Manufactured in 1898. The accompanying factory letter lists this rifle with a 26 inch round barrel in .44 CLMR, casehardened frame, fancy oil finished stock, tang number "SFP401", and "Fred W. Lees" engraved plate when shipped to Colt's San Francisco Agency on September 22, 1898. The San Francisco Police Department purchased 401 Lightning rifles in 1898. These rifles have special police department serial numbers applied by Colt on the lower tangs. The actual production serial numbers range from 82088-83998 and are stamped on the tangs covered by the stocks ("83694" on this example). All but this one, which is the very last one, are believed to be the standard blued version. They also usually have otherwise standard markings and features, but this one has casehardened frame and buttplate and also has a deluxe checkered forearm and stock. Colt Lightning rifles with casehardened frames or other special order features are already incredibly scarce, but this one is truly one-of-a-kind, especially once the inscribed initial plate is taken into consideration. It is located on the bottom of the buttstock just behind the multi-point checkering and is inscribed "Fred/W/Lees." Frederick W. Lees (1859-1903) was son of the chief of police and appointed as a license collector in 1899 using his family's political connections. Per "History of the San Francisco Bay Region: History and Biography" and his obituary in the San Francisco Call, Chief of Police Isaiah Wrigley Lees (1830-1902) was born in England, but his family moved to Paterson, New Jersey, when he was still an infant. He was apprenticed as a mechanical engineer. One of his first jobs was reportedly at the Colt's factory, but given he would have been just 12 years old when the Paterson factory closed and was in California by 1848, that seems very unlikely. Other sources specify that he worked for the Paterson Machine Company. He made his way to California at the end of 1848 and worked in the local mines and factories. He helped solve his first local murder case in 1852 as a private citizen; it was also the first case for which a man was executed in San Francisco. He served in the San Francisco Police Department from October 28, 1853, until his retirement on January 2, 1900. He is credited with creating one of the first, if not the first, rogues galleries using his own funds starting in 1854 or 1855 and helped popularize the idea. He was captain of detectives from June of 1857 until he was promoted to chief of police on April 7, 1897. His portrait hung in Scotland Yard, which he visited multiple times, in recognition of his status as one of the greatest criminal detectives of the era. At the time of his death, he was a millionaire, president of the Veteran Police Association, and also head of his own private detective agency. There are period reports of the Lees being corrupt, including him falsely accusing his would be successor, but also plenty suggesting Chief Lee was dedicated to his community and to hunting down violent criminals. These traits have not been remotely mutually exclusive at any point in history. This rifle may have been owned by the chief first and then past on to his son or may have been given directly to his son.
Fine with 60% plus of the lightly thinning original blue, 30% of the original case colors in the protected areas, a mix of silver gray and light gray-brown patina on the balance, crisp markings, and minor marks and scratches. The wood is very fine and has crisp checkering, minor scrapes and dings, and smooth finish. A hairline crack is present in the wood at the right side of the upper tang. Mechanically excellent. This is an incredible piece that combines rarity, history, and high condition that would be a welcome addition to any Colt or western collection.
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