This is a good solid example of a well-used Confederate Colt 1851 Navy Revolver, passed down through three generations of the same family from a small town in South Carolina. Standard Navy-sized Colt percussion Revolver in .36 caliber with six shot cylinder and 7-1/2" barrel. The previous owner inherited it along with a number of old guns from a relative who long ago practiced medicine. As this was approximately 100 years ago in the south where the economy was in dismal shape, doctors had to sometimes accept tangible items in lieu of monetary payment...be it in the form of produce, chickens, or in this case, old guns. In the guns he accumulated over the years were a number of Confederate weapons including a Virginia Manufactory Conversion cavalry carbine as well as rare Greenville, SC- made "A. Carruth" Model 1816 Type I Flintlock musket. This is the second collection of guns we've encountered from an old physician's estate and I would estimate this type of trade...good for services...was relatively common until just prior to World War II.
The serial number of this 1851 is in the upper half of the 96,000 range...which dates it to the end of 1860 and coincides with a very volatile time in United States history. Guns and history are often intertwined but this old Colt is really special in terms of what happened to it. After Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election on November 6, 1860, southern states, many of which did not record a single ballot cast for the Republican candidate, began to openly discuss seceding from the Union as the newly elected government appeared to shift towards a more antislavery stance. One of the first meetings to took place regarding this matter was held two weeks later in Abbeville, SC on November 22, 1860...the same town this gun came from. Four and half years later as the Confederacy collapsed, it was also one of the towns where Jefferson Davis found refuge as he fled Union forces in May, 1865. These two events earned Abbeville the distinction of being "the cradle and the graveyard of the Confederacy". Getting back to the year 1860...a month after the Abbeville meeting that took place on what is now called "Secession Hill", the state of South Carolina was the first of eleven southern states to formally secede from the Union on December 24, 1860. At this time, southerners were probably acutely aware that the Union was not about to recognize their actions without a fight. Throughout the year of 1860 and the first half of 1861, the south was actively engaged in purchasing weapons, mostly from the north, in preparation for war. In terms of 1860-61 era Colt production, many 1851 Navy Revolvers between the 90,000 to 100,000 serial ranges found their way south until the war began in mid-April 1861. This is the second example of a Hartford-marked Navy Colt that we've turned up in the past three years . The last one was just a few numbers higher in 97,000 range and turned up in the Savannah, GA area back in the late 1960's. Here is a link to that particular gun:
The Hartford Barrel Address: as collectors have noted on many an 1860-61 era Colt, the barrel address is marked "Hartford" instead of "New York". In the months preceding the Civil War leading up to the war, Sam Colt, who was not only a great inventor but a shrewd businessman, changed the company address atop the barrels of his revolvers from New York (Colt's business headquarters was located in NYC) to Hartford (The site of Colt's factory) for political concerns. At that time, New York City was regarded as the center of the abolition movement. With many of Colt's orders now shipping to the pro-slavery south in anticipation of a conflict, the "New York" on the barrel of each revolver was not well-received by many of Colt's customers residing south of the Mason-Dixon line. Hence, the change to the factory address in Hartford. At least, that's the theory behind the change. Whatever the case, one cannot ignore the timing for by April 1861 when the war began and supply lines leading south now cut off, Colt once again changed the address back to New York as he began to supply Colts exclusively to his northern customers. Colts made from 1860 to early 1861 with the Hartford barrel address occupy a small but fascinating window in United States history when even manufacturers had to tread lightly over how they labeled their products so as not to offend southern and northern customers over the slavery issues of the day.
Once the war began in April, 1861 and the south's ability to purchase weapons from the industrialized north came to an end, the newly-formed Confederacy had to turn to Europe to supply the majority of its need for weapons...principally Great Britain. For this, the south was short-sighted in assessing what it would take to fight a major conflict. But by 1861 logic, the commonly held belief was that the war would be over in a few short months. As we all know, reality had different plans and things turned out to be far more costly and protracted than originally planned. That said, the Colts that shipped south just prior to the war became as important as they were irreplaceable. As a result, they often lived very hard and demanding lives. This particular gun is no exception to that rule. Beneath the heavy brown patina, this gun shows plenty of use from four years of war plus 150 more to survive up to this point through all or parts of three different centuries.
The gun is in Good+ overall condition...which is quite nice for something pre-1861 and to have turned up in this region. The markings are clear and legible. The cylinder shows 20% of its original scene. The metal has turned to a deep brown patina indicative of spending many years in the warm and humid southern climate. The walnut grips show numerous small nicks and handling marks but still retain 60% of its original varnish. Colt used a very high quality type of violin-grade varnish made from ground amber. In spite of all of all the hard usage, this 1851 Navy is living proof of how durable this varnish truly was. The wood-to-metal fit is tight and even. No cracks or major chips. The serial numbers found on each part are all matching numbers with the exception of an old Confederate-blacksmith-made replacement wedge. Most likely, the original owner of this pistol either lost or broke the original barrel wedge in combat and/or while reloading. Since he couldn't order a new one from Colt, he had to improvise and have someone fashion a new wedge out of iron. The blacksmith couldn't fabricate the small spring that runs along the top of the wedge to help keep it from sliding out, so they did the next best thing. Not wishing to lose another wedge, it appears the owner had the blacksmith recess the face of the wedge so the wedge screw could hold it in place without slipping out. A very simple, effective, and surprisingly elegant design. See photos. When we found this gun, it hadn't been touched in well over 100 years. Just like finding an old car that's been sitting in a barn for half a century, it didn't run. To sum it up, this gun had every last drop of serviceability squeezed out of it during the war followed by 150 years to gather dirt and rust. I'll admit it, I live for finding guns like this...this was a real time capsule for us...but the downside to finding something in such an "untouched" state is dealing with...well...all the things that are in that "untouched state". Things were just plain "wore out" internally. We had our gunsmith go through all the mechanics to sort things out. It took him seven hours to clean out all the crud and rebuild the mechanism but it was well worth it. In his capable hands, this 1851 really came back to life and it now works perfectly just like it did back in 1861. Barrel is tight to the frame. Cylinder indexes fully and locks into place for the first time in over a century. Hammer works fine on both half and full cock positions...and best of all, the overall feel of the action is crisp. For the sake of originality, we had him save every single internal part that was too worn or abused to go back in the gun. The bore is in Good shape with good lands and grooves with some minor pitting. Quite respectable for Civil War usage and no rings or bulges. If you're looking for a TRUE Confederate Revolver, this is everything you could want to find in a southern-shipped Colt 1851 Navy Revolver with a Hartford address.