Very Rare & Fine Fully Cased Colette Gravity Pistol
- Product Code: FHG-2253-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
During the mid-19th century, the initial experimentation with and development of self-contained ammunition and repeating firearm designs was taking place around the world. These developments were often taking place on parallel courses in different countries and in some cases were coming to market nearly simultaneously. While Casimir Lefaucheux had developed the self-contained pinfire metallic cartridge in 1836, additional experimentation was taking place with other designs as well. One such alternate design, was a series of caseless, self-contained ammunition that came to be known by its American inventor’s title, the Rocket Ball.
Walter Hunt’s 1848 design combined a small propellant charge in the concave recess of a lead projectile, which was ignited by an external primer. This was the first tentative step towards creating a caseless self-contained cartridge. His design was originally intended for use in a rifle of Hunt’s design, but which never really went into production. The design rights were subsequently assigned to George Arrowsmith, a machinist and model maker, whose employee Lewis Jennings substantially improved the original Hunt “Volition” rifle design. The resulting Jennings rifle design was contracted to be produced by Robbins & Lawrence, where three men who would become known as some of the greatest American 19thcentury gun designers were employed at that time: B. Tyler Henry, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson. They all worked to improve the Hunt and Jennings concepts with the improved Smith-Jennings Rifle design becoming the basis for Smith & Wesson’s subsequent lever action repeating pistol, the line of Volcanic lever action pistols and carbines, and eventually the Henry Rifle which would evolve into the Winchester. While the Smith-Jennings design requited external priming per the original Hunt ammunition design, an improved cartridge that combined the primer and the powder in the bullet base was developed that made the Smith & Wesson and Volcanic firearm designs possible. By 1854, Smith & Wesson were producing their new pistol using their improved “Rocket Ball” ammunition, under their own name.
Nearly simultaneously in Europe, French and Belgian inventors Loran, Gaupillat and Fusnot were all experimenting with their version of the “Rocket Ball” concept. In some cases, these designs were really for “parlor” ammunition, where the bullet cavity contained only a priming compound, which also propelled the bullet with moderate velocity for a short distance. The availability of this type of ammunition allowed Belgian arms inventor and manufacturer Victor Colette (b. 1836-d. 1909) to design a twenty-round, “high capacity” repeating pistol circa 1852. He received a Belgian patent for his design in 1857, and today that pistol design is known to the collector world as the Colette Gravity Pistol. While Colette produced a wide array of cartridge arms during his working period (circa mid-1850s through the 1880s), most were of rather conventional designs and typically used pinfire ammunition. However, it was his Gravity Pistol design for which he is famous and most remembered.
The Gravity Pistol was a somewhat unique magazine pistol design that was ingenious in its simplicity, but much like the Smith & Wesson and Volcanic repeating pistols was handicapped by the inherently weak ammunition that it used. Like the Smith & Wesson and Volcanic designs, a horizontal tubular magazine was utilized to contain the ammunition. Unlike the American designs, the magazine was located over, rather than under the barrel. While the US designs used a spring to tension the ammunition and feed it onto a cartridge lifter, the Colette design used no mechanical feed system, simply gravity, as the pistol’s name implies. When the handgun was held with the muzzle oriented upward, the Law of Gravity provided the energy to feed a cartridge from the magazine into the chamber. Cocking the action of the pistol raised the enclosed chamber, aligning it with the magazine tube and moving the closure flap that kept the magazine closed, out of the way. After a cartridge fell into the chamber, it automatically returned to the lowered position and aligned it and the cartridge with the barrel. The gun was then ready to fire. The Colette pistol took its styling and overall silhouette from the popular European single shot target pistols of the day. The guns were generally unmarked, with the exception of Colette’s VC name or initials, a serial number, proof marks and occasionally a retailer’s name. The frames were often engraved in the European fashion with flowing foliate scrolls and the grips were often checkered walnut, although smooth fluted grips in the style of Francotte and Flobert. The action was “single action”, in that manually cocking the hammer prepared the pistol for shooting, with a pull of the trigger being the only act needed to discharge the round. The pistol design incorporated a sliding safety around the box-lock style hammer, a system that had been popular on European pistols since the flintlock period during the latter part of the 18th century. The large “holster sized” Colette pistols were nominally .44 caliber, or about 11.2mm or 10mm (nominally .40 caliber), with the guns also produced in 8mm (nominally .31 caliber) and 6mm (nominally .24 caliber). Most of the surviving examples are chambered for the two larger calibers, although the smaller caliber guns were produced, primarily as pocket sized pistols. Single shot, target models were also produced. While Colette’s pistols experienced moderate success in Europe, their production was rather limited and surviving examples tend to be fairly scarce. This can likely be attributed to the fact that that the ammunition was of limited utility, did not tend to travel or store well and was obsolete by the end of the 1860s as more robust metallic cartridge ammunition became available. As a result, the guns quickly became obsolete anachronisms by the 1870s, meaning they were no longer of any particular value or utility to their owners.
Offered here is a FINE condition example of a very rare fully cased Colette Gravity Pistol, complete with a full array of accessories. The pistol is nominally 14 ½-inches in overall length, with an octagonal barrel that measures 9 1/16-inches in length to the face of the moving chamber and 9 3/8-inches including the chamber. The very small chamber length, only about 5/16 of an inch, shows how short the ammunition was, inherently limiting the amount of propellant charge that could be used in the base of the bullet. The bore of the pistol is nominally 10mm and is rifled with 14 narrow lands and grooves. The pistol is marked V Colette / Brevete in two arched lines on the back strap, above the grip screw. It is also marked with Victor Colette’s initials VC under the barrel, followed by the serial number 1260. The left side of the barrel has a Liege proof and controller’s inspection mark. The bottom of the fame is engraved by the retailers of the gun and reads: Joungen frères à Liège. The firm of Joungen Brothers was a Liège based gunmaking and retailing company that worked circa 1856-1873. The frame of the pistol is expertly engraved with tight foliate scroll patterns that are shaded with lines in the European fashion. The one-piece grip is of finely checkered figured walnut and the pistol is finished with a high quality blue.
As previously noted, the pistol is in FINE condition. The gun retains about 60%+ of its original bright blue finish on the barrel. The frame and magazine tube appear to have been left in the white. It is possible that Colette delivered the pistol to Joungen Brothers “soft” or “in the white” allowing them to finish it as desired and possibly allowing them to be the engravers as well. All of the engraving on the frame remains tight and crisp, with all of the markings remaining crisp and clear as throughout. The metals shows some very small flecks of scattered surface oxidation and some scattered hints of minor pinpricking. Otherwise, the metal remains crisp and is free of any real pitting. The frame and magazine tube show some scattered light surface oxidation and age discoloration. The action of the pistol is mechanically excellent with the action operating exactly as it should with no mechanical issues. The safety mechanism remains fully functional as well. The bore of the pistol remains in FINE condition and is mostly mirror bright with very crisp rifling, showing only some lightly scattered oxidation and some very minor flecks of scattered pitting. The fluted walnut grip remains in FINEcondition as well. The grip is crisp with only some light handling marks and minor wear, as well as some scattered bumps and dings. The grips are solid and complete and free of any breaks, cracks or repairs.
The pistol is contained in its original brass mounted walnut retailer’s case, complete with accessories. The form-fit French-style casing has a dark green crushed velvet interior with compartments for the pistol and tools, as well as a single lidded compartment for the storage of ammunition or other accessories. The included accessories include a bullet mold that is engraved with the same floral motifs as found on the pistol and is serial numbered to the gun. The mold is stamped VC 1260 on the right arm. The mold is in FINE condition with a crisp cavity and sharp engraving. The steel has a dull pewter patina, similar to the frame and shows some scattered minor surface oxidation and discoloration. The only wear or damage to the mold is the small locating teat on the face of the block that engages a matching slot on the opposite side is broken and missing. This is, however, very minor. The casing also includes an ebony handled base plug that is serial numbered to the gun like the mold. It allows the special cavity to be formed in the base of the bullet and probably doubled as a way of packing the propellant and primer into that cavity. The base plug is in FINE condition as well with only some light handing marks on the ebony handle and some minor surface oxidation on the steel plug. The casing also includes a FINE condition ebony handled turnscrew and a rosewood handled wood cleaning rod with brass jag head. The rod is in FINE condition as well. The lidded compartment contains four original Colette “Rocket Ball” projectiles. The nominally .40 caliber truncated cone lead bullets all contain at least some of their original propellant compound in their bases with a couple retaining traces of what appears to be the priming compound. These projectiles are extremely scarce and really enhance the display of this wonderful set. The casing is in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. The wood case shows the expected scattered bumps, dings mars and scuffs on its exterior, but is solid and free of any major damage or repairs. The brass Bible hinges are worn and do not allow the lid to remain at a 90-degree angle when open, allowing it to tilt backwards at an obtuse angle. The lid must be supported when open to prevent further damage to the hinges or the case wood itself. The original brass lock is in place and remains functional with the original key present. A blank oval brass escutcheon plaque is on the lid of the case. The interior of the casing shows light to moderate wear to the green lining, with the loss primarily confined to the sharper edges of the form fit lining, around the hammer, magazine tube and muzzle area. There are also a couple of small tears and rips to the pillow on the interior of the lid.
Overall, this is a really FINE condition example of a very scarce, fully cased Colette Gravity Pistol. The pistol remains 100% complete, original and fully functional with a fine bore. While these rare pistols do appear on the market from time to time, rarely do they appear with any finish on them, as they have usually been cleaned to bright in the European fashion. This one is untouched and uncleaned and retains some very nice original blue on the barrel and crisp engraving on the frame. The casing is also 100% complete, correct and original with the mold and base plug tool both serial numbered to the pistol. All of the accessories remain in fine, fully usable condition and are a wonderful compliment to the pistol. For any collector of early cartridge pistols, unique actions or the curious firearms developments that helped lead to more modern and successful designs, a Colette Gravity Pistol is a must have item. This is a particularly fine and attractive example that you will surely be proud to have added to your collection. It is a fantastic opportunity to acquire an exceptionally scarce fully cased set example of one of the world’s first “high capacity” pistols.