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College Hill Arsenal :: Firearms :: Handguns :: Colt "Round Barrel" Cartridge Revolver

Colt "Round Barrel" Cartridge Revolver
Colt "Round Barrel" Cartridge Revolver 

At the close of the American Civil War the Colt Patent Firearms Company was aware of two facts that would greatly impact their business practices for the next decade. First, the end of war not only meant no more major US military orders for handguns in the foreseeable future, but it also meant that thousands of surplus US military percussion revolvers would soon be flooding the market, making newly made percussion revolvers difficult (if not impossible) to sell. Second, the day of the percussion revolver was over, and the new self-contained cartridge handgun was the wave of the future. Unfortunately for Colt, Smith & Wesson held the exclusive rights to Rollin White’s patent on the bored-through cylinder, which meant that until that patent expired in 1869 there was no easy way for Colt to manufacture a traditional cartridge revolver without infringing upon that patent. Colt also had thousands of parts on hand to produce the many models of percussion handguns that had been its bread and butter business since the firm was founded. Immediately the designers were put to work to find reasonable ways to manufacture cartridge handguns from the parts on hand, as well as how to convert existing percussion revolvers to cartridge handguns. Although the possibilities for both production and conversion were somewhat limited until the expiration of White’s patent, the designs patented by F. Alexander Thuer in 1868 and 1870 allowed Colt to offer Thuer conversions of all their popular percussion models as an interim product line, until bored through cylinders could be used. The Thuer system was not particularly successful and only about 5,000 Thuer altered revolvers of all models were produced. It is interesting to note that the first of the Colt “bored through cylinder” cartridge revolvers to be offered after the expiration of White’s patent were not alterations of existing models, but were two completely new product lines, the .22RF Colt Open Top revolvers and Colt Cloverleaf Pocket Revolvers. Following their introduction Colt started to produce the Richards and Richards-Mason conversions of their larger framed revolvers, including the M-1860 Army and the M-1851 and M-1861 Navy models. These were produced both as newly made guns, using percussion revolver parts on hand, as well as true conversions of previously manufactured revolvers. In total about 9,000 M-1860 Army Richards conversions were produced, with an additional 2,100 Richards-Mason Army models manufactured. About 3,800 M-1851 Navy revolvers were altered to .38 caliber (both rimfire and centerfire) and another 2,200 M-1861 Navy revolvers were so altered. The single largest batch of altered, converted or remanufactured revolvers were in the 1862 Police and Pocket Navy sizes, all altered to .38 caliber, both rimfire and centerfire. Colt produced 24,000 cartridge revolvers on this mid-sized frame between 1873 and 1881, with a wide variety of models (at least 5) and configurations. For the ease of identifying these guns for modern collectors, the guns have essentially be divided into categories based upon the their barrel profiles (octagon or round), barrel lengths and the presence or absence of an ejector system. In some cases the guns were made almost completely from left over percussion parts on hand, sometimes were alterations of completed percussion guns and sometimes they were a hybrid of old and newly made parts. To make matters more confusing the presence or absence of features like loading gates and barrel addresses almost appear to be random on some “models”, and to further muddy the waters, these mid-sized .38 cartridge revolvers were produced in 3 different serial number ranges! The guns are found serial numbered in the upper regions of the M-1849 Pocket serial number range (between about 274,000 and 328,000), in the upper regions of the M-1862 Pocket Navy and Police ranges (found between about 36,000 and 48,000) and in their own range of 1-19,000. The guns were manufactured between 1873 and 1880/81 with most of the new serial number range guns manufactured between 1873-1875, and the balance of the guns primarily being produced c1875-1880. In all cases, the unsold stock remained on hand and in many cases was still shipping in the mid-to-late 1880s.

Offered here is a NEAR EXCELLENT example of what collectors refer to as the 3 ½” Round (Cartridge) Barrel Model. Like all of the other similar .38 cartridge guns that Colt produced during this era, the revolver was based upon the frame of the 1862 Pocket Navy / Police series and the 5-shot rebated cylinder of the 1862 Pocket Navy. The barrels for these guns were newly made, 3 ½” long and as the name implies had a round profile. The guns were manufactured from about 1873 through 1880, with about 6,000 being produced during that time. Roughly half of the production was in .38 rimfire and the other half was in .38 centerfire (.38 Colt). According to R.L. Wilson’s analysis of the Colt Company ledgers, the majority of the guns were apparently produced in 1876 and 1877, and those with 6 digit serial numbers at the end of the M-1849 Pocket range are typically centerfire guns, while those made in the 1862 Pocket Navy / Police range were typically rimfire. The guns were made without an ejector rod, and most did not have a loading gate. With the short barrel, and lack of ejector, the guns were probably the very first Colt cartridge revolvers that could be termed “sheriff’s models”. This example is numbered at the end of the M-1849 Pocket range, and the matching number 317707 is found on the bottom of the grip, on the triggerguard, on the bottom of the frame and on the bottom of barrel web. The letter L is also present under the serial number in all of those locations except for the barrel. The cylinder is numbered with the last 4 digits, 7707 and the cylinder arbor is numbered with the last 5 digits 17707, and these same 5 digits are neatly written in ink, in a period hand, in the backstrap cut out of the grip. The wedge is an unnumbered one that was made at the time the gun was manufactured, and is clearly original to the revolver. The rebated cylinder is clearly marked COLT’S PATENT over the serial number and retains about 95% of its original “stagecoach hold up” roll engraved scene. The left side of the frame is clearly stamped in two lines - PAT. JULY. 25, 1871 - over - PAT. JULY. 2, 1872 - . The left rear of the triggerguard web is deeply stamped .36 CAL.. The round barrel is unmarked, as is common on this variant of the .38 Colt cartridge revolvers.

As previously noted, the revolver is in about NEAR EXCELLENT condition. The frame retains about 95% of its original Colt factory case hardened finish. The finish the typically deeper and darker color found on Colt cartridge conversion era revolvers. The frame shows vivid colors and mottling with striking blues and purples most prominent. The frame is free of any pitting, but does show a couple of small flecks of light surface oxidation. The hammer retains about 80% of its vivid case coloring with some fading and dulling, leaving traces of a silvery-gray patina in the finish and along the sharp edges where the finish has worn and been handled. The cylinder retains about 30%+ original blued finish, with the rebased portion retaining the deepest, thickest and most brilliant blue, and the balance of the cylinder showing a dulled and faded blue with relatively even coverage. The cylinder scene remains extremely sharp and clear and is at least 95% present. The iron backstrap and gripstrap retain about 35%+ original blue, with the butt and gripstrap retaining the most coverage and the backstrap showing the most loss from handling and use. The balance of the iron backstrap and gripstrap shows a medium smoky gray patina that blends well with the remaining finish. The iron triggerguard retains about 92%+ of its original deep, dark blued finish with only some minor high edge wear and loss from handling and use. The 3 ½” round barrel retains about 60% of its original blued finish which is strongest on the bottom and the left side nearest the barrel web, and weakest nearer the muzzle on both sides and the top. The right side of the web shows a significant number of minor impact marks as a result of the wedge being driven out of the revolver many times, and the web area shows some minor surface scratching on both sides from handling and use. The balance of the barrel has a sort of mottled, dull smoky bluish-gray patina, combing the original thinning blue and gray age patina of the metal. The barrel is free of any pitting, but does show some areas of light pinpricking, most around the web, forward of the chamber mouths and some scattered tiny patches of light surface oxidation along its length. The bore of the revolver is in NEAR EXCELLENT condition and remains very bright with sharp rifling its entire length. The bore is free of any significant pitting or wear and shows only some lightly scattered pinpricking and minor oxidation along its length. The original brass cone shaped front sight is in place on the top of the barrel near the muzzle and the sighting notch in the hammer nose remains crisp and sharp. The gun is mechanically excellent and indexes, times, and locks up perfectly, with the hammer responding crisply to the trigger. All of the screws are original and are in wonderful condition with only a couple of them showing some minor slot wear. All have a medium gray patina with traces of finish and some retain more finish than that, especially the wedge screw that still retains about 50% of its brilliant fire blue. The varnished one-piece grip is in about NEAR EXCELLENT condition as well, and as previously mentioned is numbered to the gun. The grip retains about 85%+ of its original varnish and is free of any breaks, cracks, chips or repairs. The majority of the varnish loss is on the bottom (likely from carry wear in a pocket) and along the high edges around the grip base. The grip does show some minor scuffs and handling marks, but is really in wonderful condition.

Overall this is a really outstanding example of a Colt Round Barrel Cartridge Revolver. These little guns were made in a relatively small quantity of about 6,000, during the height of westward expansion after the American Civil War. As they were cheaper than the larger Richards and Richards-Mason guns and could easily be carried in a pocket, most do not survive in this wonderful state of preservation. When one of these revolvers is found with this much finish it is almost always a nickel plated gun and not a blued one. This would be a fantastic addition to any advanced collection Colt revolvers or old west arms, and would be rather difficult to upgrade from without spending significantly more money. Although this one is really much too nice to shoot, it would no doubt be a wonderful old west pocket or hide out revolver for an authentic Cowboy Action Shooting side match. This is one of those really lovely Colt revolvers that is even prettier in person than on the web site, and my photos really don’t do this very fine specimen justice.


SKU FHG-1822
Quantity in stock 1 item(s) available
Weight 4.00 lbs
Price: $2995.00


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