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April 17, 2014

Colt Lightnings & Thunderers

By Joel R Kolander

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Well, friends this is it. The last article of our 9-part series that shows off the exciting, historic, spectacular, and beautiful firearms that have come to Rock Island Auction Company and will highlight our May 2014 Premiere Auction. The good news is, these are far from being alone in their excellence. Having the enormous quantity of world-class guns that we do in this single auction is a thrill that never loses its kick. Today’s firearms are a model that has been requested by several collectors whose interests have been piqued by items they’ve seen in our Photo Preview. This email will focus on the impressive selection of Colt Model 1877 Lightnings and Thunderers that will be appearing in our May 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction. As always, we appreciate all your interest in Rock Island Auction Company.

Colt's first foray into the double action market was the Colt Model 1877 revolver. Known as the "Lightning" in its .38 LC chambering, it was very popular in police departments. 

Many times, when we see a fancy antique gun, we might wonder who it was made for. Some past baron of industry? A beloved sheriff? A politician or head of state? Maybe just someone who was well-to-do? This next revolver is just the type to instigate such questions, but is also gracious enough to provide us with a rather exciting answer.

This exceptional, factory engraved, nickel-plated Colt 1877 has been so well preserved it still has its original factory picture carton. The nickel plating is in remarkable condition and the factory engraving, a “Style 2” or “B” engraving, is likely that of Cuno A. Helfricht, chief Colt engraver in 1889, or possibly his staff. This engraving and nickel finish are accented by fiery blue accents from the ejector rod head, frame screws, trigger, and hammer top. But who would own such a fine and decorated revolver?

That answer comes from the factory letter, which lists the caliber, barrel length, finish, type of stocks, factory engraving, and also that it was shipped to “F.F. Knous, Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Mfg. Company, Hartford, Connecticut” on May 31, 1889. It specifies further that “Mr. Knous was Superintendent of the Colt Company during this time period.” Knous began working for Colt in 1861 and by 1890 was recognized by some as one of Colt’s most valued artisans and one of the best all around master mechanics in the country, as testified to by the many ordnance officers who had the pleasure of working with him.

Along with the box, which bears a large black and white “ENGRAVED” label, are a pink label glued to the inside of the carton lid entitled “DIRECTIONS for using COLT’s .38 in & .41 in cal RELOADING TOOLS,” the original tissue paper instruction sheet, a wire cleaning brush, and copies of patents issued to Franklin F. Knous. It’s yet another gun that provides a powerful combination of enticing traits for collectors: excellent condition, factory engraving, desirable make and model, original box, special finish, and an impressive provenance – a direct link to a valued and important employee at the Colt factory with a tenure extending nearly three decades.

Our next look will be at this outstanding, Gustave Young Master Engraved, gold and nickel-plated Colt Model 1877 Sheriff’s Model 1877 Lightning double action ejectorless revolver. The gold covers the cylinder, hammer, trigger, and cylinder pin and the nickel-plating covers the barrel, frame, trigger guard, and backstrap. All of the visible serial numbers match on this rare two-finish Colt which enjoys Gustave Young’s American style scrollwork factory engraving, equivalent to Colt “B.” The two-piece, black, hard rubber, bird’s head grips are checkered and in excellent shape. Manufactured in 1878, this revolver shows that it has been impeccably kept for the last 136 years.

This 1877 revolver was manufactured in 1895 and has profuse Nimschke engraving covering its surface in a wondrously well done floral scroll pattern. This Sheriff’s Model 1877 in addition to the master engraving that covers 95% of the gun, has a nitre blue hammer top, a checkered, one-piece walnut grip, and a lanyard ring mounted on the bird head grip.

This gun, unlike our first gun, does not do us the favor of telling us its former owner, though this handsome engraved monogram at the top of the checkered backstrap does give us quite a clue. It is touches like this and the scalloped border around the caliber designation on the barrel that make an already alluring gun all the more so.

The final gun we’ll look at today, though not the final 1877 in this auction, is yet another excellent chance to own a rare combination finish Colt! This documented, gold and nickel-plated, factory engraved, etched panel, pearl handled Lightning double action reads like a checklist for everything collectors want.

In addition to all the special features listed above, the revolver is further embellished with nitre blue trigger and back of its hammer, a ‘bulls eye’ head ejector rod, and bordered knurling on the hammer spur. All of the visible serial numbers match. Given the timeframe, this gun’s American style scrollwork and punchdot background is another likely candidate as the work of Master Engraver Cuno A. Helfricht or his shop.

Lightning, Thunderers, and More!

There you have it Colt 1877 collectors! Ask and you shall receive. We hope that these 4 choice examples have whetted your appetite to see the remaining 1877 revolvers in this sale as well as the 530+ other Colts appearing in this auction! We’ll have everything from Walkers and Patersons to Gatling guns and a remarkable selection of M1911/A1 pistols, including every wartime manufacturer. This amazing selection will also include Single Action Army revolvers, Armys, Navys, Gustave Young engravings, Tiffany grips, rare long arms, fluted cylinders, special finishes, historic provenances, Dragoons, 1849 Pockets, gorgeous grips, known military histories, and so much more. Stay tuned for future announcements. You’ll be glad you did.

When Colt beat Smith & Wesson to the double action revolver market in 1877, Smith & Wesson responded in 1881 with an excellent line of .32, .38, and .44 DA wheelguns.

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