RARE US FIRST CONTRACT COLT M1851 NAVY-NAVY REVOLVER DELIVERED TO NORFOLK 1857 AND RARE USN 1873 COLT RICHARDS-MASON CONVERSION

$6,500.00

Quantity Available: 1

Item Code: 1142-122

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This pistol was in the first contract purchase of Colt Navy revolvers by the USN, made in September 1857 and was in the first shipment of 615 revolvers delivered to the Norfolk Navy Yard November 9, 1857. On top of that, it was among the estimated 1,000 M1851 Navy Revolvers sent by the USN to Colt for conversion from percussion to metallic cartridges in 1873, very few of which have survived. To top it off, it rates about fine condition.

As a cost-effective way of entering the metallic-cartridge age, the Navy contracted with Colt to alter some 2,200 revolvers, of which about 1,000 are estimated to have been the Colt M1851 Navy. In the main, the alteration consisted of removing the percussion nipples to create a bored-through cylinder and reboring the chambers for .38 centerfire metallic cartridges. A breech plate or conversion ring with loading gate was installed, as was Mason spring-loaded ejector rod assembly to the right side of the barrel, replacing the old loading lever and plunger, with the dovetail for the lever catch and the mounting recess filled, but the plunger hole left open. Lastly the pistols were refinished, new markings applied, and the iron backstraps polished and the grips replaced if necessary. This had three principal results. Mismatched cylinders are correct and standard for the model since they were worked on separately; depending on the condition of the pistol went sent back to Colt the original markings are frequent softened or missing from the cleaning, polishing and rebluing; lastly, replaced grips did away with any markings in the wood. In this case, the cylinder naturally bears a different serial number but has excellent cylinder scene and markings, the original markings are still fully legible, meaning it was in good condition when sent back to Colt, and original inspection marks are present, having been stamped in the metal of the butt rather than the wood.

This pistol is serial numbered 59253 on its principal parts, giving it an 1856 production date and putting it in the 55500 to 62000 serial number range of the Navy’s first contract purchase of 2,000 revolvers (which included two earlier purchases of 50 guns each.) These were delivered to different navy yards and inspected there, but in this case the revolver buttstrap is deeply stamped “U.S.N. / J.L.H.” indicating inspection by Commander James L. Henderson, who inspected small arms at Norfolk from June of 1857 through April of 1861 and received the first shipment of these Navies, 615 to be precise, on Nov. 9, 1857. The mark is both historically significant and lucky: other inspectors put their marks in the wood, which vanished when Colt offered to replace grips also, for a small additional charge.

The sharpness of the original markings show the revolver was in very good condition when the Navy sent it back to Colt. The early production New York barrel address, “ADDRESS SAML COLT NEW - YORK CITY” is sharp and the three line stamp, COLT’S / PATENT / U. S. on the left frame has rubbing just along the top of the first line, indicating no aggressive cleaning was necessary. Only the serial number on the buttstrap shows appreciable rubbing, but is still visible and Henderson’s inspection stamp is fully legible.

The cylinder is numbered 61195, also in the first contract and in very good condition, showing little color, but very sharp cylinder scene and lettering. Not only is the “COLT’S PATENT No 61195” crisp, but the naval battle scene is fully visible as is the small “ENGAGED 16 MAY 1843” caption along the front edge of the cylinder, showing just a little softness around the month and year. At its rear the cylinder also shows the P/GG inspection stamp of Commander Guert Gansvoort, one of the officers charged with the reinspection of USN arms after the end of the Civil War in 1865. As part of the 1873 conversion, the loading gate is fitted with the scarcer external spring and is numbered inside 709, which would match it to the conversion ring.

Overall the pistol rates about 70% or fine condition. The markings are strong and the barrel assembly has full coverage of the Colt reblue, thinning to about 30% or so but stronger on the underside and on the forcing cone, which have deeper color. The cylinder has little color, but the sharpness of the roll engraving and markings more than make up for it. The original stamps on the frame are sharp and the two-line patent stamps applied in the conversion are sharp: “PAT. JULY. 25. 1871. / PAT. JULY 2. 1872.” The frame also shows some bright case colors and the blue of the trigger, hammer, and conversion ring are strong. The ejector rod assembly has shifted toward plum, as has the color of the iron triggerguard and backstrap. The screws on the barrel assembly show blue and there is some thin blue on two of the frame screws also. We have not pulled the wedge, but it shows good color and is likely unmarked. Most (if not all) were replaced in the conversion process. The grips are the standard oil finished grips used by Colt and rate near fine with nice color, tight fit, good edges and very few handling marks, just a few pencil-point dings on the butt flat.

This is a rare survivor and in extraordinarily good condition for a pistol with some thirty years of naval service from its introduction in 1857 to eventual replacement by the M1889 Colt Navy. This would be a great addition to a Civil War, US Navy, US martial arms, or even a Colt collection.  [sr] [ph:L]

DISCLAIMER: All firearms are sold as collector's items only - we do not accept responsibility as to the shooting safety or reliability of any antique firearm. All firearms are described as accurately as possible, given the restraints of a catalog listing length. We want satisfied customers & often "under" describe the weapons. Any city or state regulations regarding owning antique firearms are the responsibility of the purchaser. All firearms are "mechanically perfect" unless noted, but again, are NOT warranted as safe to fire.

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