This is a Civil War era Model 1849 Pocket Revolver with a desirable Hartford barrel address. It has the scarcer 6" octagon barrel with five-shot cylinder in .31 caliber. 100% all matching numbers right down to the wedge and grips. 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. 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 172,000 range and dates production to about mid-1860.
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 built between the time of abolitionist John Brown's capture of the Harpers Ferry Arsenal in late 1859 and Abraham Lincoln's presidential victory in November 1860. Skipping around the debate of grievances from the South, these events, especially the latter, helped eleven southern states to secede from the Union the following year. 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 1860-early 1861 Hartford address window when men from both the Union and Confederacy were purchasing weapons in anticipation of war.
While Colt has no shipping record for this particular gun, its serial number in the 172,000 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.
Overall, NRA Antique Good Plus condition with a pleasing overall appearance. The metal has turned to gray that's partially subsided to a smooth brown patina. Still has a good sharp Hartford address and for that matter, very good markings throughout. The brass trigger guard and backstrap have an impressive 10% original silver plating still intact. Cylinder has a roll-engraved scene depicting a stagecoach robbery...the details of which in terms of sharpness and clarity are about 80-85%. The safety pins on the back of the cylinder are worn and look pretty beat. See photo. Screws are all serviceable throughout...and Good to Very Good overall. As mentioned earlier, the numbers on this Colt are 100% all matching. See photos. The grips are in Fine+ to Excellent condition overall with 98% original varnish with nice wood-to-metal fit throughout. No chips, cracks, or repairs. One small superficial fleck of wood is missing right behind the frame...but this is shallow and not a chip. Butt of the grips shows tap marks mostly confined to the left panel. Mechanics are Good. Bore is Very Good Plus with strong lands and grooves showing very little pitting or corrosion. All in all, a respectable example of Hartford Addressed Colt made just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.