Extremely Rare Swiss-Made Colt Model 1849 Pocket Revolver by Valentin Sauerbrey
- Product Code: FHG-3495
- Availability: Out Of 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 arms 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 the oppressive regimes that many of them were living under. 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 called 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 time 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 2 May 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 knew that patent protection would help to prevent the manufacturers in those countries where he could obtain patents from producing arms based on his designs without paying royalties to Colt. But the patents did more than that. They also helped to protect his “brand”. He was concerned that low quality, poorly built, unlicensed copies of his guns would hurt his reputation. The average person would not necessarily know that they had not purchased a real Colt firearm, and their bad experiences with sub-standard copies would create substantial ill-will for his real products.
During the 1849 excursion Colt did achieve a licensing agreement in Austria, which granted Joseph Ganahl of Innsbruck, Austria 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. During the next few years Ganahl would produce his own interpretation of the Colt Dragoon, primarily for use by the Austrian Navy.
From an immediate financial standpoint, the Ganahl agreement put cash directly in Colt’s pocket. But his other efforts had longer lasting economic ramifications. In England Colt received British Patent #12668/1849 for his revolver design, with the patent drawings showing one of his early Dragoon design variants that still used the side-mounted loading lever from the latter part of Paterson production. The following year, in March 1850, Colt was granted Belgian Patent #1217 for his revolver design concepts. In both cases, the most important salient features that were protected was the actuation of cylinder rotation by the cocking of the hammer, which also activated the bolt stop which locked the cylinder in place. 1850 was a busy year for Colt as he was now actively protecting his rights around the world, both via lawsuits in America and by securing patents around the globe.
It was 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition (often referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition) in London, that made Colt a world-renowned name. The success of the arms that he displayed was reported in newspapers in England, Europe, and America and likely in all corners of the globe. Some enterprising Belgian gun makers even displayed Colt “Brevete” revolvers. “Brevete” was the French word for “Patented”. One of the most popular guns displayed by Colt was his new belt model revolver which the world would come to know as the Colt Model 1851 Navy. This gun would become the second most successful of the Colt percussion revolver designs, with only to the 1849 Pocket Model exceeding it in terms of length of production and numbers produced. While the “Navy” would be the favorite Colt produced by the Belgian makers, the “Pocket” model would be popular with other European makers who would produce copies of Colt revolvers for the next few decades, both licensed legal guns and illegally produced unlicensed counterfeits.
In an attempt to control the flow of legally and illegally made “Colt” revolvers from the numerous arms makers of Liège a Belgian representative was engaged by Colt to monitor the flow of arms through the Liège proof house. M Devos Sera was responsible for inspecting the revolvers that were flowing through the proof house and collecting a 10-franc royalty from those that utilized Colt’s protected designs and that were also up to the standards of Colt production. As noted, Colt had a vested interest in making sure that any guns produced under his patents be quality arms. It was Mr. Sera’s job to collect the royalties from the guns that passed his quality control inspections and was able to confiscate those that were made without a license if the guns were not good enough or if the maker refused to pay the royalty. After acceptance, and royalty payment, Sera was to mark the barrels of the guns with a two-line stamp that either read COLT / BREVETE or COLT / PATENT. It is believed that the ones marked “Brevete” were for sale in Europe while the ones marked “Patent” were destined for English speaking countries.
The study of the Belgian-made Colt “Brevete” revolvers, as well as other foreign-made copies of his guns is a confusing and complicated web of makers, suppliers and guns that range from poor quality, illegally made copies to licensed products that were of nearly the same high quality as Colt’s Hartford-made guns themselves. The most in-depth study to date was undertaken by Ron Paxton & Roy Marcot in their book Colt Brevete Revolvers, which I have relied upon heavily in writing the background information on the Colt Brevete. The authors note that despite their years of research and examination of extant examples, there still remains much about these arms and their production that is unknown and may never be known.
Offered here is a scarce and completely untouched condition example of a Colt “Brevete” Model 1849 Pocket Revolver produced by the Swiss gunmaker Valentin Sauerbrey. According to the research of Paxton & Marcot, Sauerbrey is the only known Swiss maker to produce copies of Colt revolvers. In fact, during the research for their book they encountered only one example of a Sauerbrey Colt, which was a copy of a Model 1851 Navy. According to their research Sauerbrey (1804-1881) was a gunmaker who working in Basel, Switzerland. Basel is currently the third most populous city in Switzerland and is located in the northwest of the country in the Canton of Basel-Stadt, along the Rhine and where boarders of both France and Germany meet Switzerland. The quality of Sauerbrey’s work earned him the position of gunsmith to the Royal Court of the Duke of Sachsen-Colburg-Gotha and made fine sporting arms for the King of Sachsen. In 1845 Sauerbrey was made the chief of the arsenal in Basel due to his gunmaking skills. In 1851, Sauerbrey met Samuel Colt at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, and it is possible that he entered into a licensing arrangement with Colt at that time, although no such evidence exists that I am aware of. However, according to Swiss archives, he subsequently displayed “Five Revolvers of the Colt System” at the International Exposition in Paris in 1855. He also displayed a wide variety of arms he had produced, including rifles, shotguns, and revolvers of other patterns, in addition to the Colt style handguns. Over the next decades, Sauerbrey’s reputation increased, as he displayed arms at both the Bern (Switzerland) and Turin (Italy) exhibitions in 1857 and again in London in 1862. Sauerbrey even received two US patents in 1880, including #225,168 on March 2nd, and #225,423 on March 9th. The first was for a breechloading firearm and the second was for a falling block style rifle. Sauerbrey died the following year, so it is not clear if he or his successors ever produced any of the firearms protected by the US Patents that he received in 1880.
The Colt Model 1849 Brevete Pocket Revolver by Valentin Sauerbrey offered here is apparently a very scarce gun. According to the research by Paxton & Marcot, only three Sauerbrey Model 1851 Navy revolvers are known, and no Pocket revolvers were listed as extant at the time their book was written. The revolver follows the lines and contours of the Colt Pocket revolver fairly closely with a .31 caliber, 5” octagonal barrel, a six-chambered round cylinder, and an overall length of about 10 ¼”. The gun utilizes the classic Colt wedge to secure the barrel section to the frame and frame is open topped as with all Colt percussion revolvers other than the Model 1855 Side Hammer (Root) revolvers. The frame appears to be slightly beefier than on Colt produced guns and the triggerguard is a separate piece, rather than being integral with the gripstrap portion of the revolver. The grip angle is slightly more acute and has a very “European” appearance and includes a lanyard ring in the butt. The gripstrap, triggerguard and backstrap are of iron, while traditionally Colt-made Pocket revolvers used brass for these parts. The front sight blade is dovetailed into the top of the barrel near the muzzle, and while not unheard of on Colt-made guns, it is certainly not common as a simple brass post was used on most of the Colt production. Like the Colt-made guns, the rear sight is a simple notch in the hammer nose. The loading lever is a traditional Colt-style rod with a Colt-style retaining latch. The gun retains some of its original finish and appears to have been produced with a browned barrel, a blued cylinder and backstrap, a color casehardened frame, hammer and loading lever and is mounted with a one-piece oil-finished burled walnut grip. The top of the barrel is marked in a single line:
V. SAUERBREY IN BASEL
The bottom of the barrel web is marked in two lines, GUSSTAHL over No 11, with the bottom of the frame dated 1855 below those markings. “Gusstahl” means “Cast Steel” in German and the next markings are clearly the serial number, which is “11” and the year of production, 1855. With so few Sauerbrey-made Colt’s known to exist it begs the question whether his production of these guns was rather limited. It is worth noting that the example of the Sauerbrey-made 1851 Navy in the Paxton & Marcot book is serial number “7”. Unlike Colt-made guns the revolver is only serial numbered in that single location and does not show any other external markings or proofs.
The revolver remains in VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. The barrel retains about 50% of its period browned finish with the lower angled flats and the bottom flat protected by the loading lever retaining the most finish. The balance of the barrel retains much of the thinning and fading brown, with some areas of loss blending with the brown to an attractive plum patina. The markings on the barrel remain clear, crisp, and fully legible. The frame retains some moderate hints of case colors, particularly in the protected areas and around the recoil shield and has a mostly mottled bluish gray and brown patina. The cylinder retains some strong traces of blue and appears to have been plain and produced without the roll engraved scene found on Colt-made revolvers and most of the Belgian-made copies. The hammer and loading lever both retain some minute traces of case colored mottling with some moderate oxidation and some surface roughness found on both parts. The backstrap retains some nice blue, while the triggerguard and plate have a mostly silvered out pewter gray patina with some scattered surface oxidation and discoloration. The metal of the revolver is mostly smooth throughout with only some scattered areas of minor surface roughens and some lightly scattered pinpricking, which is most notable on the loading lever, the hammer and on the cylinder. There are some lightly scattered impact marks on the revolver, primarily at the top of the backstrap. The revolver is mechanically functional and remains fairly tight, but there are some very minor timing and indexing issues, with one chamber tending to over-rotate slightly. Otherwise, the gun times, indexes and locks up as it should. Interestingly the revolver retains three loaded chambers from the period of use, but there are no percussion caps on the cones (nipples). All of the percussion cones are original and are in very good, fairly crisp, and completely usable condition. The bore of the revolver is rifled with six grooves that are slightly wider than the lands and remains in about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition. The bore is moderately oxidized and shows scattered light pitting along its length with some matches of more moderate pitting here and there. The oil finished one-piece grip is in VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE and remains solid and complete. The grip shows some scattered bumps, dings and mars from handling and use but shows no abuse. The grip fits extremely well and is quite attractive.
Overall, this is a really nice, crisp example of an extremely rare Swiss-made Colt Brevete Model 1849 Pocket Revolver by Valentin Sauerbrey of Basel. The gun is 100% complete and correct, retains some nice original finish and shows some real-world use by no abuse. If the writings of Paxton & Marcot are correct and there are only three extant Sauerbrey-made Colt Navy revolvers and no Colt Pocket revolvers by him were known at the time of writing, this is an extremely rare gun. For any collector of Colts, Colt Brevete, or mid-19th century European handguns, this is one of those must-have revolvers that is truly missing from essentially every collection, as to the best of our collective knowledge, this is the one known example!
ON HOLD / LAYAWAY