REVOLVER, IDENTIFIED TO CONFEDERATE JOSHUA P. MELTON, OF THE PETERSBURG ARTILLERY.
One of the true rarities and among the most coveted revolvers and the most expensive in Confederate collecting is the brass framed percussion revolver made in Portsmouth, Virginia by Thomas W. Cofer. There are 13 known military percussion survivors of 82 originally contracted by Capt. Edgar Burrough’s Chesapeake Light Cavalry, Co. “I”, 5th VA Cavalry. Revolvers all saw hard service early in the war as they were received in 2 deliveries, January 1862 (17 revolvers) and May 1862 (65 revolvers).
This revolver is from the first shipment of 17 revolvers, as those 17 revolvers were serial numbered 1-17. There are three serial numbered survivors of the first shipment known to us; 1, 11 & 13. These earliest revolvers seem more refined with better markings. They are also numbered on more parts than later issues including screws. Cofers were not serial numbered after these first 17. The 65 revolvers delivered 4 months later in May are lettered or unmarked.
This wonderful revolver is identified to Confederate Joshua Melton and we have a direct chain of ownership. This Cofer revolver is only the second Confederate identified Cofer revolver we are currently aware of. We sold the other Confederate identified Cofer revolver in our November 2022 auction, but at the time it was the only Confederate identified Cofer revolver we were aware of, until we discovered this example. It has a long history in the 1940s after Confederate veteran Joshua P. Melton’s death in 1940 and later his daughter’s death in 1948. Bill Albaugh purchased it for $10,000! At the time it was probably the highest price ever paid for an American made gun, but shortly after he sold it to Bill Locke for an astounding $25,000 in 1950!! Esteemed Confederate collector Dr. Robert Moore treasured this gun till it was sold in his estate auction June 2000. This was the first Confederate revolver to ever sell for over $100,000 in auction but at the time, some but not all of the documents we currently have were not available with the gun.
UNATTACHED ACCESSORIES: large file of correspondence from Bill Albaugh, Tom Smith (early Cofer researcher who knew the Bichard/Melton family where gun originated), Tom Wibberley, Leon “Red” Jackson, Cliff Young, Bill Bond, Giles Cromwell and more. Most of the letters are attempting to discover what unit “Joshua P. Melton” served.
Joshua P. Melton (1847-1940) had service in Petersburg Artillery as a 17 year old in 1864. His older brother Nathan J. Melton (1837-1862) had service in Fluvanna Artillery dying at Chimborazo Hospital in 1862 from Typhoid Fever. Joshua outlived all his siblings living 97 years till his passing in 1940. He died at home of his granddaughter Etta where gun remained till after her death in 1948, Albaugh purchased the gun from the family after Etta’s death.
This revolver was mistakenly thought to have been sold on Theodore Dexter’s dealer list in 1943 but with no identity. It was from the collection of Tulsa oilman F. R. Billingslea. However, we now know the Billingslea gun is in a museum and is not serialized with the number 13. But instead, is a serial lettered gun (from the second shipment of 65 guns in May 1862). In March of 2023, we discovered this gun and the valuable group of documents which prove and ID this gun to the Melton family. The Melton family documentation identifies this gun to 17 year old Joshua P. Melton, who served in the Petersburg artillery in 1864. However, Joshua had an older brother who served early in the war in the Viriginia artillery, but died in 1862.
While Joshua’s grandson, Arthur Birchard states it was carried by his grandfather, it is of course possible Joshua’s older brother Nathan originally carried the gun in 1862 until his death, then the gun passed down to young Joshua. The proof is that certainly that one or both of the Melton sons carried this very gun in the Civil War. It was a prized relic by Joshua until his death in 1940. Then revered and prized by his daughter Etta until her death in 1948. The gun was obviously also treasured by the grandchildren, which probably accounts why Albaugh had to pay a record price to acquire it.
This is a great rarity and is now one of only two Cofer revolvers known to be identified to a Confederate soldier. Three Cofers are identified as captured with Union soldier’s names. All existing percussion Cofers are either uniquely numbered or lettered. Existing authentic examples are 1, 11, 13, F, L, M, N, T, V and four examples which are unmarked. 4 of 13 examples are in museums. Which means there are only a total of 9 known examples in private hands.
Most of the few extant examples are heavily restored or poor condition, this is one of the top few known. It is 100% original and authentic. For a Confederate revolver, this is an outstanding example with crisp markings, smooth uncleaned patina, all matching serial numbers and additional number “3” on 2 frame screws and grip screw on left side.
This is a coveted gun for any advanced collector of Confederate arms and we believe it will likely be many, many years before an identified Confederate Cofer revolver will be available again.
Joshua P. Melton (1847-1940)
Etta Melton Bichard (1870-1948) daughter of Joshua P. Melton. He lived with her his last years.
James Arthur Birchard, Richmond, VA (1903-1974) grandson of Joshua P. Melton, Etta’s son
Bill Locke 1950
Locke Collection book, 1973
Ron Bridges collection
Dr. Robert Moore collection 1974
Conestoga Auctions, 2000
Featured in Military Antique Collector, March 2023 article (copy accompanying). (01-23333/JS). ANTIQUE. $300,000-450,000.