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Original U.S. Civil War Colt 1861 Navy .36 Caliber Richards-Mason Cartridge Conversion Revolver - Serial 21115

Item Description

Original item: Only One Available. Here we have a very good example of the type of revolver used by many of the earliest settlers that helped open up the U.S. Western Frontier. It began live as a Colt Navy percussion revolver, manufactured in 1864, however the U.S. Civil war was really the end of the line for the percussion system. Cartridge revolvers, which were already obsolete. With the large surplus post war, many systems were designed to convert the many percussion revolvers to take brass cartridge ammunition, in either rimfire or centerfire configurations.

Colt itself became involved in these, as there was definitely a large market. The first system they used was developed by Charles Brinckerhoff Richards, an engineer employed by Colt given the task of designing a conversion. As originally designed, it involved installation of a ring at the back of the cylinder, which held a captured firing pin, and also had a loading gate as seen on later revolvers. The loading rammer was removed and the channel filled in, with an ejector rod added to the right side of the barrel.

The downsides to the Richards system were the complicated machining of the conversion ring with the captive firing pin, and the overly complex and in some ways delicate ejector rod. These shortcomings were eliminated with the Richards-Mason conversions. This conversion system utilized an improved ejector design that had been patented by William Mason, and moved from a captured firing pin to one on the hammer, which also made it possible to convert revolvers to either centerfire or rimfire. During the 1870s many percussion revolvers were converted at the Colt factory itself, and this is one such example. Even after the Colt "Single Action Army" was introduced, conversions continued, as it was far cheaper than purchasing an entirely new revolver.

Our example has a Serial Number of 21115, and was originally made in 1864, towards the end of the Civil War. It was then converted at some time during the mid 1870s, and the barrel also shortened to a more "gunfighter" friendly 4 3/4 inches. The serial number is present on all parts of the revolver except for the barrel wedge, which was most likely replaced by one from another revolver after it was converted. The Colt address marking on the top of the barrel is unfortunately almost completely gone, with just traces left. The conversions were usually buffed and refinished in nickel, which unfortunately resulted in the original barrel markings becoming faint or removed entirely.

The left side of the frame has the post 1872 Colt patent dates all clearly legible:

- PAT. JULY. 25. 1871 -
- PAT. JULY. 2. 1872. -

There is also still the 36 CAL marking present on the left side of the trigger guard.

Condition of the revolver is very good, with some of the original nickel plating present on the frame and trigger guard. The rest has faded to a lovely gray patina. The walnut grips still have lots of the original "piano varnish" finish, with just a few chips and dents on the bottom of the grip scales. The action works well, with good cylinder indexing, and a proper loading position. The ejector rod is present and functional as well, and the revolver properly breaks down into its components for cleaning. The bore does show rifling, but it definitely does show wear and some oxidation, so this was definitely a revolver that saw use, most likely on the frontier.

A very nice example of the typical converted revolver seen on the early U.S. Western Frontier, ready to display!

History of the Colt 1861 Navy

Colt 1861 Navy Revolvers have always been hard to find, being much overshadowed by the famous Colt 1851 Navy Model. The 1851 had a 36 caliber Octagonal barrel, and many thousands saw service in the Civil War. The 1861 Navy Model was also in 36 caliber but the barrel was modeled after the 1860 Colt Army model, being totally round. Easier and more economical to produce, the 1861 was designed to replace the model 1851, and should have been a great success. However the 1851 model was so well established that production continued long after the Civil War had ended.

It was a cap & ball .36-caliber revolver was a six-shot, single-action percussion weapon produced by Colt's Manufacturing Company from 1861 until 1873. It incorporated the "creeping" or ratchet loading lever and round barrel of the .44-caliber Army Model of 1860 but had a barrel one half inch shorter, at 7.5 inches. Total production was 38,000 revolvers.

Like its forerunner, the Colt 1851 Navy Revolver, it saw widespread use in the American Civil War and on the American Western frontier, though far fewer were produced. It has the same general specification as the earlier model, but with a rounded barrel and somewhat different rammer. While similar in design to the Colt Army Model 1860, the lighter recoil of the 1861 Navy's .36 caliber was preferred by some cavalry soldiers.

There were few variations of the Model 1861 Navy Colt. Approximately 100 of the first guns made had fluted cylinders with no cylinder scene. Another 100, made between the serial ranges of 11,000 and 14,000 were cut for a shoulder stock — the lower portion of the recoil shield was milled away and a fourth screw for the stock was added to the frame. With the exception of the first fifty or so of this model, all guns had a capping groove. A brass trigger guard and back strap, silver-plated, were standard.

During the Civil War its main competitor in England was the Adams self-cocking revolver. The Adams fired a .49 caliber bullet and did not require the shooter to pull the hammer back. Colt's revolver was more popular because Colt mass-produced his weapons while Adams' products were handmade by skilled artisans. In the United States, Colt's main rival was the Remington Model 1858 revolver.

The Colt 1861 Navy typically was used with paper cartridges, that is, with a cartridge consisting of nitrated paper, a pre-measured black powder charge, and a bullet that was either a lead round ball or a lead conical bullet. The nitrated paper of the cartridge was completely consumed upon use, and the use of paper cartridges enabled faster re-loading. Alternatively, it was always possible to load with measured powder charges and lead round balls.


Year of Manufacture: 1864 - Converted Later
Caliber: .36"
Ammunition Type: Centerfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 4 3/4 inches
Overall Length: 10 1/2 inches
Action: Single Action Only
Feed System: 6 Shot Revolver

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