The Colt Single Action Army was one of the most popular handguns in late 19th century and is easily the most iconic and most thoroughly associated with the American West. Despite this popularity and the large number of Colts engraved during the preceding percussion era, reportedly only an estimated 1,000-1,500 Colt Single Action Army Revolvers were factory engraved of the 357,859 1st Generation Single Actions produced between 1873 and 1941. The first revolver, gun “A” (serial number 38673) in this set is documented in "The Official Record of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver: 1875-1895" by Don and Carol Wilkerson and Kathleen Hoyt on page 67 as the first engraved Colt Single Action Army Revolver listed in the factory records. Both the book and the factory letter indicates it was shipped to famous Colt dealer Benjamin Kittredge & Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, in .45 caliber with a nickel plated finish, factory engraving and ivory stock/grip on July 30, 1877. It was the sole gun of its type in the shipment. The book also notes that Kittredge ordered 160 of the 178 ivory stocked Single Actions manufactured that year. Perhaps even more interesting than gun "A" in this lot, "the first factory engraved Colt Single Action Army recorded by the factory," is its mate, gun “B” (serial number 32889). Gun “B” features an earlier serial number and earlier frame markings and is undoubtedly factory engraved, most likely by the most prolific 19th century engraver Gustave Young, for exhibition. It is imperative to note that Colt's records/serial numbers are not necessarily directly in sequence with production years as they are based on shipping records. So, while “A” is the first revolver in factory shipping records, there are revolvers like “B” that are earlier Single Actions that were factory engraved but either show up as “no record” guns or letter as shipped in the late 1870s or later. This is especially the case with Colt’s historically significant early factory engraved Single Actions from the 1870s that were factory exhibition pieces. For example, 32915 from our June 2020 auction letters as shipped on December 18, 1878, but it is an 1876 production revolver that was factory engraved. Like the “A” revolver, 32915 was part of a shipment of nickel engraved Colts shipped to B. Kittredge & Co. This shipment consisted of 20 guns. Single Action 32922 is also known to be a part of this December 18, 1878, shipment to B. Kittredge & Co. These revolvers fall late within the 1876 serial number range. It is possible those revolvers along with gun “B” were part of the famous “wheel” display at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and Colt had set aside a block for engraved exhibition guns. If not part of the famous wheel display themselves, they were very likely ordered based on the display given Colt experts have indicated revolvers in this shipment to Kittredge closely matched those in the "wheel." Known examples from the wheel display were factory engraved, nickel plated, and fitted with ivory grips. Like “B,” other revolvers strongly believed to have been Colt exhibition pieces in the late 19th century also show up as “no record” guns (51067 from our December 2019 sale for example). If "B" and others like it did not leave the company's inventory through normal channels because they were presented or sold at the Centennial Exhibition or another historic exhibition such as in Paris at the Exposition Universelle in 1878 or one of the annual American Institute Fairs in New York, that would explain why they do not appear in the shipping records. Colt’s letter when they were finally sold/shipped unlike Winchester’s exhibition guns which often have logged dates for multiple shipping and receipt dates in relation to the exhibitions they were displayed at. We feel strongly that 32889 (gun “B”) was a factory exhibition piece, but regardless of the exact circumstances of its selection for factory engraving, it is certainly among the finest and most attractive early engraved Colt Single Action Army revolvers, is in the same configuration and style as known exhibition revolvers, and is an incredible Colt worthy of a prominent place in an advanced Colt collection alongside its mate, “the first factory engraved Colt Single Action Army recorded by the factory.” This incredible cased pair is featured on page 32 of the 1971 "Antiques Arms Annual", on the cover of "The Gun Report Volume 38, Number 2" from July 1992 (copy included), and the cover of the "Collector Arms Dealers Association Gun Journal" from May 1995 (copy included). Each of the publications indicate the engraving was completed by legendary 19th century Master Engraver Gustave Young. The first two note it was in the collection of well-known collector Jonathan Peck (1912-2002) from Hartford, who built one of the finest 19th century American fine arms collections. The Peck Collection at one time held this incredible pair as well as the "Greek Slave" Winchester 1866 serial number 79994, The Gzowski 1876 Winchester serial number 53072, Colt 1851 Navy "The Black Beauty" serial number 163902, and The Joseph Hawley Pair of Colt 1860 Army revolvers numbered 151388/151389 to name a few. The engraving on the revolvers is nearly identical and consists of scroll, floral, and dot patterns in an open style without backgrounds; lined borders, and beaded panels around the front sights and at the toes. Based on the serial numbers, the revolvers were manufactured in 1876 (B) and 1877 (A). “B” has the "E" marking used by Colt to note revolvers selected for engraving. Both revolvers have all matching visible serial numbers. The “A” revolver's serial numbers are lightly struck, a factory error. “A” has assembly number "1" on the loading gate, and “B” has assembly number "5" on the loading gate. They are nickel plated and have niter blued small parts. A has a nickel trigger while B has a niter blue trigger. The barrels have the "-COLT'S PT. F.A. MFG. Co. HARTFORD, CT.-" address. The ejectors have the "bullseye" shaped buttons. The “A” revolver has the three-line 1871, 1872, and 1875 patent marking. The “B” revolver is one of the last to have the two-line 1871 and 1872 patent marking. On page 36 of "A Study of the Colt Single Action Army" by Graham, Kopec, and Moore, the authors note that 32886 (just three numbers earlier) was the highest civilian revolver they witnessed with this marking. “B” also has "45 CAL" on the left side of the trigger guard. Both cylinders have "C" and "T" markings on the rear between the chambers. The case has a blank lid escutcheon, fitted interior, and a large cartridge block.
Excellent with 98% bright original nickel plated finish, 75% plus niter blue finish on the screws and arbor pin, and minimal light handling and storage wear overall. The grip is also excellent and has attractive natural tones and grain, some minor nicks on the butts, and some light scratches. Mechanically excellent. The case is very fine and has relatively minor overall wear.
Exceptionally fine with crisp engraving and markings, 85% plus original nickel plating remaining, spots of minor flaking mainly at the muzzle and breech sections and in the cylinder flutes, essentially all of the niter blue remaining on the trigger, faded niter blue on the arbor and screws, some slight oxidation/pitting mainly on the face of the cylinder and sides of the frame at the breech, and relatively minor overall wear. The grip is excellent and has attractive natural tones and grain, very limited tiny age lines/checks at the butt, and light handling and storage wear. Mechanically excellent. This is an extraordinarily rare and beautiful cased pair of documented Exhibition Factory Engraved Colt Single Action Army Revolvers! Provenance: Gerald Fox, Johnathan Peck, Eric Vaule, Richard Ellis, Property of a Lady.
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