The Firearms Technology Museum

William Tranter

History of William Tranter Weapons that have been dated
Additional notes Serial No. allocation
List of Tranter models The Birmingham Gun Quarter
Images of William Tranter Broadsheets and instruction sheets
Who used Tranter weapons Images of The Tranter Gun and Pistol Factory

William Tranter was born in 1816 and baptised in March of that year. He was the eldest son of Thomas Tranter, a blacksmith of Oldbury Salop, a village  near Birmingham in the Midlands of England and Mary Ann Lees. William had four brothers and four sisters and in 1830 at the age of 14 was apprenticed to the gunsmithing firm of Hollis Bros in Birmingham. He left Hollis Bros in 1839 and bought out the business of Robert Dugard at 29.5 Whittall Street, Birmingham with a small legacy left to him by his uncle William. An advertisement in 1841 read
"William Tranter (successor to R. Dugard), Gun and Pistol maker, for home and exportation, No.29.5 Whittall Street, Birmingham. Percussion caps, waddings, implements, barrels, locks, and furniture of every description."

In 1846 he took his younger brother David on as an apprentice. He stayed at the Whittall St address a short time and in 1844 once again teamed up with the hollis Brothers. This was made a formal partnership with John and Isaac Hollis in Hollis Brothers and Co. at 10-11 Weaman Row in 1844 and also with Isaac Brentnall Sheath in 1845. In March 1849 Tranter returned to independant operation, possibly for the manufacture of military weapons, and by 1851 Tranter's factory was at 13 St Mary's Row in the heart of Birmingham's Gun Quarter.Tranter had shops, sheds and steam machinery, yard and premises at 50 Loveday Street between 1854 and 1860.

As early as 1852 Tranter was known to and it appears well respected by the London gun trade. In July the London Proof Master was directed "not to prove the cylinders of the new pattern revolving pistols unless same be accompanied by the barrels".

Following this directive Tranter wrote the following letter to the Court of Assistants of the Gunmakers Company.
"I beg to request you will give your consideration again to the rules you have laid down for my guidance for having revolving chamber pistols proved. You are perhaps not aware that a considerable number of the pistols I make have extra cylinders. It will therefore be necessary to prove two cylinders to one pistol for such as require it. As practical men I think you will also be aware that it will be a considerable tie to be sending just the number of bodies as cylinders and must cause some of my men to be occasionally standing still. In Birmingham some pistols are made by having only the barrel proved without the cylinders. Still Ihave no wish to avoid the proof and I hope no obstacle will be thrown in my way which will have the effect of preventing me execute such orders I have been accustomed to execute."

The result of this application was that the Court of Assistants decided that the London Proof Master would be at liberty to prove cylinders only, provided that he had a letter from the manufacturer. At this time Tranter was a major maker of the 1851 Adams self cocking revolver.

Up until, and possibly after 1853 he manufactured over 8000 1851 Adams revolvers under license. About 1853 he started making the first of his double trigger, double action revolvers. This model was built on the Adams frame and had a detachable rammer which fitted onto a peg attached to the frame. Circa 1854/5 production began on a new model, the rammer being secured by a keyed peg on the frame and a hook on the barrel. This rammer could still be removed by turning it around to the appropriate position. He also manufactured his own version of the Beaumont Adams revolver, known as the Tranter/Adams/Kerr.

Some time after 1856 production began on what is now commonly referred to as the third model double trigger revolver. This had a more streamlined frame and the rammer was secured to the frame with a screw. At the same time production began on a single trigger double action revolver based on the same frame, now referred to as the fourth model. The production of percussion revolvers continued well after the introduction of the cartridge revolver as many customers preferred the old system thinking this new fangled cartridge system would not last. Tranter also produced percussion revolving rifles in various configurations including both single and double trigger mechanisms.

In America both single and double trigger percussion revolvers were popular in the Confederate States. A. B. Griswold & Co and messrs Hyde & Goodrich, both from New Orleans, were importers. Allan Pinkerton, the Scottish born founder of the most famous detective agency in America carried two Tranters and is said to have armed his men with Tranter double trigger revolvers. In 1868 Pinkerton and another detective were taking a prisoner by steamer from Galveston, Texas to Cheyene when he tried to escape by jumping overboard. Pinkerton started firing into the water in close proximity to the escapee with his Tranter revolvers and the prisoner promptly surrendered. A nickel plated and engraved model 1879 Tranter made by Thomas Tranter after William retired in 1885 and marked "Made for W.A. Pinkerton by Thos M. Tranter. 16 Weaman St., Birmingham." is thought to have belonged to Wm. A. Pinkerton, one of Allan’s sons.

During this period it was normal practice to describe the diameter of the bore in bore size rather than calibre. The bore size being the number of round lead balls of that diameter needed to weigh one pound. The most common ones used by Tranter were 120 bore (.320"), 80 bore (.380"), 54 bore (.442"), 38 bore (.500") and 24 bore (.577").

In 1863 Tranter secured patents for some of the first rim fire revolvers in Britain. Revolvers based on these patents included small calibre single and double action revolvers as well as the model 1863, a large solid frame revolver in .442" calibre. This revolver was fitted with a powerful lever extractor which acted on the rim of the spent cartridge, this proved more effective as the cartridges of the time were prone to jamming in the chamber and a normal extractor could break the base of the cartridge away, leaving the rest still in the chamber.

Having purchased the land in 1864, he completed construction of a new factory in late 1867 at 31 Lichfield Road, Aston cross which spread over an area of about four acres. Facing the road there was a three story blue brick warehouse which measured 90 feet by 29 feet. Behind this were the filing shops arranged in a collection of buildings 110 feet long and three stories high. At the rear was the main factory This building was one open room measuring 240 feet long by 81 feet wide with a height of about 40 feet. The engine house contained a large horizontal engine which powered the whole factory. The introduction of steam machinery to such a great extent by a private gunmaker was a first for the Birmingham gun trade. The architect for the factory was William Jenkins of 34 Bennetts Hill, who was registered as starting his practice in 1868 and listed at 19 Bennetts Hill in 1910. The Tranter factory must have been one of his first commissions. The factory at Aston Cross was called "The Tranter Gun and Pistol Factory" and business was conducted at both addresses for some time, retaining the St Mary's Square property until circa 1875.

 During this time his was the most extensive pistol making business in the Midlands producing over 20 different cartridge revolvers and pistols of his own design, he also had government contracts for Snider rifles and also supplied weapons of every kind to the gun trade in general including overseas markets. His own patented mechanisms would have had preference but he made special production runs under the patents of firms or individuals lacking manufacturing facilities of their own. In 1877 the Lancers reputedly carried out trials on Tranter double barrel pistols.

Tranter was a substantial property owner, a founder/shareholder in the Birmingham Small Arms Co. Ltd. (a director in its early years) and a prominent member of the Birmingham small arms trade. In 1854 he was called as a witness before the parliamentary committee on small arms. The Braendlin Armoury premisies and other businesses associated with Augustus Braendlin at 1,2,3 Lower Loveday Street were owned by Tranter. The firms of Bently & Playfair and Charles Reeves were tenants of William Tranter.

In 1868 he began manufacturing a revolver to take the .450 boxer cartridge and in 1878 was granted a government contract for a solid frame .450 centre fire revolver to be used by the British army. He also made single action single shot saloon pistols and rook rifles in various calibres. One of the last weapons he made was an excellent hinged frame, self extracting revolver called the model 1879.

Tranter was very patent conscious and between 1849 and 1888 lodged 24 patent applications. The 19 patents for cartridge weapons included bolt action rifles and machine guns as well as his revolvers. Tranter was involved in the design of the Enfield Mk1 service revolver although he received little or no credit for his efforts.

When Tranter retired in 1885, he gave each of his four nephews a gilt and engraved double action revolver as a keepsake.  The factory was leased by George Kynoch, a friend of Williams, and it was renamed The Kynoch Gun Factory. One of the weapons manufactured was a self cocking hinged frame self ejecting revolver under Henry Schlund's Br Patent No.9084 of July 28th 1885. This revolver used the double trigger principle but with both triggers inside the trigger guard. Kynoch was M.P. for Aston as well as president of the Aston Villa Football Club. In 1888 he yielded to pressure and resigned leaving his works manager Henry A Schlund in control. The name was changed to the Aston Arms Factory but ran into financial trouble in 1891. By 1900 business had ceased and the factory was occupied by the Clipper Automatic Tyre Co. and then by Dunlop Rubber making motor vehicle tyres. In 1926 it was sold to Hercules Cycle Co. The factory was ultimately demolished in 1961.William Tranter died on January 7th, 1890, the executors were his son William Grosvenor Tranter, his son in law Thomas william Watson and his nephew Alfred William Thompson MRCS (Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, England).

Williams son in law, Thomas William Watson was connected with the London gun trade but his own son, William Grosvener Tranter was apparently only slightly interested in the industry although it appears that he registered at least two firearms patents. Thomas William Watson commenced business circa 1875 and about 1878 took over the business of Durs Egg at 4 Pall Mall, London after the death of JohnEgg. His younger brother Arthur Henry Watson joined him circa 1881 forming the company of Watson Bros. William's nephews, Walter Tranter, Alfred William Thompson and Thomas Musgrove Tranter were raised in the gun trade. Thomas was listed as a gun action filer at Dean Buildings, Weaman Street in 1890 and is known to have made complete weapons. Walter started business in 1896 at 31.5 Whittall Street and in 1897 was joined by Thomas, In 1900 they moved to 18 Sand Street, Birmingham forming the firm of Tranter Bros. Gunmakers. The firm moved to Steelhouse lane in the 1920s and closed in 1957.

Walter Tranter sold bicycles in the 1890's during the cycle "boom", they were called "The Tranter" and were assembled from parts bought in. The badge was made of pressed brass in the form of a bicycle wheel surrounded by a crown, across the centre of the wheel "TRANTER" on a red enamel band with "The Maker" above and below. Under the wheel was a scroll with "W. Tranter 32A Whittal St, Birmingham" on blue enamel. During this time there were hundreds of makers in and around Birmingham with a large number of firms already in the engineering area like gunsmiths, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, locksmiths etc., assembling machines from imported parts.



Weapons made by William Tranter

This is a broad list of the various models known to have been made by Tranter, most models were available in a number of calibres and most had numerous variations.
Although the current system of “models” used to designate the various patterns and variations of Tranter’s percussion revolvers is not entirely adequate or correct, it is what most collectors understand so I have stayed with it for the time being.

1st model double trigger percussion revolver
2nd model double trigger percussion revolver (at least two versions)
3rd model double trigger percussion revolver (at least two versions)
4th model double action percussion revolver (at least two versions)
1851 Adams self cocking percussion revolver
Adams improved frame self cocking revolver
Tranter/Adams/Kerr double action percussion revolver (at least two versions)
Tranter/Adams/Kerr double trigger percussion revolver
Triple action percussion revolver, sometimes called the export model
Under and over percussion belt pistol
Patent breech loading percussion rifle, sometimes called the swivel  or oscillating breech
2nd model double trigger percussion rifle
3rd model double trigger percussion rifle
4th model double action percussion rifle
Dual ignition revolver

House defence double action revolver (a number of versions)
Tranter No.1 sheath trigger single action revolver in .230 rimfire (a number of versions)
Tranter No.2 sheath trigger single action revolver in .320 rimfire (a number of versions)
Model 1863 double action revolver in .442 rimfire
Model 1863 single action revolver in .442 rimfire
Model 1863 double action revolver with floating firing pin in frame
Model 1868 double action revolver with extractor under barrel
Model 1868 double action revolver with extractor stored in cylinder arbour  (a number of versions)
Model 1868 double action revolver with floating firing pin in frame and extractor under barrel
Model 1868 double trigger revolver with extractor stored in cylinder arbour
Model 1878 double action revolver in .450 centrefire
Model 1879 self extracting double action revolver (at least two versions)
Extracting tip up double action revolver
Auto extracting single shot saloon pistol (a number of versions)
Manual extracting single shot saloon pistol (a number of versions)
Double action revolver with pivoted rod extractor (at least two versions)
Double trigger revolver with pivoted rod extractor
RIC style double action revolver
Tranter .577 double action revolver
Braendlin .577 double action revolver
Break action rook rifle with auto extractor (a number of versions)
Break action rook rifle with manual extractor
Small frame hinged block rook rifle with straight hand stock (a number of versions)
Small frame hinged block rook rifle with pistol hand stock
Large frame hinged block military style rifle
Bolt action single shot rifle
Carlton single barrel shotgun
Carlton double barrel shotgun

Braendlin Albini rifle for the S.A. Government
Alexander Henry 1873 cavalry carbine
Alexander Henry 1876 infantry rifle
Chassepot rifle Mod 1866 for the French Government
Galand 1st model self extracting revolver
India Pattern smooth bore Constabulary carbines
India Pattern Foot Police carbines
India Pattern Sergeants Fusils
Pattern 1853 commercial Enfield rifled muskets
Pattern 1856 10" rifled pistols
Enfield Pattern riles for the Spanish Government (1862)
Pattern 1860 rifles for the Brazillian Government (1866)

Serial No. allocation and dating.

The dating of British weapons can be difficult and Tranter is no exception. The following may be helpful.

The "R" suffix was allocated to Deane Adams and Deane for weapons made either for or by them and some Adams revolvers prior to the mid 13000R range have their frames internally marked "WT" or "HS", suggesting the frames or complete revolvers were made by Tranter or Hollis and Sheath. Some double trigger revolvers were made in this range. Internal "WT" stamps have been noted as low as 136 and also in the 15000R range.

The "Y" suffix was allocated to Tranter by Robert Adams for royalty payments and began late 1852 or early 1853. Only encountered in the 20,000Y range. Double trigger revolvers in 38, 50, 54, 80, 90 and 120 bore were made in this range. Two additional serial numbers are to be found on these weapons, first an internal Tranter number and second a Tranter number on the trigger mechanism. 1851 Adams revolvers in 50, 54 and 56 bore will also be encountered in this range.

The "T" suffix began circa 1854 and appears to have started about 2200T with the introduction of Tranter's own more massive frame which was still covered by Adam's patent. This suffix is not normally found on 1st model revolvers. 3rd and 4th models started approx 7000T. The two different versions of the  Tranter/Adams/Kerr revolver are also found in this range. A small number of Adams self cocking revolvers built on Tranter's frame, utilizing Tranter's rammer and all retailed by E.M. Reilly of London can be found in this range.

Circa 1868 the separate percussion and cartridge serial numbers were amalgamated and a new start made at about 30,000. At this stage the percussion weapons had reached approx 23,000 and the cartridge weapons had reached approx 13,000. The surviving examples showing this gap are as follows, cartridge weapons 13,061 to 30,043, percussion weapons 22,885T to 31,376T.

Serial numbers also appear to have jumped from the low 40,000s to 50,000. Serial No.37339 and serial No.52670 would only be about a year apart.The surviving examples showing this gap are as follows, cartridge weapons 40,965 to 50,071, percussion weapons 39,343T to 53,673T.

Both the model 1878 revolver and the 1879 self extracting revolver had their own serial number ranges.The 1878 started at approx. one and numbered about four thousand five hundred. The 1879 appears to have started about four thousand and numbered about one thousand. The very low serial numbered 1879 revolvers were made after William retired in 1885. 

The five chamber Tranter .577 revolvers were in the general serial number range but the six chamber revolvers with Braendlin's improvements appear to have had their own range starting at about one.

The serial numbers found on the Braendlin Martini hinged block rook rifles are not part of Tranters number system, but are either Braendlin's serial numbers or Martini's patent royalty check numbers.

The following weapons have dates associated with them.

Weapons in the main serial number range.
8378T written in lid of case 25/2/59.
8673T presentation in America in 1863.
9290T prize in 1865.
9295T presentation in 1861.
9352T name and date 1861.
9392T receipt 1861.
9568T 1860 on barrel.
10953T captured during American Civil War 1862.
11372T Confederate army 1861-65.
11844T Confederate army 1861-65.
12803T Circa 1863.
13362T note in case 1862.
13442T receipt 1861.
13773T presentation in 1862.
14129T found by police 1863.
14513T presentation 1862.
15235T presentation in 1862.
15561T name and date 1862.
16820T receipt in 1864.
19586T pre 1869.
19882T presentation in 1865.
19974T name and date 1865.
20451T receipt dated 1865.
21777T presentation in 1867.
22030T presentation in 1866.
22792T presentation in 1868.
5473  presentation in 1869.
6423  engraved 1868.
31044 sold in 1869.
35918T dates about 1871.
36158 sold in 1872.
54524 name and date 1876.
58119 sold in 1877.
58817 is pre 1884 (T.W.Watson),
60236 is post 1884 (Watson Bros).

Hinged block longarms
20790 hinged block rifle, subject of advertisement 1879.

Model 1878 solid frame revolvers
00011 issued 2-79.
00045 issued 2-78.
00247 issued 3-79.

Model 1879 hinged frame revolvers
04212 used in assassination attempt 1882.
04312 engraved 1883.
00098 presentation in 1900 (Tranter Bros. production)


Additional Notes

1.1. There was a Tranter works cricket team in 1871 for a couple of months

1.2. Military arms manufactured in Birmingham were inspected at the Bagot Street Government establishment (if intended for government use), and the inspectors were identified by a number. The marking consisted of a crown over a letter over a number, the letter "B" standing for Birmingham.

1.3. Kynock Gun Factory appeared to use an unusual Tranter stamp which may have been one that W.T. was going to use as a change and either rejected it or retired before it came into general use.

1.4. Export models were actually advertised as "Triple Action" and were not only for export

1.5. Tranter's own version of the Beaumont Adams was called the "Tranter Adams Kerr" and was available with either single or double trigger action. These revolvers had a number of major differences from the Adams version including the frame and lock work.

1.6. Alexander Henry 1873 1st carbine cavalry carbines were made by W.T., calibre .450 straight

1.7. Alexander Henry 1876 infantry rifles were made by W.T., calibre .577/450

1.8. 3rd models were made in two different weights, being 2lb 4ozs and 2lb 8ozs, no visual differences but were listed in advertisements

1.9. W.T. made double barrel under and over percussion belt pistols, two have turned up marked "W. Tranter Maker"
1.10. Galand 1st model self extracting revolver has Tranter action, made by Braendlin Sommerville, some are internally marked W.T.
1.11. Percussion projectiles used in Tranter weapons had a deep groove around the base, this groove was filled with a bees wax compound which lubricated the bore and helped prevent fouling, they could be purchased ready made or made by the user in a twin cavity mould and then dipped into the solution

1.12. To check if No.1 and No.2 revolvers are "as patented" or simplified, cock hammer and look into the slot, patent actions have a small protrusion on the left of the breast of the hammer and simplified actions do not.

1.13. Late in 1849 Tranter obtained a registered design for a pepperbox mechanism and bar hammer transitional revolvers have been found marked "Tranters Patent".