The Starr Revolver

The Starr Revolver

I enjoy a modest vintage tool collection and have an interest in what the great men of the past did with the technology available. Recently, I was amazed by the clockwork in an 1850s lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, not to mention many implements from the Wright Brothers experiments not a hundred miles away.

I am no less impressed by the Starr revolver of Civil War fame. While I strive to remain objective because I’m a Colt fan, at the time the Starr was introduced, it was on an even footing with Colt as each was a relatively newcomer to the weapons scene.

Today the Starr is gone while Colt remains, but it’s not necessarily because the Colt gun was superior. I have examined many revolvers of the period, and the Starr revolver is as well made as any and a better combat revolver than most. I liken it to the Enfield Mk II revolvers: ugly, yes, but formidable beyond any question.

Eben T. Starr set up a factory in Yonkers, New York, to manufacture revolvers beginning in 1856. Starr’s father and grandfather were well respected for making swords and rifles for the U.S. Army. The Starr revolver was first manufactured in .36 caliber and incorporated a double-action-only trigger. A .44 caliber version was added later, and the company produced single actions as well.


The main points in the original patent for the double action were the trigger and a trigger-guard-mounted sear. Starr called the part that moves the cylinder and cocks and drops the hammer a “lifter lever,” and the actual trigger rested in the rear of the trigger guard. This arrangement was used in several double-action revolvers, notably the Iver Johnson, in later years. The lever does its work and then meets the sear, which drops the hammer.


The double-action trigger/lifter lever pull is heavy, about 18 pounds, and long but smooth. There is a kind of safety lever on the back of the lifter. If the safety lever on the rear of the lifter lever/trigger is in the down position, that lever strikes the frame and prevents the revolver from firing.


While most double-action-only revolvers in that period had spurless hammers, the Starr hammer has a spur—although the trigger cannot be cocked. This may have been a reason the Army asked Starr to redesign the piece into a single-action revolver.

The Starr revolver isn’t common. The .44 caliber model double action is the most numerous; by most accounts, 23,000 were manufactured. This revolver features a round six-inch barrel. At two pounds, 14 ounces it is a substantial revolver but fairly well balanced.

The frame isn’t really a solid frame, but the topstrap resembles the Remington revolver, which was rated stronger than the Colt. The sights are interesting, with a rear notch in the top of the hammer that serves no real purpose. It is insignificant and cannot actually be seen as the revolver is cycled. The front sight is a dovetailed post.


The Starr is opened by unscrewing a lock screw near the recoil plate and tilting the barrel downward. The cylinder is easily removed for cleaning.

In double action the trigger press operates differently from what we’re used to today. When you press the trigger and the revolver fires, you need to let the trigger snap back quickly. If you try to work the trigger slowly, the action may not reset.

My example is 162 years old and works well. The stepped grip aids in stabilizing the hand for double-action fire. In this regard it is superior to many early double-action blackpowder revolvers. I load the revolver carefully with FFFg blackpowder, seating the ball over the powder and only then capping the piece. Crisco is placed over each cylinder to guard against chain-fires—multiple chambers firing simultaneously. (Ed. note: There seems to be general disagreement on whether grease or wads prevent chain-fires; some shooters say the cause is the cap/nipple.)


For low-recoil loads, 25 grains of FFFg is a useful load, but since I seldom fire this revolver I used the standard service load of 30 grains of FFFg under a Hornady .457 ball. This nets more than 840 fps, and it’s well regulated for 15 yards. At 10 yards I can fire a six-shot five-inch group pretty quickly.

Back in the day when the single-shot “horse pistol” was common and might extend a trooper’s will just past saber range, the Starr did much more than that. The nice-handling double action made a deadly weapon, and the .44 ball was deadly on men and horses at short range. It’s a marvel such a well made and fitted revolver could be purchased prior to 1860.



Recommended for You

The SIG SAUER P365 (model # 365-9-BXR3) may just be the subcompact 9mm against which all others will be judged. Compact

SIG P365 Review

James Tarr - October 31, 2018

The SIG SAUER P365 (model # 365-9-BXR3) may just be the subcompact 9mm against which all...

One of the newest in the Micro 9 series, the Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall is a serious pistol designed for personal defense. Compact

Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall Review

Jeff Chudwin - January 29, 2019

One of the newest in the Micro 9 series, the Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall is a serious pistol...

I don't have a distinct recollection of the first time I reloaded a cartridge – it's been a long Ammo

To Cast a Good Bullet

Bart Skelton - June 28, 2012

I don't have a distinct recollection of the first time I reloaded a cartridge – it's been a...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

All About Handgun Ammo

All About Handgun Ammo

Rich and Jim get into the nitty gritty of the FBI ammo protocol, firing into various barriers to illustrate what can happen to a bullet.

Going To The Range

Going To The Range

Jim and Scott show you how to make each trip to the shooting range a quality experience.

Kyle Lamb and Eric Poole talk SIG pistols

Kyle Lamb and Eric Poole talk SIG pistols

G&A Editor Eric Poole and Viking Tacticals's Kyle Lamb talks about 2 new pistols from SIG Sauer and a Lipsey's Special of the P365.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Kahr Arms officially broke ground on their new headquarters in Blooming Grove Township, in Pike Industry

Kahr Arms Breaks Ground on New Pennsylvania HQ

Handguns Online Staff - June 04, 2014

Kahr Arms officially broke ground on their new headquarters in Blooming Grove Township, in...

According to a recent report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a lawsuit against 2nd Amendment

Judge Postpones Oral Arguments to Stop California Microstamping Law

Handguns Online Staff - May 07, 2014

According to a recent report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a lawsuit...

While some modifications require an experienced gunsmith, the average shooter can install most parts in just minutes.
Instead, the curtain-rod engineer with a Accessories

8 Popular Drop-In Glock Mods

Dusty Gibson - July 17, 2013

While some modifications require an experienced gunsmith, the average shooter can install most...

See More Stories

More Revolvers

This 1875 Remington-style sixgun not only offers a departure from the Peacemaker mainstream but also is a well-executed example built with an eye on detail. Revolvers

Review: Uberti 'Frank' 1875 Single Action Outlaw

Keith Wood - March 07, 2019

This 1875 Remington-style sixgun not only offers a departure from the Peacemaker mainstream...

With the help of a group of friends and fellow dreamers I now have my dream revolver. Revolvers

A Custom Revolver - Sometimes Dreams Come True

Ed Head - March 04, 2019

With the help of a group of friends and fellow dreamers I now have my dream revolver.

The new Wrangler is built on the legacy of the Ruger Single-Six revolver. Revolvers

Ruger Announces New Wrangler .22 LR Single-Action Revolver

Handguns Digital Staff - April 19, 2019

The new Wrangler is built on the legacy of the Ruger Single-Six revolver.

See More Revolvers

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.