This is a fantastic looking factory engraved Colt Root revolver with blued finish and original ivory grips. It's a Model 2 with a standard 3-1/2" octagon barrel, non-fluted round 5-shot cylinder, and chambered in .28 caliber. The Root was the last Colt revolver to use the firm's original pocket-sized .28 caliber chambering as found on the No.1 Paterson Pocket Revolver. Serial number is in the 19,000 range with the Hartford barrel address. All matching numbers which include the frame, barrel, cylinder, and inside of the grips. Mfd in 1858.
According to Flayderman's 9th Edition, the "Root" was designed by Samuel Colt although it's most often attributed to Colt's right hand man and master machinist, Elisha K. Root. Root was a manufacturing prodigy and from what I've read, the best mechanic in New England during the mid-19th century. He's credited for setting up the Colt plant in Hartford, refining manufacturing techniques, and adding significant improvements to milling machines. Without having to read any more Colt books, my personal guess is that Colt must have been so grateful to Root for his improvements and abilities that he dubbed this new design after his employee as a sign of gratitude. However, the overall look of the "Root" revolver with its side-mounted hammer, solid frame, rotating arbor pin, no front strap, and ball-point latch for the loading lever is such a vast departure from Colt's typical style, one can easily see why we so freely attribute this to Elisha Root and not Samuel Colt. Yet, it was really Samuel Colt pulling out all the stops for this new design and as I discovered, it's so much more than what it appears to be.
Root Observations: We've had very few Root Revolvers over the years so this one was quite a learning experience for us and after studying it, I must admit to have new-found respect for Colt's Model 1855 system. The invention of the Root was a completely new direction for Colt Patent Firearms. Colt's grand design for the revolver business for nearly two decades had been based on its open top frame. Yes, the models were all a little different, usually scaled up or down, or made sleeker, to reach different segments of the market but the design and mechanics were ALL always the same. For example, as we all know, Colt barrels and cylinders were secured by a thin wedge of metal that ran through a small slot in the barrel lug and cylinder harbor. While his design was aesthetically pleasing, it wasn't the strongest and it did draw its share of critics...most notably the British who favored the sold-framed .44 and .50 Caliber Adams Revolver to Colt's .36 open top 1851 Navy. Even today, when I write descriptions for these guns, I always feel the necessity to describe the barrel-to-frame fit as so many are often "loose". I guess in slightly more modern day terms, it's like a car company producing a famous model for a number of years that has a few minor shortcomings that the critics love to point out over and over. Inevitably, a company that wants to survive has got to prove those critics wrong by coming up with something radically different and more advanced...albeit, as is so often the case, to the detriment of our human obsession with clean lines. Still, if innovation means costing a few brownie points in the aesthetics department, then so be it! One example that comes to mind would be Ferdinand Porsche. It was the 1970's and for three decades, Porsche had built very popular air-cooled rear-mounted-engined sport cars in the forms of their classic Models 356 and 911. While they were lovable tub-shaped designs, by the late 1970's, Porsche was realizing their tried and true design was finally starting to lose its edge and most importantly its share of the market. To stir things up a bit, Porsche had to come up with a radically different design and they did so in the form of the Model 928.
Another interesting aspect of the 1855 system is that Colt expanded his design beyond his "bread and butter" handgun market by introducing Model 1855 revolving rifles and even in the form of a revolving shotgun. While I don't know much about its durability, I've read these Model 1855 rifles served Union sharpshooters quite well during the Civil War. Mechanically, once you get past the external design, you realize that Sam Colt, aware of his famous design's shortcomings, must have been thinking in a new direction. Structurally, the use of a topstrap for the frame was the only time (that I'm aware of) that Samuel Colt designed a solid frame revolver during his lifetime. The barrel screwed right into the frame so there was no wedge to worry about. However, if strength was a goal in his design, the use of a single strap to support the grips (a backstrap with no frontstrap) seems counter-intuitive. Why did he do this? At first glance, it doesn't look like it would work...but then again, how many Roots have we seen with damaged grips...not many that I can recall! So there must be something to this...but what? The answer is under that mono-backstrap, for what lies beneath the exterior is a massive I-beam of milled iron. I'm not kidding, you could break a regular brass-strapped Colt in half before this thing would even start to flex. Brilliant, I thought...but even more compelling that Colt was really thinking outside of the proverbial box is that he used the internal cuts of that backstrap or "I-Beam" to house the mainspring. A mainspring mounted along the inside of a milled-out backstrap...is that even allowed? It's completely backwards but the most stable platform I've ever seen. INGENIOUS!
Another thing I came to respect about this Root was how well the hammer and cylinder function in unison. To use an analogy to describe how it feels, it cycles about as fluidly as sliding a piece of ice across a sheet of glass. Perhaps this was Colt's intention as the individual mechanical functions in his other percussion revolvers (and almost every other modern revolver) center around direction manipulation of the cylinder (i.e. Dragoons, 1848, 1849, 1851, 1860, etc.) resulting in more pronounced movements and uneven leverage required when the hammer is being cocked. In contrast, the Root design places very little responsibility on the cylinder...the ratchet face, and bolt stops are located somewhere else. Where I thought...only to find them at the back of the cylinder pin. Since its turned indirectly by the cylinder pin, the cylinder has no more responsibility than to hold its five charges and basically stay out of the way. Without all of the internal functions having to reach out, up, or around to places on a traditional cylinder, this gave the mechanism a significant mechanical advantage in terms of leverage and economy of motion. Once you realize this, it's little wonder why Colt's 1855 system seems to glide right through its to-do list as the hammer is being cocked.
The engraving on this example is within the style and timeframe of Gustave Young, Colt's chief engraver who set the norm for the company's embellished arms. Page 44, Colt Book of Engraving by R.L. Wilson. According to Wilson, in 1859, A.W. Spies, a Colt dealer, published a price list which noted engraving for a Colt pocket revolver such as the Model 1849 or in this case, an 1855 Root, could be ordered for an additional charge of $4.00. However, what's more surprising (at least to me, that is) is the price for ivory grips cost $5.00, trumping the engraving by $1.00 and making this one an expensive little gun. In other words, the availability of the material (ivory) outweighed the price of the engraver's time and talent. In terms of engraving, this gun is similar in pattern to several Roots featured in Wilson's book but most notably, it appears identical to one found on page 72. That gun, a cased presentation with a slightly higher serial number in the 21,000 range was given to Major George D. Ramsay of the US Army (c. 1859). Another near identical example is on page 152 of the book Samuel Colt Presents, also by R.L. Wilson.
Overall condition grades to NRA Antique Very Good Plus with 20% original blue mixing through the scrollwork on the frame, across the flutes of the lug area, and 35% on the barrel which resides mostly down along the lower flats. Balance of the metal has turned mostly to a smooth patina. The engraving is still nice and sharp showing very little wear. Cylinder retains most of its fine scene under a smooth brown patina. Ivory grips have mellowed with a slight yellowish tint from age...very attractive showing very fine growth rings. Structurally, the ivories are nice and solid showing only a few minor check marks along the base. No cracks, chips, or repairs with nice fit up to the metal surfaces. The action works perfectly. Even the fragile loading lever with its ball-in-socket lockup is in perfect working condition. Bore is near Excellent...bright and shiny with very strong lands and grooves. All in all, just a very nice representative of a presentation grade Colt 1885 Root revolver.