The Break Top Revolver

I thought I’d give you one more “little gun” post before the end of the year. This time we’re going to take a look at the Break Top Revolver.

The first revolvers–and the ones we are more used to seeing had fixed cylinders. That means you had to push out each spent cartridge individually, reload, then move on to the next one. Or the entire cylinder was removed and replaced with one that was pre-loaded.

The more modern revolvers use a swing-out cylinder, meaning the entire cylinder pivots out of the gun for easy reloading.

Between those two types came the Break Top or Top Break revolvers. Smith and Wesson came out with their Model 3 American in 1870, but most gun manufacturers manufactured a version of the weapon in the later half of the 1800s.

In the first break top revolvers, the barrel and cylinder was hinged on top. That meant turning the gun over, “breaking” it open, removing the spent cartridges, reloading, then returning it to a firing position. Definitely not a quick loading weapon.

In the next generation of top-break revolvers, the frame was hinged at the bottom front of the cylinder. All you had to do was release the lock and push the barrel down to expose the cylinder. At the same time, on most models, dropping the barrel operated an extractor which pushed the spent cartridges out far enough that they fell free, or could be easily dumped from the cylinder. This type of break tops could be reloaded one-handed, without releasing your firing grip. Though they were still small weapons with limited range, being able to reload faster meant it was a better gun for defense.

The Break Tops were also made to use .44 and .45 caliber cartridges, so they packed a punch. Probably enough to set your heroine back on her boot heels.

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8 thoughts on “The Break Top Revolver”

  1. My strongest association with this kind of gun is a funny one – Disney’s ‘The Apple Dumping Gang’ where Don Knotts is armed with a break top revolver that falls open and spills its cylinder and cartridges all over whenever he aims it at somebody. 🙂

  2. Gun posts. My favorite.

    Seriously, I find all the improvements and inventions and the fortune to be made building a ‘better mousetrap’ fascinating.

    I think the history of the gun is a reflection of the history of the greatness of America.

    Because all inventions were like this. Patents, improvements, jostling to be first, pushing to refine and invent, all motivated by the knowledge you could make money. Freedom at it’s finest.
    Loved the post.

  3. Tracy, you always come up with such interesting pieces of information. This type of gun would be great to put in a story. I can well imagine that things were pretty tense when the shooter needed to reload fast. Elizabeth, that scene in the Apple Dumpling Gang was so hilarious. Don Knotts was such a wonderful actor.

  4. Elisabeth, I had forgotten all about that scene.

    Mary, you are so right. If you look over the advancement of pistols & revolvers, you’ll notice that Smith & Wesson made cartridge revolvers (meaning powder, projectile, and ignition source all in one “bullet”) for years before anyone else. That’s because S&W patented the cartridge and no one could use them for 20 years, I believe. It was a very competitive industry. Still is.

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