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Very Fine Belgian Brevete Colt M1851 Navy by Gilon

Very Fine Belgian Brevete Colt M1851 Navy by Gilon

  • Product Code: FHG-2313-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

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 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 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 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” as 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 of the most successful of the Colt percussion revolver designs, second only to the 1849 Pocket Model, in terms of length of production and numbers produced. This would be the gun that would become most popular with the Belgian 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 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 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.


A number of major Liège makers produced quality, legal copies of Colt revolvers, including N. Gilon, P.J. Fagard, L. Ghaye and Auguste Francotte. Sometimes these guns are marked by their maker in obvious ways, like the N. Gilson’s name on the barrel or face of the cylinder or P.J. Fagard’s name inside the triggerguard. More often the markings are less obvious, if they are present at all. Sometimes only initials are present and sometimes no marks are present at all. The presence of absence of the marks does not necessarily help a collector to determine who actually made the gun, or if the maker produced all of the parts in the gun themselves. Much like the English gun trade in Birmingham, Liège was cottage industry based manufacturing system. While some very large makers like Francotte operated in a more traditional “factory” setting, many more were small makers working on a piece-work basis. That meant that specialized craftsmen were producing various parts which were then gathered and assembled by other small makers or even the largest makers. To further muddy the waters, Colt soon realized that he could provide Hartford-made parts to the Liège trade and could make money both by collecting royalties and by selling gun parts. Major Hartford-made components that appear from time to time in Liège-made Brevete revolvers include barrels, frames and cylinders. The cylinders are of interest as they are the only ones that appear in Colt Navy Brevete revolvers with the real Ormsby engraved Naval Engagement scene. Other Brevete 1851 Navy revolvers have a wide variety of cylinder scenes, with Paxton & Marcot depicting ten known variations. They also notes that these scenes were hand engraved rather than roll engraved as were the Colt scenes, which means even within the basic design there is great variation.


Offered here is really wonderful condition example of a Licensed Colt Brevete Model 1851 Navy Revolver produced by N. Gilon of Liège. The gun remains in exceptional condition and is entirely original and correct in every way. The revolver has a minimum of markings, as is typical of a Belgian Brevete. The top of the barrel is marked in two lines:





As noted, researchers believe that this marking may indicate that the gun was intended for sale in an English-speaking country. The face of the cylinder is weakly marked with an only partially legible GILON mark, identifying the likely maker. A small script capital L is also present on the face of the cylinder. The upper left rear edge of the frame is also stamped NG, another reference to N. Gilon. The cylinder is engraved with a stagecoach hold up scene, similar to that used on Colt M1849 Pocket Revolvers and is further engraved in lower case script: colt’s patent. The mark appears in much the same way as the roll stamped mark on Colt made cylinders, which is then followed by the serial number or partial serial number. The cylinder is also marked with a Liège proof mark, the traditional E/LG/* in an oval. The revolver is serial number 9407. The number is stamped clearly on the bottom of the barrel web, bottom of the frame and lower front edge of the triggerguard, all traditional locations for Colt serial numbers. No other serial numbers are present, but other typical Liège assembly marks are present. The mating mark 9 is found on the face of the recoil shield, on the rear face of the cylinder and on the rear of the barrel web; mating these three primary components to each other. The brass gripstrap and backstrap are mated to each other with the file slash mating marks \ | /. This same mating mark is also present on the rear edge of the loading lever. A small {CROWN}/V inspection mark is present on the left side of the barrel above the wedge and on the rear face of the cylinder. This may be a Liège controller’s mark, or an additional proof applied by another country the gun was exported to. It is not a London commercial proof, as it is smaller and a different style from the London viewer’s mark. The only other marking is an engraved date on the bottom of the grip frame that reads in italicized script:


11 Mai 1865


The significance of the May 11, 1865 date is not known, but it likely commemorates an event that somehow involved this gun, either its gifting or the date of some significant event in the owner’s life.


The gun follows the basic form of a later production “Fourth Model” Colt Navy revolver. The .36 caliber gun has a 7 ½” octagonal barrel, a 1 11/16” six-shot cylinder, large brass triggerguard and standard sized grips. The profile and overall appearance would allow the gun to easily be mistaken for an actual Colt-made gun. Like the Colt Navy, the revolver has a blued barrel and cylinder, a color casehardened frame and loading lever and a silver plated brass triggerguard, backstrap and gripstrap. The only obvious departure from Colt finish is the use of a hammer that was left “in the white” and polished bright. The one-piece grip is varnished figured walnut with a lighter brown tone that is very attractive.


The revolver remains in about VERY FINE condition and retain most of its original finish. The barrel retains about 80%+ of its original bright blued finish with some thinning, fading and minor loss due to handling and use. Most of the loss is along the sharp edges, contact points and top flat. The cylinder retains a similar amount of blue, again showing thinning and fading with some light wear and loss around the periphery and at the front and rear edges. The face of the cylinder was polished bright during the manufacturing process, like the side flats of the hammer. The cylinder retains 95%+ of the engraved stagecoach hold up scene, which is very crisp and fully visible. All of the markings in the metal of the gun are clear, crisp and fully legible as well. The frame retains about 85%+ of the vivid color casehardened finish and has some very striking mottled blues and purples mixed with the grays and other tones. The fading and loss of color on the frame is primarily around the periphery. The loading lever retains about 75%+ of its vivid case coloring, with most of the fading and loss at the end. The brass triggerguard and gripstrap retain some strong traces of their silver plated finish, with as much as 10% of the silver present. The remaining silver has a moderately tarnished dull pewter gray appearance. The metal is entirely smooth with no pitting present. There is some freckled light surface oxidation shot through the blued finish and some freckled oxidation is present on the face of the cylinder as well. The cone recesses of the cylinder show some moderate oxidation and wear from the caustic cap flash. The cones (nipples) all appear to be original and remain fairly crisp, showing only light to moderate use. The safety pins on the rear face of the cylinder are all still visible with a couple in excellent condition, a couple in very good but used condition and a couple battered and very worn. The revolver is in fine mechanical condition and remains extremely tight. The revolver times, indexes and locks up exactly as it should. The loading lever operates smoothly as well and locks securely into place when it is not in use. The bore is in VERY FINE condition and remains mostly bright with some scattered oxidation. The bore retains very crisp and deep 7-groove rifling with a fairly fast rate of twist and with grooves that are slightly narrower than the lands. The one-piece walnut grip is in VERY FINE condition as well and retains nearly all of its original finish. The grip is solid and free of any breaks, cracks or repairs and remains very crisp. The grip shows only some very lightly scattered handling marks. The high condition of the grip matches the balance of the gun very well.


Overall, this is a really wonderful example of a relatively scarce and very interesting Liège-made Colt M1851 Navy Brevete Revolver by Gilon. The gun is extremely crisp and attractive and is 100% complete, correct and original in all respects. The engraved date on the butt of the revolver is intriguing and is worthy of additional research, as it may shed some light on who the owner of the revolver was. This would be a fine addition to any collection of Brevete revolvers or to a Colt collection. It is a really lovely gun that you will certainly be very proud to display in your collection.


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Tags: Very, Fine, Belgian, Brevete, Colt, M1851, Navy, by, Gilon