 Smith & Wesson cartridges. If I were loading this for a Cowboy Action Shooting pocket pistol side match I’d only load four of the five chambers, and I’d lower the hammer on to the empty chamber for safety. However, the Taylor’s cylinder has fully functional safety notches between each chamber. Lowering the hammer nose into one of these notches allows you to safely carry the revolver with all five chambers loaded. That is how they would have been carried in the 19th century.
Accuracy wasn’t as good for me with the .32 S&W cylinder. My average group was 3 inches in diameter. My best group was 2.75 inches and the worst group I shot was a whopping 3.5 inches across. The average velocity for the .32 S&W ammunition was 643 fps. The Model 1863 Pocket Revolver cartridge conversion cylinder isn’t cataloged on Taylor’s website yet. But you can ask for it by its part number, which is P1863. As you would expect, given its caliber, the Remington Pocket Revolver has very little recoil from either cap and ball or cartridges. It is a lot of fun to shoot as a plinker, or as a sidematch pistol in cowboy action competition. These little .31 caliber revolvers with their cartridge conversion cylinders were very popular in the 19th century, and I’ve got a feeling that, thanks to Taylor’s, they’ll be popular in the 21st century too.
For more information call 800-655-5814 or visit taylorsfirearms.com.
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