PROPERTY OF ANOTHER OWNER
This extremely rare, elaborately engraved and gold-inlaid percussion Colt revolver is part of a very important group of firearms that Samuel Colt made following his triumphant showing at London's Great Exhibition of 1851, likely coinciding with his magnificent display of firearms at the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1853.
Until the discovery of this pistol only twenty-one Gold-Inlaid percussion Colt firearms were known to have survived.1 Colonel Colt likely made the majority of these gold-inlaid revolvers for use in exhibitions, but also as presentation pieces to important state leaders and dignitaries to whom it is recorded he gifted these fine firearms during his travels in Europe and the Ottoman Empire throughout the 1850s in an attempt to gain contracts for firearm purchases and production contracts.
A group of three of these guns survive at the Hermitage Museum that were part of the gifts given to Emperor Nicholas I in 1854. Those guns are discussed in detail in Dr. Leonid Tarassuk's and R.L.Wilson's The 'Russian' Colts: From Colonel Samuel Colt to The Russian Imperial Court, (North Hollywood, CA: Beinfeld Publishing, Inc., 1979). As mentioned in an early biography of Samuel Colt, it is stated that:
"In the spring of 1854, Colonel Colt was for the first time in Russia. His fame as an inventor had preceded him, and he was received with greatest kindness by the imperial family and returned home not only happy in the prospect of contracts for his production, but honored by those jeweled complements which convey the friendly admiration of royalty."2
One of the most intriguing aspects of this pistol is that its serial number 63306 is only one digit away from the Gold-Inlaid Colt Model 1849 revolver (63305) presented to Nicholas I. While its early provenance is not known, it is probable this pistol was presented to a European dignitary during the period that Colt traveled extensively through Europe and Russia.
The engraving on a majority of surviving Gold-Inlaid Colt firearms has been attributed to Gustave Young, and this is supported by the discovery in 1967 of an engraver's pull depicting a highly-engraved Colt Dragoon frame. That engraver's pull was in the possession of the grandson of Young, and the incredible detailing depicted on it suggests it was a rubbing taken from a gold-inlaid revolver, but the whereabouts of that revolver is presently unknown.
New research has stated that the cylinder engraving on several of the surviving Gold-Inlaid revolvers, such as the 'Sultan of Turkey' Dragoon in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Nicolas I Dragoon at the Hermitage, was by Waterman Lilly Ormsby the famous banknote engraver of New York.4 Considering differences in engraving styles found throughout the gold-inlaid Colts, another New York banknote engraver, John R. Evans, has also been mentioned as being a possible engraver of several of these rare revolvers.
The depth of engraving on this Pocket Model is quite exacting, and this manner of decoration (deep-relief) is only present on a few of the other surviving gold-inlaid revolvers. Of particular note, the muzzle face of this pistol is also engraved which is nearly unique in the oeuvre of Colt Gold-Inlaid production. While not definitively explained by Tarassuk and Wilson, it is likely that Nicholas I's Model 1949 pocket revolver, number 63305, also has an engraved muzzle face.
The pistol itself has survived in excellent condition and retains much of its original finish, though showing wear, some handling marks and fine aged patina. The gold-inlaid animals have experienced little wear.
It is very important to consider here that of the twenty-two known gold-inlaid revolvers, only sixteen of them were made during the lifetime of Col. Samuel Colt. Each of those made under his direction, and each would have been handled by the Colonel himself. Of those sixteen revolvers made during Col. Colt's lifetime, seven are in public collections, leaving eight guns ever available for private collections, and of those eight only four are the Model 1849, one of which (no. 63303) does not feature the rare gold-inlaid animal decoration. Moreover, only two of the privately-owned gold-inlaid Colt Model 1849 revolvers feature deluxe fore-sights, no. 63306 (the currently offered lot) and no. 63271 (with regrettable pitting damage).
The sale of this incredible firearm marks an extraordinarily rare opportunity to purchase one of the most important, lavishly-decorated, and sought-after American firearms of the nineteenth century, or even twentieth-century. It is not unreasonable to say that it will be many years to come before the next undiscovered Gold-Inlaid Colt Revolver surfaces.
Sotheby's would like to thank Conor FitzGerald for his contribution to this note.
Robert Lawrence Wilson, Fine Colts: The Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection, (Doylestown, PA: Republic Publishing Co., Inc., 1999)
Robert M. Lee and Robert L. Wilson, The Art of the Gun: Magnificent Colts: Selections from the Robert M. Lee Collection¸ (Reno, NV: Yellowstone Press, 2012)
Robert Lawrence Wilson, Samuel Colt Presents: A Loan Exhibition of Presentation Percussion Colt Firearms,Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, 3 November 1961 to 14 January 1962, (Hartford: The Atheneum, 1961)
Robert Lawrence Wilson, Steel Canvas: The Art of American Arms, (New York: Random House, 1995)
1 Connecticut State Library has three Gold-Inlaid Colt revolvers: a 3rd Model Dragoon, serial no. 15821, a Model 1849, serial no. 71746 and a Model 1851, serial no. 38843. From Samuel Colt's personal collection.
The Royal Armoury, Stockholm, Sweden has two Gold-Inlaid Model 1860 Army revolvers, serial nos. 31906 and 31907, composing a pair presented to the King of Sweden. These guns were stolen in 1967 and have not yet been recovered.
Jægerpris Castle, Copenhagen, Denmark also has two Gold-Inlaid Model 1860 Army revolvers, serial nos. 31904, and 31905, these composing a pair presented to the King of Denmark.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York has the Gold-Inlaid 3rd Model 'Sultan of Turkey' Dragoon, serial no. 12406. Donated 1995.
The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia has three Gold-Inlaid revolvers: a 3rd Model Dragoon, serial no. 12407, a Model 1851, serial no. 20131, a Model 1849 serial no. 63305.
Five Gold-Inlaid Colt revolvers are in an American private collection: a Model 1849, serial no. 67498, a Model 1851, serial no. 20133, a Model 1851, serial no. 23477, and two Model 1861 revolvers, serial nos. 17239 and 17240, presented by Elisha K. Root, President of Colt's to Lewis Lippold of Colt's.
Other Gold-Inlaid Colts in private collections include: Model 1862, serial no. 38549, a Model 1849, serial no. 63303 (no animal inlays), a Model 1849, serial no. 63271 (regrettably with pitting), a Model 1851, serial no. 14332, a London Dragoon, serial no. 7.
A summarized breakdown is as follows: four Dragoons, serial numbers 7, 12406, 12407, 15821; six Model 1849, serial nos. 63303, 63305, 63306 (currently offered lot), 63271, 67498, 71746; five Model 1851, serial nos. 14332, 20131, 20133, 23477, 38843; four Model 1860, serial nos. 31904, 31905, 31906, 31907; two Model 1861, serial nos. 17239 and 17240; one 1862, serial no. 38549.
2 Robert Lawrence Wilson, The Book of Colt Firearms, 2nd edition (Minneapolis, MN: Blue Book Publications, 1993), p. 65.
3 Tarassuk and Wilson, The 'Russian' Colts, p. 13 and Robert Lawrence Wilson, The Book of Colt Engraving, (Los Angeles: W. Beinfeld Publications, 1974). p. 110.
4 The Colt Revolver in the American West at http://theautry.org/the-colt-revolver-in-the-american-west/overview.
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