Lot #1220
Lot #1222

Lot 1221: SN 1 Prototype .40 Caliber Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver

Extremely Rare, Historic, Documented, and NRA Award Winning Colt Model 1851 "Navy" Experimental Prototype .40 Caliber Percussion Revolver Serial Number 1 from the Colt Factory Museum Collection

Auction Date: December 10, 2022

Lot 1221: SN 1 Prototype .40 Caliber Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver

Extremely Rare, Historic, Documented, and NRA Award Winning Colt Model 1851 "Navy" Experimental Prototype .40 Caliber Percussion Revolver Serial Number 1 from the Colt Factory Museum Collection

Auction Date: December 10, 2022

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Estimated Price: $100,000 - $200,000

Extremely Rare, Historic, Documented, and NRA Award Winning Colt Model 1851 "Navy" Experimental Prototype .40 Caliber Percussion Revolver Serial Number 1 from the Colt Factory Museum Collection

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: 1851 Navy
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 40
Barrel: 7 1/2 inch octagon
Finish: blue/casehardened
Grip: walnut
Stock:
Item Views: 660
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 186
Class: Antique
Description:

The Colt Model 1851 Navy was one of Samuel Colt's most popular revolvers. Over a quarter of a million of these revolvers were manufactured between the introduction of the model in 1850 and the end of percussion revolver production in 1873. More Colt Model 1851 Navy revolvers were used in the 19th century than the famous Colt Single Action Army. At first glance, this revolver looks like a standard Model 1851 Navy in incredibly high condition, a rarity in and of itself, but the matching serial number "1" markings visible on the loading lever, cylinder, barrel, frame, trigger guard, and back strap then clues that this revolver is something even more special. A check of the caliber reveals it to one of the rarest Colt firearms ever made: a .40 caliber Colt Model 1851 "Navy". You could count on one hand how many of these incredibly rare revolvers were ever manufactured and still have your pinkie to spare. In the 1850s, Colt's Model 1851 Navy was arguably his most important model. While the Model 1849 Pocket was the most popular in terms of overall sales, the Model 1851 Navy was the model adopted by the U.S. Army and Navy as well as multiple foreign militaries and thus presented the best possibility for large government contracts. Colt's .44 caliber revolvers starting with the famous Walker followed by the various Dragoon models were too large and cumbersome to be suitable for belt carry but were well-suited for riding in pommel holsters for the dragoons and cavalry and were not nearly as popular. Colt manufactured more '51 Navy revolvers in just the year 1856 than they did Dragoon revolvers in total across more than a decade. However, while the .36 caliber '51 Navy revolvers were popular, they did not provide nearly as much firepower. Finding a way to bridge the gap between the two was logical and an excellent opportunity to perhaps entice new customers unimpressed by the .36 caliber revolvers. In U.K., for example, Colt's main competition was the .442 caliber Beaumont-Adams revolver. Colt and his team certainly knew that finding a way to increase the firepower while still being able to use as many '51 Navy components as possible would make it more efficient and profitable for the company to produce. The idea is somewhat akin to the later development of the .40 S&W which bridges the gap between the various .38 caliber cartridges then in use and the larger .45 ACP. The barrel has a brass cone front sight and is marked with "DRESS SAML COLT NEW-YORK CITY-" on top. The "AD" at the front of the address may have been lightly struck and polished off when the revolver was finished. The left side of the frame has the "COLTS/PATENT" marking. The six-shot cylinder has the standard "COLTS PATENT No" marking and roll-scene. The iron/steel trigger guard has a large round bow. The back strap is also iron. The left side of ther trigger guard has a "K" at the front and an "M" at the rear where the caliber is usually marked (meaning "Model" per Flayderman). A "1/SUPICA" and "SERIAL/NUMBER/ONE" marked tag and a "LOAN/to/NRA" tag accompany the revolver. The basic history of this rare revolver is explained well in "Guns of the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum" on page 195 which states: "In the 1850s, Colt attempted to develop a model with more power than their handy holster size .36 caliber Model 1851 Navy that was also smaller than their massive .44 caliber Dragoon. Before settling on the rebated cylinder Model 1860 Army, they experimented with a .40 caliber revolver on the 1851 Navy frame. This is s/n 1 of four produced." This incredibly rare experimental .40 caliber Colt Model 1851 Navy won the NRA Silver Medal #349 in 1995 for Ten Best Arms (medal, box, and display plaque included); was loaned to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming for the Colt Collector Association display from July 2002 through late 2003; is pictured and discussed in Wilson's "Book of Colt Firearms" on pages 120, 121, & 130; "Evolution of the the Colt: Firearms from the Robert Q. Sutherland Collection" by Wilson on page 10; displayed at NRA National Sporting Arms Museum from 2013 to 2022; is pictured in "Guns of the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum" on page 195; was featured on the Season 4, Episode 16 "Serial Number One Guns" of "Gun Stories" on the Outdoor Channel; and was featured in Season 3, Episode 5 "The .40 cal Solution" of the NRA Gun Gurus. The included R.L. Wilson letter provides more details on the revolver's history after it was manufactured in the late 1850s. He indicates this revolver "is rarer than any other model, in fact, even more rare than the Double Rifle" and notes that serial number 3 was part of Samuel Colt's personal firearms collection. Wilson indicates this revolver "left the Colt Factory Museum Collection while Fred A. Roff was company President. Certain guns from the Museum Collection were retained by Colt when the Collection was transferred to the Connecticut State Library, 1957. Among these was Number 1 .40 caliber Navy. In October of 1965, Mrs. Roff contacted Colt's and asked for help in disposing of her husband's collection, several of the guns having been taken home by Roff, and were set up on display in their recreation room. The included letter from Norm Flayderman explains that the current grip is indeed original and that the checkered antique ivory grip shown in Wilson's books was put on only for photographing purposes. Wilson, however, stated that those grips were "noted in one of the factory museum inventories" in "The Book of Colt Firearms." Provenance: The Colt Factory Museum Collection; The Fred A. Roff Collection; The Johnny Basset Collection; The Robert Berryman Collection; The Norm Flayderman Collection; The Supica Collection

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine. The barrel and cylinder retain 95% plus original bright blue finish and have some light scratches, very slight fading at the edges, and a small section of flaking on the right side of the barrel. The loading lever, frame, and hammer retain 97% plus original fiery case colors with minimal age related fading mainly on the recoil shield and only some scattered minor handling and storage marks. The grip frame retains 40% original bright blue finish and has fading from handling to an even gray patina on the grip straps. The grip is very fine and has small chips at the toe, mild edge wear, most of the original finish, and light handling wear. Mechanically excellent. As R.L. Wilson wrote, this incredibly rare revolver is "one of the most interesting Colt percussion firearms known. Its excellence of condition, pedigree, documentation, and combination of rare features make it a 19th century firearms artifact well worthy of the finest private or museum collection."



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