When Samuel Colt
patented a new kind of pistol in 1835 in England, then the hub of small-arms
making (he patented it in the U.S. a year later), he gave the world the first
practical pistol with a revolving cylinder—from which the word
"revolver" probably sprang. The idea of revolving firearms was 200 or
more years old when Colt made his first wooden model, but Colt's pistol with
its single barrel and cylinder of cartridges had the simplicity and genius that
makes an invention a success.
The revolver seen
in Western movies is almost always the Colt Frontier, first produced in 1873
for the Army in a .45-caliber model. Colt soon produced another in .44-40 so
that cowboys could shoot the same ammunition in it that they used in their
carbines. The Frontier (known also as the Peacemaker or Equalizer, since it
made little men equal to big) soon became the standard of the West, though not
to the extent the movies would have us believe.
In the East the
Frontier retailed for $16. In the West it was nearly as negotiable as gold
dust, then worth $16 an ounce. It couldn't be called a scarce antique—about
314,000 were made. But it belongs to several legends, including the legend of
Samuel Colt, the legends of cavalry charges and cowboys and gun fighters. A
secondhand Single Action, as collectors call the gun, sells for $100 to $250,
depending on condition. It cost only $37.50 new in 1941. Tourists search the
West for them, not knowing they cost as much in Albuquerque as in New York.
These prices are
nothing compared to what earlier Colts command. Patersons, the first made
between 1836 and 1841, now sell for $1,200 to $2,000. The Walker or
Whitneyville Walker in first-class condition brings even more ($2,500). These
huge guns—they had nine-inch barrels and weighed four pounds nine ounces—were
the biggest ever carried by our Army and the first revolver that any army used.
A thousand were ordered in 1847 for the Army by a Capt. Sam Walker who was
fighting in the Mexican War. These are the rarest Colts. The only known Walker
in a fitted case and with accessories (bullet mold, nipple wrench and so on)
recently sold for $10,000.
There are more
collectors who want Colts than there are for any other gun—maybe 10 times as
many. Anyone buying or selling a Colt who is not an expert had better consult a
dealer who is. James E. Serven, of Santa Ana, Calif., author of Colt Firearms,
is such a man; so is Herb Glass of Bullville, N.Y. For one thing, there is
confusion among noncollectors in telling Walkers from less valuable Dragoons.
For another, well-made fakes are beginning to appear.
greatest tribute to Sam Colt and his incomparable Frontier Model is that two
companies are now producing replicas: Sturm, Ruger & Company, of Southport,
Conn., brought out its Single Six in 1953, and the Great Western Arms Corp., of
Los Angeles began marketing its Great Western Frontier revolvers this year.
Inventor sam colt
was said to have gotten the idea for his revolver from watching a ship's
steering wheel revolve while he was serving as a seaman in his youth. Colt
pistols are still made today in Hartford, Conn., where Colt was born in
colt, or Peacemaker, affectionately referred to by collectors as the
Single-Action (because the trigger cannot cock and fire gun in modern
"double-action" style), was first produced in 1873. In .45 caliber it
was the most powerful sidearm issued to the U.S. Army, has been called the gun
that opened up the West.
Anson chase colt,
an experimental model, is considered the forerunner of the Colt line. It was
made about 1833 by Chase, a toolmaker, after a design by Colt. Two Baltimore
gunsmiths claimed to have made even earlier models and hounded the inventor
while he was touring the U.S. demonstrating laughing gas as "Dr.
Paterson colt, so
named because it was made in Paterson, N.J., is a rare piece (about 2,700
manufactured) which, depending on condition and type, now sells for $1,200 to
$2,000. Early models like this .36 caliber holster pistol had a folding trigger
which only appeared in position when the weapon was cocked. The Paterson was
Colt's first revolver.