English Cased Pair of Engraved Colt Model 7 Root Revolvers with Ivory Grips
- Product Code: FHG-2261
- Availability: In Stock
In 1855 the Colt Patent Firearms Company introduced a new series of “sidehammer” single action percussion pocket revolvers. Today, the guns are better known by their collector nickname, Root Revolvers. The nickname was a tip of the hat to Colt foreman and firearms designer Elisha K. Root, who many believed was the inventor of the “sidehammer”family of firearms. However, it was Sam Colt himself who developed the 1855 series of guns. The Model 1855 or “Sidehammer” family of firearms represented a number of firsts for the Colt Company in terms of design features, and many of features are found only on Model 1855 guns.
The two most obvious features are the solid frame with a topstrap and the side-mounted hammer. The solid frame would not be applied to a Colt firearm model again until 1873, when it would appear on the Model P, better known as the Single Action Army. This is unfortunate, as the solid frame design was much stronger than the usual Colt open top designs and would be a major factor in the US Ordnance Department’s eventual preference for the Remington New Model Army and Navy revolvers over the comparable Colt designs during the latter part of the American Civil War. The sidehammer feature would not appear on any other series of Colt firearms. The M1855 series was the only series of Colt firearms where the same basic design and mechanism was applied to both a line of handguns and long guns, as the Colt M1855 carbine, rifles and shotguns were simply much larger versions of the same mechanism; very much as the Paterson longarms had been quite similar to the handguns in that family of guns. The M1855 series marked the first, and only, time that Colt would use a cylinder arbor pin that entered from the rear of the gun. This design often led to the pin being frozen in the cylinder and causing mechanical issues. It also made the removal of the pin quite difficult, and the large majority of Colt Side Hammer guns found today show impact marks on the rear of the cylinder pin and on the frame around it in testimony to the frustration many users found in removing the pin from the gun. The Sidehammer revolvers were also the first Colts to utilize a “spur” trigger without a triggerguard. The M1855 series was the first time that Colt used barrels screwed into the frame of the revolver, another feature that would not appear in the Colt product line again until the introduction of their Single Action Army. The one feature that was introduced with sidehammer line that would be seen repeatedly on other Colt percussion revolvers was the introduction of the “creeping” style, ratcheting loading lever. This was considered such a big improvement over the toggle style loading lever of the Model 1849 Pocket Model and the Model 1851 Navy Model, that it would become standard with the introduction of the Model 1860 Army Model and remain in use with all subsequent percussion Colt handgun designs, with the exception of the Colt Pocket Model of Navy Caliber (aka Model 1862 Pocket Navy).
The Colt Model 1855 Sidehammer Pocket Revolver was produced in two series, based upon their caliber, between 1855 and 1873, with a total of about 40,000 being produced. The first series was called .28 caliber, although the actual bore dimensions were nominally .265” and only the cylinder chamber mouths approached .28”. Some 26,000 of the 1st series were produced between 1855 and 1861, in four variants, known as the Model 1, Model 1A, Model 2 and Model 3 by collectors. The guns were all 5-shot percussion revolvers with octagon barrels that varied in length between 3 7/16” (Models 1 & 1A) and 3 ½” (Models 2 & 3). All had round cylinders (with the exception of a few very late Model 3s that were fluted), that were roll engraved with a W.L. Ormsby engraved scene of Indians attacking a cabin. In 1860 Colt introduced a .31 caliber version of the “Root”, and that gun remained in production through 1873, with some 14,000 revolvers being manufactured in six different collector designated types, the Model 3A, Model 4, Model 5, Model 5A and Model 6 & 6A. These guns remained 5-shot percussion revolvers but were made with 3 ½” octagon barrels (Models 3A & 4), 3 ½” round barrels (Model 5, Model 6 and Model 7), 4 ½” round barrels (Model 5A, 6A and Model 7A). The octagon barreled guns retained the “Cabin & Indian” scene introduced with the .28 Root revolvers, but the round barreled guns used the “Stagecoach Holdup” scene from the Model 1848 Baby Dragoon and the Model 1849 Pocket Model. All of the Sidehammer revolvers came standard with a blued finish, case hardened hammer and loading lever and varnished, one-piece, wrap around walnut grips. As with all Colt handguns, custom finishes, engraving, high grade grips and other extra cost embellishments were available and limited only by the buyer’s imagination and pocketbook!
Offered here is a very interesting pair of apparently factory engraved Colt Root Model 7 Revolvers presented in an English oak casing. The Model 7 was the last variant of the Root revolver produced and appears in the .31 caliber serial number range of 11,075 through 14,000. The Model 7 attempted to solve the problem with the rear-mounted cylinder arbor pin by securing the pin to the cylinder via a transverse screw in the cylinder, rather than by screwing the rear portion of the pin into the frame. The Model 7 was introduced circa 1867 and remained in production until the termination of the product line in 1870. During that time slightly less than 3,000 Model 7 Root revolvers were produced, representing less than 10% of all Root handgun production.
The Model 7 faced a tough market for handguns at that time. The Civil War was over, and thousands of surplus US military revolvers were for sale at bargain prices on the civilian market. Additionally, percussion handguns were becoming obsolete and cartridge handguns were becoming the new standard. As a result, it is not surprising that Root sales were lackluster. As a result, some Root revolvers remained in inventory for some years even after the guns were no longer in production.
These guns have the usual Model 7 features of a .31 caliber 3 ½” round barrel with a 5-shot cylinder roll engraved with the Stagecoach Hold Up scene. The revolvers are serial numbers 11298 and 11961. Both guns have matching serial numbers on their butts, cylinders and under their barrels where the numbers are concealed by the loading levers. The revolvers both have a two line barrel address that reads:
ADDRESS COL. COLT
The revolvers are blued and are engraved over about 75% of their metal surfaces with fine quality engraving that is most likely the work of Colt factory engraver Carl A. “Cuno” Helfricht. Helfricht was born in 1851 and emigrated to the US in 1860 from Thuringia (Germany) with his parents and three sisters. Helfricht’s father eventually found work in the “Stocking Department” of the Colt Patent Firearms Company and sometime between late 1869 and early 1870 Cuno was working there as well under his father’s supervision. Cuno showed an interest and aptitude for engraving and was accepted to the famous Berlin Medal & Die Cutting Institute to study the techniques. Helfricht traveled to Germany in the summer of 1870 for his training and returned to the US in the fall of the following year. Almost immediately he was back working at Colt, this time as an engraver. His skills were quite good and by August of 1875 he was the head engraver for the company. Helfricht’s work is distinctive on Colt firearms in that he combined multiple engraving styles and techniques on single guns. He would employ Arabesque foliate scrolls with punch-dot backgrounds and at the same time use geometric lines, starbursts, figural panels and a variety of boarders that ran from intertwined lines to egg and dart patterns. The combination of diverse styles on the same firearm can give the guns a somewhat schizophrenic appearance, but the quality of Helfricht’s work more than overcame any dichotomy of style.
These revolvers are engraved in Helfricht’s typical frenetic style. The frames behind the recoil shields are cut with his flowing Arabesque foliate scrolls with punch-dot background shading. The recoil shields are cut with a star motif foliate pattern and the lower and upper edges of the frame are cut with a variety of boarders, including simple flowing feathery patterns, intertwined lines and egg and dark marks. The rear of the barrels are cut with an open basket-weave pattern that is interspersed with dots and the upper rear of the gripstraps are cut with Cuno’s somewhat trademark geometric starburst motif. Although the rear of the frame is executed with some relatively complicated work, the balance of the gun is engraved in what is best called an “economical” style that make the coverage appear greater than it is, while minimizing the amount of time and work that went into the work. The revolvers are also mounted with a pair of period smooth ivory grips. It is unclear if these are factory grips or were added by a retailer. Both grips show wonderful age and have clearly been with the guns for a very long time. One of the grips, the one on gun #11961, has the name Feliciano Poza written in a bold period hand in in on the interior in the grip strap cut out. While no person of that name appears in the US Census records, a handful of men with that name were alive in Mexico during a period when the guns might have been in use. The most likely candidate is found in the records of Mexican Masonic history. Brother Feliciano Poza was elected the Junior Grand Expert of the Grand Lodge of the Federal District of Mexico on 15 June 1883. To be a Master Mason elevated to such an esteemed position suggests that this particular Feliciano Poza was not only a worthy brother but likely a successful and prosperous businessman and a respected member of his community. Further research in Mexican archives could prove fruitful.
The revolvers both remain in about VERY GOOD condition. Both retain a small amount of their blued finish with #11298 retaining slightly more blued finish than #11961. In both cases the majority of the surviving blue is in protected areas, particularly the recess between the barrel and the loading lever arbor. The balance of both guns are mostly a dull pewter gray with scattered surface oxidation, oxidized age staining, and some scattered pitting. The guns also show scattered small impact marks and dings, suggesting that they really saw carry and use and were not just stored in a casing. Both guns only retain a small portion of their Stagecoach Hold Up scene, with much of it, as well as the cylinder markings worn away, more than likely due to cleaning. The barrel markings remain clear and crisp on both guns, as does the engraving. The butts of both guns have slightly weak serial numbers, again due to an old cleaning. Like most Root revolver the guns have some minor mechanical issues, although they are essentially functional. #11961 has a crudely made replacement mainspring that was installed at some unknown point in time and the mainspring tension screw in #11298 is a more modern replacement. These indicate old attempts to effect mechanical repairs on both guns, which is not an uncommon issue with these delicate and complicated revolvers. Both guns have minor timing and indexing issues, and neither is 100% reliable in terms of timing, indexing or lock up all the time, but again both are in very good mechanical condition for Root revolvers. Both have VERY GOOD, moderately oxidized bores that show some scattered pitting but retain strong rifling. The period ivory grips both show good age and wear and have a nice mellow cream patina with a yellowish tone. The grip with the name inside it, on gun #11961 is solid with some age shrinkage and scattered grain cracks, most notable on their bottoms. The grip on #11298 shows a number of repairs, with a couple of major repairs and a small piece of replacement ivory added into the base of the grip where it was broken.
The revolvers are contained in a 19th century compartmentalized English oak casing. The casing was relined in maroon velvet, likely during the first half of the 20th century. The casing includes a variety of accessories and accoutrements including a FINE condition C&JW Hawksley marked small bag shaped powder flask, a VERY FINE blued iron .31 caliber dual-cavity COLT’S / PATENT marked .31 caliber bullet mold and a VERY FINE condition pewter oiler that is unmarked. The casing also includes a GOOD condition original Colt L-shaped screwdriver and cone wrench, but it is sized for a Colt Navy revolver. A London-style Colt cleaning rod is in the case, with the wood knob flattened on one side to allow it fit in the case. flush against the side Four high quality, empty reproduction cartridge packets are included in the case for display purposes. The other items in the casing, the two cap tins, and the small steel container of tools are incorrect or later period items that were added to the casing. The casing was likely assembled at some point in the early 20th century, or at least was re-worked and re-lined at that time, and was discovered in London in the 1960s. Interestingly the guns do not bear any English proof marks. Based on the fact that the set came out of England a long time ago, it my belief that the revolvers were likely owned transported there at some point in time by the owner Feliciano Poza, likely arriving England in personal baggage rather than through official importation. The oak casing remains in about GOOD++ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition as refurbished on the interior. The exterior shows scattered bumps, dings and mars, as well as some minor slivered wood loss along the edges. The lid has also warped slightly as is not uncommon for these oak casings. The original Bible hinged remain in place and are still sturdy. The original lock in place and a key is in the casing, but it does not fit the lock correctly.
Overall, this is a very interesting and attractive cased set of what appear to be factory engraved Colt Model 1855 “Root” Model 7 Revolvers. Although the guns do not retain a large amount of finish, they do show quality engraving that is almost certainly the work of Colt factory engraver Cuno Helfricht. When the casing was assembled is hard to know and is possible that the period owner had a casing made up in England during the period of use, which was later refurbished. In either case, the set is very attractive and would be a lovely addition to any collection.