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Colt New Line Pocket Revolver w/ Short Barrel Option

This is a very early Colt New Line Revolver with the short 1-3/4" barrel option. Standard nickel finish, rosewood grips, with blued accents and an etched panel on left side of the round barrel. Colt produced the New Line in several sizes ranging from .22 Rimfire up to .41 RF and CF. This one is in a rather unique caliber called .30 Rimfire. With just under 11,000 manufactured from 1874-76, the New Line was the only pistol Colt ever manufactured in this caliber.

The short timeframe in which the New Line was manufactured was an interesting period. Back in the early 1870's, S&W owned the cartridge revolver business while American manufacturers anxiously awaited the expiration of the Rollin White Patent held by Smith and Wesson since 1855. The patent was for a simple bored-through cylinder. When the idea popped up in the 1850's, it was inconceivable that what went into this little chamber was anything worthwhile or significant. It fired a little lead pill packed into a copper case with powder and fulminate for priming on the rim of the base. This was America's first self-contained cartridge and it took the form of something that is almost identical to what we today know as the .22 short rimfire.. While working at Colt in the early 1850's, Rollin White came up with the concept. Acting out of loyalty to his employer, he showed his idea to his famous boss, Samuel Colt who dismissed White's invention as a "novelty". When White's contract with Colt came to an end, he patented his idea for the bored-through cylinder in 1855. This caught the attention of a couple of gunmakers, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, who viewed White's patent in a different light than Colt. Seeing its potential, they abandoned their lever action repeating pistol (the remnants of that venture would go on to become Winchester Repeating Arms) and quickly made an agreement with White to produce America's first cartridge revolvers. From 1857-1872, S&W had sole manufacturing rights to Rollin's patent. Thus, aside from a number of infringements, Smith and Wesson exited the percussion/muzzleloading era in 1857 and never looked back as they left every American pistol manufacturer in the dust. For the next fifteen years, the rest of America's gun makers waited impatiently on the sidelines for a chance to enter the cartridge revolver market. In spite of getting a small royalty for each revolver S&W manufactured, life as a patent holder had not been kind to Rollin White. Part of his contractual agreement with S&W was that he would be responsible for filing lawsuits against ALL infringers...which were as numerous as they were costly. White filed for an extension of his patent with the US gov't in 1871, citing financial hardship. White's request was well-received in Congress but was ultimately sunk by President Grant who refused to sign off and further stifle competition. In the former Union general's eyes, White's patent hindered development of large-frame military cartridge revolvers that could have been used to great effect during the Civil War but S&W had kept their market limited to small pocket revolvers.

After its long wait, Colt finally jumped into the catridge revolver business in 1871 and my guess would be that when White's patent expired in 1872, they wanted to have a running start. Not including conversions from existing percussion revolvers and their derivatives comprised mainly of leftover parts, Colt introduced their brand new Colt Open Top, a.k.a. "Old Line" revolver in .22 caliber along with the larger framed Colt House and Cloverleaf models in .41 caliber. Both guns entered production in 1871 and while technically Colt's first dedicated cartridge revolvers (non-conversions or built off of percussion style frames), they lacked the eye appeal that had long served Colt so well. In other words, they were just "plain ugly".

Starting in 1873, Colt introduced a new style of pocket revolver which they appropriately dubbed "NEW LINE" revolvers. Unlike the often wobbly Old Line with its lack of a top strap, the New Line used a solid frame, had fluted cylinders, and a better overall balanced look. They were also very well made. Best of all, Colt built the New Line in several different calibers...carefully scaling each gun up or down to meet to the caliber. For example, the .22 New Line has the smallest frame...while .30 and .32 calibers are slightly larger. The .41 was scaled up to meet the larger requirements of the caliber and the .38 had its cylinder and frame stretched horizontally to accommodate the longer .38 Long Colt cartridge. Colt had a complete line of calibers for the New Line but in spite of the effort, Colt found competition in the pocket revolver world to be quite fierce in the 1870's and 80's. Smith and Wesson held the top of the market while cheaper low-quality pocket revolvers flooded the rest of the market. The problem with the Colt New Line that it exceeded the criteria of its customers. Only the .32 and .38 models made it past the 1870's, seeing production into the early 1880's. Still, Colt appears to have had a great deal of trouble selling the NEW LINE as they were listed in Colt catalogs for years past the end of manufacture. In a copy of the 1888 Colt catalog, almost every caliber for the New Line was still in inventory.

Overall condition is NRA Antique Excellent with 95% original nickel. Left side of barrel displays a strong etched panel. Sharp Colt address. This is a tiny gun so please bear in mind that many of the photos are going to be several times larger than the actual size. Rosewood grips have 80% original varnish with traces of original fire blue on the grip screw. No chips, cracks, or repairs. Nice wood to metal fit. Nice action. Fair bore. Nice example of an early Colt cartridge revolver with a scarce barrel length and unusual caliber.

Item# 1509




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