This is an early Colt Model 1871 Open Top Revolver in .22 caliber. It has the early 1st Model ejector housing with the longer 2-7/8" barrel, scarce high spur hammer, seven-shot cylinder, brass frame, and rosewood grips. Just a few thousand of these early ones were built before Colt almost certainly had to cut production costs to compete with a wave of more cheaply made pocket revolvers by its competitors. To cut down on m'fg costs, Colt eliminated the ejector housing and rod with its hand checkered thumbpiece. The housing was actually formed integrally to the barrel wall. Originally, this one sported a silver plated frame and blued barrel and cylinder. There are strong traces of blue in protected areas of the barrel but not much in the way of silver left on the frame. As collectors, we tend to overlook the Open Top in favor of later models with improvements but historically, this Model was one of the very first cartridge revolvers offered by Colt M'fg in 1871 when the Rollin White patent expired. J.H. Johnston of the Great Western Gunworks had this to say about this new Colt in its 1873 mail order catalog (See photo):
COLT'S NEW MODEL BREECH-LOADING SEVEN SHOT POCKET REVOLVER
Is loaded at the breech without removing the cylinder; the shell extractor is attached to the pistol; it uses either the long or short No.1 or 22-100 cartridge; whole length of pistol 6 inches; weight, 8 ounces; 3 inch rifled, steel barrel, rosewood handle; silver plated frame. This pistol is the latest improvement and we can recommend it as one of the best, if not the best ever brought out.
Price, with 100 cartridges,......................................$10.00
Full nickel plated, with 100 cartridges........................12.00
This particular revolver is in the 1,300 serial range which dates it to first year production. Interestingly enough, the barrel is from serial number 8 which is logically, also first year production...so mismatched but both early and 1st Models. The 2-7/8" barrel is a rarity in itself as most had the 2-1/2" length. When we found this revolver, the barrel was frozen to the frame, it was not working 100% mechanically, and last but not least was missing its original sideplate. Normally, we would not purchase an antique revolver in this state. However, given its rarity and historical significance as one of the first Colt cartridge revolvers, we decided to go ahead. We next took on the task of getting it complete and working again. It took several months but we were able to find an original Colt Open Top side plate. Our gunsmith gave it a tuneup and the mechanics now function perfectly. Even the fragile ejector rod works properly.
Overall Condition grades to NRA Antique Good+ to Very Good. Barrel has turned to a smooth patina with 15% original blue in the protected areas. Cylinder has turned to a mostly smooth patina with a few light pits. High hump hammer still has 65% original fire blue remaining. Brass frame has turned to a mellow patina. Sideplate fits very well but is slightly off in color. Very Good screws and pints overall. Original rosewood grips are solid with no chips, cracks, or repairs, and retain 50% original varnish. Good bore. If your looking for an example of a scarce 1st Model Open Top but don't have $2-3,000 to invest in one, this would be a feasible alternative. Given the mismatched barrel and replaced sideplate, this would also make an excellent candidate for an engraving and/or restoration project.