Austrian Brevete Model 1849 Colt Revolver - Extremely Rare Published Cased Example
- Product Code: FHG-2251
- Availability: In Stock
1848 was the first year when Samuel Colt claimed that his patents, designs and his Hartford manufactory all coalesced into a profitable enterprise. His journey to this stage of his life had been fraught with mishaps, economic reversals and the failure of his original Patent Arms Manufacturing Company. However, by 1848, Colt was well on his way to becoming the “American Legend” as some historians have referred to him.
1848 was also a year of civil unrest in Europe, as young people around the world looked to the American model of government and began to agitate for the end of oppressive regimes. For the previous two decades, groups around the world taking the monikers of “Young Italy”, “Young Ireland” and “Young Germany” to name just a few, had been organizing to help establish new democratic governments in their countries. Even the United States had its own “Young America” movement that supported the democratic movements around the world and further supported the concept of Manifest Destiny for the United States in North America, and potentially extending to Central and South America. In 1848, much of the European agitation erupted into outright rebellion. This started in France in February of 1848 and quickly spread to Sicily, the Italian States, the Austrian and Hungarian Empires, the Netherlands and many of the member states of the German Confederation. In all, some fifty European countries would become embroiled in this civil unrest that would be capped the “Spring of Nations” the “Springtime of the Peoples” and the “Year of Rebellion”. In this chaotic situation, Samuel Colt saw a business opportunity. Despite the fact that his business was just starting to be truly successful in the United States and that American competitors were starting to violate his patents; Colt saw the European upheaval as a chance to enter a new market. In the 1830s Colt had visited England and Europe to secure patent protections for designs, with mixed results. Now, with Europe on fire he turned his gaze again across the Atlantic to secure patent protection for his products and to sell his revolvers to those willing to pay for them. As he would show in the months leading up to the Civil War, as well as for some after the firing on Fort Sumter, Colt was interested in sales of his firearms, not in politics or ideology. He cared little if his customers were the oppressors or the oppressed, the rebels or the ruling regime. He simply wanted to sell guns.
However, Colt acted too slowly and by the time he embarked for Europe on May 2, 1849 aboard the steamer Europa, the rebellions had largely fizzled out. While some reforms were secured by the protestors, like the abolition of serfdom in Austria and Hungry, the abolishment of absolute monarchy in Denmark and establishment of a representative democratic government in the Netherlands, much of Europe returned to the previous status quo of monarchial rule. Despite the opportunities he may have missed for immediate sales, Colt continued on his course to securing European patents where he could. Always looking to the future, Colt new that patent protection would prevent the manufacturers in those countries where he could obtain it from producing arms based on his designs without paying royalties to Colt.
In August of 1849, Colt visited Austrian and applied for patent protection for his designs. At the end of September of 1849, an Austrian board of ordnance conducted trials of Colt revolvers and carbines with positive results. As noted by authors Roy Marcot & Ron Paxton in their exhaustive book Colt Brevete Revolvers, the board reported in part that the Colt design was a “perfectly practical weapon and specially recommended as an officer’s arm.” Because of the Austrian military’s positive response to the Colt firearms, Joseph Ganahl contracted with Colt to obtain the exclusive rights to manufacture Colt patent revolvers for five years, through August of 1854. Ganahl was one of the handful of Austrian manufacturers who held a royal appointment allowing him to manufacture firearms. Ganahl’s company was the Kaiserlich-koeniglich Privilegierten Maschinen und Spinnen Fabrik, abbreviated as the KKP and translated as the Imperial & Royal Privileged Machinery, Textile and Spinning Factory. The factory was located in Innsbruck, Austria. Innsbruck is in the Tyrol region of the Alps, near the Swiss border.
The “Colt” revolver that Ganahl undertook to manufacture was based upon the Model 1848 Colt Dragoon. A sample Colt Dragoon had been provided to Ganahl by Colt’s Vienna based sales agent Herr Schwartz. Over the next five years Ganahl would produce a relatively small number of Colt patent revolvers, with production estimates ranging from about 1,100 to 1,200 guns. 1,000 were manufactured for use by the officers of the Austrian Navy as the Model 1849 and another 100 to 200 were produced for “civilian sale” although it is generally believed that the majority of these revolvers were also acquired by Austrian military officers, probably from all branches.
Although based upon the Colt Dragoon, the Austrian KKP produced revolver showed a number of differences from the Colt product. The overall profile was very much like the Colt Dragoon with the open-top frame, large wedge-retained octagonal barrel housing that terminates in a round barrel and the oversized oval link in the loading lever that projects below the loading lever. The Austrian made guns make use of both the semi square-backed triggerguard on some revolvers and a more oval shaped triggerguard on others. The large, six-chambered cylinder also used round stop slots as found on some transitional Colt Dragoon revolvers and early production Colt “Baby Dragoon” revolvers. The distinctly different features include the caliber, which was nominally .36 but appears to have varied from .36 to .40, rather than the Dragoon’s larger .44 caliber. Also, the barrels were nominally 5.25” to 5.5” in length, with some minor variations, instead of the Colt Dragoon’s longer 7.5” barrel. The Austrian guns also incorporated a longer, narrower grip design than found on the Colt product, which dramatically changes the grip frame’s profile. Ganahl also incorporated a design improvement in the frame. First, he used iron rather than brass for the grip frame and backstrap, which improved the strength of those components. He also attached the triggerguard and gripstrap to the frame separately from the backstrap. That meant that removal of the two rear frame screws and the screw in the butt only removed the grip, leaving the triggerguard and gripstrap secured to the frame by additional screws, two of which are hidden in the upper rear of the frame until the grip was remove. This prevented the loosening of the grip to frame attachment, which could occur with a regular Colt Dragoon if these screws worked loose under recoil.
The standard finish for the revolvers was a blued barrel and cylinder with a color case hardened frame that was more a dull black color typical of oil quenching instead of the more vivid colorations associated with water quenching. Grips were varnished hardwood and by looking at the grain of the handful of known examples either in person or as published examples, it appears that most were stocked in Austrian beech as was used in their military rifle and musket stocks. The standard military production revolver was issued to officers with a leather holster and received only minor embellishment and decorations. Marcot & Paxton note that early guns had plain cylinders while later guns has lightly engraved bands around the cylinders. The guns offered for “civilian” sale, most of which were likely acquired by officer’s as well, were typically more elegantly decorated and were often cased and offered with a variety of accessories. Some guns were produced with a fixed rear sight on top of the octagonal portion of the barrel, right in front of the cylinder, while others did not receive a rear sight. Front sights were typically narrow blades. The serial numbering of the guns appears to be in a single range, with both “civilian” and military gun numbers intermingled with no apparent pattern. The presence of the square backed triggerguard profile or an oval triggerguard appears to be somewhat random as well.
Upon the expiration of the patent royalty agreement between Ganahl and Colt in August of 1854, Colt again tried to obtain a contract with the Austrian government. This time he was somewhat more successful. He had changed sales agents in Vienna and had employed the long-time Austrian government arms contractor Ferdinand Früwirth. With Früwirth’s help Colt managed to arrange a small contract for 1,000 M1851 Colt Navy revolvers.
Based upon the research done by Marcot and Paxton in their book, only a handful of the Austrian Colts are known to exist in collections today with many in institutional collections. They list eight known serial numbers, with the gun being offered here among them. Based upon my own research and investigation regarding these revolvers, it appears that less than twenty examples are in the United States with only a very few, maybe five or six cased M1849s in America. The finest example is probably #143 which is in the collection of the Wadsworth Athenium. This gun appears to be a standard, early production naval officer’s revolver. They also picture three cased examples: #262, #685 and this one, #700. Both #262 and #685 are part of the Henry M. Steward Jr. collection and are currently part of the VMI Museum collection. #700 was part of the Will Hoffeld collection when it was photographed and described on pages 254 and 255 of their book. It was later part of the famous Horst Held collection of fine European handguns, and it is now offered for sale here.
Offered here is a rare example of an Austrian Model 1849 Colt Revolver. The gun is even more scarce as only one of a very few examples that are cased with a complete set of correct accessories. The revolver is serial number 700, and this number is found on the lower left side of the grip frame (under the grip), on the rear of the cylinder and on the rear face of the barrel lug. Most of the Austrian Colts have the serial number on the exposed portion of the frame’s butt, however this one does not. This is one of the “civilian” guns, of which only 100 to 200 were produced between 1849 and 1854. The guns is embellished and engraved to a much higher level than the more pedestrian M1849 Austrian Naval Colts. The left side of the frame is engraved INNSBRUCK without the usual KKP production markings. The right side is engraved F. JESTER, the mark of Austrian gunmaker and retailer Franz Jester. Jester established his business in Wilten (Austria) in a parish town about 20 miles south of Innsbruck in 1847. In the mid-1850s Jester moved to Innsbruck, where he produced high quality rifles and sold a wide variety of arms. The company remained in business through 1894. As only Ganahl’s Kaiserlich-koeniglich Privilegierten Maschinen und Spinnen Fabrik had the rights to manufacture the Colt patent revolver, Jester was only the retailer of the set.
The revolver has the typical Austrian M1849 profile with a Dragoon pattern octagon to round barrel that measures 5.5” with the octagonal section measuring just under 2”, including the forcing cone. The eight-groove bore of the revolver is nominally .36 caliber, measuring .365” land-to-land and about .383” groove-to-groove. The forcing cone mouth measures .380”. The six cylinder chamber mouths vary slightly from as tight as .382” to as big as .386”. The revolver is engraved with delicate flowing foliate arabesque scrolls on the frame, along with feathery geometric boarders. Similar foliate patterns are engraved around the periphery of the cylinder, on the top edges of the recoil shield, the sides of the octagonal portion of the barrel and the sides of the lobe shaped loading lever lug. The cylinder is also engraved with a pair of feathery geometric boarder lines around the front edge and through the round cylinder stop slots, and small foliate patterns are engraved on the round portion of the barrel at the transition to the octagonal section, on the bottom of the barrel web and along the backstrap, along with simple boarder lines. Even the edge of the wedge and most of the screw heads have some lightly engraved decorations. The revolver has the typically long, narrow Austrian Colt grip frame design and the oval, rather than square-backed triggerguard design.
This revolver is contained in a French style, form fit casing with a complete set of accessories. At least some references note that the casing prepared for officers was typically a leather covered wood case, when it was offered. An old Gun Report ad from the 1960s shows a cased Austrian M1849 revolver, #705, for sale in a French fit case that is also described as leather covered wood. The revolver in the ad has the same brass accessories found in this cased set, as does #685 from the Stewart collection in the VMI Museum. The casing itself is an Austrian folk art wood box that measures 14.125” wide by 8.125” deep and 3.5” tall. The case has a highly figured veneer that might be some type of light colored European walnut. The balance of the case appears to be beech and fir, but those are just reasonable guesses. The beveled edges of the lid have inlaid marquetry decorations, alternating dark wood and brass, with an inlaid floral decoration in the center that appears to be comprises of contrasting lighter and darker woods, German silver and bone. The interior of the casing is lined in a dark olive green baize, as is the pillow in the lid. The lining and case interior is quite similar to those depicted in both the Stewart casing and ad from Gun Report. It is not clear if the decorative box that contains the French interior was originally the box for this set, as sold by Jester or a later casing that utilized the original interior components. The box is certainly old, and the fit of the interior is perfect. They appear to have been together for their entire natural life, but it is impossible to be sure. In either case, both the box and interior appear to be contemporary to each other. The casing contains the correct pattern iron bullet mold, a steel cone wrench combination tool, a brass cleaning rod, a brass flask with powder measure cap, a brass cap container and a brass bullet container with some original pointed lead bullets in it.
The revolver remains in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. The barrel retains about 40% of its original blued finish, most of which is on the reverse side of the barrel and barrel web with most of the loss on the obverse. There is some scattered flaked and oxidized finish loss on the reverse where the blue is most prevalent, while the obverse has a mostly pewter gray color with traces of blue and scattered surface oxidation. The frame is mostly a steel gray patina, with some traces of the original case color inside the frame. The cylinder has a similar pewter gray patina to the obverse of the barrel. The metal is mostly smooth with scattered freckles and patches of oxidized age discoloration and some small patches of surface roughness. There are a few small, fingerprint sized patches of moderate pinpricking here and there, some of which is closer to light pitting. The most prominent patch is about the size of a pinkie nail, roughly one half an inch from the muzzle on the obverse, as well as some light pitting on the face of the muzzle. All of the engraving and markings remain clear and crisp and the engraving remains quite attractive throughout. The revolver remains fully functional mechanically and times, indexes and locks up exactly as it should. The loading lever functions correctly as well and locks securely into position when not in use. The bore of the revolver remains in about VERY GOOD condition and has strong rifling along its entire length. The bore retains some traces of blue from the original finishing process, mixed with an evenly oxidized plum brown patina. There is some scattered pinpricking and light pitting along its length, but the bore remains in very nice condition. The revolver retains the original dovetailed rear sight on the top of the octagonal portion of the barrel and the original front sight blade near the muzzle. The front sight blade appears to have been lightly filed to adjust its profile and the accompanying sight picture. The varnished hardwood, one-piece grip appears to be typical straight-grained Austrian beech with a nice medium tan color. The grip retains most of the original finish with some light wear and loss. The wood remains crisp with some lightly scattered bumps, dings and mars, and a couple of deeper dings.
As noted, the revolver is contained in a period French-fit casing. The wood box remains in about VERY GOOD condition the expected wear and minor damage from 150+ years of existence. The casing is slightly warped and has a crack in the veneer of the lid that runs the width of the case. There is some minor chipping, wear and minor damage on the exterior of the lid, most notably some chipping at the front left hand edges and some chipping to the purfling-like decorative edges around the beveled edge. As would be expected the wood shows scattered bump, dings and mars as well. The interior remains in about VERY GOOD+ to FINE condition with some scattered wear, minor loss, some discoloration due to age and some staining. The accessories are all in about VERY GOOD to FINE condition as well. None of the accessories are marked. The iron bullet mold is crisp and fully functional with scattered surface oxidation and discoloration and a very nice mold cavity. The combination cone wrench and screwdriver has a similar appearance to the mold with a pewter patina and scattered surface oxidation. The tool shows some minor chipping to the cone wrench face, but otherwise is crisp and fully functional. The brass flask shows some minor pushes and dings but retains crisp edges and tight seams. The powder measure cap for the flask shows a moderate number of bumps and dings. The two brass containers are both in crisp condition with minor dings and handling marks. The smaller one contains a few old percussion caps while the larger one contains heavily oxidized lead bullets. The cleaning rod is crisp and in fine condition. All of the brass accessories have a medium bronze patina and match each other well with no apparent cleaning. Due to shipping restrictions, the caps will not be included in that tin if the set is shipped.
Overall this is a really nice and extremely rare example of an Austrian Model 1849 Colt Revolver in a wonderful period Austrian casing and complete with all of the correct and very scarce accessories. The Austrian M1849 Colt rarely appears for sale to begin with, as it appears that less than 20 exist in the United States. Cased examples are even more rare, and simply don’t come up for sale with all of the accessories. This example is well known and documented, having been pictured and described in Marcot & Paxton’s Colt Brevete Revolvers on pages 254-255, and then having been part of the renowned Horst Held collection. This is a great piece for any collector of European revolvers, a collector of Colt Brevete revolvers or any percussion revolver collector in general. This is a lot of gun, accessories and rarity for sale for a very reasonable price.
Provenance: ex-Will Hoffeld collection, ex-Horst Held collection, published in Colt Brevete Revolvers by Marcot & Paxton.