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December 10, 2020

Army Revolvers vs. Navy Revolvers

By Mike Burns

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The annual Army–Navy game took place this year on December 12, 2020, and continued a tradition that dates back over a century. The college football rivalry began when the Army Black Knights of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the Navy Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, first played each other in 1890. Since then, the competition has grown to become a national phenomenon and a treasured past-time for many fans. This year the Army surprised many fans, shutting out the Navy for the first time since 1969 at 15-0.

When is the Army v. Navy game in 2020? Saturday, December 12, at 2:00 P.M. Standard.

While friendly at heart, the rivalry between these two teams is incredibly intense and extends beyond just two colleges, but rather is a reflection of the healthy competition between two of the most powerful branches of the military. Currently Navy leads the series against the Army at 61–53–7.

Did you know the first Army-Navy football game took place back in 1890?

The history behind this famous rivalry dates back to the very conception of the United States after the American Revolution. While similar in their goals, the Army and the Navy are very different entities that hold completely separate traditions, ranks, and even in choice of side arm. That’s right! Army Revolvers and Navy Revolvers may look similar, but much like the branches that use them, they each come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Explore the differences between these two revolvers and why they are so valuable to collectors today.

History of the U.S. Army

The Second Continental Congress founded the United States Army in 1775 in order to create a protective entity to guard the 13 colonies. Considered to be a descendant from the Continental Army, the United States Army’s establishment predates the founding of the country itself and is the oldest branch of the U.S. military. Since its humble beginnings as a small militia, the army has grown to become one of the most powerful fighting forces in history.

Seal of the United States Army.

As the land-based branch of the United States Armed Forces, the Army preserves peace and security for the defense of the United States, supports national policies, implements national objectives, and overcomes any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the security of the country. Today, most Army soldiers are equipped with a standard 9mm M9 or M11 pistol but will eventually transition to M17 through the Modular Handgun System program that aims to implement newer side arms for troops.

Did you know that Elvis Presley served in the United States Army during the height of his career? It was during his time in West Germany where he met his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu.

Throughout the history of the United States, the Army has played an integral role in conflicts overseas throughout World War I, World War II, and the Gulf Wars. Historic and prolific men such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas Macarthur, George Marshall, and Omar Bradly have all held momentous roles in the Army during the 20th century while legendary men like William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, and George Washington paved the way before them. Many celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Clark Gable, and Tom Selleck have all served in the Army in various forms as well.

History of the U.S. Navy

Much like the Army, the United States Navy was first formed during the American Revolution by the Second Continental Congress in 1775. Unlike the Army, however, the Navy was disbanded shortly following the conclusion of the war. While it was reformed shortly after its disbandment, it was really only in the mid-19th century, following the American Civil War, that the U.S. Navy would begin modernization efforts to resemble the branch of the military most are familiar with today. This “New Navy” saw the transition from sailing ships to the innovation of ironclads eventually becoming the world’s largest naval force by 1945.

Did you know that the first Ironclad battle took place during the American Civil War? Joel from Rock Island Auction Company talks all about this historic battle in the video above.

As the seaborne branch of the United States Armed Forces, the Navy prepares naval forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war, maintains naval aviation and all air weapons and air techniques involved in the operations and activates of the Navy, and develops aircrafts, weapons, tactics, techniques organizations, and equipment of naval combat. The five official enduring functions of the U.S. Navy are listed as sea control, power projection, deterrence, maritime security, and sealift. Members of the United States Navy typically carry the Beretta M9 (much like their Army counterparts) and plan on eventually replacing the pistol with the Sig Sauer M17 and M18 models.

Seal of the United States Navy.

The American Navy has played a critical role in the defense of the United States throughout its history mist notably during the War of 1812, World War I, and World War II. Today, the U.S. Navy is the largest and most capable navy in the world and, in terms of tonnage of active battle fleets, is larger than the following 13 navies COMBINED. Notable names such as John Paul Jones, John F. Kennedy, and Neil Armstrong have all served in the Navy along with notable celebrities such as MC Hammer, Henry Fonda, and Jesse Ventura.

Exploring the Weapons of the Army and Navy

While the various branches of the military now utilize a common side arm throughout most of its branches, this way not always the case. Particularly evident between the Army and Navy, different branches of the military often dealt with entirely different terrains, environments, and situations that would require drastically different equipment in response.

Lot 1048: Cased Pair of Colt Model 1860 Army Percussion Revolvers

Of particular interest to many are the Colt 1860 Army and 1861 Navy revolvers because of their frequent and effective use during the American Indian Wars as well as the American Civil War during the 1800s. Similar in design, these two wheel guns are highly desirable and incredibly alluring explaining why they are commonly confused with each other. Almost identical in color, design, and size, what exactly differentiates Army and Navy revolvers?

Artist depiction of a dragoon.

In the Army, muskets and other old styles of firearms remained prominent among soldiers. Extremely cumbersome and difficult to load in short periods of time, these rifles were still the most powerful and accurate weapons of the era. However, smaller side arms were often provided to horse mounted dragoons that would use the pistols as a second method of defense or with the intent of shooting an adversary’s horse from underneath them. Smaller side arms were useful not only because of their compact size, but also because of their readiness to operate at a moment’s notice.

John Paul Jones was the United States' first well-known naval commander in the American Revolutionary War. He is depicted here with several pistols tucked in his belt.

For sailors, life on the open ocean also warranted the need for self-protection. Unlike their mounted counterparts, sailors worked in close and confined spaces and required the mobility and flexibility to maneuver around aboard their vessels. Thus, the need for a lighter pistols to combat enemy pirates or raids was needed. While those on the land kept their larger pistols in pommel holsters while on horseback, sailors preferred lighter and smaller caliber pistols that were often kept in sashes or belts. This difference in needs and accessories continued well into the Civil War and the introduction of cartridge ammunition and repeating arms like revolvers and rifles.

This presentation engraved & gold inlaid Manhattan Navy revolver believed to have been presented to former Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard sold for $230,000 during Rock Island Auction Company's Premier December Auction.

The Colt 1860 Army and the Colt 1861 Navy revolvers reflect this continued theme by offering two distinct variations of an incredibly beautiful revolver. Both guns have similar weights, the capability of killing a horse with a single shot, and optimal performance at close range. The two guns have near identical frames, color schemes, and a six shot cylinder. Both are single-action revolvers and were exceedingly popular among the military. Designed also for civilian use, both models are still highly sought after by collectors today.

Colt Army Revolvers

The Colt 1860 Army revolver was the most widely used revolver throughout the Civil War, more often by Union troops who generally had better access to more advanced methods of production. More than 200,000 units were manufactured between 1860 and 1871 with the United States government purchasing nearly half of all models produced. Another definitive feature of the revolver was the front and rear sights which granted the user full view when the gun was fully cocked. Accurate from 75 to 100 yards and firing projectiles at roughly 900 feet per second, this destructive force was valued highly by soldiers compared to the burdensome alternatives.

This magnificently engraved Colt Model 1860 Army revolver was in RIAC President Kevin Hogan's top 20 items in the December Premier Auction. It sold for an impressive $103,500.

The Colt 1860 Army revolver was notoriously expensive at the time, costing $20 when first released. Since many soldiers had to buy their weapons out of pocket, this price was heavily criticized and eventually brought down to a more reasonable $14.50. Another notable feature of the gun was the absence of a top strap on the frame meaning that the strength of the gun rested on the large, fixed cylinder pin near the center of the weapon. Ultimately making the gun slimmer and smaller than anything other competitors had available.

Lot 1142: Lt. Ducat Presentation Engraved Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver sold in December of 2020 for $103,500.

With an estimated survival rate of only 2.16%, these original Colt Model 1860 Army percussion revolvers have been extremely desirable and sought-after by collectors for decades. This beautifully engraved Colt Model 1860 Army revolver presented to Lt. Colonel Arthur Ducat, Inspector General of the Amery of Cumberland, recently sold during Rock Island Company’s December Premier Auction for $103,500.

Colt Navy Revolvers

Colt 1861 Navy revolvers owe much of their success to their 1851 predecessor which was frequently used and favored by many armies around the world during the mid-19th century. The Colt 1851 Navy revolver was developed from the .44 Walker Colt revolver of 1847 and is essentially an enlarged version of the widely popular .31 Colt 1849 Pocket Percussion revolver. Well-liked by those on the American frontier, Colt 1851 Navy revolvers have been favored by the likes of Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill, as well as most of the Texas Rangers. Reportedly, the revolvers were so prominent around the world that the Ottoman Empire utilized the percussion guns as late as the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-88 when the weapons were already considered antiquity compared to more modern cartridge-firing designs like the Smith & Wesson Model 3.

Lot 1129: U.S. Contract Colt Model 1861 Navy Revolver sold in April of 2020 for $218,500.

The Colt 1861 revolver was also extremely successful during its production, seeing heavy use in the American-Philippine War as well as on the Western Frontier. Consisting of a rounded barrel, the 1861 Navy revolver’s .36 caliber was attractive to many, especially cavalry soldiers, because of its light recoil. Much like the 1851 Navy, the 1861 Navy revolver also features the same cylinder engraving depiction of the Second Texas Navy at the Battle of Campeche on May 16, 1843, by artist, Waterman Ormsby. Also popular during the Civil War, these revolvers received a fraction of the same orders the Colt Army received from the United States Government.

This gorgeous U.S. contract Colt Model 1861 Navy revolver sold in April of 2020 for $218,000. Rock Island Auction Company President Kevin Hogan explains why it was in his top 10 items of that Premier Auction in the video above.

Out of the original 38,864 Colt 1861 Navy revolvers produced, it is estimated that only about 2.9% of those still remain today. Much like their Army equivalent, 1861 Navy revolvers are incredibly valuable because of their low survivability rate connected thanks to their hazardous occupational use in the past. This past April, Rock Island Auction Company sold an extremely rare and outstanding U.S. Civil War contract Colt 1861 Navy revolver for a jaw-dropping $218,500. Certainly a pretty penny, this price is indicative of how valuable some of these revolvers can be.

What is the Difference between Colt Army Revolvers and Colt Navy Revolvers?

The primary difference between the Army revolver and the Navy revolvers is in the caliber of the gun. The Army revolver is chambered in .44 while the Navy is in .36 caliber. This difference is indicative of the aforementioned traditions and customs of the two distinct branches; the navy still preferred a smaller pistol for use while the army did not.

This serial number 11 Colt Model 1861 Navy revolver sold for $18,400 during the December Premier Auction.

The Army revolver also consists of a rebated cylinder which, when compared to the flat and even sides of the Navy cylinder, is especially prominent. The Navy revolver is roughly 2.6 pounds, almost 13 inches long, and retains a 7.5 inch barrel while the Army revolver weighs 2.11 pounds, is 14 inches long, and has an 8 inch barrel making it slightly larger.

This Colt Model 1860 Army revolver featuring stunning relief carved grips sold for $12,650 at the December 2020 Premier Auction.

Despite their names, neither the Colt 1860 Army nor the Colt 1861 Navy revolvers were originally intended to be sold for military applications but rather for civilian use. Deriving much of their mechanical operates from preexisting and successful models for common use, Colt Army and Navy revolvers mimicked many of the features found on Walker, Dragoon, and Paterson revolvers.

Theodore Roosevelt's Single Action Army revolver recently sold for $1.4 million during Rock Island Auction Company's December 2020 Premier Auction. Watch it sell in the video above!

Both revolvers remained extremely popular despite the release of newer models in the coming decades such as the Colt Single Action Army revolver, often called the “Peacemaker.”

Army and Navy: Colt's Legacy

Colt is one of the most recognizable names in all of firearms because of their long history, innovative designs, and exceptional quality. Founded by the ingenious Samuel Colt, the firearms company has expanded from its modest roots to become one of the most popular weapons manufacturers in the world. Colt revolvers are iconic and played a prominent role throughout 19th century America and the settlement of the West. Perhaps it is this deeply cemented patriotism in the company’s history that defines the value of Colt firearms so highly above other.

Colt Army and Navy Revolvers are a perfect example of this. Both guns appear so similar they are commonly mistaken for each other and have near identical proportions. However, these two models each have unique design details, histories, and values.

Besides Army and Navy revolvers, Rock Island Auction Company also sold the finest known B Company Colt Walker Model 1847 revolver for $402,500 during its spectacular December 2020 Premier Auction. You never know what might show up at an event like this!

Hopefully this article was able to shed some light on the differences between Army and Navy revolvers, their history, and the history of the United States. Who did you anticipate to win the Army–Navy game?

This factory engraved Colt No. 5 Texas Paterson revolver sold during the 2020 December Premier Auction for $316,250

For more information on future auctions, consignment, or registration, please contact Rock Island Auction Company today.

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