Tag Archives: Colt 1851

It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this

These early Civil War cabinet photos of both a Union volunteer, left, and a Confederate one, right, show both with .36-caliber Colt Model of 1851 “Navy” revolvers, each one almost assuredly purchased on the commercial market rather than supplied by their respective commands. (Library of Congress)

As detailed by Mr. Francis A. Lord in the 1960s vintage Civil War Collector’s Encyclopedia, wheel guns were a-plenty with the volunteers headed to the sound of the drums, but they weren’t really useful.

Just prior to the war several types of revolvers were developed and patented. Probably the best known of these types in use was the Colt revolver, which monopolized the field for some time but others soon came into demand, such as Remington, Smith and Wesson, and Whitney. Thousands of revolvers were sold monthly, and the new recruit who did not possess a revolver either by his own purchase, or as a present from a solicitous relative, admiring friends, or enthusiastic business consultant was something of a curiosity.

Along with the pistol went a flask and bullet mould. It was not realized by the soldier or donors that by the time the government had provided him with necessary arms, ammunition, and equipment he would then be loaded with about all he could bear, without adding a personal armory and magazine. Veteran troops did not unduly burden themselves by adding revolvers to their load.

The troops of 1861 and 1862 took hundreds of revolvers only to lose them, throw them away, or give them away. Since many regiments were forbidden by their colonels to wear revolvers, a large number of revolvers were sent back home.

This phenomenon surely accounts for why so many near-pristine non-contract Civil War-era revolvers survive in collections today, handed down through the generations as “the gun great-great-granddaddy carried in the war.”

Because he likely sent that bad boy back home before marching off to campaign.

Putting the ‘Navy’ in the 1851 Colt

Samuel Colt launched his revolutionary revolver business in 1835 but within a decade started to see his products increasingly knocked off and the brand diluted by counterfeit and very much unlicensed clones.

Colt’s solution to helping make said cloning harder to pull off successfully was to introduce a series of scrollwork to his revolvers, specifically around the cylinder. His Model 1851, for example, had a naval scene.

Detail of Colt Model 1851, Serial No. 2, in the collection of the Met, note the naval combat scene on the cylinder. Some 215,348 Colt Navy models were produced. (Photo: The Met/Open Access Image)

But what naval scene was it?

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Poking around the Collector’s Corner

Part of what I love about the annual NRA meetings is the almost hidden corner of the exhibit floor open to collector groups from across the country. Some of the pieces are so rare its doubtful you would see them repeated in a museum.

How about this pre-NFA Colt Military Model with combination holster stock?

Or this one presented to Adm. Charles O’Neil, head of the Bu Ord?

Just Napoleon III’s matching set of London Colt 1851s

A W.G. Armstrong British Gatling Gun.

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