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Excellent and Rare Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver with Enfield Cartouche

Excellent and Rare Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver with Enfield Cartouche

  • Product Code: FHG-2295-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

The Colt Model 1851 “Navy” Revolver has typically been thought of a distinctly American pistol, with many of the revolvers seeing service with both the US and CS military during the Civil War, as well as seeing significant civilian service on the frontier. However, most collectors are unaware that the Colt Model 1851 Revolver was the first revolver to be accepted into service and issued by the British military. With the advent of the Crimean War, and the sudden need for modern repeating handguns in the field, the British Ordnance Department placed orders for a total of 23,700 Colt’s “Navy” pistols. These revolvers were delivered between March of 1854 and February of 1856. While many of these were delivered from Colt’s London production facility, additional revolvers were delivered from his US manufactory as well. Of these revolvers, 9,600 were issued to the Royal Navy, 5,000 were issued to the army in the Crimea and 9,000 remained in store at the Tower of London as of February 1856. 


All of these British military purchased revolvers were marked with the usual British London commercial proof and view marks, as well as the royal government ownership mark of a small “Broad Arrow” & WD mark. There are no additional records regarding the official purchase of Colt M1851 Navy (or any other Colt revolvers that I am aware of) by the British military during the mid-19th century. However, a small group of much later manufacture Colt Navy revolvers are known to exist that bear the British Storekeepers mark from the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield on their left grip. This “circle in a circle” roundel cartouche is a well-known British military storekeepers mark and is indication that the firearm so marked was accepted into British military service and placed in inventory for issue. 


This small group of Colt revolvers was initially identified by author and researcher Nathan Swayze, who authored the seminal book ’51 Colt Navies – The Model 1851 Colt Navy, Its Variations & Markings in 1967. According to Swayze’s survey and research, there were sixteen known examples of Colt M1851 Navy revolvers that were British proved and marked with the Enfield storekeepers mark on their left grip at that time. All of these revolvers were within the serial number range of 179487 and 188258. This places the production of all of these guns between late 1863 and early 1866; long after the Crimean War had concluded, and the British had officially adopted revolvers of British manufacture for service. Swayze did significant research on the matter and corresponded with officials at The Tower of London, The British War Office Inspectorate of Armaments (RSAF) and Master General of the Ordnance Inspectorates (RSAF) all of which could provide no official explanation for these late production Colt Navy revolvers with the RSAF mark. In fact, the best these officials could do was to provide contradictory theories as to the origin of these revolvers. However, British revolver researchers and authors W.H.J. Chamberlain & A.F.W. Taylerson may have inadvertently provided an explanation to this conundrum. 


According to them, the British military purchased a number of Kerr revolvers on the open market after the conclusion of the American Civil War to help arm troops during the Fenian troubles of 1867 (Ireland & Canada) and the Maori Uprising of 1868 (New Zealand). The Kerr revolvers were undelivered pistols that had been produced by the London Armory Company, on contract for the Confederacy, and were never delivered due to the end of the war. Colt was in a similar situation with the cessation of hostilities. They had substantial supplies of handguns available and had suffered a sudden reduction in demand for their pistols. The British military found themselves with an urgent need for revolving pistols and discovered that it was quicker, easier, and likely cheaper, to obtain the needed revolvers on the open market rather than place additional orders with the typical vendors. This probably explains the handful of Enfield marked Colt Navy revolvers, and also explains their serial number range perfectly – left over revolvers that were unsold from 1863-1866 production. I do not know if Swayze ever made this same determination, or if any additional examples were located in the US. I do know that these revolvers are extremely scarce and are rarely seen on the market for sale.


More recently Robert Jordan and Don Geri have addressed these interesting Colt M1851 Navy variants in his book Colt 1851 and 1861 Navies and Conversions. They confirmed the basics of Nathan Swayze’s assessment of the period of production, noting that the guns are all Late 4th Model 1851 Navy Revolvers produced from late 1863 through 1866 and within the general serial number range of 175334 through 188969. The authors further noted that most examples are marked with an “L” above or below the serial number for “London”. Interestingly they also make reference to the research that I did more than a decade ago, revealing some of the theories put forth by Chamberlain & Taylerson. They also discuss an Egyptian military order for four thousand Colt Navies from the British government. Part of the order required that the guns be inspected at Enfield and bear RSAF inspections. According to their research the first half of the order was delivered in November of 1865 with the second half shipped 1866. This may explain some of these guns. However, the authors also note that some of these guns have provenance to various British colonies, including Australia. Interestingly, the authors have discovered nothing new to help unravel the meaning of the letters in the inspection cartouche on the grip. According to the much more expanded survey of these revolvers conducted by Jordan & Geri, some one hundred and ten examples of these guns were known at the time of their book’s publication, roughly fifty years after Nathan Swayze’s initial effort on the subject.


The Enfield marked Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver offered here is a textbook example of one of these scarce pistols, as described in Swayze’s and later Jordan & Geri’s books. Like all known examples it is a late 4th Model Navy. The gun is serial number 188177 placing its production in about the middle of 1866. The serial number is over an L on the triggerguard, frame and barrel, with the “L” indicating the gun was bound for London. Interestingly, this the first example of one of these “Enfield” marked Navies that I have encountered with the “L” suffix under the serial number, although Jordan & Geri note it a common. The revolver is all matching, including the wedge, with an unnumbered loading lever. It is worth noting that of the sixteen examples of this M1851 Navy variant noted by Swayze, several had some mismatched numbers. It is nice that this one does not. It is not clear if the mismatching was the result of RSAF rebuilding and repair or not. As noted, the revolver has an unnumbered loading lever. The other two examples of these very rare guns I have owned both had unnumbered loading levers as well, but that is a typical feature of late 4th Model Colt Navy revolvers and most do not have serialized levers. 


The gun is in about EXCELLENT condition overall and is really a fantastic Colt Navy that remains extremely crisp. The barrel retains about 90%+ of its original bright blued finish, which has thinned slightly and shows some light wear. The majority of the loss is from high edge loss and wear along the barrel and from some light surface scuffs and marks. There is some finish loss around the muzzle area and some scattered light impact marks around the wedge, as would be expected. The barrel retains extremely sharp edges and has a FINE bright bore with crisp rifling and some scattered oxidation and very light pitting. The top barrel flat is clearly marked: 




The frame retains 70%+ vivid casehardened coloring, which has faded and dulled slightly, but still retains wonderful coloring. The left side of the frame has more muted and slightly duller colors than the right side. The frame retains 90%+ case hardened coverage, but some areas have dulled and muted, resulting in a loss of vivid patterning and color.  The lower left side of the frame is clearly stamped in two lines: COLTS / PATENT. The loading lever retains about 85%+ vivid case coloring, and the hammer retains slightly more vivid case color, approaching 90%+. The cylinder retains about 50%+ of its original bright blue, with most of the loss apparently due to flaking. The cylinder retains nearly all of the roll-engraved naval engagement scene, probably around 90%+ with any real loss likely the result of wear to the engraving plates and uneven pressure when it was rolled, rather than due to wear. The areas of finish loss on the cylinder have either a dull pewter patina or a lightly oxidized brownish coloration. The COLT’S PATENT No marking and the last four digits of the serial number, 8177, remain extremely sharp and clear. The front edge of the cylinder still retains the complete and fully legible marking: ENGAGED 16 MAY 1843. The rear of the cylinder retains all of the original stop pins, with some showing some wear and battering and others very crisp. The brass grip strap and triggerguard retain some strong traces of original silver plating, with the strongest on the triggerguard. The left rear web of the triggerguard has the usual 36 CALmarking. The exposed brass has an attractive golden. The action of the pistol is excellent and remains very crisp. The revolver functions perfectly with fine timing, indexing and very tight lockup. The reverse of the barrel web, forward of the cylinder, is stamped with a pair of standard London commercial proof marks, as would be expected on a pistol imported into England. The {CROWN}/V and {CROWN}/GP view and proof marks are also found alternating on the rear edge of the cylinder between the chambers. The screws all remain crisp and show only the most minor slot wear. The screws all retain at least some of their nitre blued finish with most retaining between 30% and 50% of that lovely blue. The one-piece wood grip is in about FINE condition as well. The grip retains most of its original varnished finish and is numbered to the gun in the gripstrap cut out on their interior. The left side of the grip shows a deeply stamped “circle-in a-circle” RSAF Enfield storekeepers’ cartouche that indicates that the pistol was inspected and received into British military service at Enfield. The exterior ring has a (CROWN) at the top, flanked by the letters R and M respectively and with the word ENFIELD at the bottom of the ring. This almost certainly indicates Royal Manufactory at Enfield (Lock), also known as the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF). The center circle has a (CROWN) / GS / M in its center. The meaning of this second markings is not clear, and according to the numerous letters that Swayze sent to various officials in the British government, in the arsenal system and at RSAF Enfield, no consensus was reached as to what they mean. The more recent scholarship by Jordan & Geri has not revealed any more about this conundrum. The stamp is so deeply struck it is almost hard to read, but only from the wood deformation that the stamp itself created. While the grip does show a number of scattered minor bumps, dings and marks from handling and service, it remains extremely crisp. 


Overall this is a really outstanding condition example of an extremely scarce British military marked Colt Navy revolver. While the gun might have had a little more romance if it was purchased as part of the initial revolver order that saw Crimean War service, the fact that Civil War era production pistols were purchased for emergency use by the British military is quite interesting. We now know that Swayze’s research suggesting that less than twenty of these revolvers are known to exist in the US is not accurate. However, with a huge international survey of Colt Navy revolvers revealing that there are likely only one hundred and ten extant examples, we do know that this is a very scarce variant of the Colt M1851 Navy Revolver. With the rarity of the variant and the extremely high condition of the gun, this could well be a great centerpiece to your 19th Century Colt revolver collection. For the Colt Navy collector, this is an opportunity to own an extremely rare British Martial Colt Navy and fill a hole in your Colt collection that you might not have the opportunity to fill again any time in the near future, particularly with a gun in such wonderfully crisp condition with so much original finish. This is an extremely rare Colt M1851 Navy variant that would be a great addition to any advanced antique revolver collection.  It is significantly rarer than a US Marital Colt Navy and for about the same amount of money (or slightly less) than an Army-Navy or Navy-Navy in lesser condition!


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Tags: Excellent, and, Rare, Colt, Model, 1851, Navy, Revolver, with, Enfield, Cartouche