The Baby Hammerless Revolver
by Ed Buffaloe
This article is almost entirely based on Frank M. Sellers’ comprehensive book Baby Hammerless Revolvers which the reader should reference for more detailed information—the book is still readily available and is reasonably priced. I have added what little additional information I could find, mostly in regard to dating and biographies. I found Sellers’ nomenclature a bit confusing in places and have tried to clarify it to the extent possible.
I will begin with a history of the people and companies involved, and then attempt to document the Baby Hammerless variants. I have organized the article chronologically rather than by type.
Foehl & Weeks
Charles G.W. Foehl engaged in the business of making firearms in Philadelphia for a number of years. He was born in the state of Würtemberg, Germany on 15 September 1840 and immigrated to the United States in 1859. Foehl was apprenticed to Philadelphia gunsmith John Wurfflein, and may have worked for Henry Deringer, Jr. before the U.S. Civil War. After the war Foehl worked for the Deringer Rifle and Pistol Works, which was owned by a great-grandson of Henry Deringer, Jr. The firm made cartridge firearms, and its First Model Deringer Revolver utilized some features from Foehl’s first firearms patent, U.S. patent № 139,461. The firm also manufactured single shot rifles based on Foehl’s next two patents which were variants of the Martini action rifle. Foehl died on 4 October 1913, at the age of 73.
Around 1888 or 1889 Foehl formed a company with a Philadelphia machinist, Charles A. Weeks, to make revolvers based on Foehl’s patent № 417,672 (filed 12 October 1888 and granted 17 December 1889) which was assigned to the Foehl & Weeks Firearms Manufacturing Company of New Jersey. For some reason the company was incorporated in New Jersey, even though its address was across the river in Philadelphia. The revolvers were of a hammerless top-break design, with a 3.5 inch ribbed barrel, chambered in .32 S&W, and featured a grip safety at the front base of the grip as shown in the patent. A checkered release at the rear of the top strap is pushed to the rear to pivot the barrel latch and break open the pistol. A checkered latch on the top strap at the rear of the cylinder serves as the cylinder release. Early guns were marked on the barrel rib:
THE FOEHL & WEEKS F. A. MFG. CO. PHILA. PA. U.S.A.
THE FOEHL & WEEKS F. A. MFG. CO. PHILA. PA. U.S.A.
The first patent date found on early Baby Hammerless revolvers is FEB. 2, 92 which represents U.S . patent № 468,243. Frank Sellers states that this is “...the only patent that Charles Foehl and Charles Weeks held jointly.” However, this seems to me to be incorrect since they also jointly held the 1891 patent № 447,219 but maybe Sellers was referring to patents only for the Baby Hammerless. The 1892 patent is similar to Foehl’s 1889 patent but with a redesigned rebound mechanism on the hammer.
The Foehl & Weeks company went bankrupt as a result of the financial panic of 1893 though the two men continued to be listed in city directories as officers of the corporation until 1894 (Weeks) and 1896 (Foehl). According to Sellers, it is very likely that the Foehl & Weeks company never made any Baby Hammerless revolvers, with the possible exception of prototypes. Very few early guns survive and they are impossible to date accurately. None carry a manufacturer’s name.
Weeks apparently dropped out of the business around 1895, because the second patent date found on the Baby Hammerless, FEB. 4, 96, which represents U.S. patent № 554,058, filed on 10 July 1895, does not contain Weeks’ name. Instead, a half interest in the patent is assigned to one Henry Ruhland, of whom more follows below. The second patent covers the cylinder stop mechanism.
The Columbian Firearms Manufacturing Company
The Columbian Firearms Manufacturing Company was probably formed in 1893 when the Foehl & Weeks company could not pay its debts. The president of Columbian Firearms was Henry Ruhland, a Philadelphia financier who just happened to be the bankruptcy referee for Foehl & Weeks (the equivalent of a modern bankruptcy judge). Foehl managed the new company, as he had managed Foehl & Weeks, and the factory remained in the same location. Essentially, Ruhland and Foehl created a new legal entity which could continue producing firearms using Foehl’s patents, without being liable for the Foehl & Weeks company debts. Later, a half interest in two of Foehl’s patents (№ 530,759 of 1894 and № 554,058 of 1896) was assigned to Henry Ruhland.
Foehl’s 1894 patent (№ 530,759) was for a more conventional top-break revolver with an external hammer which was manufactured for several years and apparently sold under different names. This revolver had a T-shaped barrel release lever and a small button on the topstrap that enabled the cylinder to be removed. The gun was marked:
COLUMBIAN F. A. MFG. CO. PHILA. PA. U.S.A.
And some were sold under the auspices of the New York Arms Company, about which not much is known. These are marked:
COLUMBIAN AUTOMATIC PAT.PDG.
Henry M. Kolb
Henry M. Kolb was born 16 January 1861 in Philadelphia, and was first listed in the city directory in 1895 as a machinist, with an address at 227 Venango Street. Kolb claimed in his advertisements that he founded his firearms company in 1897, which was also the last year the Columbian Firearms Company was listed in the city directory. Kolb is listed in 1898 and 1899 as selling or possibly manufacturing bicycle attachments or cycle fittings at 821 Cherry Street. Sellers states that Kolb opened a model shop in 1899 and was listed as a machinist again in 1900 with an address at 1429 N 21st Street. He may or may not have obtained the machinery of the Columbian Firearms Company—Sellers could find no record of such a sale but there is no way to know for certain. It isn’t until 1901 that Kolb is listed as a maker of revolvers, and in 1904 he is listed as a gun dealer, still at 1429 N 21st.
The first advertisement I have located for the Baby Hammerless revolver is in the October 1899 issue of Forest and Stream, where it was being retailed by Iver Johnson Sporting Goods of Boston. The ad states “we are now in a position to fill all orders for Baby Hammerless revolvers promptly on receipt of order”, implying that they had been selling them for some time and were having trouble meeting the demand. This could be marketing hype but leads me to believe that production continued with little interruption after Kolb bought Columbian’s business. Other than the design of the hard rubber grips, there are no apparent differences between Columbian and Kolb Baby Hammerless revolvers—they could have been made with the same equipment.
I have located two postcards from Henry Kolb, dated June and December of 1902, which show that by June of 1902 he was using the Baby Hammerless as a business logo, and the logo shows his “K” monogram on the grip.
Charles Foehl continued his friendship and business relationship with Henry Kolb. Between 1902 and 1907 Kolb and Foehl took out four revolver patents together (U.S. Patent № 702735, № 818177, № 826788, and № 847011), and in 1911 Foehl filed U.S. Patent № 1,019,446 which was granted on 5 March 1912, covering a shell ejector for the Baby Hammerless Model 1910.
Henry Kolb took out two patents in 1910 for improvements to the Baby Hammerless revolver. The first was № 954,190, for a “firing-pin for hammers for firearms,” and the second was № 954,191, for a means of mounting and locking the cylinder. These patents represent the first redesign of the Baby Hammerless which became known as the Model 1910.
Kolb’s business, which was simply called Henry M. Kolb, became Henry M. Kolb & Company in 1910. Kolb retired from the firearms industry late in 1915. He sold his collection of 740 firearms, mostly rare antique pistols, in May of 1916. Sellers quotes from the auction catalog which revealed that “for many years [Kolb] conducted an establishment wherein a specialty was made of repairing old firearms for collectors.” He lived for another 21 years and died in Philadelphia on 14 August 1937.
R. F. Sedgley
Reginald Francis Sedgley was born in England on 3 September 1876. He attended Eton college where he studied mechanical engineering. I could not find specific information about his dates of attendance at Eton but in that era students in England typically began secondary school at the age of 12. Sedgley arrived in the United States on 9 May 1894 at the age of 17. He worked as a bicycle salesman and raced bicycles for a time, and also worked at William Cramp and Sons shipyard. According to his entry in the Cyclopedia of American Biography, Sedgley was hired by Henry Kolb as a firearms repairman in 1897. A small booklet put out by the Sedgley Arms Co., entitled The Story of Sedgley Guns, states: "In 1897, R. F, Sedgley was superintendent of a gun factory which did not come under his name until some years later." Sedgley later marked his catalogs “R.F. Sedgley, Inc., Established 1897.”
Apparently Sedgley’s association with Kolb goes all the way back to the time when Kolb bought Columbian Arms. Though Kolb was fifteen years older than Sedgley, they must have moved in the same circles in Philadelphia, as they were both machinists, gunsmiths, and bicycle enthusiasts. It seems likely that the older Kolb had a lasting influence on Sedgley during their long association. In April of 1914 Kolb and Sedgley applied for a patent together, for a ratchet wrench, which was granted on 18 May 1915 (U.S. patent № 1,140,167).
In the December 1915 issue of the American Machine and Tool Record, Henry Kolb wrote: “I take this opportunity to announce to my friends in the trade that I intend to retire from the business of manufacturing firearms, and will be succeeded by Mr. R. F. Sedgley, who has had charge of the factory for the past ten years. I bespeak for him the same hearty consideration of the product and attention as has been accorded to me heretofore, and I am sure that all requirements will receive the same careful attention that I have always been pleased to give them.”
Sedgley was granted two patents for improvements to the Baby Hammerless revolver. U.S. Patent № 1,216,001 was granted on 13 February 1917 for a combination coiled wire main and trigger spring, and № 1,236,608, was granted 14 August 1917 for a cylinder ejection system. Sedgley was well known for his custom gunsmith work, converting 1903 Springfield military rifles into sporting guns and sniper rifles, and for his flare gun and glove gun.
In his 1984 article in American Rifleman, entitled “R.F. Sedgley, Inc.”, Pete Dickey provides a long list of products manufactured by Sedgley, then states: “These products were made and sold, for the most part, as supplements to R.F. Sedgley, Inc.’s main function, that of custom gunsmithing .” Sedgley’s 1938 obituary states: “He owned one of the finest collections of antique weapons in the country...” He died of a heart attack on 29 March 1938, only about seven months after Henry Kolb’s death.
The Baby Hammerless Revolvers
“Serial numbers” for the Baby Hammerless revolvers are usually found stamped into the frame under the left or right grip plate. They are effectively batch numbers, not serial numbers, as they run from 1 to 999 and then start over and so are of little use for dating guns or estimating quantities made; duplicate numbers are very common. Only a few rare specimens have numbers longer than three digits.
The fundamental design of the Baby Hammerless is that of a solid frame folding trigger revolver, similar to the European Velodog, characterized by a cylinder with double cylinder stops for each chamber and rather short flutes. The lockwork has two lobes that engage the two cylinder stops; the front lobe is fixed and the rear lobe is spring-loaded. With the trigger in its normal forward position, the front lobe is rotated upward and engages the front cylinder stop to prevent cylinder rotation. When the trigger is pulled the front lobe of the lockwork is rotated downwards to allow the hand to rotate the cylinder, whereupon the rear lobe of the lockwark engages the rear cylinder stop of the next chamber and locks it in position for firing. The lockwork underwent several changes which are documented by Sellers. The cylinder is removed for loading and reloading by withdrawing the cylinder pin which can be used for punching out the spent cartridge cases.
Sellars believes the Baby Hammerless revolver was likely first manufactured by Columbian. He reports that some knowledgeable collectors maintain all Baby Hammerless models before 1916 were manufactured by Henry Kolb, whatever their grips and markings may be; however, like Sellers, I have been unable to uncover any direct evidence that this is true. At this writing, we simply do not have sufficient information to do more than speculate.
Columbian and Kolb First Model Baby Hammerless
Columbian and Henry Kolb Baby Hammerless revolvers are identical except for the grip plates. The Columbian grip plates have a rococo vine pattern in an oval at the top, whereas Kolb grip plates feature a K monogram in a circle. First model Baby Hammerless revolvers are characterized by birds-head-shaped grips and a cylinder release lever slotted into the frame on the right side in front of the cylinder. The lever pivots on a screw in the front of the frame just beneath the cylinder pin. A second screw in the front of the frame serves as a headspace adjustment for the cylinder. Sellers comments: “The [headspace adjustment] feature was of doubtful efficacy and was dropped with the new models after 1910.”
Based on statistical modeling, Sellers estimates that more than 50,000 first model Baby Hammerless revolvers were made. My own observation is that there are more large frame Columbian revolvers than small frame, whereas there are many more small frame Kolb revolvers.
Small Frame First Model: A six-shot solid frame revolver in .22 caliber short. The birdshead grips are made of hard rubber—the Columbian with a vine pattern in the top oval, the Kolb with a K in the top circle. Approximately 25% had pearl grips, which were indistinguishable between makes. Nickel was the standard finish, but 10-20% were blued. The large head of the hammer screw is visible on the left side, blued even on nickel guns. Length is 4 inches overall, with a 1 -5/16 inch barrel. The first model is marked in all capital sans-serif characters on three lines:
Three different hammers were installed, which can only be distinguished by disassembling the guns. The early hammers had a pivoting firing pin on the front and a pivoting rebound mechanism on the back. The pivoting firing pin was quickly eliminated and replaced with a fixed pin. Eventually the (mostly ineffective) rebound mechanism on back of the hammer was also eliminated and Kolb designed a new pivoting firing pin which was patented in 1910 (U.S. patent № 954190). Probably over 50,000 first model guns were produced, only about 5000 of which had the late hammer. Duplicate serial numbers are common. Some of the late production first model small frame guns were marked:
According to Frank Sellers this indicates that the gun had “the last type of hammer, with Kolb’s patented pivoting firing pin.” The same marking was used on the early Model 1910 small frame revolvers.
Large Frame First Model: Available in .32 caliber S&W short, 5-shot; or .22 caliber long, 8-shot. There are lots of variations. The .32 caliber guns were made with and without loading gates, and the .22 caliber were made with and without loading slots in the frame. Birdshead grips are of hard rubber—the Columbian with a vine pattern at the top and the Kolb with a K monogram in a circle. Nickel was the standard finish but approximately 10% were blued. Length was 5-1/4 inches overall, with a 1-3/4 inch barrel. Markings include:
PAT. FEB.2.92 -FEB.4.96
The New Baby
The New Baby is the same size as the large frame Baby Hammerless but is a six-shot top-break auto ejecting revolver in .22 short caliber—the smallest production top-break revolver ever made. They look large in photographs, but they are tiny. New Baby top-break revolvers were all manufactured by Kolb, and were based on Foehl’s 1894 patent № 530,759 but in a hammerless configuration. Sellers points out that they mirror the evolution of the Baby Hammerless, with early guns having birds-head grips and later guns having a squared-off grip. Sellers estimates that about 90% of the New Baby revolvers were nickel plated.
It is difficult to determine a date for the beginning of manufacture—Sellers does not speculate. I suggest that the first model is no earlier than 1906, based solely on the fact that none of the advertisements for the Baby Hammerless through 1905 mention the New Baby but do mention the large frame models. In the period between 1902 and 1907 Foehl and Kolb jointly took out four revolver patents, and Foehl’s influence is evident in the early New Baby. The last model New Baby, the Model 1911, continued to be manufactured for several years, with production likely ending at or before Sedgley’s acquisition of the company, as none are known with S monogram grips. I have been unable to locate any advertisement for early models of the New Baby with birdshead grips—only a 1914 advertisement for the Model 1911.
There are four distinct “models” of New Baby revolvers though only the last has an official designation. Production estimates for the first three models together only total about 6,500. Sellers estimates production of the fourth model, known as the Model 1911 New Baby, at “only a few thousand, probably not more than twenty”, which is pretty vague but is derived from statistical modeling based on serial numbers he had collected.
Second Model New Baby: The second model eliminated the cylinder release button in favor of a simpler, cheaper solution requiring far fewer steps to manufacture. The action turns the cylinder to the right (clockwise) but if it is turned to the left (counterclockwise) the cylinder can be spun off its pin. The second model retains the birdshead grips in hard rubber or pearl. Sellers estimates that about 5,000 of the second model were made.
Third Model New Baby: The third model is mechanically identical to the second model but has a square butt grip frame like the Model 1910 Baby Hammerless. It is marked identically to the first two models. Sellers estimates that only about 500 of the third model were made before the transition to the Model 1911 New Baby took place.
Kolb Model 1910 Baby Hammerless
Small Frame Model 1910: .22 caliber short, 6-shot. Also known as the New Model. The frame was slightly larger than the First Model. The grip was redesigned with a larger, square butt, and the headspace adjustment screw was eliminated. The cylinder pin catch was mounted in the pin itself, rather than in the frame, and it had a larger head. This saved several manufacturing steps on the frame. The trigger was lengthened and the knob on the end was removed. The hammer screw has a small head on the left side. The hammer itself was redesigned to eliminate the pivoting rebound mechanism on its rear. Instead, the hammer spring itself had a tip that was curved backward to hold the hammer off the cartridge.
Early issue guns were marked with the old patent dates:
with PAT’s PENDING on the butt.
But the gun was quickly renamed the Model 1910 and was marked:
with PAT’s PENDING on the butt.
Later, after the patents were granted, the gun carried Kolb’s 1910 patent date:
The last and most common markings eliminated the 1892 patent date. This patent no longer was in use on the gun and in any case had expired:
Over 50,000 of the New Model/Model 1910 are estimated to have been made.
Large Frame Model 1910: Like the Columbian revolvers before them, these large frame Model 1910 Baby Hammerless revolvers were made in .32 caliber S&W short, 5-shot, or .22 caliber long, 8-shot. The frame was the same size as the First Model, but the grip was enlarged and had a square butt. These guns have the same features as the small frame Model 1910; the cylinder pin catch was mounted in the pin itself, and it had a larger head. The hammer screw has a smaller head than the early model. There are four different markings. The earliest guns were marked:
some have PAT’S PENDING on the butt and some do not.
Later guns carried Kolb’s 1910 patent date:
As with the small frame guns, the next markings eliminated the earlier patent date:
Finally, the Konqueror model, which had a two-inch barrel, was marked:
The Kolb Model 1911 New Baby
The Model 1911 was based on Kolb’s patent #995,156 of 1911. It was distinguished by a square butt, like the Model 1910 Baby Hammerless, and the new barrel release catch which was the subject of Kolb’s patent. The left side button was pressed to the right to release the barrel and eject the cartridges. Probably more than 90% of the Model 1911 were nickel plated, and about a third of them had pearl grips. The Model 1911 was marked:
Sedgley Small Frame “Transition” Models,
The transition pistols (probably a few thousand) were marked just like the previous model:
After the patent was granted, the new patent date was added to the inscription:
Strangely enough, there were a few guns with the 1917 patent date that were marked Model 1910:
In this period, Sellers reports the beginning of letter prefixes to the three-digit serial numbers beneath the grip plates.
We find guns marked Model 1918 and 1920:
Country of origin was added in 1920:
The ones marked 1916 and 1920 are the most common. Sellers estimates that approximately 3,000 were marked 1910; 20,000 were marked 1916; 2,000 were marked 1918; and 25,000 were marked 1920 but some of these were pull release models.
Sedgley Pull Release, Models 1920, 1921, and 1924
Sellers includes the pull release guns with the small frame transition models. I have no quarrel with his nomenclature, as these models are clearly part of the transition to the ejector model, but the frame differs enough from the earlier transition models that I am presenting the pull release guns as a separate entry.
Sedgley filed a patent for a spring-loaded cylinder pin that could be pulled forward to allow the pin to slip through a slot in the right side of the frame. With the cylinder and pin removed, the pin could be pressed to the rear to eject all six cartridge casings, using a star ejector like those on any break-top or swing-out cylinder revolver. U.S. patent № 1,236,608 was filed on 20 March 1917 and was granted on 14 August 1917. I suspect that the reason the new design was not implemented immediately was that Sedgley still had a large stock of old cylinders he needed to use up. So, to begin with, he simply made a pull-release cylinder pin without the star ejector on the rear. Then the war intervened and Sedgley wanted to support the war effort and support his homeland, Britain, and so his new design was not fully implemented until the Model 1924.
Small Frame “Transition” Model, pull release: A six-shot solid frame revolver chambered in .22
caliber short. The distinguishing feature of this model was the cylinder pin pull release, eliminating the cylinder pin catch.
The earliest of these guns were marked identically to the early Model 1920:
A rare few of the transition models had a threaded cylinder pin that screwed into the frame behind the cylinder. Sellers states that the threaded cylinder pin is only found on Model 1921 pistols but I have identified one in a Model 1922.
Sedgley Small Frame Ejector Model
Sedgy finally implemented his ejector model in 1924. The other big change was that he chambered his new design for the .22 long cartridge. The cylinder was lengthened by 1/8 inch to 7/8 inch and the frame was modified accordingly.
Later markings were identical except for the model date: 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1930. Sellers estimates that approximately 3,000 were made with the 1924 date, 7,000 with the 1927 date, 5,000 with the 1928 date, 10,000 with the 1929 date, and 2,000 with the 1930 date.
Special thanks to Homer R. Ficken for researching information about Charles Foehl.
Copyright 2008-2023 by Ed Buffaloe. All rights