Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1210: Theodore Roosevelt Factory Engraved Colt Single Action Revolver

Auction Date: December 5, 2020

Immensely Historic National Treasure, Rock Island Auction Company Proudly Present "The Bull Moose Colt Single Action": Documented Cuno Helfricht Factory Deluxe Engraved Silver Plated Colt Single Action Army Revolver with Carved Steer Head Grip Ordered for the 26th President of the United States Colonel Theodore Roosevelt as a Gift for His 54th Birthday Just Days Before He was Shot

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $350,000 - $550,000

Immensely Historic National Treasure, Rock Island Auction Company Proudly Present "The Bull Moose Colt Single Action": Documented Cuno Helfricht Factory Deluxe Engraved Silver Plated Colt Single Action Army Revolver with Carved Steer Head Grip Ordered for the 26th President of the United States Colonel Theodore Roosevelt as a Gift for His 54th Birthday Just Days Before He was Shot

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: Single Action Army
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 38 Long Colt
Barrel: 4 3/4 inch round
Finish: silver
Grip: carved antique ivory
Item Views: 10135
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 168
Class: Curio & Relic Handgun

Unknown to the collecting fraternity for over a century and hiding in plain sight do to a clerical error at the Colt factory, Rock Island Auction Company proudly offers for sale this incredibly important and FRESH Colt Single Action to the world for the first and perhaps last time. Thanks to his adventurous and "strenuous life," commanding and colorful personality, and his vast contributions to the nation in a variety of areas over the course of his many years in state and local office in New York and national politics as Secretary of the Navy and 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt has long been one of the most iconic and popular of all American presidents and has consistently been ranked by historians as one of the top five American presidents of all time, even ranking above Declaration of Independence author and 3rd President of the United States Thomas Jefferson who he sits beside on Mount Rushmore. Few presidents have done as much as Roosevelt to improve the status of our country and the welfare of the American people. He reshaped the presidency into what it is today. He became a national hero as the leader of the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, and, thanks to this and his legacy as one of the foremost conservationists in protecting public and wild lands, his personal love of firearms and wildlife, and his adventurous hunting expeditions, he has also become a particular hero of generations of American hunters and gun collectors. Thus, his firearms have been among the most valuable and iconic American firearms. Unlike many of the other famous firearms owned by Roosevelt that have been institutionalized such as his 1883 Single Action Army and 1876 Winchester in the Autry Museum, his Holland & Holland Double Rifle "Big Stick" now on display at the Smithsonian and the countless other firearms still maintained at Sagamore Hill, this Colt Single Action Army revolver is a recent discovery poised to become a new icon, as it is perhaps the most highly embellished firearm owned by the 26th President still in private circulation. It's significance is further enhanced by the timing of the presentation and impeccable documentation back to the factory in October of 1912 which place this single action in the hands of our 26th President late in his run for an unprecedented third term as the candidate of the "Bull Moose" Party. As laid out in the article "A Special Order Birthday Colt for Colonel Roosevelt: A Much Coveted and Opportune Gift" by Colt Collector's Association Historian Don Jones in "The Rampant Colt" Spring 2018 issue, the Hintlian Colt Special Order Handgun Ledger for October 10, 1912, clearly lists this revolver by serial number as: "1 - 4 3/4 in 38 Colt S.A. Army Rev. Silver Engr #5 Ivory carved Steers Head for Col. Roosevelt. Must ship Oct. 23rd." The firm shipping date is just four days before Roosevelt's 54th birthday and a little more than a week before the election. The included factory letter from September 2020 lists serial number "342642" with the comment "See Remarks." The Colt Historian gives priority to shipping records, and, as noted in the remarks, this revolver, 324642, was manufactured on October 12, 1912, but does not appear in the shipping records. This is clearly because of a clerical error transposing the first "2" and "4" because they note 342642 appears in the shipping records twice. The first instance is clearly for this revolver and is what the historian has included as the main details on the letter which lists it as: a Single Action Army in .38 Colt with 4 3/4 inch barrel, silver finish, ivory grip with carved steer head, and "Level 2 engraving" when shipped to Murta Appleton & Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 24, 1912. SAA #342642 was manufactured on July 1, 1921, clearly demonstrating the factory's error, and is noted as a .45 LC revolver with a 4 3/4 inch barrel and blue finish when shipped to Missouri on October 14, 1921. Thankfully, Don Jones has access to the Special Order Handgun Ledger that were salvaged by long time Colt employee John Hintlian when the factory discarded them, and these records accurately confirm this revolver was ordered just two days before the manufacture date noted on the factory letter. Note that #5 engraving was the highest available from Colt, but #2 was the highest advertised grade. Jones discusses the issues with the records in his article, and "Colt Records: Documenting the Original Configuration and Historical Record of Your Colt Firearm" by Jones and Beverly Haynes in the Winter 2014 issue of "The Rampant Colt" demonstrates other examples where the Special Order Handgun Ledger has proven invaluable. They note, "As a supplement to the Colt Factory Letter, the Colt Special Order Ledger entries, in their original handwritten format, dovetail nicely in corroborating the original configuration detailed in the Factory Letter. When applicable to certain special orders however, their highly detailed format for production purposes mirrors the original order with all of its nuance, and notes any changes made during production. In effect, the entry is the build order for the Colt, tracing the order from receipt through production. As such, they will document configuration details and changes both major and minor that are sometimes left silent in the Colt shipping based production record." Jones' article also highlights the significance of the timing of this order: it was ordered for Roosevelt's 54th birthday on October 27, 1912, and just four days before Roosevelt was shot in the chest by would be assassin John Schrank with a .38 caliber Colt double action revolver on October 14 during a campaign stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as Roosevelt was running as the Progressive or "Bull Moose" candidate for president against his hand picked successor President Taft and Woodrow Wilson. Schrank was only able to get off one shot, unlike President McKinley's assassin, because he was subdued by Roosevelt's aide and stenographer Elbert E. Martin. The crowd beat the shooter mercilessly and called for his death, but Roosevelt calmed them saying: "Don’t hurt him. Bring him here. I want to see him." before asking Schrank, "What did you do it for?" He didn't get a response at the time, but it was later learned that Schrank believed he was called upon by the spirit of President McKinley to kill Roosevelt who became president upon McKinley's death. Schrank was also opposed Roosevelt's unprecedented run for a third term in office. Roosevelt had only been elected as president once before, and there were no term limits on the presidency at that time. The bullet passed through the speech Roosevelt was about to give as well as his glasses case and then lodged in his chest at his fourth rib where it remained for the rest of his life. Despite a dime sized hole in his chest, Roosevelt calmly assessed that he had not been seriously wounded as the bullet had not pierced his lung since there was no blood in his mouth when he coughed and then famously went on to give his speech despite his doctor and staff pleading with him to go to the hospital. Upon taking the stage, he shocked the audience by first stating, "Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible." Which he followed up with a few of the best lines in American presidential history as he revealed his bloodied shirt under his vest and his bullet pierced speech: "I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot. It takes more than that to kill a bull moose. Fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet - there is a where the bullet went through - and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best." Try his best he did; he spoke for a nearly 90 minutes with his untreated wound about his dedication to the country, to progressive ideals, and to treating his opponents fairly and addressing facts and policies rather than slander. During the speech, his aides and advisors tried to get him to leave the stage and go to the hospital multiple times. But the former president had as he put it "altogether too important things to think of to feel any concern over my own death; and now I cannot speak to you insincerely within five minutes of being shot." Later adding, "I do not care a rap about being shot; not a rap." In one instance, after being interrupted, he stated: "Don't you make any mistake. Don't you pity me. I am all right. I am all right and you cannot escape listening to the speech either." When his campaign advisor came onto the stage and tried to persuade him to leave, Roosevelt turned instead to the crowd and said, "My friends are a little more nervous than I am" before continuing his speech and adding later, "I am all right - I am a little sore. Anybody has a right to be sore with a bullet in him. You would find that if I was in battle now I would be leading my men just the same. Just the same way I am going to make this speech." After finishing, he finally agreed with his aides and visited the hospital where doctors located the bullet at his rib and determined that it was more dangerous to remove the bullet than to leave it where it was. He returned to his Sagamore Hill estate in New York, and celebrated his 54th birthday relatively quietly with his family and a small number of friends while recuperating. Precisely who ordered this revolver for him is not clear, but it is easy to imagine how much Roosevelt, our "cowboy president," would have liked the gift given his known love of firearms, including Colt revolvers. In the article on the revolver, Jones points to Owen Wister, author of "The Virginian," as one potential purchaser of this gift. He was a friend of Roosevelt's dating back to their days at Harvard and was a resident of Philadelphia. Wister was invited to many of the Roosevelt family's events. In Wister's book "Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship, 1880-1919," he wrote about visiting Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill in the fall of 1912. He was also one of Roosevelt's surrogates in Pennsylvania during the campaign. Another important resident of Pennsylvania who was a close Roosevelt ally was former U.S. Forest Service Chief Gifford Pinchot whose dispute with Taft's Secretary of the Interior, Richard A. Ballinger, was part of what split the Republican Party and led to Roosevelt running for president in 1912. Another possibility was Thomas B. Wanamaker, owner of the Philadelphia based progressive newspaper "The North American." The "Buffalo Commercial" on Oct. 28, 1912, listed those present at his birthday celebration to be his family members and some New York politicians but also noted he received many other gifts. Barring new documentation being discovered, we may never know who paid for this revolver, but the value of this historic revolver is not in who bought it but who it was purchased for and when. Imagine the pressure the staff at Colt likely already felt when preparing this revolver for Roosevelt and how that pressure only built when he was shot while they were preparing the order. As Mr. Jones states in the aforementioned article. " is interesting to note that although always predisposed towards the use of firearms, close associates of Teddy Roosevelt would bear witness that the Colonel never went anywhere unarmed after the assassination of President McKinley in 1901. As a matter of fact, one winter occasion, an associate had mistakenly put on the Colonel's heavy coat, and when his hands entered the pockets, he surprisingly found the Colonel's large handgun easily accessible." Just which large pistol the Colonel was carrying has been lost to time. Given the proximity of the shooting to the presentation of this spectacular and handsome Single Action it certainly makes it probable, that this gun 324642, was that "heavy handgun" in the Colonel's coat. Roosevelt did not take long to recover enough to get back on the campaign trail and was already planning for speeches on his birthday. On the 28th, he was quoted as saying, "I don't feel a bit as though I had been shot." and gave another major speech on October 30 at Madison Square Garden. Though Roosevelt failed to win the election, he received 27% of the popular vote, finishing ahead of incumbent Republican Taft, making him the most successful third party candidate in American history. He was naturally upset by his loss, but in true Roosevelt fashion, he sought adventure in response. In 1913, Roosevelt departed on the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition after a speaking tour in Argentina. The dangerous expedition set out to explore the uncharted River of Doubt (Rio da Dúvida). Among his fellow explorers were his son Kermit who had been living in Brazil and Brazilian explorer Candido Rondon. The river was one of the least explored and most dangerous tributaries of the mighty Amazon. It took the expedition two months just to reach the river. Roosevelt had been warned of the dangers after changing his plans from exploring less formidable tributaries to the River of Doubt and wrote, "If it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so." Simply getting to the river and then down it was dangerous enough due to the terrain, rapids, waterfalls, tropical diseases, and dangerous wildlife such as large caimans and venomous snakes like the coral snake that bit the former president's boot, but they were also stalked by the local tribesmen. They suffered from malaria, dysentery, and poor rations. Three members of the expedition died, and Roosevelt suffered a severe cut on his leg from a rock, and in response to this wound and fever, he suggested he be left behind so the others could press on, but his loyal son refused. Roosevelt lost over one quarter of his body weight and could not walk by the time they were met by a relief party two months after beginning their trip down the river. The River of Doubt was subsequently renamed the Roosevelt River (Rio Roosevelt). The intensity of the expedition and the harsh jungle environment may explain the finish wear on this historic Colt Single Action Army. Roosevelt is known to have been fond of firearms and had several among his gear for the expedition both for protection against the potentially hostile native peoples and wildlife and for hunting game for both food and specimens for the American Museum of Natural History. Some of his weapons were lost when some of their canoes were overturned. After returning, he wrote "Through the Brazilian Wilderness" detailing the harrowing adventure. His health never fully recovered from the hardship of the expedition, but during First World War, he was authorized by Congress to raise for divisions to fight. His adversary, President Wilson, interceded and said he would not send Roosevelt to France, but Roosevelt's sons fought for their country like their father had before them. His youngest son, Quentin, was shot down as a pilot in the 95th Aero Squadron over France on July 14, 1918, during the 2nd Battle of the Marne. Quentin Roosevelt remains the only child of an American president to be killed in combat. Roosevelt followed him in death in his sleep on January 1, 1919. Some say he died from a broken heart after losing his beloved son. Vice-President Thomas Marshall noted: "Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight." The revolver features over 75% coverage (detailed as #5 engraving in the special order ledger book, the highest level of factory embellishment) engraving by Colt Master Engraver Cuno Helfricht mainly consisting of classic scroll patterns backed by punch-dots as well as some entwining lines, checkered patterns, and floral accents. The barrel has a blade front sight and the two-line address, and "38 COLT" in a banner. The frame has the two-line patent marking and the Rampant Colt. The loading gate and right side rear of the frame have the assembly number "931" The frame, trigger guard, and back strap have the matching serial numbers, and the grips are hand numbered to the gun inside. The grips have Colt medallions at the top and a carved steer head on the right panel. The revolver is accompanied by the Spring 2018 Rampant Colt Magazine featuring "A Special Order Birthday Colt for Colonel Roosevelt" by Historian Don Jones, The aforementioned factory letter and most importantly a beautiful full scan of the original page from the Colt Special Order Handgun Ledger detailing this historic Single Action by serial number.

Rating Definition:

Fine with 30% original silver plating and dark brown patina on the balance. The engraving, markings, edges and action remain sharp and clear. The grips are very fine with distinct carving, light scratches and marks, age cracks on the butt, and attractive grain and aged tones. Mechanically fine. In terms of Colt Single Action Army Revolvers, it doesn't get any better than a revolver ordered for the president that wore a Colt on his hip on the frontier and recorded as actively using a Colt in combat during the Spanish-American War. This is an incredible and likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own the historic revolver that was ordered for Colonel Theodore Roosevelt's 54th birthday in October 1912 as he ran for president as the "Bull Moose" candidate and manufactured just two days before he was shot in Milwaukee and then famously gave his speech anyway.

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