British Martial Colt Navy Revolver - SCARCE
- Product Code: FHG-1387-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
The Colt Model 1851 “Navy” Revolver has typically been thought of a distinctly American pistol, with many of the revolvers seeing service with 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 M-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 proof marks, as well as the royal ownership mark of a small “Broad Arrow” & WD mark. There are no additional records regarding the purchase of Colt M-1851 Navy (or any other Colt revolvers that I am aware of) by the British military. 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 survey and research, there were sixteen known examples of Colt M-1851 Navy revolvers that were British proved and marked with the Enfield storekeepers mark on their left grip. 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 1864 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 available and a sudden reduction in demand for their pistols. The British military found themselves 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 explains the handful of Enfield marked Colt Navy revolvers, and also explains their serial number range perfectly “ left over revolvers that were unsold from 1864-1866 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.
The Enfield marked Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver offered here is a textbook example of one of these scarce pistols. The gun is serial number 183473 placing in mid to late 1865 production. The revolver is all matching, except for the wedge, which appears to be a more modern replacement. The loading lever is unnumbered and may be a period replacement or repair performed at the RSAF at Enfield Lock. The patina of the loading lever matches the rest of the gun perfectly and it appears to have been with the pistol all of its service life. The gun is in about VERY GOOD condition. The barrel retains no finish and has a medium silvery-gray patina with some light scattered age staining and minor oxidation. The barrel retains sharp edges and has a good bore with sharp rifling. The top barrel flat is clearly marked: - ADDRESS COL. SAML COLT NEW-YORK U.S. AMERICA - . The frame and loading lever both retain traces of faded case coloring, mixed with a medium smoky gray patina. The cylinder retains no finish and practically no scene, with only some very light traces of the Naval Engagement visible. The patent markings and the last four digits of the serial number remain relatively sharp and clear. The rear of the cylinder retains none of the original stop pins, only the won lumps showing where they originally were. The hammer has a similar color and patina to the frame and loading lever, and shows some traces of the original case coloring and mottled gray patina. The brass grip strap and triggerguard have a lovely, untouched mustard patina and retain none of their original silver plating. The action of the pistol works well and it functions perfectly with good timing and tight lockup. The forward portion of the left side of the frame shows the typical London commercial proof marks that one would expect to find on a pistol imported into England, and the cylinder shows the appropriate British proofs between the chambers. The one-piece wood grips are in about GOOD+ condition. The grips retain much of their original varnished finish, but do have a large sliver missing form the right side grip/frame juncture. The damage is from the period of service and is well worn. The left side of the grip shows the “circle-in a-circle” RSAF Enfield storekeepers cartouche that indicates that the pistol was inspected and received into British military service at Enfield. The balance of the grips show the usual bumps, dings and marks from handling and service that one would expect from a military revolver.
Overall this is a really nice example of an extremely scarce British military accepted Colt revolver. While the gun might have 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 production pistols were purchased for emergency use by the British military is quite interesting. If Swayze’s research is correct and less than 20 of these revolvers are known to exist in the US, this could well be a great centerpiece to your 19th Century revolver collection. For the Colt Navy collector, this is an opportunity to own a very scarce British Martial Colt Navy and fill a whole in your Colt collection that you might not have the opportunity to fill again any time in the near future. This is simply a very scarce Colt M-1851 Navy variant that would be a great addition to any advanced antique revolver collection.SOLD