Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 3103: Napoleon III's Cased Pair of Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolvers

Auction Date: May 5, 2019

Iconic, Historically Significant, Well-Documented Cased Pair of Factory Engraved and Gold Embellished Colt London Model 1851 Navy Percussion Revolvers and Accessories Manufactured for Napoleon III with Documentation

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $55,000 - $85,000

A) Colt London Model 1851 Navy Revolver

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: 1851
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 36
Barrel: 7 1/2 inch octagon
Finish: blue/casehardened/silver/gold
Grip: ebony
Stock:
Item Views: 1814
Item Interest: Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 68
Class: Antique
Description:

This historically significant and very fine engraved set has Napoleon III's cipher and the French imperial eagle in gold inlays on the ebony grips and is pictured and discussed on page 65 of "Colt: An American Legend" by R.L. Wilson and pictured prominently and discussed in "Colonel Colt London: The History of Colt's London Firearms, 1851-1857" by James G. Rosa on pages 68 and 69, also shown in the LIFE Picture Collection (listed as created January 01, 1900), and Herbert Houz also discusses Colt's relationship with Napoleon III in "Samuel Colt: Arms, Art, and Invention" on pages 184-185. It was item 87 within "Samuel Colt Presents: A Loan Exhibition of Presentation Percussion Colt Firearms" at the Wadsworth Atheneum from November 3, 1961-January 14, 1962 and is pictured and described in the catalogue. Also included is a copy of a letter from Col. Washington Bartlett (c.1816-1865), a personal friend of Colonel Colt, in 1863 noting he had previously presented a set of revolvers from Colt to Napoleon III via Baron Georges-Eugene Haussman (Napoleon's aide in Paris). The notes indicate he was then a representative of the U.S. Government and was in Europe purchasing lighthouse equipment. It is this letter along with the use of Napoleon III's emblem and the French Imperial eagle that identified the guns as manufactured for Napoleon. In "Steel Canvas," Wilson notes that Samuel Colt personally met with Napoleon as part of his efforts to get his arms adopted by the French government and wrote him a letter from London in February 1854 indicating he would be interested in opening another factory in France to supply Napoleon's forces writing: ". . .Col. C. has taken the liberty of reminding His Majesty of the occasion when His Majesty tried and tested [Colt revolvers] at St. Cloud - Col. Colt then having had the honor [of] being presented by His Highness, Prince Murat. The very favorable opinion expressed of the 'Revolver' at that time, by His Majesty, and the gracious intimation which was given, that at a future period when they might be useful they would receive further attention from the Government, has induced Col. C. to take this mode of acquainting His Majesty that these approved weapons, with all the recent improvements are now being Manufactured by Col. Colt in America and in London . . . Col. Colt's London Armory has been visited by Ministers and Ordnance officers of several Governments. . . And in case His Majesty should desire to have a depot for the Manufacture of these Arms erected in France. . . An intimation to that effect will receive immediate attention." If Napoleon III was going to attempt to pick up where his uncle had failed, he was certainly going to need a substantial number of firearms, and Colt was certainly one to seek out any opportunity to sell his wares even if that meant arming both sides of a conflict. Colt's note about other countries being interested in his arms certainly would have pointed this out to Napoleon. He was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and rose to power after the revolution in 1848 and was elected the first president of France from 1848 to 1852 and then seized power as emperor and was the third and last of the French emperors. The Prince Murat mentioned in Colt's letter was Napoleon III's cousin Lucien Charles Joseph Napoleon (Lucien Murat) who was also the Prince of Naples and 2nd Prince de Pontecorvo, a member of the French constituent assembly in 1848, the minister for Turin starting in 1849, and had lived in the U.S. prior to returning to France in 1848, married an American, had multiple children while living in New Jersey, and returned to the U.S. for a period after Napoleon III's fall. Due to strong nationalism within France, the French ultimately adopted a native design just as the British favored the Adams over Colt's revolvers in part due to their own national pride. The revolvers date to 1855 in the London Model 1851 Navy range after Colt wrote that letter and have tight scrollwork engraving patterns throughout with rosette accents, cone and hammer notch sights, "-ADDRESS COL. COLT LONDON-" on top of the barrel, London proof and view marks on the left side of the barrel ahead of the wedge and alternating between the chambers on the cylinder, "Colts Patent" inscribed in Gothic script in a banner on the left side of the frame, the standard Navy cylinder scene, and matching serial numbers. The grips are ebony and have the French imperial eagle on the left of A and right of B and the imperial crown over an "N" surrounded by a laurel on the right of A and left of B each. They come in a case with "N" surrounded by a laurel on the lid escutcheon, brass corner protectors and hardware, English style fitted interior lined in green baize, a crown emblem cap tin, an Eley Bros. cap tin, two Colt patent bullet molds, two L-shaped combination tools, a James Dixon & Sons powder flask, bore rod, oiler, a key, capper, a later period lighter with "EMPIRE FRANCAIS/5 F/1870" around the Imperial Coat of Arms of France on one side and "NAPOLEON II EMPEREUR/BARRE" around a bust of Napoleon III with a laurel crown on the other side, and a compartment full of Eley paper cartridges. Provenance: Napoleon III (presented to him in 1854-55), the nephew of Napoleon III who brought these revolvers to the United States in the 1940s, Mr. Hugh J. Fitzgerald (late 1950s to 1963) sold by him to the current consignor's father at a TGCA show!

Rating Definition:

Very fine with 98% plus high quality period refinished blue finish, case colors, and silver plating along with traces of gilding in the protected areas of the grip frame and eagle and bright gold on the inlay on the right side of the grip. The cylinder pins remain solid. Most of the engraving and markings remain distinct. The slightly shrunken grip is also very good and has some minor age and storage related wear. Mechanically excellent. This is an extremely rare offering of a pair of Colt percussion gold inlaid revolvers. There were only perhaps 20 to 25 gold inlaid percussion Colt Revolvers; they were presented to kings, czars, crown princes and as we have in this offering an emperor. These other gold inlaid Colt revolvers now reside in the finest collections and museums only. This pair has not been offered for sale in well over 55 years and this may be your only chance to acquire such an important pair of Colt presentation revolvers in your lifetime!



B) Colt London Model 1851 Navy Revolver

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: 1851
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 36
Barrel: 7 1/2 inch octagon
Finish: blue/casehardened/silver/gold
Grip: ebony
Stock:
Item Views: 1814
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 68
Class: Antique
Description:

See A.

Rating Definition:

Very fine with 98% plus high quality period refinished blue finish, case colors, and silver plating as well as bright patches of gilding in the protected areas of the grip straps and bright gold on the inlays on the grip. The cylinder pins remain complete. The engraving and markings are generally distinct. The slightly undersized ebony grip with gold inlays is also very good and has some minor age and storage type wear. Mechanically excellent. The case and accessories are generally very good with mild storage wear. This is a very incredible and certainly one-of-a-kind cased made by Colt for the first president of France and last emperor of the French: Napoleon III and is certainly an incredibly important piece history and art in the form of one of the most historic firearms models of all time.



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