Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 245: US Colt Ordnance Office Single Action Army Revolver

Auction Date: September 10, 2021

Historically Significant, Well-Documented and Exceptionally Rare U.S. Colt “Ordnance Office” Cavalry Model Single Action Army Revolver, One of Three 1877 Ordnance Model Revolvers, with John Kopec Gold Seal Letter, Factory Letter, and Sealed Box of 1877 Dated Ammunition

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $50,000 - $70,000

Historically Significant, Well-Documented and Exceptionally Rare U.S. Colt “Ordnance Office” Cavalry Model Single Action Army Revolver, One of Three 1877 Ordnance Model Revolvers, with John Kopec Gold Seal Letter, Factory Letter, and Sealed Box of 1877 Dated Ammunition

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: Single Action Army
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 45 LC
Barrel: 7 1/2 inch round
Finish: blue
Grip: walnut
Item Views: 1433
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 188
Class: Antique

Offered here is one of the rarest of the U.S. Cavalry Model revolvers to roll off the Colt assembly line. Known simply as the “Ordnance Office Model”, no. 33191 is one of only three Ordnance Model Revolvers specifically ordered by the U.S. Ordnance Department in 1877 to be manufactured to exact specifications of the gauges for use as “benchmark guns” for U.S. inspectors; and out of the three models, no. 33191 is the most complete. In 1877, Lieutenant David A. Lyle of the U.S. Ordnance Department ordered three specially built and distinctly marked Colt Cavalry Model Revolvers. These three revolvers were manufactured to exact specifications and were to serve as the production standard for all subsequently produced Cavalry Models. These revolvers were to be assembled to as near perfect gauge as humanly possible. At the time Lyle had become increasingly frustrated with inconsistencies in Colt factory quality, especially with the alignment of the barrels with the cylinder chambers. The most significant improvement found on the Ordnance Models was the ejector tube stud having been screwed into the barrel before brazing that made for a more secure fit, a technique that had already been incorporated to the civilian SAA production line early in the 18000 serial number range. Each of the three revolvers were given a distinctive name that corresponded to the revolver’s specific designated area of service. This revolver no. 33191 was named “The Ordnance Office Model.” No. 33220 was named “The Commanding Officer’s Model.” No. 33186 was named “The Inspector’s Model.” “The Commanding Officer’s Model” was formerly of the Robert Sutherland collection and is pictured on page 250 of R.L. Wilson’s “The Book of Colt Firearms.” Wilson referred to no. 33220 as an “extreme rarity of an original American casing of the Single Action Army. Used as a model or benchmark gun by government inspectors at the Springfield Armory.” The same can be said of this revolver, no. 33191. The three Ordnance Model revolvers are identified by serial number in the meticulous notes made by the Ordnance Department in 1877 that laid out the special characteristics of the revolvers. Included are excerpts from these original documents that now reside at the National Archives. The story behind the three revolvers is retold in the 2006 edition of “A Study of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver" on pages 523-525 with this revolver pictured on page 524 and “Cavalry & Artillery Revolvers… a Continuing Study” on page 153. In both publications, all three revolvers are identified by serial number. This revolver no. 33191 was the subject to John Kopec’s “The ‘Ordnance Office Model' U.S. Cavalry Revolver” article (copy included) published in the spring 2015 issue of The Texas Gun Collector. The article presents several photographs of no. 33191, certifies the revolver as authentic in great detail while comparing it to the other two Ordnance Models, and comments that no. 33191 was “discovered” in time to be published in the 2006 printing of “A Study of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver.” The accompanying 2018 dated Kopec gold seal letter for this revolver concludes without a doubt that this Ordnance Model is the only one of the three revolvers that retains all of its original components. Per Kopec, “These three model revolvers were; #33186 (Inspector’s Model), #33191 (Ordnance Office Model) and #33220 (Commanding Officer’s Model). We find today that only one of these model revolvers still exists in its basic Cavalry configuration, and that being our example #33191. The revolver #33186 was altered into the Artillery configuration and shipped to Manila during 1901. The third model #33220 is illustrated in the ‘The Book of Colt Firearms’ (Sutherland & Wilson), however this revolver appears to have had its barrel and cylinder replaced with modern components. Therefore our subject revolver #33191 remains the only example still fitted with all of its original manufactured components.” A second included Kopec letter dated from 2021 again certifies that this revolver no. 33191 “is the only one of these remaining model revolvers with all of its original components.” Both Kopec’s letters as well as his article featured in "The Texas Gun Collector" revised statements presented in “Cavalry & Artillery Revolvers… a Continuing Study” on page 153 related to the condition of the Commanding Officer’s Model revolver no. 33220, and at the time of publication in 1994, revolver no. 33191 was still unaccounted for. No. 33191 is the only Ordnance Model still retaining all its original components. In the gold seal letter Kopec went on to say that the revolver had at one time been reblued but the finish “had since been properly removed.” The barrel address and all important ordnance markings “have survived in good order,” including the grip cartouches. The accompanying factory letter confirms that this revolver no. 33191 was sold to the U.S. government, delivered to the U.S. Government Inspector at the Colt plant and was part of a February 13, 1877 shipment of 203 revolvers. Note that only 200 of the 203 revolvers would have fit into four shipping crates. Although not specifically called out in the Colt factory records, the three remaining revolvers were the Ordnance Models of 1877 SAAs which, based on Ordnance records, were shipped from Colt to Springfield Armory in black walnut cased. On May 19, 1877, this revolver no. 33191 was shipped to the Chief of Ordnance in Washington D.C. The barrel and cylinder are unnumbered, but each component has an extra letter “P” proof mark. On the barrel this extra “P” is stamped just ahead of the ejector rod housing. On the cylinder this extra “P” is stamped on the rear face between two chambers. The standard “JTC” and “P” Ordnance markings are stamped on the usual places: underside of the barrel and side of the cylinder. The hammer slot has an extra “P” stamping: “PP.” Per Kopec, the barrel is rolled with the non-standard “Sub-type I” Hartford “address characterized by having periods, having no die-breaks and ending with a wedge-shaped end serif on the letter ‘A' in the abbreviation ‘U.S.A.’” Kopec concluded that the Sub-type I barrel address rolled onto a non-number barrel possibly indicated that this barrel was especially made for the Ordnance Models. The underside of the frame has John T. Cleveland’s “JTC” sub-inspector initials. The left side of the frame has the standard two-line patent dates marking followed by “US.” The left side of grip is stamped with the date “1877” and the Ordnance cartouche of David A. Lyle. The right side of the grip is stamped with the Ordnance cartouche of John T. Cleveland. The loading gate is marked with assembly number “76,” the same number Lyle noted in his remarks written in 1877. Matching full serial numbers are found on the frame, trigger guard and back strap. The grip is numbered to the gun as the partial serial number “3191” is marked in pencil on the inside of the butt area. With a sealed 1877 dated package of Frankford Arsenal .45 cartridges. Provenance: The John A. Kopec Collection

Rating Definition:

Very good with the revolver having a very attractive bright polished gun-metal appearance and clear markings. The grip is also very good with a repaired chip near the butt (right side), filled hole towards the top (right side), few dings on the bottom, high edge wear and legible date and cartouches. Action functions fine. This is the most complete of the three famed 1877 Ordnance Model Revolvers. It is a historic, well-documented piece of U.S. Colt Cavalry Model Revolver history that is a must have for even the most advanced Colt SAA collection.

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