Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company
Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company firearms are guns produced by American firearms manufacturer Colt, founded by Samuel Colt in 1836.

Background & history of production

Colt Third Model Dragoon Revolver, American Civil War
Colt Third Model Dragoon Revolver, American Civil War
colt-third-model-dragoon-revolver
Samuel Colt received a British patent for his improvements on the standard revolver design in 1835, and the U.S. patent followed a year later. He is best known for playing a major role in the popularisation of the revolver, and the move away from earlier single-shot pistols.

Colt founded the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company of Paterson, New Jersey, Colt’s Patent in 1836. The company saw several problems in quality of production, as the manufacture of firearms with interchangeable parts was a new idea and hard to replicate across factories. The United States Marine Corps and Army had measures of both success and failure with Colt revolvers, and production ceased in New Jersey by 1842.

A new prototype revolver designed by Colt was taken up by the US Government in 1846, and having no factory, Colt collaborated with the Whitney armoury of Whitneyville, Connecticut, and the family of Eli Whitney.

The Texan volunteers placed an order for 1,000 revolvers that became known as the Walker Colt. This meant that by 1848, Colt could start to manufacture revolvers independently once again. He founded Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company in Connecticut that year, building large factories in 1848 and 1855, and a manor and employee tenement housing in 1856.

The 1850s saw huge success for the Colt corporation, and Colt successfully commercialised the total use of interchangeable parts for a firearm, spearheading assembly line practice and becoming the world’s leading proponent of mass production techniques. At this time Colt also established a factory in London. At first British arms makers were dubious about Colt’s patent, and about the benefits of his system of manufacturing. However, they came to view his advanced steam-powered machinery and cheap standardised interchangeable parts as proof of America’s increasing dominance in industrial production.

Colt’s factories were also pioneering in their treatment of employees. Providing housing, limited hours a day, washing stations, lunch breaks, club where employees could play games, newspapers and discussion rooms, setting up libraries and educational programs for toolmakers and machinists, but also maintaining a military-like discipline, firing employees for tardiness etc. His methods influenced manufacturers for the rest of the century.

In 1854, the British Admiralty ordered 4,000 Navy Model Colt revolvers, and in 1855 the British Army placed an order for 5,000 Army Model guns. Another order for 9,000 revolvers came the year later, however, Colt did not convince British troops to adopt his revolvers as standard issue sidearms. He was forced to close his London factory in 1856.

In 1860, Colt produced a new revolver for the United States Army, The Colt Army Model 1860. This was just in time for the American Civil War. Colt’s company thrived during this conflict, selling hundreds of thousands of firearms to the Union. It made Colt’s fortune, and he became America’s first manufacturing tycoon, but died in 1862.

After Colt’s death, a fire destroyed most of the factory, including arms, machinery, plans and records. By 1865, the company were in a precarious situation. The revolver patents had expired, meaning rival companies could produce copies of the design. Metallic cartridges had gained in popularity, but due to Samuel Colt rejected an idea of employee Rollin White to bore revolver cylinders to accept the cartridges, rivals Smith & Wesson held the patent. Colt had to wait until this patent expired before they could produce metal cartridge revolvers. Between 1865 and 1868 therefore, Colt manufactured goods such as watches, sewing machines, typewriters and bicycles as they bided their time.

Colt produced the first metallic cartridge revolvers by converting existing percussion revolvers, models going through several conversions before the most successful method was discovered. In 1871, William Mason, a Colt engineer, began work on their first metallic cartridge gun, the Colt Open Top revolver. After some revisions, this became the .45 Colt, taken up by the army in 1872. This Colt Single Action Army revolver was known as the Peacemaker, and was among the most widely used firearms in the american West at the end of the 19th century. These are iconic weapons, and extremely collectible.

Mason went on to design the first double-action Colt revolver, the Colt M1877, and the larger frame M1878 a year later. The 1870s and 1880s saw a huge rise in demand for firearms as American settlers spread further across the continent, and Indian Territory battles and skirmishes were common. It was perfectly normal for most people to own guns at this time, and even in towns where Native American conflicts were no longer common, guns were used by criminals, police, and civilians.

The Colt company thrived once again during World War I. Orders rushed in from Canada and the United Kingdom even before America entered the war. 245,500 of the John Browning-designed M1911 were sold, and Colt New Service revolvers, M1917, were kept as substitute weapons.

The 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression slowed this success, and Colt went back to manufacturing non-firearms, such as business machines, calculators, dishwashers, motorcycles and automobiles.

During World War II, Colt ceased production of Single Action Army revolvers, but manufactured over 629,000 M1911 A1 pistols, and many M1917 water-cooled machineguns. Production ceased after the Second World War, but boomed again with the onset of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. This was intensified due to the Springfield Armoury shutting down, and the U.S. Army’s adoption of the M16 rifle under Colt’s production rights.

The Colt Manufacturing Company continue to serve law enforcement, military and private security markets worldwide.

Collecting Guide

Colt firearms are often the most valuable weapons to come to auction. They are seen as iconic images of American history.

Colt has seen many models developed throughout its long and prolific history, some of which are rarer than others. The mass produced nature of Colt firearms, especially when manufactured for an army, mean that the more successful and popular models are not particularly rare, while others made at certain times or with certain flaws are more uncommon.

Colt guns are more valuable with an interesting provenance. If they are connected to a significant historical figure or event, their worth rises, as the prices realised below demonstrate.

Notable auction sales

  • A Colt Third Model Dragoon Revolver, inscribed Colonel P. M. Milliken and used in the U.S. Civil War, sold for $805,000 at Heritage Auctions in September 2011.
  • Serial No. 1 Colt Single Action Army Revolver, the first example of the Peacemaker, sold for $862,500 at a Greg Martin Auction in 2009.
  • An 1847 Colt Whitneyville-Walker revolver, one of just 1,100 produced and owned by famous Texas Ranger Sam Wilson, sold for $920,000 at a James D Julia auction in 2008.
  • A fine example of a Colt Texas Paterson revolver, the first model produced by Samuel Colt, sold for $977,500 at a Greg Martin Auctions/Heritage Auctions sale in September 2011.
  • A rare gold-inlaid Colt model 1849 pocket revolver, from the original grouping of Samuel Colt’s gold-inlaid revolvers and engraved by Gustave Young, sold for $1.1 million at Sotheby’s in January 2012.

Notable models of Colt firearms

See also

Main article: Antique & Vintage firearms
Main article: List of notable antique & vintage firearms
Main article: Top 10 most expensive antique handguns

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