Next to the M-1873 Colt Single Action Army revolver, there is probably no Colt revolver that is more iconic than the Colt “Belt Model”, better known to collector’s as the M-1851 Navy percussion revolver. The revolver was introduced by the famous Colt Patent Arms Manufacturing Company in 1850 and remained in production through 1873, when Colt’s new self-contained cartridge revolvers finely made the gun obsolete. During its production life, Colt produced 215,348 of the legendary handguns in Hartford, CT (not counting those produced in London), with some 175,000 or so being produced prior to the end of the American Civil War. The gun featured a .36 caliber, 7 ““ octagonal barrel and a six-shot cylinder. The action was Colt’s tried and true single action lock work, and the gun was made in two primary sections, with a removable wedge securing the barrel and loading lever assembly to the cylinder arbor and frame. Many fighting men of the era considered the “Navy” to be the perfect combination of size, weight, firepower and overall ergonomics. The advocates for the pistol ranged from pistoleros like “Wild Bill” Hickok, to Confederate cavalry commanders J.E.B. Stuart and Nathan Bedford Forrest. It is interesting to note that most Confederate made revolvers were essentially copies of the Colt Navy (and not the more powerful .44 Army) and even those that were not direct Colt clones tended to retain the .36 caliber chambering. Thousands of these revolvers were used by both US and CS soldiers during the Civil War. Not only those guns that were purchased on US government contracts saw the battlefield, but also many acquired on the open market both before and during the war saw service. Many commercial guns ended up in the hands of combatants on both sides during the course of the war.
This is a really outstanding example of a 3rd model Colt M-1851 Navy percussion revolver in NEAR EXCELLENT condition. The gun is a typical Third Model revolver with the small brass trigger guard and large percussion capping cutout without a groove. It is clearly marked on the top of the barrel:
- ADDRESS SAML COLT NEW YORK CITY -
The gun is serial numbered 46626 with the correct style, “small” Colt numbering dies of that era, placing production in early 1856. The serial numbers match throughout, including the wedge. The wedge and cylinder arbor show only the last 4 digits of the number, 6626, while the balance of the numbered components have all 5 digits present. I did not remove the one-piece walnut grip to see if it was pencil numbered to the gun, because the grip is in such pristine condition (matching the condition of the gun) and fits so well, that I did not want to risk marring the grip during the removal process. The revolver is crisply and clearly marked on the lower left side of the frame: COLT’s / PATENT. The gun is in overall NEAR EXCLLENT condition. It retains about 70%+ of its original blued finish on the barrel, with the largest areas of loss and wear at the web (just forward of the cylinder) and at the muzzle. The balance of any wear or loss is along the sharp edges of the octagon barrel and simply from age. There is lightly oxidized freckling scattered along the length of the barrel, blending with the blue, and most of the areas that show finish loss have a developed a smoky bluish-gray to plum brown patina. The bottom of the octagon barrel and the two lowest angled sides retain the thickest and strongest blue, as they are the most protected areas, with the primary areas of finish thinning being along the sides and top angled flats. The barrel is smooth overall all with crisp edges and lines. There are some of the usual impact marks on the barrel where the wedge had been beaten out of the pistol during its service life, and there is some lightly scattered oxidized pinpricking present around the muzzle of the pistol. The loading lever retains about 50% of its original vivid case coloring, most of which is at the rear half of the lever and on the protected side that rests against the barrel. The lever shows the most loss towards the end where it engages the lever catch and on the plunger itself. The lever moves smoothly and operates correctly and locks tightly into place, as it should. The frame of the revolver retains about 90%+ coverage of the case coloring, but much of it is faded and muted, giving it about a 40% vivid case coloring rating. The coloring is a smoky-bluish gray base color with more vivid mottled blues, purples and browns present as well. The frame shows some very lightly scattered pinpricking around the capping cut away, but is otherwise smooth, with crisp edges and clear markings. The cylinder retains no original finish to speak of, but has a lovely, muted patina, with a smoky-gray base and lightly oxidized plum brown over tones. The cylinder is extremely sharp and crisp and retains a fantastic roll engraved scene. The Mexican War naval battle scene engraved on the cylinder rates EXCELLENT and is extremely clear. About 95%+ of the scene is still very crisp and clear, with only the most minor wear. The cylinder is clearly marked COLT’s PATENT No 46625. The cylinder remains so crisp that the even the 2nd line under the patent mark is fully legible. This line is not even visible on the majority of Colt Navy cylinders, but clearly reads: Engraved by W. L. Ormsby New York. Additionally the legend at the front edge of the cylinder is clearly legible, reading: ENGAGED 16 MAY 1843. Both of these marks are rarely legible on even the crispest of examples. All of the cones (nipples) in the cylinder are original and they are very crisp, 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. The safety pins on the rear face of the cylinder are in very nice condition as well, with three in about perfect condition, two somewhat battered and showing varying levels of wear and one essentially gone, likely sheared off by mishandling the hammer at some point. The brass grip frame, grip strap and trigger guard retain about 95%+ of their original silver-plating and are in wonderful condition. The silver has been lightly cleaned to bright over most of the surfaces, but there remains some tarnished discoloration in the recesses of the grip to frame joint, on the butt and the forward portion of the grip frame to pistol frame junction. Although it is preferable not to remove the patina from tarnished brass, it would be advisable to lightly clean the silver-plating, as tarnish on silver is the equivalent of rust on iron or steel. The only real loss of silver plating is at the junction of the grip strap and grip frame at the bottom rear of the revolver, where the sharp edges show some minor wear and loss. The trigger retains about 85%+ of its original vibrant fire blued finish as well. The action of the revolver is excellent, and the gun functions correctly, timing, indexing and locking up very tightly. The action of the pistol is extremely crisp. All of the screws are original and most are extremely crisp showing no noticeable slot-wear. A couple of the frame screws and one of the loading lever screws do show some minor wear, but it is minimal and certainly not an issue in the display of this really lovely revolver. Most of the screws retain some traces of finish, blending to a smoky gray patina, while the wedge screw retains nearly all of its original fire blue, which had faded and toned down. The bore of the revolver is in NEAR EXCELLENT condition as well and is extremely bright with crisp rifling its entire length. The only real pitting to be noted in the bore is a small ring of light pitting or surface corrosion a couple of inches from the muzzle, that suggest something like a patch or wad may have been in the barrel for an extended period of time. It is not clear how much of this is really corrosion and how much might be accumulated debris, and a good brushing might remove the majority of the ring. Otherwise, the bore is really in fantastic condition. The original brass post front sight is in place on the top of the barrel, near the muzzle. The civilian style one-piece, varnished walnut grip is in about EXCELLENT condition and fits the frame of the gun perfectly. The grip is the very desirable, thinner "Slim Jim" style, that was phased out during 3rd model production, with thicker grips being standard later in the 1850s through the end of production. The grip retains 95%+ of its original varnish and is simply stunning. The grip is free of any breaks, cracks, chips or repairs, and is very crisp and sharp. The grip shows only the most minor bumps and dings from handling and use. Even the leading edges of the grip bottom remain crisp and sharp.
Overall, this is a really outstanding example of a pre-Civil War Colt M-1851 Navy revolver. The gun is 100% complete and correct in every way, is extremely attractive and displays wonderfully. In fact, the gun is really worthy of being cased and is head and shoulders better than most Colt Navy revolvers offered in cased sets these days. The revolver has all matching serial numbers, is mechanically excellent, and has a truly outstanding cylinder scene. Antebellum Colts are tough to find in any condition, as the pre-war guns often saw hard use even before the war broke out, and certainly saw hard use once it was going on. This one is simply stunning and should please even the pickiest of advance Civil War handgun collectors. If you only have one Colt Navy in your collection, it would be hard to find a nicer one without spending 5 figures on it. 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. Of all the Civil War era handguns the Colt Navy is probably the most representative example of what a common soldier on either side would have had access to. The classic styling and functionality of the Colt Navy revolver kept it viable well into the age of cartridge revolvers and made it the favorite side arm of many 19th century soldiers and civilians. If a Civil War collector were to have only one Civil War handgun, the Colt Navy would be an excellent choice, and this gun would be a fantastic addition to that collection. This is one time when my photographs do not do this pistol justice and it is even more striking in person than it appears in the photos below.SOLD