Unblinking Eye
Suicide Specials

Suicide Special Revolvers
by Ed Buffaloe

List of Trade Names
(not comprehensive):

Acme, Aetna, Alaska, Alert, Alexis, Alexia, American, American Boy, American Eagle, Aristocrat, Aubrey, Avenger, Bang Up, Bengal, Big Bonanza, Bismark, Blue Hound, Blue Jacket, Boys Choice, Brutus, Buffalo Bill, Bull Dog, Capt. Jack, Caruso, Challenge, Champion, Chicago Ledger, Chichester, Chieftain, Columbian, Comet, Commander, Constant, Continental, Conqueror, Cowboy, Cowboy Ranger, Creedmore, Crescent, Crown, Crown Jewel, Czar, Daisy, Daniel Boone, Dead Shot, Defender, Defiance, Despatch, Double Header, Dreadnought, Eagle, Eagle Arms Co., Earlhood, Earthquake, Elector, Electric, Emperor, Empire, Empress, Encore, Enterprise, Eureka, Excelsior, Express, Fashion, Faultless, Favorite, Favorite Navy, Fisher, Frontier, Gem, Governor, Guardian, Gypsy, Half Breed, Hard Pan, Hero, Hecla, Hood, Imperial, International, Iroquois, Jewel, J.H. Johnston, Joker, Kaiser, Kentucky, King, King Pin, Kittemaug, Knockabout, Ladies Companion, Ladies Pet, Lakeside, Leader, Liberty, Lifelong, Lion, Little Giant, Little John, Little Joker, Little Pet, Little Scott, Lone Star, Long Range, Long Tom, Marquis of Lorne, Metropolitan Police, Midget, Mohawk, Mohegan, Monitor, Monarch, Mountain Eagle, My Companion, Napoleon, Nero, Never Miss, New Baby, Newport, Nonpareil, Non-XL, Norwich Falls, Odd Fellow, O.K., OK, Old Hickory, Orient, Our Own, Panther, Paragon, Paralyzer, Parole, Path Finder, Patriot, Peace Maker, Peerless, Penetrator, Pet, Phoenix, Pinafore, Pioneer, Prairie King, Premier, Princess, Protector, Queen, Ranger, Rattler, Red Hot, Red Jacket, Reliable, Reliant, Retriever, Robin Hood, Rob Roy, Rover, Royal, Rupertus, Russian, Ryan, Ryan’s New Model, Safe Guard, Savage, Scott, Scout, Secret Service, Senator, Sentinel, Smoker, Smokey City, Southron, Spit Fire, Spitfire, Splendor, Spy, Star Leader, Sterling, Striker, Success, Superior, Swamp Angel, Terrier, Terror, Tiger, Tower’s Police Safety, Tramp’s Terror, Triumph, Trojan, True Blue, Tycoon, Uncle Sam, Union Jack, Union NY, Unique, Veiled Prophets, Venus, Veteran, VETO, Victor, Victoria, White Jacket, White Star, Whitney, Wide Awake, William Tell, Winfield, Winner, Wonder, XL, XLCR, Yankee Boy, You Bet, Young America.

List of Manufacturers
 (not comprehensive):

Bacon Arms Company, E.L. Dickinson, Forehand & Wadsworth, Harrington & Richardson, Hood Firearms Company, Hopkins & Allen, Iver Johnson, Lee Arms Company, J.M. Marlin, Norwich Arms Company, Osgood, Prescott, Reid, Whitney.

The term “suicide special” was coined by Duncan McConnell in an article in the American Rifleman of February 1948.  In 1958 Donald Blake Webster wrote a book entitled Suicide Specials, now long out of print.  The name was given to a class of small, (usually) cheap revolvers that were made in profusion between about 1870 and 1890.  The classification is rather loosely defined, often in negative terms.  Donald Webster has enumerated the following criteria for suicide specials:
  1. Single action revolver
  2. Solid frame
  3. Sheath or spur trigger
  4. Most are rimfire only, in one of five calibers:  .22, .30, .32, .38, and .41 (.30 is rare)
  5. Electroplated with nickel (95%)
  6. No break-open frames or swing-out cylinders
  7. No extractors or ejectors
  8. No hinged loading gates
  9. No safety features
  10. No serial numbers (or serial number hidden under grips)
  11. Most carried a trade name, not the actual manufacturer’s name

Despite the fact that most cities forbade the open carrying of weapons, late 19th Century America was a time and place where almost everyone owned a gun, and many carried them concealed.  The average person couldn’t necessarily afford a Remington, Colt, or Smith & Wesson, so there was a thriving market for cheap pistols.  With the expiration in 1869 of the Rollin White patent on bored cylinders, held by Smith & Wesson, a world of opportunity was opened up for small arms companies, and the public eagerly embraced their products.

The market for really small pocket revolvers was initially created by Smith & Wesson with their 1st Model .22 short revolver, which appeared in 1857, and the 2nd Model .32 rimfire, which appeared in 1861.  Colt, Remington, and Whitney also eventually made a few small pocket models, but none of them were in production for very long because they simply couldn’t compete with the cheaper guns.

Donald Webster is careful to emphasize that many of the suicide specials were poorly made of cheap metal and weren’t particularly safe to shoot when they were made, let alone today.  The only rimfire ammunition still in production today is .22 caliber, but it is much too powerful to be shot in old suicide specials (with the possible exception of CB caps).  Most of these guns are purely for collecting, not for shooting.

Also, as a result of being poorly made, many of the suicide specials that still exist are not in very good condition.  In the best of storage situations, some of them can deteriorate even without being handled.  This is particularly true of the cheap nickel plating used on most of them.

While I have emphasized that most of these guns were cheaply made, there were notable exceptions. In particular, Forehand and Wadsworth and Iver Johnson made very fine weapons that were not cheap.

My intention here is not to write an exhaustive article on suicide specials, but simply to outline the basics on the guns and to add photographs of my own guns as I collect them.  If you have a suicide special and don’t mind sharing a photograph, I would be happy to publish it here.


ĘTNA No. 2 - .32

Aetna No. 2
Aetna No. 2

The Aetna was manufactured by Harrington and Richardson, formed in 1874.  There were four models of the Aetna.  The No. 1 was a .22 caliber with birds-head grips.  The No. 1-1/2 was a .22 with the grips squared off at the bottom.  The No. 2 was a .32 rimfire with birds-head grips.  The No. 2-1/2 was a .32 rimfire with the grips squared off.


Blue Jacket No. 2 - .32

Hopkins & Allen Blue Jacket No. 2 Hopkins & Allen Blue Jacket No. 2

The Blue Jacket No. 2. is a five-shot .32 rimfire revolver made by Hopkins & Allen.  The grip frame and grips may be either square butt or birdshead.  In some examples the patent date is omitted from the inscription.


Bulldog .38

Forehand and Wadsworth Bull Dog
Forehand and Wadsworth Bull Dog

There were many guns given the name Bulldog or Bull Dog.  This one, in .38 rimfire, was made by Forehand and Wadsworth.  Webster lists it as having a nickel finish and a fluted cylinder, so this may be an exceptional specimen.  These were some of the best made of the so-called “suicide specials.”



Defender .32 Rimfire Defender .32 Rimfire

The Defender was manufactured by Johnson & Bye (later Iver Johnson) from 1873-1888.  There were three different frame sizes for both square butt and birds head grip models.  The small frame was chambered for .22 rimfire; the medium frame was chambered for .32 rimfire; and the large frame was chambered for .38 or .41 rimfire.  Serial numbers for each frame size and model started at 1 and ran to 99,999, then started over again.  These were all smooth bore guns.  Defender is the most common brand name, but Johnson & Bye also made the same guns under other names, including Eagle, Encore, Eureka, Favorite, Favorite Navy, Lion, Smoker, Old Hickory, and Tycoon.  Pearl and ivory grips were available by special order, as were longer barrels.

There was a second series of guns made by Johnson & Bye from 1889-1899 that had rifled barrels and redesigned and improved lockwork.  These were sold as the Defender 89.  “Defender 89” was stamped on the topstrap and molded into the hard rubber grips. 


Eureka No. 2

Eureka No. 2 Eureka No. 2

The Eureka No. 2 was a five shot revolver in .32 rimfire that was manufactured by Johnson & Bye (Iver Johnson and Martin Bye) sometime in the period between 1871 and 1899.  The same revolver was manufactured under various trade names, the most common being Defender, others being Defender 89, Eagle, Encore, Favorite Navy, Lion, Smoker, Old Hickory, and Tycoon.  The .32 rimfire shown here was the medium frame, but the gun was also available in a small frame .22 and a large frame .38 or .41 caliber.  All have serial numbers of five digits or less.  Most have three inch barrels and bird’s head grips made of rosewood, or square butts with hard rubber grips.  Longer barrel lengths were available, as were ivory and mother of pearl grips.


H&R 1½

H&R-32-1-half-R-S H&R-32-1-half-L-S

The five-shot .32 rimfire Model 1½ by Harrington and Richardson is not listed in Webster’s book, but fits the description of a Suicide Special and appears to be one of the better made guns.


Hood International No. 3

Hood-Intnl-No3-R-S Hood-Intnl-No3-L-S

The five-shot .32 rimfire International No. 3 by the Hood Firearms Company is described in Webster’s book, but he lists it as having a saw-handle square butt.  The patent was filed on March 15, 1875 by Freeman W. Hood, and patent number 161,615 was granted on April 6, 1875.  According to Webster, Hood formed his company in 1870, but also “...controlled the Norwich Arms Co. and the Norwich Lock Manufacturing Company, both of which made Suicide Specials. In addition he probably had a considerable...interest in the Continental Arms Co., and the Bacon Manufacturing Co., both of Norwich, as well as an undetermined interest in outside firms.”  Other Hood patents include 160,192 for a cylinder pin lock, and 174,731 for a lockwork mechanism “...to securely lock the pawl when the hammer is placed in the cocked position...”


Path Finder


This 5 shot .32 rimfire pistol has a 2-3/4 inch barrel. Webster says the frame is made of brass. The gun bears similarities to those made by Hood and Norwich Arms (owned by Hood), but the manufacturer of this pistol is not known for certain.


Ranger No. 2

Hopkins & Allen Ranger No. 2 Hopkins & Allen Ranger No. 2

The five-shot .32 rimfire Ranger No. 2, with a 2- or 3-inch barrel, was made by Hopkins and Allen. The cylinder may be either fluted or unfluted, and the release is on the left side. It is not to be confused with the similar Ranger No. 2 made by E.L. Dickinson.


E. L. Dickinson Ranger No. 2.

Dickinson-Ranger-R-S Dickinson-Ranger-L-S

This 5-shot .32 rimfire was made by the E. L. Dickinson company of Springfield, Massachusetts. The cylinder is unfluted and the cylinder-pin release is on the front of the frame.




The Monitor was a 7-shot .22 rimfire pistol with a 2¼-inch barrel. Known specimens have a nickel finish with walnut grips. The one documented by Webster was said to be “lightly engraved.” The manufacturer is unknown.


Rattler .32


The five-shot Rattler was a typical pocket gun of its day.  The manufacturer is unknown.


Robin Hood No. 1

Robin Hood No. 1

The Robin Hood No. 1 was a 7-shot .22 manufactured by the Hood Firearms Company of Norwich, Connecticut under patents granted to F.W. Hood .  The “No. 1” has a fluted cylinder, while the plain “Robin Hood” has an unfluted cylinder.  These guns had no rifling in the barrel, though they did have some notches at the muzzle to make the buyer think the barrel was rifled.  This one has walnut grips--some had hard rubber.  The gun is marked “CAST STEEL, PAT. FEB. 23, ‘75, Mar. 14, ‘76.” Another Robin Hood is found in .30 caliber.


Rupertus .41

Rupertus .41
Rupertus .41

The Rupertus in .41 rimfire was manufactured by the Rupertus Patent Pistol Company of Philadelphia, under the direction of Jacob Rupertus.  The firm was in business from 1858 to 1888.




The .38 caliber rimfire Smoker, also known as the Smoker No. 3, is believed to have been made by Iver Johnson, though the name does not appear on the guns.  Webster states the has heard of a Smoker in .44 Henry but has never seen one.  The No. 1 was in .22, the No. 2 in .32, the No. 3 in .38, and the No. 4 in .41 caliber, but the numbers 1 through 3 often appear with only the name Smoker on the topstrap, as in this example.


Swamp Angel

Swamp-Angel-R-S Swamp-Angel-L-S

The .41 rimfire Swamp Angel is another well-made gun by Forehand and Wadsworth.  Webster says that barrels may be either 2-1/4 inch or 3 inch, but 1-1/4 inch, 1-1/2 inch, and very long (6 inch) barrels are also known to exist.  This gun was available in both 5-shot and 6-shot versions.  The gun shown here has a 5 shot cylinder and 2-1/4 inch barrel.  It is finished in blue and has polished walnut grip plates.



Forehand and Wadsworth Terror - .32 rimfire.
Forehand and Wadsworth Terror - .32 rimfire.

The Terror is yet another very well-made gun by Forehand and Wadsworth.  Shown here is a .32 rimfire six-shot, though Webster says that it may also be found as a five-shot and with a fluted barrel.



Tiger-No2-R-S Tiger-No2-L-S

The Tiger is not listed in Webster’s book Suicide Specials as being for certain a suicide special, but is mentioned in Vaporise’s Fifty Years of Gunmaking: The Story of the Hopkins & Allen Arms Company, though no details are given. The No. 2 is in .32 caliber.




The Trojan revolver is not listed in Webster’s book, Suicide Specials, but the gun appears to be identical to one shown in Freeman W. Hood’s U.S. patent 174731 of 1876. Other Trojan pistols, nearly identical to this one except with a blade front sight, have been associated with the Bacon Manufacturing Company. Webster makes the following observations: “The Bacon company suspended production in 1888 and sold off most of the inventory on hand. Examination of a great number of Hood and Bacon Suicide Specials has given me the strong suspicion that the two firms coordinated in exchange of patents and other physical features.” Of the Hood Firearms Company he says: “There is only one revolver known which was marked with the Hood name, and as a result, the firm has generally been considered a shoe-string operation. Actually it was a near monopoly. Hood directly controlled the Norwich Arms Co. and the Norwich Lock Manufacturing Company, both of which made Suicide Specials. In addition he probably had a considerable, possibly controlling, interest in the Continental Arms Co. and the Bacon Manufacturing Co., both of Norwich, as well as an undetermined interest in outside firms.”


XL No. 3

Hopkins & Allen XL No. 3
Hopkins & Allen XL No. 3

The XL No. 3 is a Hopkins & Allen 5-shot .32 center fire with a nickel finish.  This is listed as a rimfire and as having a birdshead grip in Webster’s book, but this specimen is clearly labeled as a center fire and has the square grip.  Possibly rare.


XL No. 3 Safety Lock


The XL No. 3 Safety Lock is a Hopkins & Allen 5-shot .32 rimfire with a nickel finish.  The safety lock is a simple slot on the cylinder between chambers. The firing pin on the hammer can be let down in one of these slots, allowing the gun to be carried safely with a cartridge in each chamber. The design is based on Henry H. Hopkins’ patent 162,475 dated 27 April 1875.


XL No. 4

Hopkins & Allen XL No. 4
Hopkins & Allen XL No. 4

The XL No. 4 is a Hopkins & Allen 5-shot .38 rimfire with a nickel finish.


XL No. 4 N.Y.


The XL No. 4 N.Y. is a Hopkins & Allen 5-shot .38 rimfire with a nickel finish and a 1-1/2 inch barrel.


Copyright 2008-2021 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.
Special thanks to Jim Stoddard for allowing me to photograph his Rupertus.
Special thanks to Jerome Pellegrino for allowing me to photograph his Rattler.
Special thanks to Erik Winter for his many contributions.
Click on the pictures to open a larger version in a new window.


  • Fors, W. Barlow.  Collector’s Handbook of U.S. Cartridge Revolvers.  Adams Press, Chicago:  1973.
  • Goforth. W.E.  Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works Firearms, 1871-1993, Gun Show Books, Hudson, WI:  2006.
  • Heckert, J. Wayne.  “Not Your Normal Suicide Specials.” Man at Arms for the Gun Collector, April 2017.
  • Houze, Herbert G. ‘A “Favorite Number 4” Revolver.’  Man at Arms, October 1999.
  • Sellers, Frank M.  “Collecting the ABCs...The Suicide Special from A to Z.”  Gun Collector’s Digest, 3rd Ed., 1981.
  • Vaporise, Joseph T. Fifty Years of Gunmaking: The Story of the Hopkins & Allen Arms Company.  Armsco Press, Canton, Connecticut:  1992.
  • Webster, Donald B., Jr.  Suicide Specials, Stackpole, Harrisburg, PA:  1958.
  • Webster, Donald Blake.  “The Burglar’s Lament or Suicide Specials, Revisited.”  Man at Arms, February, 2008.

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