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Colt M-1851 Martially Marked Navy Revolver

Colt M-1851 Martially Marked Navy Revolver

  • Product Code: FHG-1735-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

In 1850 Samuel Colt introduced what would become his most successful large frame percussion revolver, a revolver that would be second only to his incredibly successful M-1849 Pocket Model in sales of all percussion handguns. The Colt “Belt Model of Navy Caliber”, better known to collectors as the Colt M-1851 Navy Revolver went into production in 1851 and remained a mainstay of the Colt product line until 1873, when the it was finally dropped due to its obsolescence and low sales numbers when compared to self-contained cartridge revolvers. During that time Colt produced 215,348 of the pistols at his Hartford location and another 42,000+ at his short lived London manufactory. Colt was always trying to obtain military contracts for his firearms, as they not only represented sales, but also publicity and notoriety. Colt felt there was no better marketing message than to tell perspective customers that they could buy the same firearms used by the US government from him. The US Navy had been using Colt’s Patent revolvers on a very limited basis since they first bought some #5 Patterson Belt Model revolvers in 1841, and the US Army had acquired the M-1847 “Walker” revolvers in 1847 for use by the Texas Rangers who had been absorbed into the US Mounted Rifles at the start of the Mexican American War. It was not, however, until 1848 with the first contract for Colt’s .44 Dragoon revolvers that the US Army started to acquire Colt revolvers in significant numbers. This is somewhat amazing in view of the fact that the Ordnance Department was notoriously conservative, and ordering percussion revolvers only a decade after the adoption of a single shot flintlock pistols (M-1836) suggests that at least some of the officers were more forward thinking than we usually give them credit for. Over the next 5 years, nearly 7,000 .44 caliber Colt “Holster” pistols would be delivered to the Ordnance Department, most of which were Colt “Dragoon” models. With the introduction of his new “Belt Model”, Sam Colt immediately tried to get additional Ordnance Department contracts. In the fall of 1850, the Board of Ordnance convened to test the new Colt “Navy” model pistol. The handgun significantly smaller than the Dragoon model and was almost half the weight, tipping the scales at only 2 pounds, 10 ounces, versus 4 pounds 2 ounces for the Dragoon. This explained Colt’s name for the gun, as this new revolver as the “Belt Model” could be carried in a belt worn holster, rather than in large pommel holsters necessary to support the much heavier Dragoon revolver. The gun was also a reduced caliber, at .36 instead of .44, giving it the effective stopping power of a modern .38 Special cartridge. This single factor convinced the Board of Ordnance to continue purchasing the larger and more powerful .44 caliber Dragoon pistols, at least for the time being. The Navy was the first US service arm to decide to purchase the M-1851 “Navy Caliber” revolver, as being able to carry a handgun on your belt was an important feature for sailors, who had little use for guns so massive that they required pommel holsters. The first 100 Colt “Navy-Navy” revolvers were delivered on July 10, 1852, and after a 4-year hiatus purchases and deliveries of the revolvers continued with some regularity through September of 1859, when the purchases of 1851 Navy revolvers ceased. During that time 2,750 M-1851 Navies were purchased. The Navy’s acceptance of the smaller “Navy” caliber revolver may have influenced the Army, as on January 1, 1855 an order was placed for the .36 Belt Revolvers. The first contract deliveries were made on May 2 of that year, with 500 revolvers being delivered. Over the next 3 years, Colt would deliver some 16,778 M-1851 Navy revolvers to the US Army under at least 14 separate contracts. This number includes some revolvers ordered by the Ordnance Department for the state of Maine (6) and Ohio (60). With the outbreak of the American Civil War, the Ordnance Department contracted for additional revolvers from Colt, but these were the primarily for the M-1860 Army .44 caliber revolver and a small number of New Model Navy M-1861 revolvers. The Army did, however, procure some 8,117 M-1851 Navy Revolvers on the open market from retailers like Schuyler, Hartley & Graham of New York and B. Kittredge & Company of Cincinnati, OH. These open market purchases are typically devoid of inspection or US ownership marks. However, the pre-war Colt contract deliveries were stringently inspected and marked, and those guns not up to snuff were rejected. The martially marked “Navy-Army” revolvers were stamped “U.S.” on the lower left side of the frame, under the COLT’s / PATENT marking, and single sub-inspection letters were stamped on most of the major components of the revolvers. After passing the inspection process, the walnut grip then received two cartouches, the one on the left side being that of the arsenal sub-inspector who had passed the gun, and the one on the right side being the accepting officer from the Ordnance Department who was accepting the gun for the US government, and the bill associated with that gun. The majority of the martially marked, pre-Civil War contract M-1851 Navy revolvers are found in the serial number range from about 42,000 to about 80,000 placing their production between early 1855 (which started that year’s production at about #40,000) and late 1857 (which ended that year’s production around #85,000). The majority of the martially marked US Army “Navies’ are 3rd Model revolvers with small brass triggerguards, a wide capping cut out in the recoil shield and a narrow lever catch. While the US Navy specifically requested iron backstraps and triggerguards for their M-1851 revolvers, the Army accepted the standard brass backstraps and triggerguards on their guns. Many of the early M-1851 Navies that were delivered to the Army were issued to the newly formed 1st and 2nd Cavalry regiments, who used them to goo effect fighting hostile natives on the western plains. Some 7,800 Colt Navy revolvers had been issued for use by troops in the field by the end of fiscal year 1859 (June 30). Additionally some 2,000 were issued to the various states under the Militia Act of 1808, with the three largest batches going to Indiana (who receiving 250 in September 1857), New Hampshire (who received 300 in October 1857) and Texas (who receiving 368 in August 1858). Of course the M-1851 Navy-Armies remained in use during the American Civil War as well, with at least 56 US and volunteer regiments being armed with .36 Colt revolvers. These included the 1st, 3rd, 4th & 6th US Cavalry, the 1st Arkansas Volunteer Cavalry, 9 regiments of Illinois Volunteer Cavalry (1st-3rd, 6th, 8th-11th & 13th), 1st-3rd & 10th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, 6 regiments of Kansas Volunteer Cavalry (5th-7th, 9th, 11th & 15th), 6 regiments of Michigan Cavalry (1st-4th, 7th & 9th) and 5 regiments of New York Volunteer Cavalry (1st, 5th, 6th, 10th & 11th), just to name a few. Due to the fact that many of the pre-war purchased guns saw frontier duty before the Civil War, and most saw significant action during the war, it is difficult to find high condition example of a US martially marked “Navy-Army” revolvers today. With the conclusion of the Civil War the M-1851 Navy revolver was considered obsolete and removed from service, with the larger .44 M-1860 Army being available in more than sufficient supplies to arm the much smaller, peace time army. Many Colt Navy revolvers were purchased by the men who carried them and taken home after the war, with their cost being deducted from the trooper’s pay. Additional revolvers were disposed of at auction, held at the various US government arsenals. The guns that had cost the government between $18 and $25 each prior to the war (and as much as double that on the open market during the war) were sold off for paltry sums. In May of 1870 113 Colt Navies were sold at Fort Leavenworth, KS for $346.00 (about $3.06 each) and another 112 were sold from the St. Louis Arsenal in June of 1871 for $3.05 each. The last sale that I could find records of was for 77 Colt Navies that sold for $3.15 each from the St. Louis Arsenal on October 25, 1876.

This is a really wonderful example of a Colt M-1851 “Navy-Army” percussion revolver in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. The gun is a typical 3rd Model revolver with the small brass trigger guard, thin loading lever latch and large percussion capping cutout. As a martial revolver, it is correctly marked with sub-inspection letters, “US’ ownership marks and inspection cartouches on the grips. The gun is serial numbered 75175, placing production about in the middle of 1857. The revolver was probably part of the May 13, 1857 contract and was likely delivered by the end of 1857 or during the first quarter of 1858. The serial numbers match throughout, with even the wedge number and matching. The wedge, loading lever and cylinder arbor show only the last 4 digits of the number, 5175, while the balance of the numbered components have all 5 digits present. The one-piece walnut grip is ink numbered 5175 in the backstrap cut out, in a clear period hand. The revolver is crisply and clearly marked on the lower left side of the frame: COLT’s / PATENT / U.S., and with a small factory inspector’s M on the rear left web of the triggerguard, where later revolvers were stamped “36 CAL”. The face of the cylinder is stamped with a * between one of the chambers and the central hole for the arbor. This is a US government ownership mark. The gun shows multiple sub-inspection initials throughout out with an A and a S on the cylinder, an A on the grip strap and backstrap, a S on the top of the barrel, at the end of the barrel address and a K on the bottom of the grip. The one-piece oiled walnut grip is cartouched on both sides. The right side bears a faint sub-inspector’s cartouche in an oval that appears to be the script MM of arsenal sub-inspector M Moulton. The right grip shows the rectangular cartouche with rounded ends of US Ordnance receiving officer William Anderson Thornton, and his script WAT remains crisp and clear. The top of the 7 ““ octagon barrel is clearly marked:


The bottom right edge of the “N” die in the word “NEW” was broken at some point in 1857 and it is typical of 1857 manufactured martial Navy revolvers to show this address with the damaged “N”.

The gun is in really in about NEAR FINE condition overall, and for a martial M-1851 Navy revolver it is really fantastic. The revolver retains about 20%+ of its original blued finish on the barrel. The majority of the wear and loss is along the 5 upper most barrel flats, with the lower 3 flats retaining much of their finish. The upper portion of the barrel retains some small patches of bright blue, primarily on the web, and scattered along the barrel. The balance of the barrel has a smoky, dull bluish gray patina that is very attractive and blends well with the remaining blue. The barrel is free of any significant pitting, but there is some lightly oxidized freckling scattered along the barrel and some moderate pinpricking present on the face of the muzzle. The pistol shows the usual impact marks on the barrel web where the wedge had been beaten out of the pistol during its service life, and then beat back into place. Most of the marks are confined to the right side of the barrel. The bore of the revolver rates NEAR FINE as well, and is mostly bright with sharp rifling its entire length. There is lightly scattered pinpricking the entire length of the bore, with a few small patches of more moderate oxidized roughness and light pitting. Some of this may be old dirt and debris and good scrubbing might improve the bore significantly. The loading lever retains about 15%-20% of its original case coloring, with most of the vibrant color being found on the web of the lever and on the underside where it was protected by the barrel. The balance of the lever has a dusky gray patina similar to the barrel, but a little darker and mellower. The loading lever moves smoothly and operates correctly. It also locks tightly into place, as it should, when not in use. The frame of the revolver retains about 50%+ coverage of the original case coloring, but most of this has faded significantly and is now and quite muted, giving it about a 10% vivid case coloring rating. The vivid coloring is confined to the protected areas of the frame where the flash shield and frame meet. The faded coloring is a smoky brown base color with dull mottled blues, grays purples and yellows still visible under good light. The frame is smooth, with crisp edges and very clear markings. The frame is essentially free of any pitting, but does show a couple of very tiny spots of oxidized surface corrosion. The cylinder retains some traces of its original blue, most of which is in the recesses of the scene and the cylinder stop slots. The balance of the cylinder has a smooth smoky bluish-gray patina, like the upper portions of the barrel. The color of the cylinder and the color of the barrel match very well. The cylinder remains extremely sharp and crisp, with only the leading edges shows any real wear, likely from being inserted in a holster hundreds (if not thousands) of times. The cylinder retains at least 85%+ of the roll engraved scene. The Mexican War naval battle scene engraved on the cylinder rates VERY FINE to NEAR EXCELLENT and is extremely clear. The cylinder is clearly marked COLT’s PATENT No75175. The cylinder does not include the Ormsby signature line as found on some high condition guns produced in prior years. However, the legend at the front edge of the cylinder is present and still partially legible, reading: ENGAGED 16 MAY 1843. This mark is rarely legible on even the crispest of examples. All of the cones (nipples) in the cylinder are original and they are very sharp, but do show use, with pinpricking and light surface oxidation visible in their recesses. There is also some light pinpricking on the face of the cylinder from firing and use. Half of the safety pins on the rear face of the cylinder are in nice condition as well. Three remain very sharp and fine condition, while the other three show significant wear and battering, with little more than their outline on the rear of the cylinder remaining. The brass grip frame, grip strap and trigger guard retain no silver-plating, other than what appears to be some tarnished traces in the recesses at the frame to grip frame juncture and around the triggerguard. As many of the Colt revolvers were delivered with “military finish”, it was not uncommon for the silver plating of the brass to be omitted, the bluing to be a lower quality and lower polish than that found on civilian guns, and the grips to be oil finished instead of varnished. It is hard to say for sure if the darkened traces in the corners of the brass are traces of silver or just old tarnish on the brass, but they appear to be traces of tarnished silver. The action of the revolver remains excellent, and the gun functions correctly. The timing, indexing and lock up and excellent and the revolver remains very tightly. The action of the pistol is extremely crisp. All of the screws are original and most are extremely crisp, with only a couple showing minor slot-wear. All of the screws retain at least traces of their fire-blued finish, with most having faded and dulled from age. However, some retain as much as 50% or more of that blued finish. The original brass post front sight is in place on the top of the barrel, near the muzzle. The barrel shows some significant muzzle wear from holstering on the top and two upper left flats of the barrel. Considering how sharp and crisp the gun remains, this is a clear example of a revolver that was “carried a lot and used a little”, with this holster wear attesting to lots of hours in a trooper’s holster and the trooper having spent many hours in the saddle. The military style one-piece, oiled walnut grip is in about FINE condition. As noted it is numbered to the revolver and fits the frame of the gun perfectly. The grip retains much of its original oiled appearance and is really attractive. The grip is free of any breaks, cracks or repairs, and remains very crisp and sharp. The grip shows only the most minor bumps and dings from handling and use. The only wood loss noted on the grip is at the bottom leading edges where they show minute chips. S noted above the grip shows the clear outline and a partially legible cartouche on the left side and a very clear cartouche on the right side.

Overall, this is a really outstanding example of a pre-Civil War production Colt M-1851 Navy-Army martially marked revolver. The gun is 100% complete, correct and original in every way. It is extremely attractive and displays wonderfully. The revolver has all matching serial numbers, is mechanically excellent, and has a truly wonderful cylinder scene. Civil War era martial Colts are very difficult to find in this kind of condition, as most saw heavy use in the years leading up to the Civil War and even harder use during the war. After nearly a decade of constant military issue and use (and another 150 years since the war), few marital Colt Navy revolvers survive today in much better than “fair to good” condition. This one is extremely crisp, retains some nice original finish and is very well marked for a martial revolver. If you only have one Colt Navy in your collection, a martially marked US Army issued Navy is a hard one to beat. I am quite sure that this will be one of those guns that you will be extremely happy to have in your collection and will not likely be concerned about trying to upgrade one day. In fact, I think it would be difficult to find a nicer example of a “Navy-Army” without spending at least 50% more than where this revolver is priced. Of all the Civil War era handguns the Colt Navy is probably the most representative example of what a common cavalryman on either side would have had access to, in terms of a “combat” handgun. It’s no wonder that the Colt Navy was a favorite of cavalrymen both North and South, and that so many Confederate made revolvers were essentially copies of the M-1851 Colt.


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Tags: Colt, M, 1851, Martially, Marked, Navy, Revolver