The 1851 London Navy Colt Club
the resource for the Neovictorian Gentleman of Duty, Honour, Loyalty and Style
The 1851 London Navy Colt Club, which has the honour to present to you the accompanying site, devotes itself to the most noble revolver design of the Victorian period; Samuel Colts 1851 London Navy Colt.
A Gentleman would not want to appear armed, but would not be so foolish as to go unarmed.
Always be a Gentleman. Always be courteous. Always be ready to kill everyone in the room.
Most men today are uncomfortable with guns; that's because most men are uncomfortable with power. Today's man doesn't know how to lead others; he doesn't know how take responsibility for a situation; he doesn't know how to make a split second decision and it be the right one. These are all the skills that men can learn with the 1851 London Navy Colt, an icon that symbolizes style, elegance and reliability of a bygone age.
These beautiful pieces of machinery where for their time, the world’s most efficient weapons, combining timeless functional simplicity with formal elegance. Colt liked to juxtapose materials, colours and finishes to heighten visual appeal. Some of the revolvers have expertly carved or inlaid handles and gun barrels and who could resist the seductive black-blue tinge?
In its day the 1851 Navy was the most popular Colt revolver ever made, sold and fired.
It 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, with state-of-the-art machines and dedicated production lines; back then the most technologically advanced factories in the world.
Colt was apparently indifferent to the uses of his products; he sold arms to whoever would pay. Buyers included Czar Alexander II of Russia, the Japanese shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu and Sultan Abd al-Majid of Turkey.
The "London" .36 is a classy variation with a steel frame and backstrap and is a finely balanced, soft shooting revolver.
There is just something about the "feel" of the '51 Navy. Maybe it's the way they sit low in the hand, maybe it's the speed and accuracy of the calibre, maybe it's everything combined, but the '51 Navy is the quintessential Revolver and does just about everything perfectly and with style.
In the days, when muzzle loading arms could still be found in the racks of gunsmiths' shops alongside cans of black powder and tins of percussion caps, like-minded “Squareback” souls founded The 1851 London Navy Colt Club with an "open charter" giving a wide scope to their activities, with the intent to promulgate their common interest in the diverse and often superb products of American Entrepreneur Samuel Colt and his London Factory.
Said activities revolve around the skill at arms with this blackpowder side arm, as in its development, history and the upholding of the enlightened attitude
The 1851 London Navy Colt Club is a virtual, altruistic and amenable social facility for the discerning Neo-Victorian Lady or Gentleman of today who want to elevate their thinking in a stimulating, convivial and inspiring circle on our common “good friend with six hearts in his body”.
Contact The 1851 London Navy Colt Club at:
Buy your "Squareback" LNC pin! Contact us for details.
The 1851 Colts that never were
The original Colt 1851 Navy was only made in .36 caliber. The .44 is a calibre they "should" have made, but didn't.
The current available selection of .44 Cal 1851 Navy pistols with octagonal barrels are modern developments of Italian manufacturers. Colt never made a .44 calibre pistol on the 51 sized frame with an octagonal barrel.
There were a couple .40 cal experimental prototypes made though.
The problem was that steel had not reached the point of
development where a Navy-sized cylinder could be bored to .44 and not blow
up due to the thin chamber walls. By 1859 Colt was able to import a type of
Swedish steel that could do the job, if the cylinder was rebated (made
larger at the front then at the back with a step about 2/3 of the way back
from the front). Thus at this point they were able to make a satisfactory
.44 revolver on the basic Navy frame. But rather then make a modified Navy
they introduced a whole new model; the 1860 Army.
The Colt Museum in Hartford, CT have an 1860 Colt on display (round barrel, .44 caliber) with the hinged Navy loading lever instead of the creeping lever. The gun was never produced but Sam Colt did obviously have a heavier Navy with more punch in mind.
It's true that Colt didn't make any 1851 Navies in .44 caliber, but J.H. Dance and Brothers Manufacturing Company, Columbia, Texas,
made a .44 caliber Confederate copy of 51 Navy during the civil war.
The Italians however did what Colt didn’t and have built a .44 Navy model using an 1860 frame combined with a new 1851 barrel bored out to .44 caliber. In the process they also used the shorter 1851 Navy backstrap and trigger guard.
The 1851 London Navy Colt Club is of the opinion that these modern variants, even if not historically accurate, are nonetheless cost-effective and serve to preserve the memory, knowledge and legend while offering a very potent and useable calibre to individuals interested in the 1851 Navy Colt.
As for the calibre of the 51 Navy, if it’s an original .36 or a modern .44 Cal, buy what you want, you’re the one that is going to be shooting it.
Pietta 1851 Navy
Yank London Cal. 36 or Cal .44
Uberti 1851 London Navy Colt (340050) Cal .36
The Colt Model 1851 London revolver
by the Colt Collectors Association, Inc P.O.Box 2241, Los Gatos, CA 95031-2241
The Colt Model 1851 London revolver was manufactured in London at Samuel Colt’s only manufactory outside the U.S. from 1853 through to 1857. The revolvers were numbered in their own serial range from serial number 1 through to about 43000 (highest known is #42910). The component parts for the early Colt Hartford-London Navies were manufactured in Hartford with the parts being shipped to London where they were assembled and finished at Colt's London factory. These First Model London Navies are found in the serial range of 1 through to 2000 with brass back-strap and small rounded trigger-guard. A few will also be found with a brass square-back trigger-guard and are considered a rarity. Many of the First Model revolvers have the barrel address of ‘ADDRESS SAM'L COLT NEW-YORK CITY’ with a dash at either end. They are interspersed with ‘ADDRESS. COL COLT. LONDON’. The Second Model London Navy is in the serial range from approximately 2000 through until approximately 38000. All the parts were manufactured in London with silver-plated or blued steel back-strap and large rounded trigger-guard. All revolvers had the standard barrel marking ‘ADDRESS. COL COLT. LONDON’ with a pointed arrow facing inwards at each end. British proof stampings are found on the breech end of the cylinder over each chamber and also on the left side of the barrel lug with a crown over a V and a crown over GP. Most revolvers are blued with case-colored frame, hammer and loading lever with silver-plated or blued steel back-strap and large rounded steel trigger-guard. A very few including #23655 are known to be silver-plated. The grips are of one-piece varnished walnut and some feature select walnut. Many London Navy revolvers were factory engraved in a distinct style of engraving executed by the finest English engravers of the day.
The late Hartford-London Navies from approximately serial number 38000 to almost 43000 were assembled back in Hartford after the London factory closed and the surplus parts were shipped back to Hartford. They were then shipped back to London to be sold through Colt’s Agency at 14 Pall Mall, London. By this time subtle changes had taken place on some of the revolvers with a bevelled bullet cut-out on the right side of the barrel lug, Hartford-type back-straps and the London address with just a dash either end instead of the pointed arrows.
There were contracts made with Canada to supply the Upper and Lower police and with Australia to supply their police force in most states. The Austrian government ordered arms for the Kriegs Marine and the British Government ordered Navies (many stamped WD with the Broad Arrow and other markings) for the army and Navy in the Crimean War and later the Indian Mutiny.
Philip Boulton of Southampton, England has collated and recorded a survival rate of at least 4.33% of the original 42910 production of London Navy revolvers. For in-depth reference on Colt Model 1851 London Navies see ‘Colonel Colt, London’ by Joseph G. Rosa, ‘51 Colt Navies’ by Nathan L. Swayze or ‘The Book of Colt Firearms- 3rd Edition’ by R.L. Wilson. For values, check out ‘Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms and their values’ by Norm Flayderman
Colonel Colt's London Factory - By Steven J.C.Forber
~ Sam Colt ~
Samuel Colt and his
English friend, Charles Manby, f.r.s. Secretary of the Institution of Civil
Engineers, became a regular sight on the streets of London during 1851. Colt had
had a great success exhibiting his fine firearms at the Great Exhibition at the
Crystal Palace in that year and the orders had come flooding in. Together the
two friends toured London seeking a suitable site upon which to build a factory.
After much fruitless searching they eventually found what they had been looking
for in Bessborough Place, Vauxhall Bridge, Pimlico, London City centre. It was a
three story red brick building over three hundred feet long. It had been erected
in 1840 by Thomas Cubitt and was owned by the British Government, and housed
castings for use by the famous architect, Charles Barry, in the new Palace of
It was Manby who successfully negotiated with the Government for the lease to the building.
Between January and December of 1852 the London sales office imported many Colt pistols (mainly .36 cal. Navy Models and .44 cal. Dragoons) and parts from the factory in the U.S. This kept the London connection ticking over until the newly furnished factory was ready. They had many problems in the beginning especially with the engine and boiler that was to be used to power the machinery. The men from Hartford, who were to set up the machines, arrived late and it wasn't until January 1853 that Colt was able to open up his books for business. It was in the June of that same year before any pistols were actually completed and most of them were either entirely or part-made in Hartford just to start the production going.
It was early 1854 before the London factory was up and running properly; making complete pistols from raw materials to the finished product. The steel and iron for the guns was supplied from a firm in Sheffield, England called, Thomas Firth & Sons. This factory also shipped tons of metal to the Hartford factory, and continued to do so until the late 1860's. Now that the factory was up and running, Colt received many famous visitors who would be guided around the place by the man himself. They included Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's husband) and the famous author Charles Dickens. Indeed, Dickens was very impressed by the factory and the superb (for the time) conditions for the work force.
"It is the only place in England where one can see the complete manufacture of a pistol, from dirty pieces of timber and rough bars of cast steel, till it is fit for the gunsmiths case." Dickens was invited to test one of Colt's .36 cal. Navy revolvers, he concluded that, "After a little practice, I find that a mere novice may, with one hand, discharge the six rounds as rapidly as the eye can wink."
Over 200 men and women worked for Colt at the London factory. Unskilled workers received ten to fifteen shillings a week and the highly skilled could expect to get as much as a full pound a week or more. Excellent wages for the day. The factory was heated for the workers comfort and had access to changing rooms and many other luxuries that were virtually unheard of in Victorian England. But Colt needed more orders and, as luck would have it for him, the orders came thick and fast in 1854 from the British Government; for they had just declared war, along with France, on Russia. It was the start of the Crimean War.In March of that year, Colt received an order for 4000 Navy revolvers at a cost of £2.10.0 each (silver plated back strap versions cost an extra five shillings - about 25p or 65 cents.) By October it was reported that over 10.000 Navy revolvers had been issued to the Baltic Fleet. On August 2nd. I855, Colt received his biggest single order yet from the British Government. 9.000 navy pistols! The factory put on a night shift and went in to overtime. By 1856, Colt had produced approximately, 24.000 pistols. About nine thousand of them went for storage to the tower of London where they remained until the late 1860's.
After the war, as is
so often the case, the Colt factory found it nigh on impossible to get many
orders. The night shift was dropped and so was the over time.
Economic change and loyalty to one's own country crept in to the scene too as more and more British Government officials and M.P.'s (Members of Parliament) were persuaded to 'fly the flag' and buy British. Indeed the British gun maker and designer, Robert Adams, took full advantage of this and got orders from the Government that, maybe - given the unreliability of the Adams revolver - should of gone to Colt.
Things were quiet in America too and so, Colt decided that he could not continue production in Great Britain. He pulled in his bridges and closed the London Factory in December 1856.And so ended one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of Colt Firearms.
The above factual
information was gathered from:
'The Royal Armouries - Colt Revolvers'
Joseph G. Rosa.
Charles Dickens' Autobiography.
& Personal research at Leeds Armoury
& Museums in Liverpool, Manchester,
Edinburgh & London.
Copyright Steven J.C.Forber 2002.
Colts London Factory Site 2012
Colt's London Factory, Bessborough Place, Vauxhall Bridge, Pimlico, London 1854
(To the right: Holy Trinity Church, Bessborough Gardens, London, built 1849-1851, an early church by John Loughborough. Destroyed in the Second World War.)
Same view point from Vauxhall Bridge January 2012
Bessborough Place 2012
Cross's New Plan of London 1850
(The future Colt Factory and Trinity Church shown just north of Ponsonby Street, Millbank Penitentiary at top of map)
Google Map 2012
SAMUEL COLT from Great Fortunes, and How They Were Made, by James D. McCabe, Jr.,
SAMUEL COLT was born at Hartford, Connecticut, on the 19th of July, 1814. He was descended from one of the original settlers of that city, and his father, who possessed some means, was a man of great energy, intelligence, and enterprise. The senior Colt began life as a merchant, and afterward became a manufacturer of woolen, cotton, and silk goods. The mother of our hero was the daughter of Major John Caldwell, a prominent banker of Hartford, and is said to have been a woman of superior character and fine mental attainments.
It was within the power of the parents of Samuel Colt to give him a thorough education, and this they were anxious to do; but he was always so full of restless energy that he greatly preferred working in the factory to going to school. He loved to be where he could hear the busy looms at work, and see the play of the intricate machinery in the great building. In order to gratify him, his father placed him in his factory at the age of ten years, and there he remained for about three years, leaving it only at rare intervals and for short periods of time, which he passed in attendance upon school and working on a farm. When he was thirteen his father declared that he would not permit him to grow up without an education, and sent him to a boarding-school at Amherst, Massachusetts. He did not remain there long, for the spirit of adventure came over him with such force that he could not resist it. He ran away from school and shipped as a boy before the mast on a vessel bound for the East Indies. The ship was called the Coroo, and was commanded by Captain Spaulding.
The voyage was long, and the lad was subjected to great hardships, which soon convinced him that running away to sea was not as romantic in real life as in the books he had read, but his experience, though uncomfortable enough, failed to conquer his restless spirit. While at sea in the Coroo he had an abundance of leisure time for reflection, but instead of devoting it to meditating upon the folly of his course, he spent it in inventing a revolving pistol, a rough model of which he cut in wood with his jack-knife. This was the germ of the invention which afterward gave him such fame, and it is not a little singular that the conception of such a weapon should have come to a boy of fourteen.
Returning home, he became an apprentice in his father's factory at Ware, Massachusetts. He was put into the dyeing and bleaching department, and was thoroughly trained in it by Mr. William T. Smith, a scientific man, and one of the best practical chemists in New England. Young Holt manifested a remarkable aptitude for chemistry, and when but a mere boy was known as one of the most successful and dexterous manipulators in New England.
When he had reached his eighteenth year, the old spirit of restlessness came over him again, and he embarked in an unusually bold undertaking for one so young, in which, however, he was much favored by the circumstance that he was very much older in appearance than in reality, commonly passing for a full-grown man. Assuming the name of Dr. Coult, he traveled throughout the Union and British America, visiting nearly every town of two thousand inhabitants and over, lecturing upon chemistry, and illustrating his lectures with a series of skillful and highly popular experiments. His tour was entirely successful, and he realized in the two years over which it extended quite a handsome sum. The use which he made of the money thus acquired was characteristic of the man.
He had never abandoned the design of a revolving pistol which he had conceived on board the Coroo, and he now set to work to perfect it, using the proceeds of his lectures to enable him to take out patents in this country and in Europe. He spent two years in working on his model, making improvements in it at every step, and by 1835 had brought it to such a state of excellence that he was enabled to apply for a patent in the United States. His application was successful. Before it was decided, however, he visited England and France, and patented his invention in those countries. Though now only twenty-one years old, he had given seven years of study and labor to his "revolver," and had brought it to a state of perfection which was far in advance of his early hopes.
"At this time, and, indeed, for several years after, he was not aware that any person before himself had ever conceived the idea of a fire-arm with a rotating chambered breech. On a subsequent visit to Europe, while exploring the collection of fire-arms in the Tower of London and other repositories of weapons of war in England and on the continent, he found several guns having the chambered breech, but all were so constructed as to be of little practical value, being far more liable to explode prematurely and destroy the man who should use them than the objects at which they might be aimed. Unwilling, however, to seem to claim that which had been previously invented, he read before the Institution of Civil Engineers in England (of which he was the only American associate), in 1851, an elaborate paper on the subject, in which he described and illustrated, with appropriate drawings, the various early inventions of revolving fire-arms, and demonstrated the principles on which his were constructed."
Having secured patents in the United States and in the principal countries of Europe, Mr. Colt exerted himself to organize a company for the manufacture of his revolver. He met with considerable opposition, for it was commonly asserted that his pistol would never be of any practical value. The wise ones said it was too complicated for general use, and that its adoption would be attended by the killing or maiming of the majority of those who used it. The inventor disregarded these birds of ill omen, however, and, persevering in his efforts, finally succeeded in securing the aid of some capitalists in New York. A company was formed in 1835, called the "Patent Arms Company," with a capital of $300,000, and an armory was established at Paterson, New Jersey. Mr. Colt then endeavored to induce the Government of the United States to adopt the arm in the military and naval service. Strange as it now seems, however, the officers of the army and navy were not disposed to regard the revolver with favor. They declared that the percussion cap was entirely unreliable, and that no weapon requiring it could be depended on with certainty; that there was great danger that two or more of the charges would explode at the same time; and that the arm was liable to get out of order very easily. They further protested that it was much more difficult to repair than the arms then in use, and that this alone rendered it unfit for adoption by the Government. Notwithstanding these objections were fully met by Mr. Colt, who explained carefully the principles of his weapon, it was two years before the Government consented to give the revolver a trial.
In 1837, the Florida war raged with great violence, and the Seminoles, secure in their fastnesses in the Everglades, were enabled to bid defiance to all the efforts of the army of the United States. Their superior skill in the use of the rifle gave them an advantage which the bravery and determination of our troops could not overcome. In this emergency, the Government consented to make a trial of Colt's revolver. A regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Harvey was armed with this weapon, and its success was so marked from the first that the Government promptly gave an order for more, and ended by making it the principal arm of the troops in Florida. The savages were astounded and disheartened at seeing the troops fire six or eight times without reloading; and when the war was brought to a close, as it soon was, it was plain to all that the revolver had played a decisive part in the struggle. It was a great triumph for Colonel Colt, but in the end proved a source of misfortune. The speedy termination of the war put an end to the demand for his weapon, and his business fell off so greatly that in 1842 the Patent Arms Company was compelled to close its establishment and wind up its affairs.
For five years none of the revolvers were manufactured, and, meanwhile, the stock which had been put in the market was entirely exhausted by the demand which had set in from Texas and the Indian frontier. In 1847 the war with Mexico began, and General Taylor, who had witnessed the performance of the revolver in Florida, was anxious to arm the Texan Rangers with that weapon. He sent Captain Walker, the commander of the Rangers, to Colonel Colt to purchase a supply. Walker was unsuccessful. Colt had parted with the last one that he possessed, and had not even a model to serve as a guide in making others. The Government now gave him an order for one thousand, which he agreed to make for $28,000; but there was still the difficulty caused by having no model to work by. In this dilemma, he advertised extensively for one of his old pistols, to serve as a model, but failing to procure one, was compelled to make a new model. This was really a fortunate circumstance, as he made several improvements in the weapon, which officers who had used it suggested to him, so that his weapons were very much better than the old ones. Having no factory of his own, Colonel Colt hired an armory at Whitneyville, near New Haven, where he produced the first thousand pistols ordered by the Government. These gave entire satisfaction, and further orders from the War Department came in rapidly. Colonel Colt now hired and fitted up larger and more complete workshops in Hartford, and began business on his own account, supplying promptly every order that was given him. The weapon proved most effective during the Mexican War, and the orders of the Government were sufficiently large to allow the inventor to reap a handsome profit from them, and lay the foundations of his subsequent business success.
At the close of the war, Colonel Colt was apprehensive that the demand for his weapon would again drop off, as it had done after the Florida campaign; but he was agreeably disappointed. The success of the revolver in Mexico had made it generally and favorably known throughout the country, and there was now a steady and even a growing demand for it. The discovery of gold in California, which so quickly followed the cessation of hostilities, greatly stimulated this demand, for the most essential part of the gold seeker's outfit was a revolver; and the extraordinary emigration to Australia, which set in somewhat later, still further extended the market for his weapon. Convinced by this time that there would be no considerable falling off in his orders, Colonel Colt began to take steps to assure the permanency of his business.
The experience of the American officers during the Mexican War enabled them to point out many improvements to the inventor, who promptly adopted them. This made his pistol almost a new weapon, and the most formidable small arm then in use. He obtained a new patent for it, as thus improved, and it was adopted by the Government as the regular arm of the army and navy, different sizes being made for each service. The Crimean and Indian wars, which followed soon after, brought the inventor large orders from the British Government, and during the next few years his weapon was formally introduced into the armies of the leading States of Europe.
His success was so rapid that, as early as 1851, it became necessary to provide still more ample accommodations for his manufactory. The next year he began the execution of a plan, the magnitude of which caused many of his friends to tremble for his future prosperity. He resolved to build the largest and most perfect armory in the world, one which should enable him to manufacture his weapons with greater rapidity and nicety than had ever yet been possible.
Just to the south of the Little or Mill River there was a piece of meadow land, about two hundred and fifty acres in extent, generally regarded as useless, in consequence of its being submerged every spring by the freshets in the river. Colonel Colt bought this meadow for a nominal sum, and, to the astonishment of the good people of Hartford, proceeded to surround it with a strong dike, or embankment. This embankment was two miles in length, one hundred and fifty feet wide at the base, from thirty to sixty feet wide at the top, and from ten to twenty-five feet high. Its strength was further increased by planting willows along the sides; and it was thoroughly tested just after its completion by a freshet of unusual severity. Having drained the meadow, Colonel Colt began the erection of his armory upon the land inclosed by the embankment. It was constructed of Portland stone, and consisted of three buildings—two long edifices, with a third connecting them in the center, the whole being in the form of the letter H. The front parallel was five hundred by sixty feet, the rear parallel five hundred by forty feet, and the central building two hundred and fifty by fifty feet—the front parallel and central building being three stories in height. Connected with these buildings were other smaller edifices for offices, warerooms, watchmen's houses, etc.
In 1861, the demand for the arms had become so enormous that the armory was doubled in size, the new buildings being similar in style to the old. "In this establishment there is ample accommodation for the manufacture of one thousand fire-arms per day," which is more than the arsenals at Harper's Ferry and Springfield combined could turn out in the same time previous to the war. In 1861, Colt's armory turned out about one hundred and twenty thousand stand of arms, and in 1860, the two armories before mentioned made about thirty-five thousand between them. A portion of the armory at Hartford is devoted to the fabrication of the machinery invented by Colonel Colt for the manufacture of his pistols. This machinery is usually sold to all parties purchasing the right to manufacture the revolver. Colonel Colt supplied in this way a large part of the machinery used in the Government manufactory at Enfield, in England, and all of that used in the Imperial armory at Tulin, in Russia. Near the armory, and in the area inclosed by the dike, Colonel Colt erected a number of tasteful cottages for his workmen, and warehouses for other kinds of business. His entire expenditure upon his land and buildings here amounted to more than two million five hundred thousand dollars.
"Among his other cares, the intellectual and social welfare of his numerous employés were not forgotten. Few mechanics are favored with as convenient residences as those he has erected for them; and a public hall, a library, courses of lectures, concerts, the organization of a fine band of music, formed entirely from his own workmen, to whom he presented a superb set of musical instruments, and of a military company of his operatives, provided by him with a tasteful uniform, and otherwise treated by him with great liberality, were among the methods by which he demonstrated his sympathy with the sons of toil."
The Hartford armory is the largest and most complete in the world, in extent and perfection of machinery. All the articles needed with the revolver, such as the powder flask, balls, lubricator, bullet molds, cartridges, etc., are made here on a large scale. The establishment is a noble monument to the inventive genius and business capacity of its founder.
In addition to his inventions of fire-arms, Colonel Colt invented a submarine battery, which was thoroughly tested by the officers of the United States Navy, and is said to be one of the most formidable engines for harbor defense ever known. He also invented a submarine telegraph cable, which he laid and operated with perfect success, in 1843, from Coney Island and Fire Island to the city of New York, and from the Merchants Exchange to the mouth of the harbor. His insulating material consisted of a combination of cotton yarn with asphaltum and beeswax; the whole was inclosed in a lead pipe. This was one of the most successful experiments of the early days of submarine telegraphy, and entitles Colonel Colt to a conspicuous place in the list of those who brought that science to perfection.
After the permanent establishment of his business, in 1847 and 1848, Colonel Colt's success was rapid. He acquired a large fortune, and built an elegant and tasteful mansion in Hartford, where he resided, surrounded with all the luxuries of wealth and taste. In 1855, he married Miss Elizabeth Jarvis, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Jarvis, of Portland, Connecticut, a lady of great beauty and superior character and accomplishments. She still survives him.
He repeatedly visited Europe after his settlement at Hartford, and as the excellence of his weapons had made his name famous the world over, he was the recipient of many attentions from the most distinguished soldiers of Europe, and even from some of the monarchs of the Old World. In 1856, being on a visit to Russia, with his family, he was invited with them to be present at the coronation of the Emperor Alexander II. He was decorated by nearly all the Governments of Europe, and by some of the Asiatic sovereigns, with orders of merit, diplomas, medals, and rings, in acknowledgment of the great services he had rendered to the world by his invention.
He died, at his residence in Hartford, on the 10th of January, 1862, in the forty-eighth year of his age. The community of which he was a member lost in him one of its most enterprising and public-spirited citizens, and the country one of the best representatives of the American character it has ever produced.
The classic Tom Kelly 1851 Articles
from the Civil War News.
Tom Kelley is a noted national writer whose monthly column, "On Shooting & Skirmishing," has appeared in The Civil War News since 1991.
Tom Kelley is also a medal winning shooter and artillerist, having won more than a dozen individual and team medals in N-SSA and NMLRA competitions in the last ten years. He regularly competes with Civil War ordnance, original and replica, in exciting competitions staged by the North-South Skirmish Association. He also competes in National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association competitions in the Musket Classes.
The Colt Navy Model 1851
by Tom Kelley
The name "Colt" is synonymous with "revolver", for it was Samuel Colt who patented and produced the first American revolver in 1837, more than 20 years prior to the American Civil War. Although that pistol, now labeled the Patterson Model, was acceptable to the American market, it had certain flaws and features that could be improved upon. Sam Colt's next pistol, the Walker Model produced in 1847, was a massive hunk of iron, and threw a .44 slug. The Walkers were designed with the assistance of a Texas Ranger Captain named Walker, and only 1,100 were produced. The size and power of the Walker was impressive, however, and Colt's third venture into production revolvers was the Colt Dragoon, which was a slightly smaller copy of the Walkers. About 15,000 Dragoon Models were manufactured from 1848 to 1861.
The American public had now accepted Colt Revolvers as reliable and desirable pistols. The use of the Walker and Dragoon Models in the War with Mexico had helped to solidify Colt's position as the leading manufacturer of revolvers in America. If Colt's pistols had any detracting feature, it was their massive bulk. The Dragoon and Walker were not easily tucked into a mans belt. Colt's Patterson Model had been a small caliber pistol, with the first four models manufactured in .31 caliber and the final model, the Fifth Model Patterson or Holster Model Patterson, was provided in .36 caliber.
In 1850, Colt began manufacturing a .36 caliber, 6-shot revolver that would continue to be produced for the next twenty-three years - the Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver. During that span, 215, 348 pistols were produced in Hartford, Connecticut and 42,000 were produced in London, England, a total production of more than a quarter of a million revolvers!. Colt Navy Revolvers were the favorite sidearms of dozens of historical figures during it's production life, including John Singleton Mosby, Wild Bill Hit chcock and Buffalo Bill Cody. Numerous variations of the Navy revolver exist, and most of today's reproductions copy the design of the Second and Third Model Colt Navy Revolver. The second Model had a small, round trigger guard, and the third had a larger round trigger guard.
Colt Navy replicas are available from most sutlers and catalog supply stores, and all are made in Italy and imported.
Tuning the '51 Navy Colt
The '51 Navy Colt Revolver uses the same design as the '60 Army and '61 Navy pistols. The hammer is pulled to the rear, which cocks the pistol and causes the hand to turn the cylinder clockwise as the cylinder stop is lowered at the same time to allow the turning. The cylinder stop pops back up and stops the cylinder with a nipple under the hammer. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer releases and strikes the capped nipple, causing ignition of the charge.
One of the problems with replica arms is many of the parts are "soft." The manufacturer needs to get a certain amount of production from each set of dies for stamping and casting the parts, and the use of milder steel allows longer life for the production equipment. If we were manufacturers, I am sure we would make the same choice. If you are going to use replica arms, accept the fact that some parts are soft and (a) buy some spare parts when you buy the pistol, or (b) try to "harden" some of the soft parts. I know that the hand is going to wear quickest, and I am going to change it every year, usually during the winter sabbatical from skirmishing.
If your '51 Navy is having problems aligning the cylinder, it could be the end of the hand has worn or been knurled over, and is not pushing the cylinder completely. There is a spring on the end of the hand that fits in the hammer, and that spring may be weak after prolonged use. You can replace the spring with a piece of coping saw blade, but be careful not to break the hand at the slot for the spring. Bend the spring while it is off of the hand, then replace it. Keeping a spare hand around also allows you to compare the length of the hand in the revolver with the new one to establish how much wear is occurring when you use the pistol.
One other thing to check is the notches on the cylinder and the cylinder stop. The stop should engage each slot completely, not just on the top of the stop. You may need to enlarge a slot or two, or work the cylinder stop until it fits correctly in the cylinder slots.
These two parts - the hand and the cylinder stop -- are the cause of more than half of the percussion revolver problems that occur in skirmishing. Get to know your particular piece on a first name basis, and keep some spare parts handy to keep it working up to snuff.
Shooting the Colt 1851 Navy Replica
The Colt Navy Model Revolvers - both the 1851 and the 1861 -- are easy to look at and even easier to point. The 1851 set the standard for Colt pistols regarding ease of pointing and fit to hand. Although lighter in weight than its predecessors, the Navy proved itself in California gold fields, on battlefields and in Kansas cow towns.
The cylinder of the '51 Colt Navy allows a full charge of 26.5 grains of FFF powder under the .375 lead ball. The full charge delivers a muzzle velocity of 910 feet per second. If you opt to use the .390 round ball load on top of 25 grains of FFF powder, velocity should be about 825 fps. Both of these maximum loads maintain a 3 inch group out to about 15 yards.
Maximum loads don't always prove to be the most accurate loads, however, and if your Colt Navy is going to break targets at 25 yards, you want an accurate load with a decent group, for a pistol. I tested several loads in the '51 Navy, and the results will be printed in next mont's article.
All in all, I found the 1851 Navy Model to be everything I expected in a medium caliber percussion revolver. I do not favor the tiny post front sight, but that is the only distraction I have with the '51 Navy. The '51 Navy throws a pea down range as well as can be expected, and in the hands of a better shot than I would make a decent skirmishing pistol.
© 2002 by Tom Kelley
The Colt Navy Model 1851 - Part II
by Tom Kelley
Last month, we started our look at one of the most successful revolvers of all time - the Colt Navy Model of 1851. This month, let's look at the data from the shooting bench and clean our Navies before we put them back in the shooting box.
Preparing to Shoot the '51 Colt Navy
Last month, we talked about tuning the Colt revolvers. One key component left to cover is the barrel wedge. Colt revolvers are designed with a trapezoidal wedge that maintains proper clearance between the front of the cylinder and barrel. Under no conditions do we want the barrel and cylinder to actually touch, but we don't want a large gap, either. Colt designed the wedge to maintain a proper clearance between the barrel and cylinder. As the wedge gets worn, you just tap it in a little more until it wears down again. The wedge has a screw that can be backed out and set for a specific distance so the wedge can be removed and inserted to the proper depth each time the revolver is cleaned. It doesn't hurt to have a spare wedge around for when it finally gets so worn it is useless.
Another step I took on my '51 Colt Navy was to cone the barrel. Although my Navy had good lock up and bore alignment, installing an 11 degree cone helps ease the jump of the projectile from bore to barrel, particularly since I like using oversized .395 round balls in my '51 Navy. It doesn't take a great deal of cone; I only opened mine up to about .450 inches. This will help insure more accuracy in prolonged uses, like revolver matches and cowboy shooting, when I will reload three or more times with little time for cleaning between use. If my cylinder stop or notches get cruddy or the hand gets dirty, a slightly misaligned ball will be guided more easily into the coned bore of the '51 Navy. You may acquire a coning kit yourself from Brownellsor get any competent gunsmith to perform the operation for you in about 15 minutes. Since I cone all my black powder pistols, purchasing a kit seemed the way to go for me, and the operation is a simple do-it-yourself endeavour.
The last step I took to prepare my Navy Colt for N-SSA action was to dress the nipples. Three relays in about 15 minutes can foul up these key components, and during testing I noticed that the revolver was harder to prime each time. I placed the nipple in a drill chuck, and polished the nipples with 500-grit wet/dry emery paper and steel wool. Keep a cap handy, and stop working the nipple when the cap will slide on easily, but doesn't fall off when inverted. It takes a while to get the hang of what's right, but you'll be glad you took the 30 minutes or so it takes. Now, the pistol primes quite easily for four or five relays, usually enough for an Individual Target and a Match, too.
Shooting the Colt '51 Navy
The cylinder of the '51 Colt Navy allows a full charge of 26.5 grains of FFF powder under the .375 lead ball. The full charge delivers a muzzle velocity of 966.5 feet per second. If you opt to use the .395 round ball load on top of 25 grains of FFF powder, velocity should be about 808 fps. Both of these maximum loads maintain a 3-inch group out to about 10 yards.
Maximum loads don't always prove to be the most accurate loads, however, and if your Colt Navy is going to break targets at 25 yards, you want an accurate load with a decent group, for a pistol. I tested several loads in the '51 Navy, and the best results are printed in the tables below.
Average group size
@ 25 yards
12 g FFF/.375 rb
3" by 11" oval
26.5 FFF/.375 rb
As I discussed last year in my article on the Colt Navy Model 1861, a .395 round ball can be easily loaded in the Navy cylinders, and provides a projectile with more surface to rifling contact then the nominal .375 ball. Results with the .395 load are below.
Average group size
@ 25 yards
19 g FFF
As with the Model 1861 Navy, I found I got better results with the oversized projectile. The Standard Deviation (SD) on the 19-grain, .395 round ball load was excellent and I recommend any Navy shooter start his load development from that point. Recoil was modest and the load was easy to load and shoot.
All in all, I found the 1851 Navy Model to be everything I expected in a medium calibre percussion revolver. I do not favour the tiny post front sight, but that is the only distraction I have with the '51 Navy. The '51 Navy throws a pea down range as well as can be expected, and in the hands of a better shot than I would make a decent skirmishing pistol.
Cleaning the Colt Navy Model 1851
Cleaning the Model '51 Navy on the firing line can be tedious, due to the fact that the revolver must be partially disassembled to clean adequately. I can shoot an Individual relay of ten to twelve shots with out cleaning, but it requires more luck than I usually carry to get through a three relay revolver Match without a cleaning or a foul-up. The way I prefer to handle the situation is to shoot the first relay, pull the wedge and separate the revolver into 3 subparts - cylinder, barrel and frame. I keep a pistol cleaning rod handy with a brush in the tip, and on the brush I place a patch. The first thing I do is clean the 6 chambers of the cylinder, turning the patch inside out after 3. Hold the cylinder up and make sure the nipples are clear. I discard that patch and place a clean patch on the brush, which I run through the barrel quickly. Reassembling the pistol, I can usually get this quick clean done between the first and second relay. If not, because of a fouled gun on another position, etc., I just make sure the nipples are clear and wait until the break between the second and third relay, which is usually a little longer due to target material being hung. It is a rare revolver match that I can't get the Navy cleaned up before the start of the third relay.
After all the shooting is done, the revolver is again broken down into the subparts, but this time it is placed in a mineral spirit bath. I've been able to get a gallon of mineral spirits for about two dollars, and I removed one whole side of an old gallon can with tin snips to make a container to soak the parts in. If the timing hasn't shown any signs of wear or tear, I scrub the cylinder and barrel real good, then rinse with boiling water. While the metal is still hot from the water, I apply a liberal coat of Ballistol (tm) spray to the parts.
About twice a year, or every couple hundred rounds or so, I disassemble the revolver completely and inspect the parts for wear, replacing what is needed from the spare parts pile I told you about last month. And, don't forget to order another part when you install your spare in the pistol, pardner! When reassembling, I use white lithium grease in copious quantities on the internal parts. The white lithium is very dense, and is not easily blown off the metal like lighter oils. Most of the fouling, therefore, accumulates in the grease, not on the metal, and is easily removed. I also keep a 100 cc syringe full of white lithium in my shooting box, and during loading I make sure that there is a good size dollop of the stuff in the mortise cut for the hammer. Many times, caps that have blown off the nipple and would have gone down and messed up the timing have been captured in the lithium barrier and been removed before they could do any damage.
So, until the next time, enjoy shooting the Colt Model 1851 Navy revolver, advocate responsible gun ownership, shoot safe and have fun.
(c) 2002 by Tom Kelley
An Apology and More Shooting the .36 Navy
by Tom Kelley
Well, last month's mailbag failed to include a recent correspondence from my Regional Commander. My recent column on a speed loader for the Henry Rifle found favor with some readers, however, A. C. Baird was quick to point out that the current N-SSA rules do not allow such a device on the firing line during N-SSA events. Having now pointed out this omission, I apologize to any and all who may have adapted this device to their skirmishing routine only to find we can't use them at N-SSA Henry events. Mr. Baird is correct, these devices are not allowed, and I erred in recommending them for such use.
When I went to my copy of the N-SSA rules for verification, I discovered that they were very outdated, and I will be procuring a new set at the Spring Nationals. It would probably behoove all units to purchase a copy of the official rules and keep them handy and updated, something I will be sure to do in the future. Thanks, A.C.
Well, last November (2001) I introduced our readers to the .36 Navy Colt revolver, and I must say I was a little harsh on the revolver for being so cantankerous and finicky. I have worked on my Navy shooting over the mild winter here in the Mid-Atlantic region, and I am happy to report I have some good tips to pass along to keep that Navy Colt on the line.
The smaller calibre .36 requires a little more attention when loading due to the smaller orifice in which to place the powder charge. Often times during loading the powder will spill and can add to the mess around the cylinder when shooting. I found that the .36 powder tubes available from many sutlers will hold a powder funnel flask spout and make the whole job of loading the .36 Navy Colt cleaner, easier and faster.
I also changed to Number 11 size percussion caps for the Colt for a couple of reasons. I had a lot of trouble with the No. 10's flying all over the place and getting down in the works of the Colt. I thought a bigger cap might have more surface area to stick to the nipple. I also had a occasional misfire when the No. 10's were not all the way down on the nipple, but down as far as you could safely push them, so I felt a bigger cap would be the answer. For whatever reason, the No. 11's performed much better on my Navy Colt then No. 10's and now I look for No 11 caps wherever I go.
Another tip that .36 Navy Colt shooters may find helpful is making and using paper cartridges for their revolvers. Many years ago (August 1995), I ran an article on Paper Cartridges for the .44 revolvers, and that article is posted on my website, www.civilwarguns.com. I found during my experiments with the Navy that straight walled paper cartridges are harder to load than tapered ones, and had a hard time finding a good mandrel for the tapered paper cartridges until I found that the long flask spouts work perfect for this task. I now use the powder flask spout exclusively to form the paper cartridge. This is a great way to make paper cartridges for the .36.
I start with one-half of a single sheet cigarette paper like the TOP brand, or a 1 3/8" by 1 1/2" piece of nitrated paper if you make your own paper. Before starting, I scribed a line on the brass spout by placing it into a cylinder chamber and rotating it while I marked the point that the top of the chamber came to on the spout. I then wrapped the paper starting at this line on the spout, and had enough at the bottom of the cartridge to fold over and make a bottom. The cartridge is filled with the powder charge, then any filler to be used, and topped off with the round ball. I used Speer .375 round balls for my cartridges.
The completed cartridge is easy to load, however, I had a problem with ignition with all that paper at the communication hole of the nipple. I solved this problem by drilling out the nipples to 1/16 of an inch, which allows me to use a drill bit of that size as a nipple prick to open the hole after loading. Smaller communication holes were resulting in bent wires on the nipple pricks I was using. Using this larger hole technique, I never had a hang fire during testing.
The paper cartridges were fun to shoot, and easy to load, however, I really felt like there was a better load waiting out there to be discovered. I read some of my old columns and remembered how well the oversized .490 ball worked in the .454 Remington's. With this information, I set forth to find some .390 round balls at a local sport shop. After a couple tries, I found some, and was very pleased with the results the .390 round balls gave in the Navy Colt.
Being only .015 larger than the standard .375 round ball, the .390's could be loaded without having to be resized first. The larger projectile results in a larger bullet equator engaging the barrel rifling, and proved to be accurate in initial testing. I have included the first results in the chart below, as well as a .375 load for comparison. I kept the powder charge low in this test to be safe, and I plan to use incremental increases to see if I can tighten up the group I am getting with the .390. Shooters should be mindful of the increased pressure from the larger, tighter projectile and not go off loading full charges as a starting point if they want to try the .390 bullet.
.390 Round Ball
10.3 g FFF Goex
CCI #11 caps
.375 Round Ball
18.5 g FFF Goex
.5 cc filler
CCI #10 caps
I now hold a much higher opinion of my Colt .36 Navy as a serviceable Revolver for Team events. During my testing, I was able to get the Navy to function well and reliable for 3 relays - 18 shots. That's enough for a Revolver Match and enough for me.
One last trick I employed on the .36 Navy was a legerdemain I learned from the late Tom Ball. Tom taught me to use white lithium grease to fill the cavities in the revolver around the hand, finger and hammer. This grease catches the errant spent cap and will usually keep it from jamming up the mechanism of the pistol. During one trial, I fished 7 of 18 caps from the grease. And the one time I forgot to use it, I didn't fire all 6 shots before a spent cap created problems. How much to use is a personal thing, but use enough to work. I would rather have greasy fingers that an out of service revolver. Know what I mean.
So, until the next time, advocate responsible gun ownership, shoot safe, and have fun.
© 2002 by Tom Kelley
I don't know a reenactor or skirmisher who doesn't own a cap and ball revolver. The purchase of a revolver seems to be a natural progression in the development of either reenactor or skirmisher. There are many replica cap and ball revolvers available, and they all seem to be available at one-time or another for about the price of a great coat. To this day, I don't know why most of us bought that first pistol before we bought our first great coat, but that observation just seems to define the popularity of old time pistols. Even when I was re-enacting with an Infantry outfit, most members had some sort of cap and ball revolver. I wish I could say we all shoot our Colts, Remingtons and Rogers & Spencers as well as other Civil War ordnance.
Developing an accurate load for a cap and ball revolver is not an easy task. In .45 calibre alone, there are three different round ball sizes to chose from -- .451, .454 and .457. You wouldn't think that six thousandths of inch makes much of a difference, but it can. Then, even after you develop a good load, a practice session involves carting a lot of paraphernalia to the range to practice. Usually, pistol practice doesn't happen as often as it can or should simply because pistol practice is a lot of work loading. I have found that using the old fashioned paper cartridge can give you more practice time and improve your revolver shooting and enjoyment.
The combustible paper pistol cartridge is not new. They are listed in Army records dating back to before the Civil War. I have seen original, unopened packages of Colt paper cartridges at gun shows, in history books and even an antique store. I have found a combustible paper pistol cartridge to be easy to use and load, and using them has allowed me to practice more, which has improved my miserable pistol performance to where today I am almost mediocre!
If you are a cap and ball revolver shooter already, you will find that you have most of the equipment you need to make combustible paper cartridges. In addition to lead balls and black powder, you will need cigarette papers, scissors, white hobby glue, a loading block, a powder funnel and a cartridge former. I made my cartridge former out of a 4-inch piece of broken unbreakable ramrod, but you can use any short length of 3/8 inch wood dowel. The dowel has a dimension of .375 inches. I built up the diameter of my former until it fit into my cylinder chambers smoothly without a lot of wiggle. I used regular address labels because they were adhesive, but you can use masking tape if you don't have labels handy. If you make your former too small, you won't get a good fit when you glue the lead ball in. If you make it too big, your cartridges may tear when loading or be hard to load.
The cigarette papers need to be cut in half with the scissors. The ones I use in the brown package with white letters are 4 inches square, with a fold down one center perpendicular to the glue strip. I cut mine right down the fold, making two rectangles 2 inches by 4 inches, with a glue strip on one of the short (2 inch) ends. One pack of 32 papers makes 64 cartridge papers.
Using your cartridge former, roll one of the papers, starting with the short 2 inch end. Make sure you can see the glue strip at the 2 inch end before you start rolling, because the glue strip has to be facing you when you start rolling. Roll the paper tight on your former (see photo), and lick the glue strip and hold it down for a second until the glue sets.
Slide the paper roll up until about 1/4 inch sticks above the dowel. Place a small drop of glue on the paper roll near the seam , and spread that drop around the entire circumference with a pencil point or toothpick. Then, place your lead ball inside the paper roll. You want to seat the lead ball so that the paper just crosses the equator of the ball. This will make a leak proof seal, and when you load, you will actually shave the paper off of the ball. After you have completed about a dozen cartridges, you can mark your former where the opposite end of the paper roll should set for the correct position of ball and paper. This will help you align the roll quicker and speed up the process.
After gluing the lead ball into the paper roll, you have an empty paper cartridge. Place the cartridges in a loading block for powder charging. My loading block is a simple piece of 1 1/2 inch by 2 1/2 inch spruce stud with fifteen 9/16 inch holes drilled about 3/4 inches deep.
To charge the cartridges, I use a CVA powder flask funnel, which is perfect for the task. I place the funnel down in the cartridge, and holding the flask and cartridge together between my finger and thumb, I remove the cartridge, hold the funnel under the powder charger, and charge the cartridge. After placing the cartridge back in the loading block, I remove the funnel and repeat the process until all 15 cartridges are filled.
The cartridges have to be closed neatly for storage and use, and to accomplish this I use a little white glue on the folded end of the cartridge. I use what is called an "accordion fold" to close up my cartridges. To do this, you make two little folds on each side of the cartridge, like this -- >< -- then squeeze the end shut and fold it over. A small amount of white glue will hold the whole thing closed. I also like to place the completed cartridge in the cylinder just to "size" it. This assures me that when it comes time to load, the cartridge will fit.
Once you've made the cartridges, they are simple to use. Just don't forget we made them out of combustible paper! They load quite easily. Just insert the cartridge with a little thumb pressure until the ball sits just on top the cylinder, then rotate the cylinder around to the loading ram and apply firm pressure. Each load should sit about the same in the chamber. I use a generous amount of soft lube on top of each ball, which guarantees no chain fires. It is IMPORTANT to use your nipple pick to puncture each cartridge through the nipple before capping. I load the cylinder completely, then remove it from the revolver. After lubing the chambers, I flip the cylinder over and punch through each nipple. Pre-punching the load eliminates any possibility of a hang fire or misfire. I put the cylinder back in the gun for priming, and after capping each nipple I am all set. It has been my experience that lubing each cylinder is important, as is pre-punching the cartridge. If you do both devoutly, you will enjoy safe and quick pistol practicing.
Make sure you clean the cylinder carefully between relays of practice. I have found that two .45 calibre mops, like Kleen-Bores' Mop No. MOP-223 or MOP-224, one wet and one dry, clean the chambers out quite well. You don't want any old paper left in the chamber, and a quick visual inspection is important to verify this.
Combustible paper pistol cartridges have allowed me to practice much, much more with my Navy Arms Remington replica revolver. I have found that .451 lead balls backed up with about 30 grains of FF black powder produce good results, and the more I practice, the better the results are getting. Now, I actually look forward to pistol practice about twice a week! If you want to practice more with your pistol, I definitely recommend that you try using combustible paper pistol cartridges to speed loading at the range and increase your enjoyment of pistol shooting in general. These procedures can be modified for .36 caliber revolvers, and you can make blanks for re-enacting by gluing cotton balls in the end or just gluing the paper shut around your cartridge former. Remember to use lube and pre-punch the blank cartridges as well.
Before closing, I want to say "Hi" to all my new found friends in Carnes' Tennessee Battery. We shared a hill top at Gettysburg, and they were great people to be with. Also, I want to thank Lars Curly of the 27th Virginia for being such a great friend to the Chesapeake Artillery. We love ya, Lars.
Get out there and do something to promote living history and preservation while we still can, and until the next time, shoot safe and have fun.
(C) 1995 Tom Kelley
Can You Buy A Better Bullet?
Why Buy Store Bought Bullets?
For years, many sutlers have had cast Minie Bullets available for purchase. Why would a skirmisher purchase bullets rather than mold his or her own? One reason is safety. Skirmishers with youngin's in the hut may be worried about exposure to lead fumes, particularly if they lack adequate space for a casting area away from food preparation or living areas. Or, they may be worried about exposing themselves to the lead fumes when casting. Purchasing pre-cast bullets eliminates the worry. Another reason to purchase is time. It takes time to cast bullets, as well as find a source of reliable lead that is pure enough for casting Minie Bullets. Skirmishers may feel they save considerable time when purchasing the pre-cast slugs.
What about the new skirmisher just entering the sport and faced with the expense of a uniform and firearm? Some staring skirmishers see an economy in purchasing Minie Balls to start off with. This is certainly less expensive than buying three or four molds and a melting pot before finding a bullet that works well in your barrel. Once a promising projectile is identified, then a similar mold and a pot may be procured, if the shooter wishes to cast his own bullets. Casting costs are not negligible. Molds start at $25 for a single cavity Lee mold, and a Rapine mold, or a Lyman mold and handles, will cost almost three times as much. An inexpensive electric melting pot, also from Lee runs $56, and an industrial strength models cost more than $100. A conservative estimate of the cost to start casting is $100 by the time you purchase mold, electric pot, lead, lube and sizer. A prudent skirmisher would plan to spend more to get started, up to twice that amount.
Another problem can be getting good lead. Because Minie Bullets have to expand their skirts into the rifling upon charge ignition, casters have to use lead that is more than 95% pure. Pure lead is hard to find in many locations. Recent federal regulations have made lead handling even more expensive and controlled, which has only added to the scarcity of lead. While wheel weights or other alloys of lead are more plentiful, they don't contain enough pure lead to cast good Minies, although they can be used for modern bullet casting in some applications.
Similarly, an established skirmisher wishing to change his projectile may first purchase some different styles of bullets before deciding on a new bullet type or weight for his skirmishing needs. You can buy a lot of cast Minie Balls for the expense of a new mold. Since most of the selection available in .58 calibre molds are from Lyman and Rapine, let's assume the cost of a new mold is $75, and you are not going to purchase new handles for the new mold at this time. A skirmisher could purchase up to 300 bullets for the same price. A box of 200 Thoroughly Modern Minies from Ball Accuracy is $27 per box.
Having established why there is a demand and need for pre-cast bullets, some skirmishers question the accuracy of the production of the commercial bullets. Large bullet producers, like Speer and Hornady, cold swage their bullets, which requires expensive machinery to slam the lead slugs into bullets or round balls. Because the available commercial Minie Balls are "handmade" by casting techniques, I have heard some concern expressed about how reliable the bullets could be.
To answer these concerns, I conducted a random sample of the Ball Modern Minies, which are advertised as weighing "450 grains." The bullets ranged in weight from 434.2 grains to 430.5 grains, an extreme spread of less than 1%. Expressed as a difference from the median weight, which was 432.4 grains, the extreme weights were +/- .04% from the median weight, a negligible difference at 50 and 100 yard ranges. Weighing my own cast bullets, from a Lyman Old Style Minie mold (575213), resulted in slightly greater variances. The surveyed bullets weighed an average of 96% of the posted weight. For our intents and purposes, the commercial bullet was as accurately produced as my homemade bullets, if not a tad better. And, many beginners are not as likely to cast as good as an experienced caster.
Shooting Store Bought Bullets
Having established that the average weight of my Ball Minie was 432.4 grains, I decided to start my load development with the 10:1 Ratio Rule. Allowing one grain of powder for every ten grains of payload, I computed a good starting charge would be 43.24 grains, or 43.2 grains for our use.
After sizing the bullets to .577, an easy task with the Ball Minie, I lubed the bullets with a hard lube of 50% Len's Lube and 50% paraffin. Over the years, my soft lube has run out on me in the summer heat of skirmishing, and I mean run out. Dang stuff got everywhere. For the last couple of years, I have used the 50/50 mix with good results in my Enfield and Harper Ferry Musket-Rifles. I may go to a 60-40 mix, heavy on the lube side, if I can get it to stay put in the heat. I should find out soon.
My test would include using the Ball Minie in both a Whitacre custom barrel and a Dixie Gun Works Springfield barrel. Starting with the 10:1 rule, I shot paper from the bench to identify the best group from each barrel. I used both FF and FFF graded blackpowder, but only changed the grade and size of blackpowder, being careful to use the same percussion caps, bullets and lube for each shot string. And we'll look at those results in Part II of this article next month. The 102nd National Skirmish will be October 4 - 8 near Winchester, VA. Plan now to attend. Until the next time, please promote responsible gun ownership, shoot safe, and have fun.
© 2000 by Tom Kelley
Buying Better Bullets - Part II
Last month, I introduced both my avid readers to the concept of purchasing already cast lead bullets for skirmishing purposes. I explained that skirmishers practice this enterprise for various reasons, and we discussed the quality of precast bullets, which generally is quite good, often better than the beginning skirmisher could cast by him or her self.
This month, I want to report on the results that I had with the most readily available precast bullet for skirmishing, the Ball Accuracy Modern Minie. I tested the Ball Minie in a two-band Enfield custom Whitacre barrel, 33.5 inch and .580; and, a Dixie Gun Works 39.5 inch three-band Springfield barrel (made in Japan), also .580. In an effort to diminish or eliminate other variables, the same lot of powder was used for each test, used the same lube, and only used RWS caps from the same tin, and all tests for each individual musket were conducted on the same day within 60 minutes of each other.
Shooting the Ball Modern Minie
My first range test was with my two band Enfield, my skirmishing arm of choice for about 8 years. It's 33.5 inch Whitacre barrel throws most bullets better than I can shoot, and I was anxious to find out how the Ball Minie would stack-up.
I used the 10:1 rule for blackpowder shooting to develop my test loads. Basically, the 10:1 rule states that for every 10 units of payload, the shooter should use 1 unit of powder. This is a pretty good identifier of the starting point for load development, whether you are using 1 pound of powder under a 10 pound Parrott projectile, or 43.5 grains of FF under a 435 grain Ball Minie. The "perfect" skirmishing load may not be an exact product of the 10:1 rule, but it is the smartest place to start.
In addition to 10 43.5 grain FF Goex loads, I also made up some 48 grain and 39 grain FF loads, which are approximately plus and minus 10% of the starting load. For the sake of comparison, I made up some 35 grain FFF Goex loads just to fill the tray.
Test day was an overcast, sloppy day following a rainy evening. I hung the targets up at 50 yards and proceeded to load the first test loads, the 43.5 loads in the Enfield. The chronograph was sending me mixed messages, and after I shot the group, a trip down range told me all I needed to know about 43.5 grains of FF black powder under the Ball Minie in my barrel. The FF powder wasn't creating enough power or pressure to open the skirt of the Minie into the lands of the barrel before the slug exited, which result in 6 out of 10 bullets keyholeing. It made a lot of sense to me at the range, that the slower burning, low pressure FF powder just didn't have the chemistry to make the bullet work in that barrel. I just don't know why it didn't occur to me at home. With no friction between the bullet and barrel, that slug came out pretty fast, it just tumbled down range on a course of it's own.
A quick trip back to the basement to change loads from FF to FFF blackpowder resulted in two more test loads, 43 grains of FFF and 38 grains of FFF. Back outside, I tested the 43 grain FFF load first. The 43 grains of Goex FFF moved the Ball Minie along at a steady clip, measuring 764 fps (feet per second) on the chronograph. The 38 grain load came out a little bit slower, registering an average speed of 717 fps. The lighter 38 grain load had noticeably less recoil and a better group, even though the 43 grain load was faster. Speed is fine, but accuracy is final.
The Ball Minie did well in the two-band once I found the right powder, and I even took a couple boxes with me up to McNeil's Skirmish and plowed away at the targets up there for a while. Once I found out where I was hitting (funny how it doesn't hit in the same place off my shoulder that it does off the bench), I was doing as well as with my standard load.
I also tested the Ball Minie in a 39.5 inch Dixie barrel on my Harpers Ferry Model 1855 3-band. After what happened in the 2- band, I wasn't sure that FF would work, but 43 grains of FF was my starting load again on test day for the Harpers Ferry. The average velocity in the longer barrel was greatly increased. Forty-six grains of FF Goex pushed the Ball Minie through the chronograph screens at an average speed of 955 fps. It also provided a healthy kick, so I dropped down to 40 grains of FF Goex for my second test load. The results showed a loss of speed, but once again, a better group than the heavier charge and noticeably less recoil. Even the Extreme Spread and Standard Deviation of the velocities improved with the lighter load, a sign that perhaps that is the answer in the longer barrel.
For comparison's sake, I also recorded the velocity of the better two-band load in the three-band. The longer barrel resulted in better mathematics all around. The average velocity of the 38 grains of FFF Goex in the longer barrel was 899 fps, a 21% increase, which was accompanied by a better standard deviation and extreme spread as well.
As we discussed last month, there are lots of reasons for buying precast skirmishing bullets. Although I only tested one bullet available, the results were good and I have had success with other precast bullets in the past.
The Ball Minie performed well in both the 33.5 inch and 39.5 inch barrels, one custom made and one store bought. It appears that 38 grains of FFF Goex is a good starting point for readers who want to try the Ball Modern Minie in their 2-band rifles. And 3-band shooters would do well to try 40 grains of FF Goex as a starting load if they want to develop a skirmishing round for their front-stuffers.
I thought the quality of the Ball Minies was very good, and they were easy to get to work in both of the test weapons. They performed consistently under skirmishing conditions, and I wouldn't hesiatate to recommend them to a new shooter or skirmisher. I think precast bullets in general are a bargain, and the Ball Minie fits the bill.
In the not too distant future we will be looking into how long blackpowder can be stored safely and effectively, and looking into pistol shooting again. Until then, promote responsible gun ownership, shoot safe and have fun. And, for God's sake, don't forget to register and vote in November.
© 2000 by Tom Kelley
As skirmishers and shooters, we all use black powder as a propellant in our shooting irons. But, how much do we really know about black powder? I wonder if, at times, we just don't take black powder for granted. This month, I want to take a thorough look at just what black powder is, how it has changed over the years, and how it works when we use it.
The Chinese are credited with having been the first to use a physical mixture of Potassium Nitrate - KNO3 - carbon and sulphur. Written records exist dating the earliest use of black powder to China circa 700 B.C. This same formula was described by the monk Marcus Graceus in his treatise Liber Ignium, first published in 848 A.D. This publication predates the exploits of Marco Polo, is sometimes credited with introducing black powder to Europe. Other noted publishers of information about black powder in the Middle Ages include Aderne (circa 1350), Whitehorne (c. 1560) and, later, Bishop Watson (c. 1781) and Roger Bacon. Bacon's description of the formula for black powder was a carefully worded anagram, for he feared that the uneducated might fall privy to the secret of the destructive power of the composition.
Early black powder was a coarse physical mixture that did not transport easily. Movement of black powder over medieval roads built with out comfort or safety standards resulted in the mixture separating itself into layers of the three components. Black powder was mixed for use in the immediate vicinity of the ordnance to be employed, and was meant to be used as quickly after mixing as possible. This early black powder (c. 13th Century) was extremely hydroscopic, however, the first improvement made to black powder was the discovery that coating the particles of the mixture with graphite significantly reduced this potential to absorb airborne moisture.
Metallurgy of the Middle Ages did not produce strong cannons. Probably as many cannoneers were killed by bursting of their own guns than casualties of enemy fire. Most early cannons and mortars were cast of elemental metals, not alloys. Alloys blend the strength of two elements together, resulting in better ordnance. But the artillery of the Middle Ages used such a weak method of producing black powder that strong tubes were not considered necessary at first. As the Dark Ages came to a close after the middle of the Second Millennium, experiments resulted in the production of much purer saltpetre -KNO3 - than previously possible. However, most ordnance simply could not tolerate more efficient, more powerful black powder.
By about 1450, most black powder used a standard formula of 50% saltpetre, 25% carbon and 25% sulphur, and was produced by pulverization. This mixture was, and still is, known as "Serpentine Powder." Serpentine Powder produced more than enough energy and burn at a fast enough rate for the guns of it's day. As stronger alloys began to be used in the production of ordnance, however, the limitations of Serpentine Powder became evident.
In the vicinity of Nuremburg, about 1450, an improved method of mixing the components of black powder developed, based on French experiments from the previous century. The basic ingredients of saltpetre, charcoal and sulphur are mixed with water to form a thick paste. The application of mechanical energy, in the form of large hammer blows or the grinding action of large wheels, results in a much more intimate mixture of the components than in Serpentine Powder. It was also discovered that the determining factor of the size of the black powder grains was determined by the length of the mixing time. The sheets of the mixture, when almost dry, are manipulated and crumbled into little pieces that give this type of black powder it's distinctive, agriculturally sounding name - Corn Powder. (NOTE: "Corn" at this time was a label given to the predominate cereal grain of a region, not maize). The dried Corn Powder was usually glazed with graphite to reduce absorption of air moisture, improve flow characteristics (Serpentine Powder had to be carefully rammed to avoid ignition!) and reduce the tendency of stored powder to cake together.
Corn Powder has several advantages over Serpentine Powder. Corn Powder burns at least twice as fast as Serpentine Powder. This meant elimination of back-venting through the barrel touch-hole, a power robbing phenomena of Serpentine Powder. Corn Powder also burns cleaner and leaves less residue that Serpentine Powder.
In spite of the chemical advantages of Corn Powder, Serpentine Powder maintained supremacy over Corn Powder for many decades. Before 1560, however, the English were experimenting with the use of Corn Powder in small arms. Gradually, better production methods of artillery meant stronger barrels and Corn Powder replaced Serpentine Powder as the propellant for ordnance.
Chemists employed by Napoleon discovered that mixing particles that were hexagonal in shape and had a central hole created greatly improved combustion characteristics of black powder. This design allowed slower releases of gas with out impeding combustion, creating lower pressure levels at ignition and a flatter response curve. With the flatter response curve, more powerful formulas of composition could be developed, and Modern Black powder was created. Modern Black powder has a formula of 75% KNO3, 10% sulphur and 15% carbon. Interestingly, the central hole/hexagonal shape is still employed in many smokeless powders of today.
Serpentine Powder is only 57% as powerful as Modern Black powder, and Corn Powder is 75% as powerful as Modern Black powder. All powder manufactured today closely resembles the modern formula. Black powder's burn characteristics are severely affected by temperature; the speed at which black powder burns increases as the temperature increases. In propellant charges, the temperature of black powder easily exceeds 2000 degrees Celsius. This rapid increase in temperature results in a time line for complete combustion of about .01 seconds. Open air combustion of identical charges is significantly slower. This rapid increase in temperature inside of our skirmishing arms also provides the catalyst for the production of harmful chemicals from the components of black powder. The sulphur in the black powder, when heat is applied, combines with moisture in the air to form H2SO4 - sulphuric acid. That is why careful cleaning of our arms is so important as soon after use as possible.
Well, that's a lot of history - 2700 years of black powder production and use. Soon, I'll be covering exactly how long is too long to keep black powder loads around, and maybe a few other interesting black powder topics. Until the next time, promote responsible gun ownership, shoot safe and have fun.
© 2000 by Tom Kelley
How Old is Too Old?
Were you ever rummaging around in the back of your shooting safe, closet or gun room and you came across a box or two of loads from the past? What was the first thing that came to your mind? "Are these still any good?", wasn't it? I think you'll be surprised at what I have found out in the course of a two-year study on the subject.
There are as many old wives tales about the shelf life of black powder as there are old wives, so it was hard to separate the wheat from the chaff in developing this article. Some skirmishers say if it's older than a couple months, don't use it. Others point out that antique cartridges like .44 Russians and .45 Colts can still be fired 100 years after they were manufactured, which is true. Just what is the story with the shelf life of black powder loads; how old is too old?
In order to develop the data for this article, I used some .45 Colt loads for my Henry and some loads in my Harpers Ferry M1855 three-bander. The Henry loads were 18 months, 10 months and 2 months old, and were all a 185-grain semi-wadcutter on top of 31 grains of FFF black powder in a Remington-Peters case with a CCI 350 primer. I chose this load because, for one thing, these were the oldest loads I had sitting around when I started prepping cases for this study. Additionally, I have used the load successfully in Cowboy Action Shooting events, so I know it is fairly accurate out to 25 yards or so. I decided to run these loads through the chronograph and see how the mathematics of the loads held up, and I was also interested in group size, as a practical application of the data. Believe it or not, I actually had some 10 year old musket loads in the back of the gun room, and I tested those loads against some fresh ones. These old loads had the T&T Minie, which is no longer available but was a swaged bullet that had a sharp point that shoot well at 100 yards and beyond because it didn't have the flat point that cast bullets do. For the test, I dumped half of the found loads out and replaced the powder with fresh FF.
The musket loads were tested in typical Ft. Shenandoah weather, the temperature and humidity were both in the high 80's. The 515 T&T Minie Ball shot good 50 yard groups with both the 10 year old load and the 1 day old load, but the group for the 10 year old load was a little tighter, which surprised me. When I took the chronograph in and downloaded the data, I was surprised that the 10 year old load was hotter than the fresh load!
The table below summarizes the results of the T&T aged powder test. The older load was hotter, but the mathematics of the two loads are strikingly similar past velocity - the spreads and standard deviations are statistically equal. These loads had been stored in cardboard load tubes, not plastic, and it will take a while for me to conduct a 10 year test on plastic tubes. The loads were stored in a cool basement or closet for their storage period.
Load - 39.5 gr FF
1 day old
10 years old
Lowest Velocity (fps)
Highest Velocity (fps)
The Henry testing did not consider loads as old as the Musket testing did. For the Henry test, I was really testing the effects of long-term storage on black powder cartridge loads. For this test, all cartridges were identical, only the age was different. The cases were all Remington-Peters 45 Colt cases, CCI 350 magnum primers were used exclusively, and the primers all came from the same 100 unit package for conformity. Likewise, all of the 185 grain bullets came from the same 100 unit package. Even the powder was from the same 5-pound package.
The table below illustrates the results of the cartridge test. All three loads shot about a 4 1/2 inch group at 50 yards, with very similar statistics. While the freshest loads were the slowest, they maintained the best extreme spread and standard deviation results, too. Personally, I don't think a clay pigeon or a wood block much cares if it gets broke by a bullet travelling 1147 feet per second or 1235 feet per second. While I don't favour this light of a bullet for skirmishing work, these were the oldest loads I had when I started the test, and I suspect that I will find similar results in the future. Only problem is, I shoot so much every year I don't have any leftover loads to save for a test!
High Velocity (fps)
Low Velocity (fps)
Average Velocity (fps)
In summarizing my results, I would have to say that these two studies demonstrated that properly stored black powder loads can be stored for long periods of time without effecting the accuracy or performance of the load. Now that I know what I always thought I knew, I will have no qualms about making up lots of loads for future skirmishing use. In the past, I would only load up enough for the next two or three shoots, which is usually only a couple months worth. Now, I am starting to suspect that fresh loads may need a week or two of storage to "settle and age." Given the opportunity, I will go ahead and load up enough for as many as a whole year's worth of shooting. As you are reading this in November or December, maybe you might think about making up the loads you will need for next year's shooting while things are slow, the grass doesn't need cutting and the hay is already in the barn. That's what I'll be doing.
Until the next time, promote responsible gun ownership, shoot safe and have fun. Happy Holidays y'all.
© 2000 by Tom Kelley
Shooting the #*@!! Revolver
No Civil War period weapon is harder to understand and master than the Percussion (pronounced "yur cussin'") Revolver, yet there are thousands of them out there and they continue to sell as though the buyers really think that they can make them work. They should have asked me first.
I purchased my first cap pistol from Dixie Gun Works in 1973. It was a brass frame .36 calibre kit, and took me about 3 weeks to assemble. I couldn't wait to shoot it. I went to the range, with a couple other guns to shoot as well, and when the moment of truth came, no paper target was safer from puncture. I had no idea where my shots were going until an unknown shooter, apparently amused, informed us that he could see the balls coming to earth on the BACK of the dirt berm behind the target. This was my only percussion revolver experience for ten years, when in another weak moment I purchased a Navy Arms Reb Revolver in .44 calibre.
The Reb was obviously going to be better, since somebody else had assembled it. However, it still took about 25 shots to punch 10 holes in the target, and nobody knew where those holes were going to show up. Always a glutton for punishment, I next purchased a Rogers & Spencer. The R&S has a solid frame, and became my best pistol for target shooting.
These three pistols taught me alot about shooting Col. Colts' Equalizer. Most importantly, not only are no two pistols the same, a revolver is basically 6 different pistols in one, because each chamber can have different characteristics. So load development is tedious, to say the least. Anyone attempting to develope good groups is going to find that you can shoot some chambers good all the time, but you can't shoot all the chambers good all the time.
Choosing the right projectile is also difficult. Round balls come in many sizes. For .44 revolvers, there are .451, .454, and .457 bullets, to name a few. You should try each bullet, and select the one that loads best without a lot of trouble. When you compress the ball in the cylinder, you want to shave a little ring of lead from around the diameter of the ball, but you don't want to have to use a hydraulic jack to get loaded either. The larger the ball you can safely load repeatedly, the more flat surface that projectile will offer to the rifling in the barrel, and, theoretically at least, the more accurate the load will be. After having said all that, and I have tried more than 30 different round ball/powder combinations in my R&S, the reader should know that I now shoot a .456 220 grain round-nosed bullet cast from a Lee mold # 90384.
During a recent experiment to see what the maximum load for the R&S was, I discovered I could load 25 grains of FF black powder, a .44 Wonder Wad and the Lee bullet with enough room for the cylinder to revolve. Having thus loaded the cylinder, I figured emptying it at paper would be the quickest way to dispose of the loads. Never, ever, had I considered this a target load possibility. The result with this load was a 10 shot group of 9 inches, but more importantly, the best 7 shots were in a 5 1/2 inch group! I had fired ten shots (two cylinder fulls) because the first group was so good, I had to reload to see if I could duplicate the results. And I did.
Years ago, I had given up on the Lee bullet, but at that time I was using approximately half as much powder. Now, with maximum loads, that old revolver is better than ever. Both cylinders (I have 2 that fit the R&S) shoot this load well. Stance is important when pistol shooting. Competitions require shooting with one-hand only, and the short sight radius of a pistol multiplies any error or flinching when shooting. For practice at home, I hold a ten pound weight with my shooting arm stretched out, for 30 seconds at a time, to try and build up strength. A grip strengthening device is also helpful to develop shooting muscles in your hand and fingers (for years, I thought gun control meant being able to hold that *#&@! pistol steady).
To further test my hypothesis, fellow N-SSA nimrod Jim Womelsdorf came over yesterday with his 1858 Remington Army Model Revolver. Using the Lee conical and FF powder again, we proceeded to match group sizes between conical and round ball loads. And once again, the conical outscored the round ball. We both need a lot of work holding that hogleg steady, but the best load I have ever found for a black powder pistol is 20 to 25 grains of FF powder, a Wonder Wad and a conical bullet. Don't forget the importance of a felt over powder wad in the equation. I use Wonder Wads because they are impregnated with an agent that helps keep the bore clean, but they also reduce spills in the loading process and serve a vital SAFETY function of eliminating chain fires during discharge.
Learning the mechanics of how a revolver works will also improve your skill with that weapon. All reproductions presently available are classified as single-action revolvers, which means you have to mechanically cock the hammer with your thumb before discharge. When you pull back on the hammer, a small spring fed finger attached to the hammer pokes through the frame and pushes the cylinder clockwise, rotating the next chamber under the hammer. When the hammer is completely cocked, a small square protrusion raises through the frame above the trigger and locks the cylinder in place until the hammer is released during firing.
Any misalignment in this mechanical process means problems in accuracy, usually due to cylinder misalignment with the barrel. You can visually check each chamber for cylinder/barrel alignment. Every cylinder has to lock up firmly and completely every time. Signs of uneven wear on the little square holes around your cylinder might indicate that your cylinder stop needs work. Also, signs of uneven wear on the back of the cylinder might indicate a problem with the cylinder hand. If you have a favorite pistol that shows any of these mechanical wear signs, you should get your hands on a copy of the July 1987 issue of MuzzleBlasts magazine. Bob Kiser, a National Champion pistol shooter, wrote an excellent article on "Tuning and Care of The Remington Replica Revolver" which was printed in that issue. Hope this article has helped you shoot your #*@!! pistol better. Until the next time, have fun and shoot safe.
(c) 1991 by Tom Kelley
Other useful articles
SELECTING, SHOOTING, AND CARING FOR
THE BLACK POWDER CAP AND BALL REVOLVER
Copyright Dave Markowitz
Last revised April 7, 2006
Selecting a Piece
There are several types of cap & ball revolvers available, both replicas and modern designs. Selection is basically a matter of personal taste, influenced by what you want from your new toy. In general, you'll undoubtedly use it for informal target shooting, maybe formal bullseye shooting, cowboy action shooting, and possibly defense. The piece should be fun to shoot, accurate, have a good-looking finish, and be well made from good quality steel. There are two major types of cap & ball revolvers, replicas of original 19th century guns (or bastardizations thereof), and modern designs.
The replicas are broken down into two major categories: Colts and Remingtons. Distinguishing features of the Colts are an open top frame with no top strap, and a rear sight consisting of a notch on the nose of the hammer. Remingtons have solid frames, withs have solid frames, with a rear sight groove milled into the top strap. The Remington sights are much better for target shooting, being easier to see, and the rear sight doesn't vanish when you pull the trigger. However, surprisingly good shooting can be done with the Colts after you get used to the sights. Both Colts and Remingtons come in Army (.44), Navy (.36), and Pocket (.31) models. Unlike modern guns of equivalent calibre, the .44s won't pound you with severe recoil, even with full loads. The .36s recoil about like a .22 pistol. In general, the Navy models are a bit smaller and lighter than the corresponding Army models. You can also get the Remington Army model fitted with an adjustable rear sight and a target front sight, for a few extra bucks.
There are replicas available of other Civil War revolvers, such as the South's Leech & Rigdon, an 1851 Navy derivative, and the Rogers & Spencer Army .44. The North bought 5000 of the latter in 1865, never issued any and sold them to Bannerman's around 1900 for scrap. Bannerman's turned around and sold them for about $2.50 each. In general, this is the reason why original Rogers & Spencer revolvers tend to be in very good condition.
The other major category of cap & ball revolvers is pretty much summed up by one model: the Ruger Old Army. This is a completely modern design, with music wire coil springs, your choice of click adjustable or fixed sights, and stainless steel internal parts. Available in blued steel or stainless steel versions, it's basically a Blackhawk turned into a muzzleloader. It weighs over three pounds, and can take a hefty 40 grain powder charge.
One thing to keep in mind when buying the revolver is to make sure you get a steel frame. Brass framed guns are cheaper, but will shoot loose over time, especially with full loads.
And yes, you read the first paragraph right. One reason to get a cap and ball black powder revolver is for defense. I don't recommend doing so as a first choice, but in some jurisdictions legally obtaining a modern pistol is next to impossible. Some states don't permit persons under the age of 21 to own modern handguns but do permit black powder guns. Or, it may be all you have. BP revolvers are not the ideal choice for defense in 2006 but they are not toys. They were originally cutting edge weaponry and are still deadly. Learn how to load, shoot, and care for one, and it can still be a reliable weapon. If you are going down this route, I suggest the .44s because they are significantly more powerful than the .36 and .31 caliber guns. Also, give serious thought to a stainless steel model if selecting one for defense. I'd rather have a quality .44 or even a .36 BP wheelgun than a modern gun less powerful than .38 Special if I had to defend myself. I'd certainly take one over even the most "tactical" of knives or pepper/tear gas spray so commonly sold these days for defense.
Accessories You Should Buy
You'll need to buy a few accessories when you get the revolver. A nipple wrench and powder measure or flask are essential. If you don't have a cleaning rod long enough for the pistol's barrel, buy one or make one from a dowel. I highly recommend a powder flask as the most convenient way to carry the black powder. Make sure you get a pistol flask, not one meant for rifles. (The spout will throw too big a charge.) Many replica Colt flasks come with two spouts, one throwing about 15 grains and one throwing 28 grains. The Colt Walker/Dragoon flask should have an adjustable spout allowing you to vary your charge from 30 to 50 grains. If you get this then you don't need a separate powder measure.
A special cap with attached pour spout to go on your can of powder is very handy. These can be obtained from muzzleloading supply shops or you can make your own. First, take the cap off of the powder can and drill a .25" hole in the center. Take an empty .30-06 or similar cartridge case, and cut the base off. Then solder or epoxy this onto the cap. An empty .44 Magnum or .45 ACP case can be used to cap the spout, either will be a snug fit. (Unless you want to blow yourself up, make damn sure that these cutting and soldering operations are done well away from the can of powder.)
For powder buy FFFg ("3f"). Fg is for muskets, FFg is for rifles .50 caliber and up, while FFFFg is used only for priming flintlocks. The most common brand of powder is Goex brand. (Goex bought out Du Pont's black powder operation in the 1970s.) You can also use Pyrodex P grade or Pyrodex Select, though the latter is better used in long arms. If you do use Pyrodex, do an extra good cleaning job, and make sure you do it the same day you shoot the gun, or you are going to get some really nasty rusting. Other acceptable powders are Swiss black powder and Hogdon's 777. I have not tried either, preferring Goex.
Never load a cap & ball revolver with smokeless powder. Doing so will turn your gun into a grenade.
Get a box of round balls, either cast or swaged. Thirty-six caliber guns shoot .375 to .380 balls, the .44s use balls from .451 to .457 in diameter. I use .380 balls in my 1851 Navy reproduction, and the .457 balls in my Old Army. Most Colt and Remington Armies will also use the .457s fine. An advantage of the slightly larger ball is that is has a longer bearing surface with which to engage the rifling. I've found that .380s give good accuracy in my Navy, for instance, but .375s do not. I haven't bothered with conicals because for my needs the balls have worked well. This may change soon. I recently received some pre-production samples of a new conical design that is very interesting. Once I get to shoot them I'll try to update this article with my results.
My favorite caps are CCI brand. Their quality is very high and they produce a hot flash. Navy Arms and RWS are also good. At one point Remington's quality control was poor and I used to recommend against them. I've been informed that they've improved QC and are now good, but haven't tried any yet. Get a couple tins of the number 11 size caps. CCI has recently brought back the slightly smaller number 10 size caps, designed especially for cap & ball revolvers, and they've also introduced a "magnum" number 11 cap. You may wish to invest in a capper to hold and dispense the little buggers, but it's not necessary.
The last item you need for loading your revolver is lube. My favorite used to be Ox Yoke Wonder Lube. Thompson-Center's Natural Lube 1000+ and Hogdon's Pyrodex Lube are the same thing. They all work extremely well. CVA's Grease Patch works well, too. If you're feeling cheap you can use Crisco or its equivalent. I've switched to Crisco, at least during warm weather, because I am cheap and it works just fine. A traditional lube was a 50/50 mix of beeswax and mutton tallow. This can be bought premade from Dixie Gun Works, or you can buy the ingredients from Dixie if you want to DIY.
Whatever lubricant you choose, avoid anything that's petroleum based. Petroleum based lubricants will combine with the results of black powder combustion and make the resulting fouling very tar-like. Natural lubes like Crisco or Bore Butter keep the fouling soft and make it much easier to clean your gun. One alternative for oiling the gun during storage to prevent rust is olive oil. Using natural lubes allows the steel to season, much as a cast iron Dutch oven is seasoned.
An alternative to covering your loads with a lube is to use felt wads, such as Ox Yoke Wonder Wads between powder and ball. Wads are less messy than grease, which could be handy if you are carrying a loaded gun in a holster. The wads aren't particularly cheap, and using a lube will do a better job of keeping the powder fouling soft. If you're going to be carrying the gun holstered, or if you intend to leave it loaded for awhile then the wads make sense.
A really handy thing to have is a flintlock shooter's priming flask. This is a little brass cylinder with a plunger spout which will dispense a few grains of powder at a time. You'll use it when you realize that you just loaded a ball into the cylinder without any powder first. What you do is first make sure all nipples are uncapped, remove the cylinder, unscrew the nipple on the powderless chamber and dribble in some powder, and reassemble the gun. You will do this, any black powder shooter who tells you he hasn't loaded a ball without a charge is either: (1) a newbie, or (2) a liar. I haven't had to use mine in quite awhile, but I bring it with me to the range every time I shoot one of my cap and ball revolvers.
A loading stand can be handy for the range but I usually don't bother.
You'll need hearing and eye protection when shooting, as well.
To round out your accessories you'll need cleaning patches of the proper diameter and a nipple pick. The latter can be made from a short length of wire with a loop on the end for a handle. The wire should be thin enough to pass through the nipple's flash channel, so it's got to be thin.
Shooting Your New Cap & Ball Revolver
Ahh, the day has come at last! You're all ready to go play with your new toy. Wait a minute. Make sure that you've cleaned off all the protective grease that the gun came in from the factory. Strip the gun and clean the preservative it shipped in off with a good solvent or hot soapy water, then oil it with one of the natural lubricants mentioned above.
When you get to the range snap a cap on each nipple, keeping the gun pointed down range. This is to ensure that the flash channels are clear. The flash should be enough to move leaves or a piece of paper from about a foot away. Remove the busted caps before loading. Don't worry if they have fragmented, this is normal. If you don't want to waste caps, you can clean out the chambers and nipples with a Q-Tip and alcohol.
To load, pour a measured powder charge into each chamber and ram a ball down on top. For safety's sake, never pour directly from the powder can into the gun, and firmly seat the ball on the powder. For target shooting, use 12 grains of powder in a .36; 20 to 28 grains in a .44. Typically, 20 grains is about a maximum load in a .36, while a .44 will take about 35 to 40 grains. The Ruger Old Army has a maximum load of 40 grains, while a Colt Dragoon can take 50, and a Walker Colt 60! The lighter loads will recoil less and recoil less and produce less fouling, and may be more accurate (this varies, though). The heavy loads are fun to shoot, with lots of smoke and fire, and the recoil isn't too bad. You can charge each chamber individually, and seat each ball before going on to the next charge, or you can pour all the charges and then seat all the balls. The next step is to put lubricant over each ball. The main purpose of this is to keep the fouling soft and to a minimum.
Another reason commonly given for the over-ball lube is to prevent chain-firing, i.e. the flash from one chamber setting off another. It is highly unlikely this will happen if you are using the properly oversized ball, since an airtight seal should be created during loading. You probably shaved some lead off of the ball in forcing it into the smaller diameter chamber. Chain firing is more likely to be cause by ill-fitting caps being set off by flash over at the back end of the cylinder.
Note: If you are using Wonder Wads, you load them between powder and ball, and you'll need to force them in with the loading lever.
As the very last step, cap the piece, keeping it pointed down range. It's a good idea to squeeze in the sides of the caps a little before putting them on the nipples, to provide a snug fit.
One way you can increase the accuracy of a cap and ball revolver when using light loads is to fill up some of the space in the chamber with cornmeal. For example, in a .44 caliber piece, load 20 (twenty) grains of powder, then an empty .38 Special case full of cornmeal, then the ball and lubricant. This technique is usually only used by shooters in competition, who almost always use a .44 rather than a .36.
Your piece is now ready to fire. Keep in mind that high pressure gas will be escaping from the barrel-cylinder gap, and you may have flying cap fragments, thus it is very important that both you and anyone standing near you has eye protection on.
If you are not going to fire the gun immediately you should carefully lower the hammer into one of the safety notches between the nipples (Rugers and Remingtons) or the safety pins (Colts). It is not safe to carry the gun with the hammer in the half cock notch.
Cleaning a black powder gun is similar to cleaning a modern gun, but takes a bit more effort. Black powder fouling is a lot thicker and sootier than smokeless powder fouling. It is also hygroscopic, meaning it will suck moisture out of the air onto your expensive new toy. For this reason you'll need to clean it the same day you shoot it, or not later than the next day. With modern, noncorrosive caps, immediate cleaning isn't quite as necessary as it used to be in the days of mercuric or chlorate caps. Use of Pyrodex will keep the fouling down, but contrary to advertising claims, it is more corrosive than black powder.
A word to the wise: black powder fouling and the associated cleaning process are quite odiforous, so don't clean the gun in the kitchen unless the other household members don't care.
Plain hot water out of the tap works very well for cleaning. However, after I read in an article by Mike Venturino that he uses a vinegar-based window cleaner to clean up his black powder guns I tried out regular Windex and I was very impressed. Even though this wasn't the vinegar-based stuff it worked exceptionally well. Make sure that you get all of it off of the gun, however, as the ammonia it contains can be corrosive to steel if left on too long.
If you decide to use a cleaning solvent use one specially designed for cleaning black powder, e.g., either Hoppe's #9 Plus or Black Solve. First field strip the gun as indicated in your owner's manual. On the Colt's knock out the barrel wedge and take off the barrel and cylinder. On a Remington lower the loading lever, pull out the cylinder pin, and remove the cylinder. Now remove the nipples and put them in a bucket of hot water, dump the cylinder in, too. These can soak while you're cleaning the barrel and frame. I find the quickest way to do this is by holding the barrel so that hot water runs through from the breech end t breech end to the muzzle. This will remove most of the fouling, and there's less wear on your bore this way than running a whole bunch of patches through it. You will need to use a few, however; to get out the really stubborn stuff, a brush may help in this regard. When you've cleaned the bore and it's dry, run a patch with Wonder Lube or oil through, so it doesn't rust. Do the frame next.
Now that your cylinder and nipples have been soaking for awhile in the water it's time to clean them. A toothbrush will come in handy here for cleaning the nipple recesses in the cylinder. You may wish to use pipe cleaners to get inside the nipples and nipple seats. When done, give them the same rust-preventative coating you gave the barrel and frame. Put the gun back together and you're done.
If you use water for cleaning, make sure it's hot and you let the gun get very warm. The combination of very hot water and a hot gun will help ensure that all the water evaporates off the piece. You don't want to put it away wet and come back later to find it rusted.
Shooting a black powder revolver is pretty straightforward. I find the loading process to be a satisfying part of the shooting game, though the cleaning is admittedly less so. The smoke and flash really enhance the experience. I find that in exposing new shooters to guns for the first time this is a good way to go. They get to see what goes into making a gun shoot as you load the gun for them, and they nearly always like the smoke. As a bonus, the cost of shooting is quite low, much less than when shooting centerfire cartridges.
And as mentioned above, black powder revolvers are viable defensive arms for those who don't have access to more modern weapons. They still beat edged weapons or bare hands by a long shot.
The history of the black powder percussion revolver spans a four-decade period of manufacturing between the middle 1830’s and the middle 1870’s. This period encompasses the Mexican American War, the Gold Rush, the Civil War and the Old West Era. This rich period of our history has sparked a great and long-term interest in original and reproduction cap and ball revolvers. There are two basic types of percussion revolvers. First, the Colt open top type exemplified by the 1851 Navy and the 1860 Army. Secondly the Remington close top type such as the New Model Army, incorrectly referred to as the 1858. Virtually all are in .44 or .36 caliber, with the pocket models in .31 caliber. The current value of original revolvers prohibits any owner of common sense from actually firing these very historic pieces. Fortunately in the late 1950's "replica" manufacturing began modestly and has grown since.
A. MODERN REPRODUCTIONS: Cabela’s, Traditions, Taylor and Co., CVA, EMF, Navy Arms, and Dixie all offer, but do not manufacture cap and ball reproductions. Virtually all reproductions are made in Italy by Euroarms (Armi San Paolo), Pietta, Uberti, and Armi San Marco (ASM). Pedersoli sells a Roger and Spencer made by Feinwerkbau (Germany). The Colts are fitted and assembled in the U.S.A. with Italian parts. Colts are the best and are very expensive. The Ubertis and Pedersolis are excellent. While the Piettas and ASMs are affordable, they have quality control problems. All are made of materials that are stronger then the originals. These companies also offer historically incorrect reproductions. Colt 1851 Navys in .44 never existed nor with a brass frame except for the Griswold and Gunnison and the Schneider and Glassick Confederate revolvers. Brass Colt 1860's and Remington New Model Army revolvers were never made. The Colt 1861 and 1862 models were never made in .44. All were in .36. Historically inaccurate reproductions are discouraged.
B. CHECK LIST OF ACCESSORIES; Modern reproductions come dripping in oil and grease with poorly written and error filled instruction books and nothing much else. You will need the following:
1. Degreaser (carburetor cleaner works well)
2. Nipple wrench, revolver type
3. Nipple pick (corsage pin works well)
4. Bore brush, .45 cal., .375 cal or .32 cal
5. Cleaning rod
6. .45, .375 or .32 jag
7. Cleaning patches, Natural/Wonder Lube, (TC, CVA, and Uncle Mike’s brands are excellent)
8. Old tooth brush
9. Pipe cleaners
10. Screw driver
11. Percussion caps #11
12. .451 lead round ball for .44 (.375 for .36 or .32 for .31)
13. 3F black powder
15. Powder measure (adjustable type)
16. Old rag
17. Long nose pliers
18. Ear and eye protection
(Following are optional.)
1. Brass 1/8" rod about 4 to 5 inches long
2. Powder flask with 10, 15 or 20 gr. spout
4. Ball bag
6. Horse and saber
(You do not really need black powder solvent or over powder wads.)
C. DISASSEMBLY CLOSE TOP REMINGTON: Field stripping only involves the removal of the cylinder. The important parts are the:
1. Cylinder pin (it runs through the center of the cylinder)
2. Loading lever that pushes the plunger that seats the balls
3. Hand ( it emerges from the recoil plate to push the cylinder clockwise as you bring the hammer to full cock).
4. Bolt or cylinder stop (it holds the cylinder in place so the firing chamber lines up with the barrel)
To remove the cylinder start with the hammer down, not just at half cock. Lower the loading lever enough to allow the cylinder pin to be pulled out, but not to the point that the plunger enters a chamber. Hold the revolver in your right hand and turn your wrist to the right so that the trigger guard is to the left and the top of the revolver is to the right. With the cylinder pin pulled out as far as possible and the plunger not inserted in a chamber, place your left hand under the cylinder. Now slowly pull the hammer back about a 1/8". This will cause the hand and bolt to withdraw and the cylinder will fall out into your left hand. Turning the cylinder clock- wise will also help it fall out. To place the cylinder back in the frame, pull the hammer back 1/8". You will see the hand and bolt retract. Push the cylinder in gently from the right side turning it clock- wise. Line it up, push the cylinder pin all the way in and raise the loading lever.
D. DISASSEMBLY OPEN TOP COLT: Field stripping only involves removal of the cylinder and barrel assembly from the frame. The important parts are the same as in part C plus the wedge and wedge screw.
Place the revolver in half cock. Tap out the wedge until the wedge spring rest on the screw. Do not loosen or remove the wedge screw. This screw is intended to keep the wedge from completely separating from the barrel assembly. With the wedge held by the screw to the left side of the barrel assembly, turn the cylinder until a wall between two chambers is lined up under the plunger. Slowly press down the lever so the plunger pushes on the chamber wall pressing the barrel assembly away from the frame. Do not just pull the barrel assembly from the frame. When reassembling the revolver, do not tap the wedge too far in. The wedge spring should not hook on to the right side of the barrel assembly. The wedge should be flush. If it is in to far the cylinder will drag or may not turn at all.
E. OUT OF THE BOX PREPARATION; You must remove all factory petroleum grease and oil. A can of carburetor cleaner works great. Remove the cylinder and nipples and spray the entire revolver in and out. Remove the wood grips first. Apply natural lube to everything in and out with special attention to the cylinder pin.
F. IMPORTANT DO’S AND DON’TS
1. Use black powder or pyrodex only. Smokeless powder will blow apart the revolver
2. Wear ear and eye protection
3. Do not dry fire. You will damage the nipples
4. Don’t turn the cylinder unless at half cock. The bolt will score the cylinder
5. Do not use petroleum products like gun oil or Hoppe’s no. 9. These will increase the fouling.
6. Do not force the revolver to full cock if you feel resistance. The revolver is fouled or a cap is jammed. You will break the hand if you force the hammer. Stop!
G. SHOOTING THE CAP AND BALL REVOLVER: Be sure that the nipples are clear. Fire caps through each empty chamber or push a pin through each nipple. The basic load for the .44 is 20 to 30 grains of 3F black powder or pyrodex and a .451 round ball. If you do not have a powder measure use a fired 38 spec. case (holds 24 gr.), a 45 acp case (holds 28 gr.) or a 9mm case (holds 12 gr.). Shorten the case to decrease volume if needed and twist paper clip wire around the case to form a handle. Fill the case to the top with powder and pour it into the chamber. The basic load for the .36 is 15 to 20 grains of 3F. The .31 is loaded with 8 to 15 grains of 3F. Shooting the revolver with minimum loads normally result in better accuracy, less recoil to dislodge unfired caps, less wear and tear on the weapon, plus conserving powder. Be sure the revolver is at half cock so you can turn the cylinder. Fill all chambers with powder and do a visual check. Place a ball over a powder filled chamber and turn it under the plunger and seat the ball. The fit should be tight with a thin ring of lead cut off by the chamber. If this does not occur, the ball is too small. Do not crush the powder, however the ball should be firmly seated on the powder charge and must be below the top of the cylinder face. If the ball protrudes, the cylinder will not turn. Once all chambers are loaded, cover the top of the balls with natural lube. This will keep the fouling soft. Point the revolver down range and place caps firmly on the nipples. Keeping one chamber empty for the hammer to rest on applies only if you are carrying the loaded revolver. It is doubtful that very many revolvers were historically loaded with just five chambers. These were six guns.
If the revolver jams, most likely a spent cap or fragment has fallen into the action. Remove it with long nose pliers. After a fair number of full cylinders you will notice that the hammer slowly becoming harder to cock. The revolver is fouling. Complete the shots if you can without forcing the hammer back. Remove the cylinder and wipe it down with a damp rag. Clean the frame and the cylinder pin. Re-lube with special attention to the cylinder pin.
Sighting in a fixed sight revolver is a challenge. A few revolvers will shoot dead on. Most will shoot as much as 1 to 2 feet high or low and to the left. There are a number of methods to correct the problem, none of which are very good.
1. Indexing or slight screwing the barrel in or out. This does not really work with octagonal barrels with a loading lever attached to the bottom
2. Bend the front sight - be careful, the sight is silver soldered and may just snap off
3. File the right side of the front sight - not much adjustment
4. File down the front sight to raise the impact - works great
5. Install higher front sight to lower impact - works great but a hassle. New front sight should be 1/8" and as much as ¼". Use silver solder or JB weld. The straighten wire of "all brass" hooks make great front sights
6. Widen the rear sight notch left or right - not much adjustment
7. Cut a 3/8" dovetail and install a new high sight that can be moved left or right and filed down - works great but a hassle.
8. Live with the problem and aim low or high.
More trouble shooting! You may encounter a ball creeping out of the chamber enough to keep the cylinder from turning. Push it back in. However, this is a sign that the balls are too small. Try a slightly larger ball. Rarely a ball may get stuck in the barrel due to little or no powder. Do not fire the next round to push it out. You will bulge the barrel or blow apart the revolver. Remove the cylinder and tap out the ball from the muzzle end. If you forgot to load powder in a chamber, remove the cylinder unscrew the nipple and fill the chamber with powder or tap out the ball with a brass rod. Remember always to remove all live caps from the nipples when trouble shooting a problem.
H. RANGE PROCEDURE: Point the revolver down range at all times except when loading. It can be pointing straight up during loading. At cease-fire, the revolver should be empty at half cock. Lower the loading lever and point the barrel down range. Keep your powder supply a safe distance while actually shooting. The cylinder gap will shoot hot gases out to the sides. Leave the range with an unloaded revolver. Visually check each chamber and every nipple. No powder, no balls and no caps are the rules.
I. CLEANING: Do not wait more than 24 hours after shooting to clean. Do it the same day.
1. Revolver must be unloaded
2. Spread out old newspaper
3. Field strip the revolver
4. Place the cylinder nipple side down in a small container (margarine tub) filled with hot/warm water with a bit of dish washing soap. Insert cleaning rod in each chamber and work it in and out drawing the solution through the nipples and chambers. Clean the exterior of the cylinder with the toothbrush. Now remove and brush the nipples with special attention to the threads. Put the cylinder back into the solution and pump each chamber again with the rod to clean the chamber nipple threads. Rinse off the cylinder and nipples, dry them the best you can and set them aside to air dry
5. Clean the barrel using the rod
6. Turn the revolver frame upside down and with a wet rag and tooth brush clean the entire frame. Keep the solution from entering the lockwork. Clean the hammer and hammer recess area using the toothbrush and pipe cleaners. Clean the loading lever and plunger. Wipe down the entire frame. Swab and dry the bore. To help dry the revolver place it in the sun or use a hair dryer
7. Consider cleaning the lockwork. This is not difficult. There are only four major parts: hammer, hand, bolt and trigger plus the pins, screws and springs. Be sure the lockwork is degreased and natural lubed
8. Apply natural lube in and out with extra attention to the cylinder pin and cylinder hole. Re-assemble and store in a cool dry place. Do not over tighten the nipples
9. Check the revolver a week later, If you did a good cleaning, it will be rust free
10. Do not bother with black powder cleaning solvents. Water with Joy or Dawn soap works best to clean out the salts in black powder fouling. Water base cleaners like 409 and Simple Green also work well.
11. Leading rarely happens with low velocity, low temperature, slow fire, soft lead and natural lube. If it does, use a stiff bronze or stainless steel brush.
J. REPLACEMENT PARTS: It maybe best to first obtain a catalog and then place an order instead of just ordering one or two needed parts. The shipping cost on a small order may exceed the price of the parts. Also keep in mind that a good number of replacement parts do not "drop-in" but may need to be fitted.
K. RANDOM AND AFTER THOUGHTS
1. Historic accounts support pure lead round ball as the best projectile. Conicals did not seem to "put ‘em down" as well. The 1800’s prefabricated cartridges were made with conicals wrapped in nitrated paper filled with 15 to 25 grains of 3F. You can make your own using cigarette paper.
2. Chain fire is more than one chamber firing at the same time. This is rare considering that the balls are seated tightly into the chambers. The lube over the top is to keep the fouling soft and minor protection from chain fires. Poor fitting caps are more of a concern. While number 11 caps are recommended, 10 or 12 might fit better in individual revolvers. Keep in mind that caps also come in various lengths. A cap that is oversized and needs to be pinched to fit, may increase the chance of a chain fire. Percussion revolvers are designed to handle a chain fire by diverting some of the balls. The experience is not recommended.
3. The method of filling the chambers with powder and crushing down the balls is not recommended for 3F black. This method works well with pyrodex, but not with black powder which is too dense.
4. Revolver wrenches are brittle. Get a good grip and turn slowly. Do not mess up the threads. Do not over tighten. Lube the threads before re-installing. Note that the standard nipple wrench may not fit revolvers. The wrench must get into the cylinder recesses. Revolver wrenches for the .36 and .44 are the same, but the .31 needs a smaller wrench.
5. Brass frame revolvers are frowned upon and considered weak and prone to shoot loose. True! However a number of Confederate revolvers were originally made in brass, the Griswold and Gunnison and the Schneider and Glassick were copies of the 1851 Navy, Spiller and Burr a copy of the Whitney and the T.W. Cofer with a spur trigger. The first model of the Remington New Model pocket revolver in .31 is also of brass. Shooting a brass frame with mild loads should not be a problem.
6. The cylinder nipple recesses are sharp, especially Piettas. The six recesses are machined out and left as is. Consider needle filing down the sharp edge.
7. An after-market .45 Colt and .38 S & W replacement cylinder for percussion revolvers are available. Two types are made. One for the Pietta and the other for the Uberti. The cylinders are pricey, $200 plus!
8. Famous Remington users were Jesse James and Wyatt Earp, at least until 1873. Buffalo Bill Cody used his Remington from 1866 until the mid-1870s and said it never failed him. Wild Bill preferred the 1851 Navy. The Outlaw Josey Wales made the famous statement, "You gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?" Wales carried multiple cap & ball revolvers.
To determine if a cap and ball revolver is original or a modern foreign reproduction, the following maybe helpful:
1. Virtually all reproduction revolvers have the markings "Black Powder" or "Black Powder Only" No original revolvers have this marking since smokeless powder did not commercially exist in the mid-1800s and such a warning would have been meaningless. Such a warning on a revolver is a dead give away that it is a modern reproduction.
2. Virtually all reproduction revolvers are make in Italy ( many are so marked) and have a host of Italian proof markings. Two upper case letters in a box is the code for the year the revolver was proofed . "Star over a shield" is the proof house coat of arms and the "star over PN" are the actual Italian black powder proof marks. If these marks appear on the revolver anywhere on the barrel, frame and/or the cylinder it is a modern Italian reproduction most likely made by Uberti, Pietta, Armi San Marco or Armi San Paola. Examine the revolver very closely in a good strong light.
3. Any brass framed Colt or Remington are reproductions. The only original brass cap and ball revolvers are the CSA Griswold and Gunnison in .36, Spiller and Bur in .36, T.W. Cofer in .36 and Schneider and Glassick in .36. The Remington New Model Pocket first type in .31 with a spur trigger was also of brass.
4. Serious Civil War reenactors have been "defarbing" reproduction arms. This entails carefully removing all modern markings and imparting a worn patina finish to a modern reproduction firearm. Some are done so well it is difficult to determine if it is a copy at first examination. However, virtually all reproduction revolvers are metric.
5. Revolvers marked with model names such as 1847 Walker, 1860 Army, 1851 Navy, 1849 Pocket, 1858 Remington are reproductions. Original revolvers do not have such markings.
6. Modern reproductions have been manufactured since the late 1950s. A great many were well used and poorly cared for. Improper cleaning resulted in considerable rust and lost of bluing. They may look old and original, but are not. Look for the tell tale signs.
The Swiss London Navy Colts
TheSauerbrey 1851 London Navy Colt copies
Reknown gunmaker Valentine Sauerbrey (1804 - 1881) was another exhibtor at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and together with his brother Ludwig the only one among 11 Swiss gunsmiths present, to win a medal for his artistic handwork. Having worked for the Duke of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha, he moved to Basel, Switzerland in 1845, where many of his rifle and pistol designes where patented. (Daniel Smith Lee US Consul in Basel, mentions being approached by Valentine Sauerbrey with a new rifle design in correspondence with Jefferson Davis in August 1854)
Sauerbrey no doubt saw Sam Colts 1851 Navy Colt at the Great Exhibition and it is documented that in 1854 a modified Sauerbrey Copy of the 1851 Navy Colt was presented to Swiss Army Officers at the Military Association meeting for consideration as a sidearm.
The Revolver was made either as a sample for army tests or as a private purchase revolver for an officer.
It would seem 100-200 Sauerbrey 1851 Colt Copies were made for private purchase, the copies being based on the iron strap 1851 London Colt model.
Barrel Markings read: V. SAUERBREY IN BASEL . The pictured 1855 gun is marked: No. 20.
It is in the Weapon collection of the Historical Museum Basel.
1851 London Colts sent to Switzerland
The Musee dArt e dHistoire, Geneve also has a “Swiss 1851 Colt”, pictured is 1851 London Colt, Serial No 13887 without London proof markings together with it's Swiss cross leather holster.
On June 26th 1854 Sam Colt sent four London Navy Colts as presents to Freiburg in Switzerland. With a special permit from British customs he circumvented the expensive proofing of the guns, which in itself is an extremely rare occurrence with the London Navies.
It is unclear if the Geneva Colt is from this batch of four presented to Swiss Officers in Freiburg, as Colt no doubt sent further samples to other Swiss towns.
1854 Military Association Newspaper mentions the presentation of the Sauerbrey Colt copy.
The 1860 London Army Colt
The 1860 Army model was also one of the most popular cap-and-ball revolvers ever made. Not only was it a US Civil War mainstay, it was also the weapon of choice many old west gunfighters
More than 200,000 of these revolvers were made between 1860 and 1873 with relatively few variations from the original design over that time. It is interesting to note that the original 1860 Army .44 shot lead round balls or conical bullets that were .454" in diameter (making it technically a .45-caliber weapon) at velocities of 500 to 1,000 fps. This man-stopping power is on par with the .45 ACP cartridge still in use by some American military units today - a testimony to the foresight of Samuel Colt in developing an effective military side arm. Indeed, many Civil War officers readily put up with the more stout recoil of the .44-caliber Model 1860 compared to .36-caliber revolvers of the time because of its battlefield efficiency at ranges up to 75 yards.
A relatively small number of Colt Model 1860 revolvers were exported to London, this documented from 1863 away and beyond doubt some would have found their way to the UK earlier. They were identical to the Model 1860s that remained in the U.S. with the round barrel. Exclusive to the London model are the blued steel trigger guard and blued steel grip backstrap, the hallmark of most London Colts.
Colt 1860 Armies were shipped to London from the Hartford factory. These are found with British proof-marks (not always) and with the New York address or the very rare and desirable address of 'ADDRESS COL. COLT LONDON'.
The 1860 Colt Percussion Revolvers were built for the British market with iron straps in fairly small numbers. The 1860 Colt and the 1861 Navy never became as popular as the 1851 model in Victorian Britain. A small letter "L" below the serial numbers are assumed to stand for "London"...or Colt's Agency in London. Barrels and cylinders of these L-marked models support this because they bear British Proofs from the London Proofing House C through P and Crown over "V". Therefore, without a shadow of a doubt, they where proofed in London. Iron strapped guns have the Colt London Barrel address....some with standard New-York addresses are known.
Pietta 1860 London .44
The superb Pietta 1860 Army Colt DeLuxe
by Joseph G. Rosa
Hardcover: 216 pages
Publisher: Arms and Armour P. (April 1976)
Colt Revolvers and the Tower of London (Paperback)
by Joseph G. Rosa
Paperback: 72 pages
Publisher: Trustees of the Royal Armouries (Dec 1988)
'51 Colt Navies,
by Nathan L Swayze
Hardcover: 243 pages
Publisher: Gun Hill Pub. Co (1967)
Publisher: Gun Room Press (1 Jan 1993)
by D.L. Rhea
HERA publications inc
Wood River iL 62095
Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Blue Book Publications (October 1998)
Replica London Navy Colts
Pietta 1851 Navy
Yank London Cal. 36 or Cal .44
[YAL36 /YAL44 ]
Uberti 1851 London Navy Colt (340050) Cal .36
1851 Colt Accessories
Embossed brass label - Eley double waterproof
Size 41 mm. dia.
x 38 mm. deep
Round Brass English Style Oil Bottle,
2" tall by 1-1/2" diameter,
with drop applicator
Bill Shumates reproductions of an 1851 Colt gun cases.
Built with the same materials and in the same style
of the original Colt contract boxes of the 1850's and 60's.
With hinge and lock inletting in the manner used in the originals.
The lining has been colour matched with the original cloth used by Colt.
The label is a reproduction of the original instructions included
with each black powder revolver that Colt produced.
They are partitioned for powder flask, bullet mold, cap box, paper cartridges
and the gun in the same manner as the originals.
Custom Leather Items for the 1851 London Navy Colt carrying gentleman
32212 n. perry rd.
Deer Park, Wa. 99006
Tuning the Pietta Cap and Ball for competition
(As seen in the June and July 2008 Cowboy Chronicle)
Modern Black Powder Proofmarks
In The Blink of an Eye: The Percussion Ignition
Sequence in Civil War .44s
by Arthur Tobias, Ed.D.
The Colt Model 1851 Navy Percussion Revolver
by Mike Cumpston
EXPERIMENTS WITH FIREARMS
Woolich, September 10--A Board of Ordnance committee comprised of several dignitaries; Commissioned Officers, Mr. Lawrence jr., son of the American Minister, Mr. Samuel Colt, of revolver celebrity, Mr. Adams, who submitted another kind of revolver, Mr. Lovell, the armourer in charge at the Tower, and several scientific gentlemen attended at the butt in the Royal Arsenal at half past 10 o'clock today, to witness experiments with Mr. Colt's and Mr. Adams' revolvers.
The experiments commenced at 11 o'clock, with Mr. Colt's revolving pistol at 50 yards range, and the practice was very good, in several instances the whole of the six balls striking the target, which was about six feet square.
Mr. Colt's revolver used both spherical and conical shot, but all those used by Mr. Adams were conical.....
Almost immediately after the firing of the revolving pistols was completed, at 1 o'clock p.m., the 20th Company of the Royal Sappers & Miners arrived at the place of embarkation, and Major-General Fox, Mr. Colt, and the other gentlemen present, went to the spot, and Mr. Colt in a very handsome manner, with the consent of the Major-General, presented Lieutenant Ray, in charge of the Company of Royal Sappers & Miners, with one of his revolving pistols.
1851 Navy Colts on HMS Warrior
Contact The 1851 London Navy Colt Club at:
Unique Vertical Cased Pair of Colt 1851 Navy Revolvers
Black Powder Revolver mechanism