Outstanding Austrian Patent Infringement Colt Navy Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-2399
- Availability: In Stock
1848 was the first year when Samuel Colt claimed that his patents, designs, and his Hartford manufactory all coalesced into a profitable enterprise. His journey to this stage of his life had been fraught with mishaps, economic reversals, and the failure of his original Patent Arms Manufacturing Company. However, by 1848, Colt was well on his way to becoming the “American Legend” as some arms historians have referred to him.
1848 was also a year of civil unrest in Europe, as young people around the world looked to the American model of government and began to agitate for the end of the oppressive regimes that many of them were living under. For the previous two decades, groups around the world taking the monikers of “Young Italy”, “Young Ireland” and “Young Germany” to name just a few, had been organizing to help establish new democratic governments in their countries. Even the United States had its own “Young America” movement that supported the democratic movements around the world and further supported the concept of Manifest Destiny for the United States in North America, and potentially extending to Central and South America. In 1848, much of the European agitation erupted into outright rebellion. This started in France in February of 1848 and quickly spread to Sicily, the Italian States, the Austrian and Hungarian Empires, the Netherlands and many of the member states of the German Confederation. In all, some fifty European countries would become embroiled in this civil unrest that would be called the “Spring of Nations” the “Springtime of the Peoples” and the “Year of Rebellion”. In this chaotic situation, Samuel Colt saw a business opportunity. Despite the fact that his business was just starting to be truly successful in the United States and that American competitors were starting to violate his patents, Colt saw the European upheaval as a chance to enter a new market.
In the 1830s Colt had visited England and Europe to secure patent protections for designs, with mixed results. Now, with Europe on fire, he turned his gaze again across the Atlantic to secure patent protection for his products and to sell his revolvers to those willing to pay for them. As he would show in the months leading up to the Civil War, as well as for some after time the firing on Fort Sumter, Colt was interested in sales of his firearms, not in politics or ideology. He cared little if his customers were the oppressors or the oppressed, the rebels or the ruling regime. He simply wanted to sell guns.
However, Colt acted too slowly. By the time he embarked for Europe aboard the steamer Europa on 2 May 1849, the rebellions had largely fizzled out. While some reforms were secured by the protestors, like the abolition of serfdom in Austria and Hungry, the abolishment of absolute monarchy in Denmark and establishment of a representative democratic government in the Netherlands, much of Europe returned to the previous status quo of monarchial rule. Despite the opportunities he may have missed for immediate sales, Colt continued on his course to securing European patents where he could. Always looking to the future, Colt knew that patent protection would help to prevent the manufacturers in those countries where he could obtain patents from producing arms based on his designs without paying royalties to Colt. But the patents did more than that. They also helped to protect his “brand”. He was concerned that low quality, poorly built, unlicensed copies of his guns would hurt his reputation. The average person would not necessarily know that they had not purchased a real Colt firearm, and their bad experiences with sub-standard copies would create substantial ill-will for his real products.
During the 1849 excursion Colt did achieve a licensing agreement in Austria, which granted Joseph Ganahl of Innsbruck, Austria the exclusive rights to manufacture Colt patent revolvers for five years, through August of 1854. Ganahl was one of the handful of Austrian manufacturers who held a royal appointment allowing him to manufacture firearms. Ganahl’s company was the Kaiserlich-Koeniglich Privilegierten Maschinen und Spinnen Fabrik, abbreviated as the KKP and translated as the Imperial & Royal Privileged Machinery, Textile and Spinning Factory. During the next few years Ganahl would produce his own interpretation of the Colt Dragoon, primarily for use by the Austrian Navy.
From an immediate financial standpoint, the Ganahl agreement put cash directly in Colt’s pocket. But his other efforts had longer lasting economic ramifications. In England Colt received British Patent #12668/1849 for his revolver design, with the patent drawings showing one of his early Dragoon design variants that still used the side-mounted loading lever from the latter part of Paterson production. The following year, in March of 1850, Colt was granted Belgian Patent #1217 for his revolver design concepts. In both cases, the most important salient features that were protected was the actuation of cylinder rotation by the cocking of the hammer, which also activated the bolt stop which locked the cylinder in place. 1850 was a particularly busy year for Colt as he was now actively protecting his rights around the world, both via lawsuits in America and by securing patents around the globe.
It was 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition (often referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition) in London, that made Colt a world-renowned name. The success of the arms that he displayed was reported in newspapers in England, Europe, and America and likely in all corners of the globe. Some enterprising Belgian gun makers even displayed Colt “Brevete” revolvers. “Brevete” was the French word for “Patented”. One of the most popular guns displayed by Colt was his new belt model revolver which the world would come to be known as the Colt Model 1851 Navy. This gun would become of the most successful of the Colt percussion revolver designs, second only to the 1849 Pocket Model, in terms of length of production and total numbers produced. This would be the gun that would become most popular with the Belgian and European makers who would produce copies of Colt revolvers for the next few decades, both licensed legal guns and illegally produced unlicensed counterfeits.
In an attempt to control the flow of legally and illegally made “Colt” revolvers from the numerous arms makers of Liège, a Belgian representative was engaged by Colt to monitor the flow of arms through the Liège proof house. M Devos Sera was responsible for inspecting the revolvers that were flowing through the proof house and collecting a 10-franc royalty from those that utilized Colt’s protected designs and were also up to the standards of Colt production. As noted, Colt had a vested interest in making sure that any guns produced under his patents be quality arms. It was Mr. Sera’s job to collect the royalties from the guns that passed his quality control inspections and was able to confiscate those that were made without a license if the guns were not good enough or if the maker refused to pay the royalty. After acceptance, and royalty payment, Sera was to mark the barrels of the guns with a two-line stamp that either read COLT / BREVETE or COLT / PATENT. It is believed that the ones marked “Brevete” were for sale in Europe while the ones marked “Patent” were destined for English speaking countries.
With the expiration of Colt’s patent royalty agreement with Ganahl in Austria during August of 1854, Colt again tried to obtain a contract to directly sell his arms to the Austrian government. This time he was somewhat more successful. He changed sales agents in Vienna and employed the long-time Vienna-based Austrian government arms contractor Ferdinand Früwirth. With Früwirth’s help Colt managed to arrange a small contract for 1,000 Model 1851 Colt Navy revolvers produced at the Colt factory in Hartford.
However, the expiration of the Ganahl agreement meant that there was no official manufacturer of Colt patent type firearms in Austria. Colt actually faced this problem in much of Europe. He had most certainly realized that having a local licensed manufacturer of Colt pattern arms would be the best way to defend his patents, as that local maker would have a vested interest in defending their market against those that might infringe on it. Colt had attempted to control this issue in Belgium with his proof house inspector. However, in other parts of Europe some local gunmakers took advantage of the vacuum to produce and sell illicit copies of Colt revolvers. As most of Europe did not have the strict proof house laws of Belgium and Great Britain, it was quite easy for gunmakers to produce patent infringement arms that nobody was aware of until they were on the market for sale. These guns were typically unmarked as to maker, so they did not reveal the source of the patent infringement. This means that for today’s collectors the identification of such arms is often an educated guess at best. Often the guns looked like the Colt model that they were impersonating, but regularly had additional physical or cosmetic features that immediately identified them as not being Colt produced products and at the same time likely made them more appealing to their intended European market.
Offered here is just such an unmarked, European-made, Patent Infringement Colt Navy Revolver. The styling of the gun is decidedly Germanic and is the product of either an Austrian or German gunmaker. A very similar gun is pictured and described on page 269 of the most detailed work on the subject, Colt Brevete Revolvers by Roy Marcot & Ron Paxton. The gun pictured on that page is identified as a “German Bolt Brevete Belt Sized Revolver”, but further in the description it reads, “This revolver has German characteristics, but the country of origin has not been confirmed,” and also reads that the manufacturer is “believed to be an Austrian gunmaker.” The revolver described is essentially a Colt Model 1851 Navy with European styling. It has a 7 ¼” octagonal barrel with a tapered muzzle, 14-groove rifling, and a 6-shot round percussion cylinder with numbered chambers. The gun has a small spur on the rear of the triggerguard, one-piece checkered grips that are identified as walnut but look more like Austrian beech and a unique, dovetailed front sight with a very tall oval cone-shaped “blade”. There are some interesting differences between this gun and the American-made Colt Navy. One is the use of small holes in the upper rear edge of the cylinder that engage a small projection in the face of the hammer nose to create a safety position for the hammer and cylinder. Another is the use of an external spring on the front face of the loading lever web. This tensions the lever so that if it were to become unlatched it will not drop down and potentially lock up the cylinder. Only the application of positive pressure to overcome the tension will lower the lever. Another interesting difference is shape of the cylinder arbor pin, which can only be seen with the cylinder removed. It is a combination of round, square and tapered round sections. Likely this is intended to reduce fouling that might impede rotation if the gun were to become very dirty. As with so many of these patent infringement guns there are no maker marks, only the serial number 83 on some parts and matching numbers on the screw heads and their accompanying screw holes. The finish is blued barrel with color casehardened frame, loading lever, cylinder, triggerguard and hammer. The gun depicted is credited to the Will Hoffeld Collection (WH-569). I completely concur with the statement by the authors and the collector that the manufacturer is “believed to be an Austrian gunmaker.”
The Austrian Patent Infringement Colt Navy Revolver offered here remains in wonderful condition. It rates VERY FINE to NEAR EXCELLENT and is very similar to the one pictured in Colt Brevete Revolvers. The primary differences are that the muzzle of the octagonal barrel is not tapered at the muzzle and the 7 ¼” octagonal barrel is rifled with 7 grooves, not 14. The only other notable difference is that this revolver has a much longer and more pronounced spur at the rear of the triggerguard than the gun pictured in the book does, but I believe that the spur on the triggerguard of the gun in the book was shortened or broken and reshaped, and the gun offered here has the spur as the guns were produced.
The gun measures nominally 13 3/8” in overall length, has a 7 ¼” octagonal barrel with a nominally .37 caliber bore and nominally .38 caliber chamber mouths. The gun is unmarked with the exception of a number for each chamber on the rear face of the cylinder, the serial number and the mating number that matches the screw heads to the screw holes. This gun is serial number 87 (the one in the book is #83) and that number is found on the bottom of the frame behind the triggerguard, on the left side of the loading lever web, on the rear face of the cylinder and on the rear face of the barrel web where it mates with the frame. The revolver is in excellent mechanical condition and functions exactly as it should. It times, indexes, and locks up crisply and tightly. The bore of the revolver is in FINE condition. It is mostly bright with deep, sharp rifling. The bore does show some scattered oxidation and some light pitting, but the rifling remains very crisp. The barrel retains 90%+ of its original blued finish with some minor thinning and loss, most noticeably on the web, where there is also some freckled surface oxidation. The color casehardened frame retains the large majority of the vivid, mottled colors which remain about 90% vibrant and cover about the same amount of the frame. The most noticeable area of color fading is a fingernail sized patch under the recoil shield on the left side. The triggerguard, grip and back strap, loading lever and hammer all retain a similar amount of vivid case colors as the frame. The cylinder has faded and “silvered out” and retains only some very minor faded traces of the case-colored mottling. This is common on guns with casehardened cylinders as the heat from firing the guns often fades the colors very quickly. The metal of the revolver is smooth throughout and free of any pitting, although there is some pinpricking on the face of the muzzle, on the face of the cylinder and on the rear face of the cylinder. There is also scattered surface oxidation and discoloration that is primarily found on the frame and cylinder. All of the screw head numbers match their assigned holes, with the exception of one backstrap screw which simply appears to no longer have a number on the head, as the screw is clearly not a replacement. Most of the screws are fairly crisp, although a few do show light to moderate slot wear. The checkered one-piece grip is crisp and very attractive and shows only some light handling marks and some scattered minor surface mars. The wood appears to be tightly figured Austrian beech but may be very light-colored European walnut.
Overall, this is a really exceptional example of a scarce, likely Austrian Patent Infringement Colt Navy Revolver. For a serious collector of Colt Brevete revolvers this is a scarce and outstanding example that would be a fantastic addition to your collection. For a Colt collector or a European firearms collector, it would also be a wonderful addition to your collection. I am very sure you will be quite pleased with this lovely, crisp, and scarce European made Colt unlicensed Brevete Navy revolver.