This is a VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE example of a US Navy inspected Colt M-1851 Navy revolver. The number of Colt’s .36 caliber M-1851 “Navy” revolvers purchased by the US Navy was rather limited. While Colt had vigorously lobbied the Navy to purchase his revolving pistols during the early 1850’s, he met with significant resistance. He did manage to secure an order for 100 revolvers in June of 1852 for the use of Commander Perry’s command on his voyage to Japan. However, the general belief of the Naval Ordnance Department was that pistols were only of use while boarding an enemy ship, and in those circumstances edged weapons such as sabers or axes were of more use to the typical seaman. In fact the chief of Naval Ordnance, Commodore Morris wrote to Secretary of the Navy James Dobbin on June 21, 1854, noting in part:
“It has not been considered advisable heretofore, to purchase Colts revolvers for general service”.Pistols can seldom be used with effect in the Navy, except when boarding vessels, with the view to their capture, which very rarely occurs. At such time, the contest soon becomes hand to hand when sword or boarding hatchets could be used by seamen, with equal, if not greater certainty and effect than pistols.”
This attitude remained in place at the top echelon of the Naval hierarchy through the Civil War and into the post war years. In fact, the Navy adopted the Remington rolling block single shot pistol as their standard sidearm in 1865. Colt was not to be discouraged, and ever the consummate salesman, he did manage to sell the Navy 50 of his M-1851 revolvers in June of 1856 and an additional 50 revolvers in May of 1857. In September of that year, the Navy finally placed a large order for M-1851 revolvers. They purchased 2,000 (less the ones that had been previously ordered), which were delivered starting in November of 1857. These guns appear in the 55500 to 62000 serial number range. The first 615 were delivered for inspection at the Norfolk Naval Yard on November 9, 1857. The next batch of 667 were delivered to the Boston Naval Yard on December 6, and rest of the guns were delivered to the New York Navy Yard later that same month. The Navy placed a second order for an additional 600 M-1851’s in August of 1859. These guns were in the 89000 to 91000 serial number range, with half of the guns delivered to the New York Naval Yard and the other half delivered to the Boston Naval Yard. By 1860, Colt M-1851 revolvers were listed in the small arms inventories of nearly 30 US Naval vessels, including the USS Caledonia, USS Colorado, USS Congress, USS Crusader, USS Cumberland, USS Decatur, USS Fennimore Cooper, USS Fulton, USS Independence, USS John Adams, USS Lancaster, USS Merrimack, USS Mississippi, USS Pawnee, USS Plymouth, USS Porpoise, USS Powhatan, USS Portsmouth, USS Roanoke, USS Sabine, USS Saranac, USS Saratoga, USS St. Mary’s, USS Susquehanna, USS Vincennes, USS Wabash, USS Water Witch & USS Westernport.
This Colt M-1851 Navy-Navy revolver is part of the original order for 2,000 guns and was delivered to the New York Navy Yard in December of 1857. The revolver has the matching serial number 61931 on all of the major parts, with the loading lever, the barrel wedge and the cylinder arbor having the matching number 1931, omitting the first digit. The inside rear channel of the walnut grips is numbered in period ink, and the ink is worn and faded, but appears to read 1931 as well. Like all of the Colt M-1851’s delivered under this USN contract, the revolver has a London style iron backstrap and a large London style iron triggerguard. The lower front portion of the left side of the frame is marked in three lines: COLT’s / PATENT / U. S.. The octagon barrel is marked with the single line New York barrel address that reads: “ ADDRESS SAML COLT NEW YORK CITY”. The bottom of the iron gripstrap is clearly marked: U * S * N and the bottom of the wooden grips are marked: I / S * C * R, indicating inspection by Commander Stephen C. Rowan at the New York Naval Yard. The gun remains very crisp throughout, with sharps edges on the octagon barrel and very clear markings in the metal and the wood. The pistol retains about 15%+ of its original finish over, with some nice original blue finish on the barrel (about 20%+), which is stronger in the protected areas, and around the barrel web area. The balance of the finish has worn and faded, blending with a smooth plum brown over gray patina on the balance of the barrel. The frame retains some strong traces of the original case hardened finish in the protected areas, especially around the recoil shield and capping cut out. The balance of the frame has faded to a medium gray with areas of mottled brown coloration and some lightly oxidized salt and pepper discoloration. The metal surfaces are mostly smooth, with very small patches of light pinpricking scattered over the entire gun. The only area that shows any real pitting is the iron backstrap, including the bottom of the gripstrap. These areas show light to moderate scattered pitting as well as some patches of rough surface oxidation. The balance of the metal is quite smooth and crisp. The cylinder retains about 90%+ of the roll engraved Mexican War naval battle scene. The front edge of the cylinder retains the very legible legend: ENGAGED 16 MAY 1843. This mark is rarely legible on even the crispest of examples, but remains in very nice condition on this revolver. 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. Five of the safety pins on the rear face of the cylinder are in very nice condition as well. These five remain very sharp and in fine, usable condition, while the other remaining safety pin shows significant wear and battering, with little more than its outline on the rear of the cylinder remaining. The loading lever retains at least 10%+ of its original case hardened finish, most of which is in the protected areas and the web area where the hinge, lever and plunger come together. The balance of the lever has faded and dulled to a mottled, oxidized dark gray and pewter patina, matching the gun well. The gun appears to retain all of its original screws, which are in very nice condition and show minimal slot wear, with the exception of the screw in the bottom of the grip, which shows moderate slot wear. The screws all retain at least traces of their original fire blued finish, with some retaining as much as 40% of the blue, although it has faded and dulled. The trigger retains about 60%+ of its original fire blued finish as well. The pistol is mechanically EXCELLENT and functions perfectly. The gun indexes, times, and locks up exactly as it should. The bore of the pistol rates about VERY GOOD+ as well, and remains relatively bright with crisp rifling and some lightly scattered pitting along its entire length. The one-piece, oil finished, black walnut grip is in about FINE condition, and is free of any breaks, cracks or repairs. The grip does show some handling marks from use and some minor dings and tiny surface mars, but even the leading edges remain in very crisp condition. The inspection marks in the bottom of the grip are in wonderful condition and are much better than are normally encountered on Colt “Navy-Navies”.
Overall this is a really lovely, 100% complete and correct, all matching Colt M-1851 Navy-Navy. These are very scarce guns, with only 2,600 of the guns being procured via contract with the Navy. At least 1,000 of the Navy purchased Colt’s were subsequently altered from percussion to .38 Center Fire by Colt, for the Navy, in 1873. This makes the original percussion “Navy-Navies’ even rarer. Considering that Colt produced over 215,000 of the M-1851 revolvers in Hartford, these USN marked M-1851 Navy revolvers represent only 1% of the total production. This gun has a wonderful look and has not been messed with in any way. It is in much better condition than most Navy purchased M-1851’s encountered these days, and it would be hard to imagine finding one with crisper and clearer inspector markings. All of the Navy purchased revolvers saw use on board ships, and considering the harsh environment they were exposed to, this gun is in really wonderful shape. A Colt Navy-Navy is a real coup for any serious collector of US marital percussion revolvers to acquire. This gun would be a great addition to any such collection or to a Civil War USN collection. This is simply a great gun that you will be very proud to own and to display.SOLD