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Colt 1851

Early 3th model1851 Navy  


The Colt 1851 Navy was produced from 1851 until 1873 and in that time over 250,000 Navies were made, 215, 340 pistols were produced in Hartford, Connecticut and 42,000 were produced in London, England. In its day the 1851 Navy was the most popular Colt revolver ever made sold and fired. Chambered for the .36 ball shot.

The Colt Navy 1851 is iconic and symbolizes the Wild West like no other handgun, it was used by such notables as Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody and Calamity Jane, the Colt Navy also served on both sides of the Civil War. The Colt Navy was even manufactured by both sides as well...they couldn't get enough of these accurate and reliable revolvers.


Middle 4th model 1851 Navy from the Hendricus collection serial no, 1391xx made in 1863. 



The Colt Navy 1851 is a Percussion Revolver more commonly called a "Cap N Ball " gun in that it uses ball shot, percussion caps and black powder as its ammunition source. The days of pushing cartridges into a revolver were a few years away yet.


                                             Another middle 4th model 1851 Navy was from the outlawscolts collection serial no, 1544xx made in 1863.

Caliber..............Available in 0.36 inch or 0 .44 inch
Weight..............2Lbs 4½ ounces.
Barrel................Generally 7½ inches, octagonal forged.
Overall length....1 foot, 1 and 1/8th inches.
Frame................Case Hardened.
Front Sight.........Brass bead or blade.
Rear Sight..........Notched 'v' into top of the Hammer.
Handle...............Polished Walnut.
Ammunition.......21 -28 grain of Black Powder, percussion cap and ball shot
Capacity............6 shots.


The 1851 Navy was the most favoured revolver of the Union Army Officers for its great handling and accuracy, also like other Colt revolvers it had fully interchangeable parts and was easy to disassemble. There are quite a few variations of the Navy including the Sheriffs version and a long barrelled shoulder stocked version.


And below is proof that snub-nosed revolvers a.k.a snubbys were also in demand in the 1850's with another version of the 1851 Sheriff. This exclusive image shows that the barrel has been cut down as far as it is possible, so there their is still some use from the under-lever mechanism.


Photo credits Bob & Amy



It took quite some time to actually load up a cap and ball percussion revolver, about 3 minutes in skilled hands but many users of the gun would have several pre-loaded cylinders and when all 6 shots had been fired a new cylinder was inserted.


Percussion Pistols were not very reliable guns in that if the powder or percussion caps got damp or were not married up properly, a misfire would result and often did, but its ok as your oppositions guns did the same !


Below is pictured a modern Italian copy of the 1851 Navy. These reproduction Old West revolvers have become popular with modern day shooters in gun clubs. A genuine revolver from the 1850's would cost many thousands of dollars as they are now antiquities, so an ideal compromise is one of the faithful Italian reproductions.



The Colt Navy 1851 has quite an appealing look and feel to it, it was a well made gun and in the right hands it was very accurate.


Recent controlled tests have shown that this revolver was capable of putting three shots into a 3inch group at 25 yards. The Navy 1851 can have a full charge of 26.5 grains of black powder and this will render a muzzle velocity of 910 f.p.s (feet per second) which is quite impressive for such an 'old' gun.

The muzzle velocity meant a flatter trajectory and offered greater accuracy, especially over the distances it would be fired, usually not exceeding 25 yards. Most fastest on the draw type shoot outs of the old West would have been within this distance of 25 yards and @ 910 f.p.s muzzle velocity, it would drop an opponent with one shot.



One of the best and most famous pistolero's of the Old West was James Butler 'Wild Bill' Hickok.


1837 - 1876

He was a legendary character in the Old West and a great exponent of the Colt Navy 1851. Wild Bill arrived in the West initially as a stage coach driver and later became a Lawman in the territories around Kansas and Nebraska. He fought during the American Civil War on the side of the Union Army and achieved renown afterwards as a scout, gambler and gunfighter.

During his time as a Lawman Wild Bill engaged in many shootouts, and with his Colt Navy 1851 he was a very accurate and deadly shot, more so as he always remained calm, cool and collected in a shoot out, whilst the other party was nervous and scared.

At the age of 39, Wild Bill Hickok was murdered, he was shot whilst playing poker at Nuttal & Manns Saloon No.10 in Deadwood, Blackhills, Dakota Territory on August 2nd 1876.

Wild Bill always played Poker with his back to the wall, and one day there were no vacant seats, so for the first and last time he sat at a table with his back to two adjacent doors, he was sneaked up on and shot in the back of the head at close range by a Colt .45 by a coward named as Jack McCall. Bill was holding 4 cards, 2 black aces and 2 black 8's, forever known now as the 'dead mans hand'

More about Bill: http://www.vincelewis.net/hickok.html


Below is an image of my Colt Navy 1851 and 1860 Army, showing the cylinder and percussion cap nipples at the end of the cylinder. These revolvers has acquired a nice patina to the metal and adds to its value. Anyone who owns such an antique should never get the polish out and shine it up as this great depreciates the value. Simply oil it and maintain it if you are firing an antique Navy.


The Engraved Colt Navy 1851 below is a typical example of some of the work that gunsmiths of the Old West would carry out to make a mans plain looking 'shooting iron' more decorative. I am often amazed at the amount of intricate detail that those gunsmiths could etch onto a gun. Antiques of this nature are worth many times more than the normal un-etched variety.


The Colt Navy was originally intended to be issued to the Navy and the cylinder consequently portrayed this as it was engraved with an actual naval warfare scene. The image below shows the naval scene on the side of the cylinder, although not very clearly.

The long curved hammer was designed so it could be 'fanned' back by the shooters left hand. With the trigger depressed at the same time the gun could then be fired very fast consecutively. The under barrel loading lever locked away quite nicely into a latch at the end of the barrel.


Many Colt Navy 1851 revolvers were presented in a rather nice furnished case like the genuine example in the photo below. Samuel Colt, the eternal entrepreneur would often make a gift of such a revolver to lucky clients and businessmen, as the publicity would always attract even more business.

The case below contains, the 1851 Navy revolver, ball shot, percussion caps, powder dispenser flask and adjustment tools.


Below I present a special list of all the Colt Navy 1851 serial numbers...

1850 ---------------- 1 1858 ---------- 85000 1866 ---------- 185000
1851 ----------- 2500 1859 ---------- 90000 1867 ---------- 200000
1852 ---------- 10000 1860 ---------- 93000 1868 ---------- 204000
1853 ---------- 20000 1861 ---------- 98000 1869 ---------- 207000
1854 ---------- 35000 1862 --------- 118000 1870 ---------- 210000
1855 ---------- 40000 1863 --------- 132000 1871 ---------- 212000
1856 ---------- 45000 1864 --------- 175000 1872 ---------- 214000
1857 ---------- 65000 1865 --------- 180000 1873 ------ 215000 - 215348


1971 ---------- 4201 1975 ---------- 15101
1972 ---------- 5901 1976 ---------- 20001
1973 ---------- 8301 1977 ---------- 22701
1974 --------- 10801 1978 ---------- 23401
1853 -------------------------- 1
1854 ---------------------- 4000
1855 -------------------- 15000
1856 ---------- 41000 - 42000


There were military contracts to the Army and the Navy. These revolvers are usually found with a U.S. stamped on the left side of the frame below ‘COLTS/PATENT’ and government inspector marks on the grips and on various metal parts on the revolver.

The 51 Navy comes in four variant models with some over-lapping of the different models.

First Model: Serial range 1 to 800 with square-back brass trigger-guard and wedge screw entering the barrel lug under the wedge.

Second Model: Serial range 800 to 4200 with square-back brass trigger-guard and wedge screw entering the barrel lug above the wedge. A few are found in serial ranges up to 4500.

Third Model: Serial range 4200 to 85000 with small rounded brass trigger-guard. Some are found in a lower serial range than 4200.

Fourth Model: Serial range 85000 – 215348 with large rounded brass trigger guard.

From: http://www.vincelewis.net/coltnavy.html

See also:  How To Load The Colt Navy 1851 http://www.vincelewis.net/coltnavy2.html




Dedicated to the memory of De Witt Pourie May 10, 1915 - February 7, 2001













Single action - Caliber .36, rifled with 7 grooves having a left-hand twist. Overall length, straight line from tip of butt to muzzle - 14". 7-1/2" octagonal barrel. Frame - 2-15/16". Cylinder - 1-11/16". Brass trigger guard and back strap - Weight, 2 pounds, 10 ounces.





Top: Barrel and loading lever assembly. Left: Frame, grip and hammer assembly. Right: Cylinder



The Model 1851 Colt was first manufactured in 1850 and was kept in production until 1873. 215,348 were made at Colt's Hartford, Conn. plant. Another 42,000 were turned out by Colt's London Factory. The Hartford guns were serial numbered from 1 through 215,348. There were 3 different barrel addresses utilized over the course of production. They were, along with the approximate serial number ranges; "-ADDRESS SAML COLT NEW-YORK CITY- ( SN 1-74,000); - ADDRESS SAML COLT HARTFORD CT. - (74,000 -101,000); - ADDRESS COL. SAML COLT NEW-YORK U.S. AMERICA - (101,000 - 215,348). The left front side of the frame is marked: "COLTS/PATENT" in two lines on all models. All models also had a rolled engraved cylinder scene depicting a battle between the Texas and Mexican navies, including the wording along the front edge of the cylinder; "ENGAGED 16 MAY 1843" which commemorates the date of the battle. Also stamped on the cylinder is "COLTS PATENT No", with all or part of the individual gun's serial number following it. On the weapon pictured, it is the last 4 digits, "5685", of the serial number "175685". On revolvers made in or after 1860, the caliber marking " 36 CAL" is stamped on the left side of the trigger guard to the rear. This was done concurrent with the issuance of the 1860, .44 caliber "Army" revolver.


Top Barrel Flat


Left Front Side Of Frame


Left Side Trigger Guard (rear)
Marked: 36 CAL


Marked COLTS PATENT No. 5685



There were many variations of the Colt Navy. The trigger guard and back strap on the 4th Model Navy are usually silver plated brass, but in some instances a combination of iron and brass will be found, both silver plated. Some guns, mostly those found with "U.S." markings will have both parts of iron and adapted to be used with a detachable shoulder stock. The "U.S." markings will generally be found under "COLTS/PATENT" at the left front side of the frame. Those purchased by the Navy are sometimes marked with a "U.S.N." on the butt strap. Specimens will also be found with and without the capping channel in the right recoil shield. Additionally, the front sight on earlier production guns was a brass post sight while later models will have brass or even German silver blade type front sights. Grips are of varnished walnut. The frame, hammer and loading lever are cased hardened, the remainder blued. The various serial number and factory inspector or code stampings found on the pictured revolver are pictured below as is the rear of the cylinder showing the six locking pins.


Bottom Front Of Cylinder Arbor
Stamped 5685


Bottom Of Barrel Wedge
Stamped 75685


Barrel, Frame And Trigger Guard Stampings
At Bottom Front Of Frame All Stamped 175685


Butt Strap Stampings
Small "Y" Stamp - Upper Right - Plus 175685


Right Side Front Trigger Guard
"J" Stamping


Back Of Cylinder
Note Locking Pins



Of the 215,000 Model 1851 Navies produced at Hartford, the 4th model comprised over half that total with an estimated 125,000 being manufactured. The London armory turned out another 42,000 or so. Not counting fraudulent voter registrations, that equals the entire population of St. Louis city. Records detailing official and open market purchases show only about 35,000 Model 1851 Colt revolvers being purchased by both the Army and Navy during the Civil War. The Army purchased 20,000 of that number. The contract models carry martial marking as discussed herein. However, the 4th Model Navy was immensely popular during that conflict and many additional thousands were purchased by the individual states or for private usage. Many were sold after the war and the stock was not depleted until 1879! It is today one of the most popular guns in the arms collecting field. There are many variations and a collector could spend his life and fortune just finding and buying one of each. The revolver featured here was made in 1864. The 1861 "Round Barrel" Model Navy which will be featured next week was made in 1863. It was developed 10 years after it's predecessor but it is one year older.


Credits for the information in this posting go to FLAYDERMAN'S GUIDE TO ANTIQUE AMERICAN FIREARMS... AND THEIR VALUES, by Norm Flayderman and to U.S. MILITARY SMALL ARMS 1816-1865 by Robert M. Reilly. No small amount of credit should go to De Witt Pourie of Villa Ridge, MO whose guidance, influence and encouragement has resulted in 30 plus years of collecting for the author of this page and who is one of those individuals directly responsible for it's inspiration. De died a week ago today at the age of 85, but he was really 85 going on 60 or less. He was still going to school... on computers, still attending gun shows and still standing as a mentor to the younger collector. He was an officer in WWII, an engineer, an arms collector of note, an avid reader, a photographer with professional status, a loving and care giving husband to his wife Eve and a very human being. He was, without doubt, the most honest and ethical individual that I have ever known. He was in fact, one of God's noble men.


My thanks also goes to my son Reed, who is the webmaster for this page. One would not be reading this if it was not for him.


Dave Radcliffe



Rare Colt Model 1851 Navy Percussion Revolver with Matching shoulder Stock from; https://antiquefirearms.jouwweb.nl/colt