Extremely Scarce Austrian Model 1849 Naval Officer's Colt Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-2250
- Availability: Out Of Stock
1848 was the first year that 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” that some historians have referred to him as.
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 oppressive regimes. 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 and potentially lucrative 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 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 and by the time he embarked for Europe on May 2, 1849 aboard the steamer Europa, 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 new that patent protection would prevent the manufacturers in those countries where he could obtain it from producing arms based on his designs without paying royalties to Colt.
In August of 1849, Colt visited Austrian and applied for patent protection for his designs. At the end of September of 1849, an Austrian board of ordnance conducted trials of Colt’s revolving handguns and carbines with positive results. As noted by authors Roy Marcot & Ron Paxton in their exhaustive book Colt Brevete Revolvers, the board reported in part that the Colt design was a “perfectly practical weapon and specially recommended as an officer’s arm.” Because of the Austrian military’s positive response to the Colt firearms, Joseph Ganahl contracted with Colt to obtain 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. The factory was located in Innsbruck, Austria. Innsbruck is in the Tyrol region of the Alps, near the Swiss border.
The “Colt” revolver that Ganahl undertook to manufacture was based upon the Model 1848 Colt Dragoon. A sample Colt Dragoon had been provided to Ganahl by Colt’s Vienna based sales agent Herr Schwartz. Over the next five years Ganahl would produce a relatively small number of Colt patent revolvers, with production estimates ranging from about 1,100 to 1,200 guns. 1,000 were manufactured for use by the officers of the Austrian Navy as the Model 1849 and another 100 to 200 were produced for “civilian sale” although it is generally believed that the majority of these revolvers were also acquired by Austrian military officers as well, probably from all branches of the armed forces.
Although based upon the Colt Dragoon, the Austrian KKP produced revolver showed a number of differences from the Colt product that it was based upon. The overall profile was very much like the Colt Dragoon with the open-top frame, large wedge-retained octagonal barrel housing that terminated in a round barrel and the oversized oval pivoting link in the loading lever that projects below the loading lever. The Austrian made guns made use of both the semi square-backed triggerguard on some revolvers and a more oval shaped triggerguard on others. The large, six-chambered cylinder also used round stop slots as found on some transitional Colt Dragoon revolvers and early production Colt “Baby Dragoon” revolvers. The distinctly different features included the caliber, which was nominally .36 but appears to have varied from .36 to .40, rather than the Dragoon’s larger .44 caliber. Also, the barrels were nominally 5.25” to 5.5” in length, with some minor variations, instead of the Colt Dragoon’s longer 7.5” barrel. The Austrian guns also incorporated a longer, narrower grip design than found on the Colt product, which dramatically changed the grip frame’s profile. Ganahl also incorporated a design improvement in the frame. First, he used iron rather than brass for the grip frame and backstrap, which improved the strength of those components. He also attached the triggerguard and gripstrap to the frame separately from the backstrap. That meant that removal of the two rear frame screws and the screw in the butt only removed the grip, leaving the triggerguard and gripstrap secured to the frame by additional screws, two of which were hidden in the upper rear of the frame until the grip was removed. This prevented the loosening of the grip to frame attachment, which could occur with a regular Colt Dragoon if these screws worked loose under recoil.
The standard finish for the revolvers was a blued barrel and cylinder with a color case hardened frame that was more a dull black color typical of oil quenching instead of the more vivid colorations associated with water quenching. Grips were varnished hardwood and by looking at the grain of the handful of known examples either in person or as published examples, it appears that most were probably stocked in Austrian beech as was used in their military rifle and musket stocks. The standard military production revolver was issued to officers with a leather holster and received only minor embellishment and decorations. Marcot & Paxton note in their book that early guns had plain cylinders while later guns has lightly engraved bands around the cylinders. The guns offered for “civilian” sale, most of which were likely acquired by officer’s as well, were typically more elegantly decorated and were often cased and offered with a variety of accessories. Some guns were produced with a fixed rear sight on top of the octagonal portion of the barrel, right in front of the cylinder, while others did not receive a rear sight. Front sights were typically narrow blades. The serial numbering of the guns appears to be in a single range, with both “civilian” and military gun numbers intermingled with no apparent pattern. The presence of the square backed triggerguard profile or an oval triggerguard appears to be somewhat random as well.
Upon the expiration of the patent royalty agreement between Ganahl and Colt in August of 1854, Colt again tried to obtain a contract with the Austrian government. This time he was somewhat more successful. He had changed sales agents in Vienna and had employed the long-time Austrian government arms contractor Ferdinand Früwirth. With Früwirth’s help Colt managed to arrange a small contract for 1,000 M1851 Colt Navy revolvers.
Based upon the research done by Marcot and Paxton in their book, only a handful of the Austrian Colts are known to exist in collections today with many of those in institutional collections. They list eight known serial numbers, although the gun being offered here is not among them, indicting it is an example that they were not aware of at the time of publication. Based upon my own research and investigation regarding these revolvers, it appears that less than twenty examples are in the United States with only a very few, maybe five or six cased M1849s in America. The finest example is probably #143 which is in the collection of the Wadsworth Athenium. This gun appears to be a standard, early production naval officer’s revolver. They also picture three cased examples: #262, #685 and #700. Both #262 and #685 are part of the Henry M. Steward Jr. collection and are currently part of the VMI Museum collection. #700 was part of the Will Hoffeld collection when it was photographed and described on pages 254 and 255 of their book. It was later part of the famous Horst Held collection of fine European handguns, and I offered it for sale earlier this year.
Offered here is a rare example of an Austrian Model 1849 Naval Officer’s Colt Revolver. The revolver is serial number 220, with the serial number located on the bottom of the grip frame. While later production Austrian M1849 revolvers appear to have adopted the Colt system of using the serial number on most of the parts, allowing it to double as an assembly number. This revolver uses the assembly number 4 on parts, instead of the serial number. The number 4 is located on the wedge, on the rear face of the barrel lug and on the face of the cylinder. No other assembly numbers are visible without significant disassembly. As noted, this is one of the Austrian naval officer’s contract guns, of which only about 1,000 were produced between 1849 and 1854. The gun is embellished and lightly engraved with flowing foliate scrolls beneath the recoil shield at the lower rear of the frame where it meets the grip. There is also an area of tastefully executed geometric and foliate engraving the lower front edge of the frame, where it meets the barrel web and in a band around the cylinder, forward of the percussion cone recesses and surrounding the round cylinder stop slots. The backstrap also features simple engraved geometric boarders along the edges. The left side of the frame is engraved PATENT 1849. The right side of the frame is engraved in two lines K:K:PRV: MASCH: FABR. / INNSBRUCK., an abbreviation of Kaiserlich-koeniglich Privilegierten Maschinen Fabrik, over the location in Austria.
The revolver has the typical Austrian M1849 profile with a Dragoon pattern octagon to round barrel that measures 5.25” with the octagonal section measuring slightly less than 2”, including the forcing cone. The ten-groove bore of the revolver is nominally .36 caliber, measuring .365” land-to-land and about .383” groove-to-groove. The forcing cone mouth measures .380”. The six cylinder chamber mouths vary slightly from as tight as .382” to as big as .386”. The revolver has the typically long, narrow Austrian Colt grip frame design and the semi-square-backed triggerguard design.
The revolver remains in about FINE condition. The barrel retains about 70%+ of its original blued finish, which shows the expected thinning, fading and loss. There is some scattered flaked and oxidized finish loss here and there along with scattered surface oxidation on the barrel. The barrel remains smooth except for a band of light pitting around the muzzle that is about 5/8” wide and appear to be the result of being in a holster that may have been damp at the muzzle for an extended period of time. The frame has a slightly mottled smoky gray patina, with some traces of the original case color inside the frame and in the protected areas of the triggerguard. The cylinder has a slightly brighter pewter gray patina that is also somewhat mottled and shows some scattered areas of light surface oxidation and minor roughness here and there. Like the barrel, the metal of the frame and cylinder is mostly smooth with scattered freckles and patches of oxidized age discoloration and some small patches of surface roughness. The backstrap and triggerguard are particularly freckled with flecks of brownish oxidation evenly scattered over the gray metal. All of the engraving and markings remain very clear and crisp and the engraving remains quite attractive throughout. The revolver remains fully functional mechanically and times, indexes and locks up exactly as it should. The loading lever functions correctly as well and locks securely into position when not in use. The bore of the revolver remains in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition and has strong rifling along its entire length. The bore retains some traces of blue from the original finishing process, mixed with an evenly oxidized plum brown patina. There is some scattered pinpricking and light pitting along its length, but the bore remains in very nice condition. The revolver is one that was produced without a separate rear sight on the top of the octagonal portion of the barrel but retains the original front sight blade near the muzzle. The varnished hardwood, one-piece grip appears to be typical straight-grained Austrian beech with a nice medium tan color. The grip retains most of the original finish with some light wear and loss. The wood remains crisp with some lightly scattered bumps, dings and mars, and a couple of deeper dings. The left side of the grip has a name neatly carved in script at the frame junction, which is not decipherable to me, but appears to be a single initial for a first name, followed by a last name with simple flourishes beneath the name. This might be the name of the Austrian naval officer who carried the gun during the mid-19th century.
Overall this is a really crisp and fine example of an extremely rare Austrian Naval Officer’s Model 1849 “Colt” Revolver. The Austrian M1849 Colt rarely appears for sale, as it appears that less than 20 exist in the United States. This is a great piece for any collector of 19th century European military revolvers, a collector of Colt Brevete revolvers or any percussion revolver collector in general. This is a really wonderful condition example of a rare gun that you will certainly be proud to add to your collection.