Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 267: Colt Bisley Model Single Action Army Revolver with Inscription

Auction Date: December 3, 2021

Historical Factory Documented Antique Colt Bisley Model Single Action Army Revolver with Rare Factory Inscription: "Joseph MacDonald", Picture Box and Factory Letter

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $27,500 - $42,500

Historical Factory Documented Antique Colt Bisley Model Single Action Army Revolver with Rare Factory Inscription: "Joseph MacDonald", Picture Box and Factory Letter

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: Bisley
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 45 Long Colt
Barrel: 5 1/2 inch round
Finish: blue/casehardened
Grip: pearl
Item Views: 890
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 135
Class: Antique

This is an outstanding example of a Colt Bisley Single Action Army revolver manufactured in 1898 with a factory inscribed back strap and factory pearl grips. The back strap on this revolver is inscribed "Joseph Mac Donald". The accompanying factory letter confirms the serial number, 5 1/2 inch barrel length, blue finish, pearl grips, the engraved back strap, and that it was shipped as 1 to Ware Brothers in Spokane, Washington on April 12, 1898. The revolver is also accompanied by a letter of provenance by Kurt House dated 5-5-06 discussing the revolver and his preliminary research into the inscription. He notes census records for Montana listing a part Native American man named Joseph MacDonald born in 1866 or 1867 and also discusses that the MacDonald lineage is well known in the Spokane area since Angus MacDonald, the patriarch, was a Captain of the Hudson Bay Company. Our own research found records for wealthy mining engineer and executive Joseph MacDonald (1856-1939). He regularly visited Spokane, including in March of 1898 when he was identified as the manager of the Helena & Frisco Mine in Gem, Idaho. MacDonald was also the manager or otherwise involved in multiple other mines in western North America along with at least one of his brothers Michael E. MacDonald in the late 19th century and early 20th century, including the Treadwell Mine in Alaska and mines in Mexico. His business partner mining baron Patrick "Patsy" Clark lived in Spokane. MacDonald shot and killed religious fanatic N.C. Jones in 1902 when Jones made an attempt on MacDonald's life while he was managing the Treadwell Mine in Alaska because Jones, a missionary, believed God had instructed him to make sure the sabbath was observed. The operations at Treadwell are known to have only closed down for Christmas and Independence Day. It produced $66 million in gold and was the largest gold mine in existence when in operation. Jones and MacDonald had already had confrontations and efforts were being made to keep Jones away. However, when MacDonald returned home, he was confronted by Jones who was armed and tried to shoot him. MacDonald fired and hit Jones in each arm and twice in the torso which led to his death. MacDonald was originally cleared of wrong doing and continued to run the mine. He was indicted for the murder later while he was in Mexico managing other mines and returned to Alaska for trial for murder in 1913 and was ultimately found not guilty. His descendants indicate that he was a friend of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, and they still own a silver pitcher reportedly given to MacDonald by Villa. Interestingly, Villa himself owned a pearl handled Colt Bisley. His obituaries in 1939 indicated he died in South Pasadena, California, and was a mine manager for half a century, stood up to rioters at his mine in Gem, Idaho, and revolutionaries at his mine in Mexico and state that he was one of Alaska's pioneers as the manager of the Treadwell Mine in Juneau. One calls him "one of the best-known mining managers of the North American continent and an early day pistol shot..." and indicates he kept a handgun by his side up to his death. The revolver has the standard fixed blade and frame notched rear sights, smooth trigger and checkered hammer. The frame is casehardened and the remaining surfaces blue. According to "The Book of Colt Firearms" by R.L. Wilson, only about 40 Colt Bisley revolvers had factory inscriptions or monograms making this revolver extremely rare. The revolver is complete with an original extremely rare Colt hinged lid Bisley box. It is the standard Colt cardboard box with hinged lid, formed by linen cloth pasted to the box, and has the correct inner liner. According to some experts, there are only about six known boxes for Bisley revolvers. The label on the lid is marked with a large Rampant Colt on the left side and a picture of the Bisley revolver over "COLT'S/BISLEY MODEL/Single Action Revolver/Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Co./HARTFORD, CONN" to the right. It is highly unusual that the factory letter confirms the pearl grips as original to this specimen. This affirms that this gun is one of the select few black powder Bisley's, since the Model first was introduced in 1894 as a target pistol. The antique standard Bisley Models are somewhat scarce, as they were only produced for about three years, and one in a factory picture box can be considered very rare. Provenance: The Doug Ellison Collection

Rating Definition:

Excellent. The revolver retains 95% of the bright original high polish blue finish with loss limited to thinning on the muzzle, front edge of the ejector housing, high edge wear on the cylinder and on the back strap. In addition, the cylinder shows some scratches around the rear from cycling the action. The frame and hammer retain 97% plus of the original vivid case colors. Except for a few light scratches on the bottom of the left panel, the grips are also excellent. Mechanically excellent. The incomplete box is a bit fragile but remains in one piece (lid still attached), and the picture on the lid is still visible with other illustrations on the label and numerous pieces missing. The box has some minor restoration. Overall, an excellent and extremely rare Colt Bisley Model revolver with a rare factory inscription that would definitely enhance any Colt collection.

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