Rock Island Auction Company
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Lot 1233: Pair of Samuel Colt Presentation Colt Model 1860 Army Revolvers

Auction Date: December 4, 2021

Documented Historic Cased Pair of Samuel Colt Presentation Inscribed Colt Model 1860 Army Percussion Revolvers Presented to Colonel James Cameron, Brother of Secretary of War Simon Cameron and a Union Hero Killed at the First Battle of Bull Run, Accompanied by a Large Quantity of Documents and Family Heirlooms

Estimated Price: $75,000 - $125,000

A) Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: 1860 Army
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 44
Barrel: 8 inch round
Finish: blue/casehardened/silver
Grip: walnut
Stock:
Item Views: 735
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 98
Class: Antique
Description:

These historic revolvers are each inscribed "Col. James Cameron/with Compliments of Col. Colt" on the back straps. The other markings are standard, including all matching visible serial numbers. They are finished with blue on the barrels and cylinders, silver plating on the grip frames, and case colors on the loading levers, frames, and hammers. Each is fitted with a varnished walnut grip, and the frames and back straps are cut for use with shoulder stocks. The case also contains the top of a cartridge pack, the top of a second, an Eley Bros. cap tin, "COLTS/PATENT" powder flask with slanted spout, blued iron double cavity bullet mold with "COLT'S/PATENT" marked sprue cutter, an L-shaped combination tool, and spare parts. The set and its history are discussed in the article "Colonel James Cameron with Compliments of Colonel Colt" by Henry A. Truslow in American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin No. 97 from the Spring of 2008. In it, Truslow notes that he suspects that the set was presented at a gala held on June 20, 1861, in Washington, D.C., at which they celebrated Cameron's appointment as colonel and where a speech was given by Secretary of War Simon Cameron, Colonel Cameron's older brother. He also discusses how the revolvers were separated and reunited which will be discusses later. This cased set is pictured and discussed on page 368 and 369 of "The Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver" by Charles W. Pate and was part of a small series of historic multi-gun cased sets presented by Samuel Colt to influential Union officials during the first year of the Civil War. This pair's serial numbers are earlier than the vast majority of the sets that were presented in the fall of 1861. These revolvers would be among the earliest revolvers Colt presented during the Civil War. By that time, Colt had long made it part of his business promotional campaigns to present fine revolvers to influential men. Gifting a pair of such fine pistols to the brother of the Secretary of War was certainly a Colt move. As early as April of 1861, Colt was personally lobbying the government for contracts and sales for the Union cause and asked the Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to ask President Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron how his company could be of assistance. He indicated his factory could supply 100,000 guns that year. Colt was actively working on expanding the armory's size and production capabilities. The presentation of this cased pair and the others were thus likely calculated by Samuel Colt as part of a wider campaign to demonstrate his dedication to the Union and secure lucrative government contracts. Colt died on January 10, 1862, but his factory produced hundreds of thousands of arms for the Union war effort. The presentations made in 1861 were thus the last of his presentation pieces and are particularly significant in the history of Colt firearms. It is believed that roughly fifteen individuals, mostly high ranking Union officers or government officials, received sets inscribed to them from Samuel Colt in 1861. In total, approximately sixty revolvers were given, many in four gun, double cased sets. The other known recipients and what their positions were in or around November 1861 are as follows: Secretary of War Simon Cameron (Colonel James Cameron's older brother), General James Wolfe Ripley (Chief of Ordnance), General Randolph B. Marcy (McClellan's chief of staff and father-in-law), General Joseph K.F. Mansfield (commanded the Department of Washington), General Irvin McDowell (a division commander in the Army of the Potomac), General Ambrose E. Burnside (commander of the North Carolina Expeditionary Force), General Thomas W. Sherman (commander of the Port Royal Expedition), General Andrew Porter (provost marshal of the District of Columbia), General George B. McClellan (general-in-chief of all the Union armies), General Nathaniel P. Banks (commander of the western district of Maryland), General Benjamin F. Butler (commander at Fort Monroe), General William Anderson Thornton (commander of multiple arsenals and also an inspector during the war), General Lorenzo Thomas (Adjutant General of the U.S. Army), and Edward S. Sanford of the American Telegraph Company (worked with the U.S. Military Telegraph Service/Corps). Each set was inscribed with the individual's name followed by "with Compliments of Col Colt" on the back strap like this pair. Some of the sets appear under the heading "Presents for Officers" on October 23, 1861, just two days after the Union defeat at the Battle of Ball's Bluff (Leesburg) near Washington. Colonel James Cameron (1801-1861) married Rebbecca Leman, the sister of well-known Pennsylvania gunmaker Henry E. Leman, in 1829 and also became the owner and editor of the "Lancaster Sentinel" that same year. He was also a superintendent of the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad and a lawyer before the war. At the outbreak of the war, Cameron joined the fight to preserve the union. He was the commander of the 79th New York (Highlanders) Volunteer Infantry organized in New York City and mustered in on May 29, 1861. Colonel Cameron was tragically killed in the first major battle of the Civil War: the disastrous First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas). He was shot while rallying his men and calling out "Come on, my brave Highlanders!" during the fight at the Henry House Hill while they were under heavy fire from Colonel Wade Hampton's Legion. There were attempts made to carry Cameron off the field after his death, but he was ultimately left behind. His hat, weapons, and horse were recovered. The Confederates looted his body, left it on the field, and later buried it in a common grave despite attempts by Union officers to retrieve him under a flag of truce and sending letters to the Confederate headquarters. Truslow indicates that General Beauregard refused to allow the body to be returned. Family correspondence concerning the effort is included. Cameron's death was widely reported in the papers. "The Philadelphia Inquirer" on July 25, 1861, reported "Our wounded and dead still remained on the field of battle on Tuesday morning, but nearly all had been stripped of their valuables by the thieving traitors" and indicated Cameron was shot while charging a Confederate battery. His remains were finally retrieved in March 1862, and he was re-interned in Lewisburg Cemetery, in Lewisburg, Union County, Pennsylvania. He was one of the first Union colonels to be killed in the war and is reported to be the first officer from Pennsylvania killed. The battle took place so close to Washington, D.C., (around 30 miles) that U.S. Senators and other civilian spectators watched from the surrounding hillsides and even came under fire. Secretary of War Simon Cameron (1799-1889) is said to have been among them and watched the very battle in which his younger brother was killed while bravely leading his men. Colonel Cameron's Model 1860 Army revolvers are serial numbers 1856 and 4257 and are thus considerably earlier than the 11672-11719 range of the other revolvers in the 1861 presentation series noted by R.L. Wilson on page 156 of "The Book of Colt Engraving Volume 1." Given this, it is almost a certainty the set was presented before he was killed. As laid out in Truslow's article, the set was later divided up. One of the revolvers is believed to have been taken to Indiana by his sister Catharine Maria Bobbs whose husband was a prominent doctor from Indianapolis, and the other was apparently kept by William and remained in Pennsylvania. The wooden "remembrance box" included with the set is reported as having been kept by his sister as well. It has painted floral motifs on the lid and has a clipped obituary inside the lid, pins (including a rare 79th New York thistle cap pin), buttons, pieces of a uniform, a straight razor, shaving mirror, lock and key, more correspondence, and a variety of portraits of James Cameron, including multiple of Cameron as colonel of the New York Highlanders, as well as other members of his family. The revolvers were reunited at the Pennsylvania Gun Collector Association's fall show on November 17, 1988, when Virgil Mylin brought up that he had a revolver presented by Samuel Colt to Colonel James Cameron apparently without realizing that Truslow, who was standing at the same table and had never met Mylin, had the case and the other revolver and had basically given up hope of ever finding the missing revolver. A newspaper clipping showing the two men reuniting the set is included. The revolver Mylin was in possession of was previously in The Johnnie Basse Collection.

Rating Definition:

Fine. The Samuel Colt presentation inscription remains crisp. 50% of the vibrant original case colors remain on the loading lever, frame, and hammer. The barrel and cylinder have 20% of the original finish remaining, and the balance is mainly a smooth gray patina. The wedge spring is broken. Over half of the original silver plating remains on the grip frame. The back strap exhibits mild pitting and oxidation. The grip is also fine and retains the majority of the original high gloss "piano" varnish and has flaking along the lower sections, and mild dings and scratches. The hammer will not lock at half-cock, but the revolver is otherwise mechanically fine. The case is very good and exhibits wear mainly associated with age and storage such as scratches and marks on the refinished case exterior and a reglued crack in the lid. There are some dings on the otherwise fine flask and some minor loss of the finishes of the flask and bullet mold.



B) Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: 1860 Army
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 44
Barrel: 8 inch round
Finish: blue/casehardened/silver
Grip: walnut
Stock:
Item Views: 735
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 98
Class: Antique
Description:

As discussed in "A."

Rating Definition:

Fine. The historic Samuel Colt presentation inscription to Colonel Cameron remains distinct. The barrel and cylinder retain 50% of the original high polish blue finish and has flaking to a smooth brown patina on most of the balance along with some light oxidation. 70% of the vibrant original case colors remain on the loading lever, frame, and hammer which show only minor age related fading. The trigger guard retains 80% of the original aged silver plating, and the back strap retains traces and otherwise displays brighter steel with mild pitting. The grip is very fine and retains most of the high gloss "piano" varnish with a spot of minor wear on the right side at the lower edge. The revolver remains mechanically excellent. This is easily one of the most historic pairs of Civil War Colt revolvers in existence. They are part of a limited number of revolvers presented to Union officers and government officials the year before Samuel Colt's death, and this pair was owned by a man who gave his life for the preservation of the Union. He certainly could have sat the war out or participated in a non-combatant role, but instead, Colonel James Cameron led his men into battle and died a hero.



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