The “New Model” Army Revolver, as Colt referred to their new .44 percussion handgun introduced in 1860, was the result of experimentation to reduce the size and the weight of the current production .44 Colt Dragoon revolvers. The Dragoon itself had undergone improvement and modification since its initial introduction in 1848, when it was designed as an improvement on the massive Walker Colt. From the very beginning of Colt’s manufacture of these .44 caliber handguns, their size and weight had in part been dictated by the metallurgy technology of the time. The relatively weak, high carbon steel of the period required large cylinders, frames and barrels to handle the pressure of discharge and to survive the rigors of the service. Even with the massive cylinders, catastrophic failures of Walker Colt cylinders were a significant problem, and even the Dragoon revolvers experienced some failures. The introduction of English low carbon steel during the 1850s allowed Colt and his team of designers to work on a slimmed down, lighter weight version of his Dragoon revolver. The massive Dragoon revolvers weighted in at slightly over 4 pounds, and made their use as “holster pistols’ in anything but a pommel holster somewhat inconvenient. By using what Colt referred to as “Silver Spring Steel”, the goal was to reduce the size and weight of the handguns to allow them to be easily carried in a belt holster. Initially Colt tried to simply scale down the Dragoon by shaving bulk and weight off the cylinder, frame and barrel. However, this was not particularly effective. The next step was to adapt the very successful Navy (M-1851) revolver frame and grip strap to a larger, .44-caliber cylinder and slightly bigger barrel. This was achieved by use of a rebated cylinder that was smaller in the rear, where it mated with the “Navy” sized grip frame, recoil shield and mechanism, and larger in the front where it accepted .44 balls and mated with the larger barrel. The new prototype pistols weighed in at around 2 pounds, 11 ounces, which was about a 25% savings in overall weight from the Dragoon revolvers. In 1860 Colt offered up his new design, the New Model Army Revolver. These revolvers had 7 ““ long, .44 caliber barrels, a “Navy” sized frame that used the same lock mechanism as the M-1851, and initially the same “Navy” sized grip frame and grips. The revolvers also had a more elegant solution to mating a larger caliber cylinder to the smaller frame. Colt introduced a fully fluted cylinder that was both aesthetically pleasing and helped to keep weight down. The revolvers also had round barrels, which were both lighter and easier to polish than the older octagon barrels, and a newly designed “creeping” loading lever that worked on a ratchet principle. This new lever was a significant improvement over the older hinged lever system. After about the first 100 of the New Model Army revolvers were produced, a new larger and longer grip frame and grip was adopted to increase control and handling of the pistol. While the initial grip strap and back strap material had been brass, iron was soon adopted for the backstrap to increase strength and durability. In May of 1860 Colt submitted a pair of his New Model Army revolvers to the US Board of Ordnance for testing and evaluation. These guns weighed in at 2 pounds, 8 ounces (fully 1/3 lighter than the 4 pound, 2 ounce 3rd Model Dragoon) and had both the original 7 ““ and a new 8” barrel. The Ordnance Department was impressed with the revolver and showed a strong preference for the 8” version after completing their testing. From that point on, the demise of the 7 ““ barrel was only a matter of time, and after about 1,000 New Model Army revolvers were produced, the 8” barrel length became standard. However, the initial buyers of the New Model Army revolver were not the US Ordnance Department, rather it was the various southern states that felt the election of Abraham Lincoln was certain to lead to war. In the roughly 5 month period between Lincoln’s election and the firing on Fort Sumter on April 15, 1861, some 2,230 New Model Army revolvers were shipped to southern states or southern arms dealers. Some of the biggest orders were 1,100 to Kittredge & Folsom of New Orleans, LA, 500 to Peter Williams & Company of Richmond, VA and 300 directly to the state of Georgia. Other southern gun dealers who purchased the New Model Army in smaller quantities were William Sage (Charleston, SC), William T. Martin (Natchez, MS), H.D. Norton & Brothers (San Antonio, TX) and D.C. Hogkins & Sons (Macon, GA). It was H.D. Norton & Brothers that brought to the attention of Colt that the new “fluted” cylinders of the New Model Army revolvers were bursting. The failures appeared to be due to the thinness of the metal between the chambers, and Colt tried to rectify the problem by drilling the chambers with a taper to the rear (known as the “Cavalry Cylinder” in Colt internal documents), instead of straight to the rear. This left more supporting material at the weakest part of the cylinder. This “work around” did not effectively resolve the problem, and by mid-1861 the fluted cylinders were effectively superseded by the original rebated round cylinder from the initial prototype design. While fluted cylinders appear in the #3 to #8000 range, it is generally believed that only about 4,000 of the New Model Army revolvers were produced with them, and many of those revolvers eventually ended up with replacement cylinders, either the taper bored, fluted pattern or the later rebated round variant. During the early production of the New Model Army, Colt also changed their barrel address from the “Hartford” address that had been adopted c1857 to the 2nd “New York” address that appeared sometime during 1861. This makes early production New Model Army revolvers with their original straight bored fluted cylinders and 7 ““ Hartford addressed barrels extremely scarce, even more so as so many of the early revolvers were sent to southern dealers, where they subsequently saw hard use during the American Civil War.
Offered here is a GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition example of a second year of production Colt New Model Army Revolver (aka M-1860 Army). The revolver is serial number 5475, and was produced very early in 1861, whose production serial numbers for “Army” revolvers ran from about 2,001 to about 25,000. The revolver retains the fluted cylinder of the earliest production guns, but has the more standard 8” barrel. The revolver is in reasonably crisp original condition, considering its age, and the fact that most New Model Army revolvers ended up seeing significant Civil War service, mostly on the side of the Confederacy. This gun is accompanied by a Colt Factory Letter stating that it was shipped to A.W. Spies & Company of New York in early July of 1861, just a couple of weeks prior to the 1st Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). While Spies was a New York retailer, it appears that many New York based arms dealers were still shipping arms to southern buyers (or their “representatives”) during the early days of the war. In fact, at least one of the cased revolvers presented to Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson was procured from New York retailer Schuyler, Hartley & Graham! The gun is matching throughout, with the exception of the grips. The serial number 5475 appears on all the major components, including the barrel wedge. While the earliest guns had the cylinder serial number stamped into one of the flutes, the later ones had the serial number moved to the rear of the cylinder. This revolver is numbered on the wedges between the cones (nipples) on the rear face of the cylinder, but is significantly worn due to erosion from firing. I can only make out a 5 and 7 on the rear of the cylinder, and then only under strong light and with magnification. The cylinder is one of the early production, straight bored cylinders without tapered chambers. The pistol retains mostly legible markings throughout, with some light wear to the barrel address. However the cylinder flute patent date marking is almost completely obliterated due to wear. The lower left portion of the frame, near the barrel junction is marked COLTS / PATENT, and the top of the 8” round barrel is marked: - ADDRESS SAML COLT NEW-YORK U.S. AMERICA - . One of the cylinder flutes retains the faint remnants of the PATENTED SEPT. 10th 1850 marking, but only the “PA” in “PATENTED” is remotely legible. The pistol has been lightly cleaned at some point long ago, and now has an attractive mottled brownish grayish patina over most of the iron components, mixed with some very lightly flecked traces of original faded blue finish, mixed with prominent flecks of light surface oxidation and age discoloration. The case hardened frame has a dusky bluish-gray patina. The hammer and loading lever both have similar dark bluish gray patinas that match the frame well. The iron backstrap retains none of its original blue, and has a slightly grayer patina than the balance of the iron parts of the revolver. The brass gripstrap and triggerguard have an attractive mustard patina, with no original silver-plating present. The pistol clearly saw use, and the chambers and cone recesses of the cylinders all show moderate flash pitting and residual filth from use over 150 years. The metal of the pistol is mostly smooth, with lightly scattered pinpricking over most of he surfaces, and some small, scattered areas of minor pitting present as well. All of this is blended with oxidized age discoloration and a few areas that show light etching from an old cleaning. The bore of the revolver rates NEAR VERY GOOD and retains crisp rifling for its entire length. The bore is dark and dirty and shows light to moderate scattered pitting along its entire length. A good cleaning would probably improve the bore. The pistol is in FINE mechanical condition and the action remains extremely crisp. The revolver indexes, times and locks up perfectly and is quite tight. The loading lever functions smoothly and correctly, exactly as it should, and locks into place under the barrel securely. The original German silver front sight blade is in place on the barrel as well. The cylinder retains all of its original cones (nipples) and rear face of the cylinder retains a couple of decent condition safety pins, with the balance showing various stages of battering and wear, and couple showing only the shadow of where they originally were. The one-piece walnut grip is in about GOOD condition. The wood is well worn and shows no varnish, nor does it appear to have ever been varnished, suggesting the gun was shipped with military style, oiled wood stocks. The grip is an original, period Colt grip that appears to be an old replacement as it is not numbered to the gun, does not fit perfectly and has some old paper folded into the cut out for the backstrap to improve the fit. The grip shows significant wear and the expected minor wood loss on the leading edges. The wood shows a large number of bumps, dings, minor chips and all the signs of wear that would be associated with a revolver that was carried and used a lot during the mid-19th century. Other than the significant wear noted above, the grip shows no breaks or repairs and remains solid and stable.
Overall this is a solid, well used and somewhat salty example of a scarce and desirable early production Colt New Model Army Revolver. The pistol is fairly well marked, has all matching numbers, and shows the use one would expect from an early production “Fluted Army”. Even though the letter states that it was delivered to A.W. Spies, there is a strong probability that this revolver still went south before the Civil War really heated up. This revolver also has the desirable early feature of its original, straight bored fluted cylinder. This will be a nice addition to your Civil War revolver collection and at a more reasonable price than a “Fluted Army” can usually be purchased, and includes a $300 Colt Factory Letter that you won’t have to wait 3-4 months for.SOLD