This fascinating Colt Second Model or "National Derringer" is among the rarest of all Colt handguns and certainly of Colt's popular derringers. The left side of the barrel is stamped "0 AM.STERLING." The top of the barrel is roll-stamped: "+ COLT'S PT. F.A. MFG. CO./HARTFORD CT.U.S.A." followed by No 2+." The serial number, "6415," is stamped on the bottom of the bird's head butt and on the underside of the barrel. The sides of the frame top of the receiver and top of the grip strap are decorated with the standard factory scroll engraving. The hammer spur and the face of the trigger are knurled, and both the hammer and trigger have a casehardened finish. The checkered walnut grips have a varnished finish. This pistol is pictured and discussed on pages 270-273 of the included copy of "A Life's Tapestry of a Collector: The Gamble Collection" by George F. Gamble and R.L. Wilson where the authors note that for a long time the few known "AM. STERLING" marked Colt Second Model Derringers were believed by many, including Wilson, to have been made with solid sterling silver frames and barrels. For example, see page 41 of "The Deringer in America Volume Two: The Cartridge Era" by L.D. Eberhart and R.L. Wilson and the derringer page 263 of "The Book of Colt Engraving" which calls 3642 a "unique solid sterling silver Second Model Colt Derringer, a presentation to the American Sterling Company. Documented by a Colt factory ledger entry." That pistol is noted as from the George S. Lewis Jr. Collection. Lewis figured out that this material was not actually sterling silver, and No. 3642 was also discussed in the article "Colt 'Deringers'" by him in the "American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin No. 53" from the fall of 1985 and where it is properly identified as "made of 'sterling metal' from the American Sterling Company" rather than actual sterling silver. In the letter to Lewis from Curator Arline G. Maver of the Connecticut State Library Museum & Colt Collection referenced by Wilson and shown in the article, Maver notes that the factory ledger on August 27, 1872, records: "Presentation 1 Natnl. Der. Pistol made of Sterling Metal from Am. Sterling Co. $4.75. To American Sterling Co., Naubuc (Conn.) Aug. 15th." She indicated that was the only reference to American Sterling located in the ledgers. In the included book, Gamble and Wilson, based on information from Connor FitzGerald, note that the American Sterling Co. of Hartford, Connecticut, manufactured an alloy similar to German-silver rather than sterling silver, and "The Colt company experimented with the new metal, which had the advantage of an appearance like sterling silver, but of a strength comparable to steel." The book also points to "The Science Record for 1873: A Compendium of Scientific Progress and Discovery During the Past Year with Illustrations" from 1873 which indicates the new alloy they produced was invented by Helen L. Macker and the new "American Sterling Metal" was being tried for various products, including the important details: "Its strength is so great that it can be, and has been, substituted for steel in the manufacture of pistol-barrels, while repeated tests, made at the Colt Armory, at Hartford, Conn., show that it has three times the tenacity of the latter metal. At an experimental trial, a spring of steel wire parted at 3000 pulls: 82,000 pulls were necessary to break a precisely similar wire of sterling." Gamble and Wilson note that only four examples of Colt derringers have been identified: 3635, 3642, 3847, and 6415, and only an estimated 100 are believed to have been manufactured, maybe even considerably less. It would be interesting to know more about the tests at the Colt factory and whether Colt started them or if the American Sterling Co. initiated the experiments, perhaps specifically for publicity of their metal's strength. These few known American Sterling Co. Colt "National Arms" Derringers would certainly have been excellent ways to show off the strength of the new alloy to interested customers, especially given that many would not have known how anemic the stubby .41 Short Rimfire cartridges were. Macker, a resident of Boston, received her patent on her "Improvement in Alloys to Imitate Silver" on January 23, 1872. The patent notes "This compound will not tarnish with age or weather" which this now roughly century and a half old pistol proves, and an alloy like this would have been desirable for making pocket pistols since they are prone to being exposed to heavy use and silver plating would naturally tarnish and flake under such conditions. Unfortunately, none of the details of the genesis of this limited run are known at this time beyond the reference in "The Science Record for 1873" and the vague Colt ledger listing. The American Sterling Co. of Connecticut (with an office in New York City) was rather short lived. The Glastonbury factory outside of Hartford that they used was previously operated by Curtisville Mfg. Co. 1854-1865 and was taken over by Thomas J. Vail c. 1865-1869. These companies manufactured German silver and plated flatware there. American Sterling Co. took over from Vail's trustee Leavitt Hunt in 1871, and Hunt is listed as the president of the new company. He appears to have been attorney Leavitt Hunt of Vermont, the former colonel of the 38th N.Y. Infantry during the Civil War who is remembered for his early photographs from his tour of the Middle East. His wife was Katherine Jarvis, daughter of diplomat and business man William Jarvis, was of no relation to Elizabeth Jarvis Colt that we could find. At the King's County Industrial Fair in Brooklyn in 1872, the American Sterling Co. received a diploma for their wares. Though they advertised their new metal that was not plated in 1872 and 1873, their later advertisements noted electro silver plated flatware made of their "greatly improved" alloy. A key aspect of this alloy was that it was strong and did not tarnish and also had a better appearance than other plated materials if the silver plating wore off. Interestingly, engraver Jacob Glahn worked for the firm and the National Arms Co. prior to the latter being bought out by Colt. Newspaper advertisements indicate the American Sterling Co.'s production at factory at Glastonbury, just outside of Hartford, had ended around late 1877, and additional publications indicate the company and factory was purchased at auction by J.B. Williams and William S. Williams in 1878 and ran as Williams Bros. Co. until 1950. They also used the American Sterling Co. as a brand name. Provenance: The George F. Gamble Collection
Exceptionally fine. Wear is limited to some minor handling marks and a few dings in the metal. The hammer and trigger have approximately half of the original casehardened finish, and the other small parts retain essentially all of their original niter blue finish. The barrel markings and scroll engraving are crisp. The grips are very fine with much of the original varnish and scattered light handling marks. Mechanically excellent. This is an extraordinary example of an extremely rare American Sterling marked Colt Second Model Derringer. This is the ultimate find in the Colt derringer collecting field and one of the hardest of all Colt handguns to acquire!
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