Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 3169: Presentation Engraved & Gold Inlaid Manhattan Navy Revolver

Auction Date: December 6, 2020

L. D. NIMSCHKE’S MAGNUM OPUS: Iconic and Well Documented, Cased Presentation Deluxe Engraved and Gold Inlaid Manhattan Navy Percussion Revolver with "Statue of Freedom" Relief Carved Grip Believed to Have Been Presented to Former Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $250,000 - $400,000

L. D. NIMSCHKE’S MAGNUM OPUS: Iconic and Well Documented, Cased Presentation Deluxe Engraved and Gold Inlaid Manhattan Navy Percussion Revolver with "Statue of Freedom" Relief Carved Grip Believed to Have Been Presented to Former Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard

Manufacturer: Manhattan Firearms Company
Model: Navy
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 36
Barrel: 6 1/2 inch octagon
Finish: blue/gold
Grip: raised relief carved antique ivory
Item Views: 2028
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 98
Class: Antique

High Art at its finest, this spectacular and iconic revolver is simply a different level of exceptional and was manufactured in 1864-1868 but has no serial number to help narrow down when within that production period. It is one of the most well-known Antique American Revolvers known, and is considered by many to be L. D. Nimschke’s finest work on a percussion handgun. As noted by R.L. Wilson, this revolver "is the most elaborate known of any Manhattan." He also wrote in an included letter, "The Beauregard Manhattan Navy Revolver recognized as the finest gold and silver inlaid percussion pistol embellished by Nimschke in a career which spanned over 50 years" and notes that based on its significance, he chose it for important frontpieces within his books. While there were a fair number of embellished Manhattan revolvers produced immediately following the war, this is the best of the best. Gold inlay is the ultimate form of embellishment on antique firearms, including gold inlaid percussion Colts. Like the gold inlaid Colts, gold inlaid Manhattan revolvers are very rare and highly desirable. The extensive and highly detailed engraving and gold inlays on the revolver are represented in multiple pulls on pages 3, 33, 37, and 45 of "L.D. Nimschke: Firearms Engraver" by R.L. Wilson who also notes that the pulls were "highlighted with yellow pencil - to indicate the presence of gold inlays" in his included letter. The portrait appears on all of those pages and is sometimes accompanied by other portions of the revolver. Page 37 is particularly significant as it shows most of the engraving on the revolver. A color copy of page 3 is also shown at the beginning of the "Louis D. Nimschke" chapter in "The Colt Engraving Book Volume I" by Wilson as well as in "Steel Canvas" and "The History and Art of the American Gun" by Wilson. Some of these pulls are also illustrated in color in "The Art of the Gun: Magnificent Colts, Selections from the Robert M. Lee Collection Vol. II" by Lee and Wilson in the chapter "L.D. Nimschke-Firearms Engraver." The fact that this revolver is represented so extensively in the pull book leaves no doubt that the revolver was engraved by Nimschke and certainly suggests he recognized this revolver was among his finest work. In addition, it is our opinion that this revolver may have been embellished in collaboration with another master artisan based on areas of distinctly different engraving and the exceptional quality of the portrait and gold inlays. It is our sincere belief that this incredible revolver could display the work of not one, but two of the 19th centuries most well-respected and prolific master engravers: L.D. Nimschke and Gustave Young. Nimschke did very little gold inlay work, and a close examination of the gold inlays on this revolver shows them to be more refined compared to other firearms engraved by Nimschke with gold inlays, such as Colt SAA 126506 shown in "The Colt Engraving Book Vol. 1" and pulls on pages 83 and 84 of "L.D. Nimschke: Firearms Engraver" by Wilson. Note that the SAA has a very similar pattern on the trigger guard bow. Other vignettes and portraits by Nimschke are also not nearly as detailed and refined as is seen on this revolver. The gold inlays are more in keeping with Gustave Young's work such as the revolvers presented to foreign heads of state, including the Sultan of Turkey, Tsar Nicholas I, and King Charles XV of Sweden shown in "The Colt Engraving Book Volume I." The engraving on the muzzle section, around the barrel address on the barrel, and the front of the loading lever is very similar to the "late percussion vine scroll" engraving by Gustave Young shown in Wilson's books and contrasts with the scroll engraving on the balance of the revolver which has finely textured backgrounds. This difference is very apparent in the pulls on page 37. Note that his pattern book includes pulls of guns he notes as engraved by other master engravers, especially Gustave Young. In particular, note that on page 95 of "L.D. Nimschke: Firearms Engraver" he has pulls of other revolvers with engraving and gold inlays by Gustave Young and Jacob Glahn. The Moore engraved and gold inlaid by Glahn can also be seen in color in "The Colt Engraving Book Volume two." The bulk of the engraving on this revolver was clearly executed by Nimschke. If Nimschke did indeed supply the additional embellishments and gold on this revolver, it is without question his finest work and reflects an effort to go the extra mile of making the entire piece an instrument of perfection, with his Young pulls being examples to assist his own execution. However, we believe it to be important to at least note the possibility of collaboration with Young. This is certainly not out of keeping with fine arms making both in the past and now. Outsourcing highly specialized work like gold inlays or carving to another talented artisan is logical, and many 19th century exhibition and presentation pieces are known to have been collaborations between two or more artisans. The work of the famous Versailles Manufactory under Boutet is a great example of this as are modern masterpieces from companies like Westley Richards, Holland & Holland, and more. In his letter, Wilson lists the inlays as by Nimschke but also notes them as "a key link to Gustave Young's gold-inlaid firearms." In addition to the pull book, this Manhattan revolver, along with its case and accessories, is honored with a full-page color photo on page 180, the lead page to Chapter VI, entitled “HANDGUNS SUPREME, 1860 – 1914” of "Steel Canvas. It is also prominently pictured and discussed in “The Art of American Arms" and "The History and Art of the American Gun," both also by Wilson, and identified as embellished by Nimschke and as presented to Napoleon III. He also points to page 17 of the Nimschke book where somewhat similar scroll engraving from the barrel lug of a Manhattan revolver can be seen but oddly does not point to the actual pulls of the gun. The included letter from R.L. Wilson lists the revolver as having the portrait of P. G. T. Beauregard and indicates the revolver had erroneously been previously identified as owned by Napoleon after it was discovered in France "decades ago." Wilson notes that "there is no other portrait found to date which matches the gold inlaid motif on the Manhattan barrel equal or better than that of Beauregard." The revolver was also originally chosen to be featured on the cover of James U. Blanchard III's book on Manhattan firearms that was interrupted by his death and that Wilson had hoped to finish before his own passing. The gold inlay portrait is nearly identical to the portrait of Beauregard taken by famous photographer Mathew Brady. Given the date range for manufacture and the thoroughly U.S. theme of the engraving and the raised relief carved rendition of the "Statue of Freedom" from the U.S. Capitol on the left side of the grip, it seems almost certain that this revolver would have been presented during reconstruction following the Civil War as many worked towards reconciliation, including with former Confederate leaders. Wilson made a similar conclusion in his letter, stating: "The cased, deluxe embellished and gold-inlaid General P.G.T. Beauregard Manhattan presentation and exhibition grade Navy Revolver ranks among the most important and fascinating firearms made in America in the 19th century. The Beauregard Manhattan cased set is of far greater significance than anyone previously thought. It is in fact a symbol of the reunification of the North with the South after four traumatic years of intense conflict, both sides looking forward to peace, and carrying on the evolution of America's destiny by reunification and renewal." The revolver features dual gold bands at the muzzle, a rounded blade front sight "MANHATTAN FIRE ARMS CO. NEWARK N.J/PATENTED MARCH 8. 1864" on top of the barrel, inlaid gold borders terminating in entwining lines on the sides of the barrel lug, the noted portrait in gold with a gold border on the left side of the lug ahead of the wedge, exceptionally detailed scroll engraving throughout, additional gold borders on the frame and hammer, gold eyes on the wolf head on the hammer, a gold band around the front of the cylinder, a crosshatch and dot pattern on one side of the cylinder and a crossed U.S. flag and triple striped flag on the other side with a sunburst pattern in the background, floral accents including on the left side of the recoil shield, star accents primarily along the lower sections, entwining banners on the trigger guard bow and butt, and a wonderfully raised relief carved rendition of the "Statue of Freedom" on the left side of the grip. The gold contrasts beautifully with the dark blue and casehardened finish and especially makes the portrait on the barrel lug stand out. The revolver was in Germany in 1893 given the "crown/V" "on-hand" proofs related to Germany's 1891 proof law that appear on the cylinder and left side of the barrel lug (often seen on firearms that were in France and Germany during and following the Franco-Prussian War). The revolver comes in a closely fitted rosewood case with an L-shaped combination tool, double sided eagle powder flask, cap tin, Manhattan bullet mold, and a "0447" marked collection tag. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (1818-1893) was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, 1838 and served under Winfield Scott during the Mexican-American War. After that war, he remained with the U.S. Army and was briefly the superintendent of West Point when his home state of Louisiana seceded in January of 1861. His position was revoked by the War Department. Prior to the war, he also searched for American manufacturers of LeMat's now famous revolvers, and among the companies he approached was Manhattan Fire Arms Co. of New York. He became the first general officer in the Confederate army and was one of only eight full generals in the Confederate Army though he clashed with his superiors, including Jefferson Davis who he regarded as his personal enemy. He was the commander during the bombardment of Fort Sumter that is generally regarded as marking the start of the Civil War and was also in command of other important battles such as the Confederate victory at First Bull Run and remained in leadership until the war's end and defended the Confederate capitol of Richmond. Beauregard re-swore his allegiance to the U.S. in New Orleans before the mayor quickly following the war on September 16, 1865, and was among the Confederate officers granted a full pardon by President Johnson on July 4, 1868. In September 1865, there were inaccurate newspaper reports that he was going to New York in preparation to leave to Paris to join the French Army with permission of President Johnson. He was indeed offered leadership positions in multiple foreign armies, including by Louis Napoleon, and had apparently considered and even negotiated accepting multiple foreign positions during the 1860s and 1870s, but the rumors of him being in New York in preparation for joining the French military at that time were false. However, he did visit New York and was hosted by members of the Democratic elite in the Northeast multiple times in the 1860s. In 1866, for example, he was granted parole by President Johnson and traveled to the New York and then to Europe on business as president of the Jackson & Great Northern Railroad. He was well received by the elite and had meetings with Louis Napoleon and was offered a command in the Romanian army but was not seeking a military position at that time. He returned via New York where he was hosted by Madame Le Vert, and from New York, he travelled to Washington to discuss his pardon, and also travelled back to Washington to dispute the Freedmen's Bureau's seizure of his property. He was also hosted in other cities such as St. Louis during these years. His property was returned when he was pardoned, and Congress finally restored his full rights on July 26, 1876. The cylinder has a U.S. flag and a horizontally triple striped flag that may represent the Confederate "Stars & Bars" flag. Though raised on a plantation, a slave owner, and known to have had pronounced outright racist views openly even after the war, by the 1870s, he changed his public stance on the rights of African Americans and supported property ownership and equal rights under the law and openly advocated for cooperation between the races including equal representation in government offices. He stated, "I am persuaded that the natural relation between the white and colored people is that of friendship. I am persuaded that their interests are identical; that their destinies in this state, where the two races are equally divided, are linked together; and that there is no prosperity for Louisiana which must not be the result of their cooperation. I am equally convinced that the evils anticipated by some men from the practical enforcement of equal rights are mostly imaginary, and that the relation of the races in the exercise of these rights will speedily adjust themselves to the satisfaction of all." Exactly how reformed his private views on race were are unclear, but pragmatically and publicly, he advocated for equality of the races in ways that certainly many of his contemporaries would have found shocking. Later in life, he was also an executive with the Louisiana lottery as well as the state's adjutant general and was among the few former Confederate generals to remain wealthy after the war. He died in Louisiana in 1893.

Rating Definition:

Extremely fine with exceptional and crisp engraving throughout, essentially all of the bright original gold inlay remaining, 75% plus original bright blue finish, smooth brown patina on most of the faded areas of the steel, 30% original gold on the grip straps, mellow aged patina on the balance of the brass, and minor overall wear associated with age and storage. The grip is excellent and has distinct carving, some slight age cracks, highly attractive natural colors and grain, and minimal overall wear. Mechanically excellent. The case and accessories are very fine and have minor age and storage related wear. This is easily one of the most incredible revolvers we have ever had the pleasure of cataloguing and is an absolute masterpiece of 19th century firearms art engraved by Nimschke. Nimschke clearly recognized it as among his finest work given the multiple pulls kept in his portfolio. Its connection to a former slave owner and famous Confederate general turned civil rights advocate certainly adds to its desirability, especially given the ongoing political and social conflicts around these issues. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire an extraordinary "next best thing" to a million dollar plus gold inlaid Colt revolver, as any model of Colt with such astonishing embellishment would easily command a seven-figure sale!

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