Tag Archives: colt navy

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.

A very curious pair of Colt Londons

RIA has a set of matching, though mismatched, Colt London Navys up for grab this week.

While Colt’s Hartford, Connecticut factory made the bulk of the company’s wheelguns in the mid-19th Century, production also occurred in England, to a smaller scale. Colt London made something like 40,000 Model 1851 Navy pattern revolvers in three different series at their armory near Vauxhall Bridge before production halted in the 1870s, with about a quarter of those being sold to the British military.

The difference between the two in wear is noticeable

The above set, produced in 1855, are classic second series guns with 7.5-inch octagon barrels on iron frames with a distinctive large round trigger guard. However, at some point very early in their life, the guns had the cylinders swapped and, as one is well-worn while the other spent comparatively more of its life in storage, the long-ago change apparently stuck.

C’est la vie