This is a Civil War era Model 1849 Pocket revolver with a desirable Hartford barrel address. It has the scarcer 6" octagon barrel with 5-shot cylinder in .31 caliber. These Pocket-sized Colt Revolvers were very popular during the Civil War as thousands were carried by soldiers from both the North and South. The sheer volume of ambrotype photographs that have turned up over the years showing soldiers displaying these guns (usually across their chest) gives us a pretty good glimpse into how these men felt about their Colt Revolvers. See photo. The Model 1849 was produced from 1850 to 1873 with over 340,000 produced. This particular gun has a great serial number which is in the 180,000 range and dates production towards the end of 1860 (160,000 to 184,000).
The timeframe in which this revolver was manufactured and most likely shipped was perhaps one of the most volatile moments in US history. This one was probably being built at the time of Abraham Lincoln's Republican victory in November 1860. Skipping around the debate of grievances from the South, this event triggered eleven southern states to secede from the Union over the next few months. To lend a little perspective to what occurred during the time between Lincoln's election and start of the Civil War in April 1861, here is a brief timeline. The fallout started with South Carolina seceding from the Union on 12/20/1860, followed by MS 1/9/61, then FL 1/10/61, AL 1/11/61, GA 1/19/61, LA 1/26/61, TX 3/2/61, VA 4/17/61, AR 5/6/61, NC 5/20/61, ending with TN on 6/8/61. As war loomed on the horizon and citizens in border states chose sides, there was a frenzy of arms activity with thousands of guns being ordered by Southern and pro-Union States in the North. Many of these 1849 Pockets with Hartford barrel addresses ended up in the hands of Southerners going off to war as they were the last Colts the South could legally acquire before the war started. That said, serial numbers in the 170-180,000 ranges are prime real estate for late 1860 to the first half of 1861 when men were rushing out to purchase guns before joining up with a regiment and heading off to war.
At that time leading up to the War, it's been theorized that Sam Colt, who was not only a great inventor but a shrewd businessman, altered his barrel address for political reasons. It's believed that his New York headquarters or business address which was located atop the barrels of his guns were not being well received by his Southern customers. The reasoning behind this was that NYC was regarded as the epicenter of the abolitionist movement. In an effort to appease those sentiments, Colt changed the barrel address over to read "Hartford, CT" where his company's factory was located. Hartford, CT. To our estimation with revolvers seen over the years, the Hartford address seems to appear around 1858 and lasts until right around April 1861 when the War began and no more Colts could go South. At this moment in time, Colt changed the address back to New York as he began to supply Colts exclusively to his Northern customers. That said, this is one of those Colts that fits into that late 1860-early 1861 Hartford address window.
While Colt has no shipping record for this particular gun, its serial number in the 180,000 range is very close to two Colt 1849 pockets mentioned by serial number in letters to Colt complaining of defects. The first letter written by one Mr. D. Mower from Frog Level, South Carolina on April 4, 1861 where he mentions his Colt Pocket Pistol w/ 5" barrel as number #177,621 is having trouble popping a cap on one chamber of the cylinder. The second letter is from one John Mangen or Morgan of Janesville (which we presume to be Janesville, Wisconsin) who mentions a broken nipple on his Colt #174,558. These two letters were published in Sam Colt's biography, The Story of Colt's Revolver in 1957 by William Edwards. See photos.
NRA Antique Good Plus condition with a pleasing overall appearance. The metal has turned to a brown patina overall with hints of original case colors on the frame and loading lever. The metal shows a few dings and marks along the top flat of the barrel. Still has a good sharp Hartford Address and for that matter, very good markings throughout. The brass trigger guard and backstrap have an impressive 95% original silver plating still intact. Cylinder has some small dings and abrasions but shows 75-80% of its original engraving depicting the stagecoach robbery scene. The safety pins on the back of the cylinder are worn and look pretty beat but ALL are still present. One chamber has had its nipple replaced...other 4 chambers have their original nipples. Very good screws throughout...with a few in protected areas showing original fire blue. The numbers are all matching except for the wedge and loading lever, both of which are not numbered. The wedge is contemporary replacement which is common for percussion Colts as they were often cracked or broken...so not uncommon. Technically, for a gun in the 180,000 range the loading lever should share the last 4 digits of the serial number. This one was left blank. Remember though, Colt had to basically double his workforce to keep up with circa 1860-61 orders. As is almost always the case in manufacturing, there was a drop in quality and quality control. That said, I do feel the loading lever is either the original or a very early Colt replacement for a defective component. Just looking at the patina it looks to have been with this gun forever. The grips are in Fine condition overall with 95% original varnish with nice wood-to-metal fit throughout. No chips, cracks, or repairs. Butt of the grips shows tap marks mostly confined to the left panel where it was used as a hammer. Otherwise, very nice. Mechanics are excellent with proper indexing and barrel-to-frame fit is good an tight with no wobble. Bore is Good overall that's fairly dark down in the grooves with fairly bright lands. All in all, a respectable example of Hartford Addressed Colt made just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.