Confusing Top Break Revolvers - The Sears, Roebuck Connection

Top, Howard Arms Company Hammer Model made by Meriden Fire Arms Company. Middle, Howard Arms Company Hammerless Model made by Meriden Fire Arms Company. Bottom, Andrew Fryberg & Company Hammer Model, possibly made by Meriden Fire Arms Company.

Top left, Howard Arms Company Hammer Model made by Meriden Fire Arms Company. Top Right, Howard Arms Company Hammerless Model made by Meriden Fire Arms Company, Bottom, Andrew Fyrberg & Company Hammer Model, possibly made by Meriden Firearms Company.


The history of the firearms industry and the personnel who engaged in the firearms business is often entwined with manufacturers also owning the sellers of their products, sales outlets and mail order sellers owning manufacturers, major manufacturers owning other major manufacturers, gun manufacturers owning ammunition manufacturers, ammunition manufacturers owning gun manufacturers; the interactions within the industry are mind boggling. The following is one small example of that entwining.

Fred Biffar was a sales representative for H. & D. Folsom Arms Company in the 1890’s. He was also a friend of Richard W. Sears, President of Sears Roebuck and Company, who was likely a customer of Biffar. Fred Biffar is also recognized for his Chicago based business, Fred Biffar Company, a retailer of sporting goods that sold firearms by various manufacturers under numerous trade names.

Andrew Fyrberg, a talented firearms designer, later of Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works, established a factory in Worcester, MA in 1896 and moved to Hopkinton, MA in circa 1904. Fyrberg began supplying Sears, probably with the help of Fred Biffar, with both revolvers and shotguns in the late 1890’s. Later, he sold his factory to Sears circa 1905. Sears moved the operation to Meriden, CT and renamed the company Meriden Fire Arms Company.

Fred Biffar became the manager of the Sporting Goods Department of Sears some time in the early 1900’s. He then became President of Meriden Fire Arms Company from its inception. At the same time, he apparently still maintained his own company as a Sears supplier until circa 1909, when he left to expand Fred Biffar Company, still selling to Sears and other retailers. Biffar purchased revolvers and shotguns from Meriden Fire Arms Company under various trade names such as Howards Arms Company, Empire State Arms Company, Eastern Arms Company, A. J. Aubrey (formerly Vice President of Meriden Fire Arms Company), and Secret Service Special, a quantity of which were made by Meriden as well as other makers.

To bring all of this history together, all of the revolvers seen in the images above were sold by Sears; two carry the Howard Arms Company trade name while the revolver without grips is not marked with a name. The smallest revolver and the hammerless revolver were both made by Meriden Fire Arms Company in the period 1905-1915. There are no records available to give a more exact date. The revolver without grips was likely made by Andrew Fryberg and Company in the period circa 1899-1904 or Meriden Fire Arms Company in the period 1905-1907.

Compare the machining on the top strap where it transfers to the barrel rib and you will see that all three revolvers have almost identical lines which are characteristic of Fryberg designs. Also compare the front sights on the two revolvers with grips and you can see the curlicues on each end of the sight blades which is an identifying feature of Meriden Fire Arms Company made revolvers. The front sight blade profile is the major difference between revolvers made by Fyrberg and Meriden.

What ammunition is safe to use?

The Fryberg type revolver (without grips) is chambered for the .32 S & W Black Powder cartridge and is not considered safe to use with modern ammunition.

Several authorities have stated that all Meriden Fire Arms Company revolvers are not safe with modern ammunition. I personally would err on the safe side and only use Black Powder loaded ammunition which is available from: Gad also loads .38 S & W Black Powder ammunition if one of your revolvers is chambered for that cartridge.

Where can you find grips?

Original grips are occasionally available on ebay, and

Tombstone Gun Grips ( will fashion a set of grips for your revolver. However, I would look at fitting a set of Harrington and Richardson, Forehand and Wadsworth, Iver Johnson, etc. grips since most top break revolvers have similar size and shape grips.

What is the average value?

Retail value for the revolver without grips in the condition shown would range from $75 to $100 depending on mechanical and bore condition. Fitted with a set of grips would increase the value by the cost of the grips.

Retail value for the small revolver in the condition shown would range from $125 to $175 depending on mechanical and bore condition.

Retail value for the hammerless revolver with pearl grips in the condition shown would range from $150 to $250 depending on mechanical and bore condition.


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Special thanks to my colleague, Vale, for her invaluable magic with the layout.

All images posted by Yougo22

So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.


  • Vale: Great blog, it’s amazing how much overlap there was between companies, although I don’t understand why there was a need to have so many different trade names!
  • Two Old Dogs: Thank for the kind words and your invaluable help to get this published.
    Competition, both in manufacturing and marketing, in my opinion, was one of the major reasons for different trade names.
    A seller with his own name or some catchy, but appealing name, would have more to offer customers than just the products from the major name brand manufacturers.
    The manufacturer was motivated by the same reasons, plus if he had more
    production capacity than he was currently using, trade names opened new markets that kept the machinery running and the employees paid.
    The bottom line was profit.
  • Vale: Interesting, I never thought about it that way!

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