Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 505: Gilded Age Tycoon's Colt New Navy Revolver

Auction Date: December 3, 2021

Historic Gilded Age Tycoon's Colt New Navy Double Action Revolver with Personal Relief Carved Grips and Factory Letter

Estimated Price: $4,500 - $7,000

Historic Gilded Age Tycoon's Colt New Navy Double Action Revolver with Personal Relief Carved Grips and Factory Letter

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: Navy Double Action
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 38 LC
Barrel: 6 inch round
Finish: blue
Grip: antique ivory
Item Views: 558
Item Interest: Average
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 304
Class: Antique

The revolver's factory letter lists it as shipped on September 15, 1898, with 19 other guns of this type in .38 caliber with 6 inch barrels, blue finish, and without grips to Hartley & Graham of New York City, and a “special notation” in the factory records notes “For: Howard Gould Yacht.” Howard Gould, son of one of the wealthiest Gilded Age robber barons Jay Gould, commissioned Hartley & Graham for the carved grips the revolver is wearing. The left panel is carved with Howard Gould’s “HG” monogram and the name of his yacht, “Niagara.” The 282 foot steam yacht Niagara was commissioned by the then-27 year old tycoon and built at the shipyards of Harlan and Hollingsworth in Wilmington, Delaware. The Niagara was finished in time for his wedding to actress Viola Katherine Clemmons (stage name Katherine Dayanand) and awaited the newlyweds in France after their October 12, 1898 wedding in Paris. When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, the U.S. Navy purchased the Niagara, turning the yacht into an armed patrol and escort vessel that cruised along the East Coast and the Caribbean. The vessel officially remained with the Navy until it was decommissioned in 1931. As for the newlyweds, the marriage quickly soured. From the start Howard’s father disapproved of the actress and even threatened to withhold his son’s inheritance if the two were to be married. The threat went unheeded, and Howard spent $5,000 out of his inheritance for the wedding, which was a poor investment as the marriage fell apart before the 10 year mark. She filed for divorce in 1907. Their divorce, which was finalized in 1909, was a tabloid spectacle. Howard accused Viola of infidelity but what made the story so scandalous was the man Howard proclaimed was having an affair with this wife. This man was the internationally famed Wild West showman Colonel W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Both Cody and Viola denied the accusations. Cody and Viola met in the 1880s with Cody investing in her acting career. At one point, Cody called her “the finest looking woman in the world.” Her good looks alone, however, could not save her career. According to one review, Viola had a "beautiful profile and a lissome figure but was devoid of any acting ability". On the American and British stage Viola suffered a number of failures, and after a string of flops in New York in 1894, Cody severed financial ties with her, which was said to have cost him an additional $40,000 to formalize the business split. Cody also knew Howard Gould. A lover of horses, Howard was frequently seen riding horseback along the grounds of Cody’s Wild West show where he was spied by Viola. She requested from Cody an introduction to her future ex-husband. By the time the divorce was in full swing Howard purportedly offered Cody $60,000 to go on record that he had an illicit affair with Viola. Although in debt and desperately in need of cash, Cody decided to choose the high road and refused the offer. When the divorce was finally settled, Viola received from Howard more than $100,000, a tremendous sum in 1909 that is equal to more than $2.9 million in today’s money. Viola spent most of her remaining days raising thoroughbreds on a Virginia farm where she died at the age of 61 in 1930. As for Howard, he went on to spend a large portion of his father’s fortune investing in failed stage plays. Fortunately for us, Howard had a better sense and taste when it came to spending his money on firearms, as this revolver shows. He remarried in 1937 to another actress, and just like his first marriage, divorced less than 10 years later. He died in 1959 at the age of 88. This revolver was featured as the cover story to the winter 2012 issue of "The Rampant Colt" written by Paul Fees. This issue of the official publication of the Colt Collectors Association is included. As the personal property of Howard Gould, this Colt New Navy Revolver weaves together the stories of an infamous robber baron’s playboy son, a beautiful actress who could not act and the larger than life character Buffalo Bill, all wrapped around a broken love story.

Rating Definition:

Very fine, retaining 85% original blue finish with smooth gray patina on the grip straps. The slightly age shrunken grips are also very fine with some minor handling marks and crisp carving. Mechanically excellent. A Colt New Navy Revolver with a very interesting story to tell!

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