Colt 1851 Navy Revolver

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1851 Colt Revolving Navy Pistol
Colt Navy Model 1851
Colt 1851 Navy Revolving Pistol
Type Single Action Revolver
Place of origin United States (Also made in Colt's London Armoury, near Vauxhall Bridge, London, England)
Service history
In service 1850–1873
Used by

 United States
 Confederate States
 United Kingdom
 Russian Empire
 Ottoman Empire

 Prussia captured from Russia
Native Americans
Wars Crimean War. Indian Mutiny. American Civil War
American Indian Wars
Austro-Prussian War
January Uprising
Russo-Turkish War
Production history
Designer Samuel Colt
Designed 1850
Manufacturer Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, Hartford, Conn.
Produced 1850–1873
No. built 272,000
Variants Squareback trigger guard Navy, serial number 1-~4200
Weight 2.6 lb (1.2 kg)
Length 13 in (330.2 mm)

Cartridge .38 Rimfire / .38 Centerfire (conversions)
Caliber .36
Action Single-action revolver
Muzzle velocity 840 ft/s (256 m/s)

The Colt Revolving Belt Pistol of Naval Caliber (i.e., .36 cal), later known as the Colt 1851 Navy or Navy Revolver, is a cap and ball revolver that was designed by Samuel Colt between 1847 and 1850. Colt first called this Revolver Ranger model; but the designation Navy quickly took over.

After the Civil War revolvers using fixed metallic cartridges came into widespread use. The Colt Navy remained in production until 1873, being replaced in the Colt line with what would become one of the manufacturer's most famous handguns, the Colt Single Action Army (also known as the Peacemaker and Colt 45).

Total production numbers of the Colt Navy Revolver were exceeded only by the Colt Pocket models in concurrent development, and numbered some 250,000 domestic units and about 22,000 produced in the Colt London Armory.[1]


The six-round .36 caliber Navy revolver was much lighter than the contemporary Colt Dragoon Revolvers developed from the .44 Walker Colt revolvers of 1847, which, given their size and weight, were generally carried in saddle holsters.[2] It is an enlarged version of the .32 caliber Colt Pocket Percussion Revolvers, that evolved from the earlier Baby Dragoon, and, like them, is a mechanically improved and simplified descendant of the 1836 Paterson revolver. As the factory designation implied, the Navy revolver was suitably sized for carrying in a belt holster. It became very popular in North America at the time of Western expansion. Colt's aggressive promotions distributed the Navy and his other revolvers across Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The cylinder of this revolver is engraved with a scene of the victory of the Second Texas Navy at the Battle of Campeche on May 16, 1843. The Texas Navy had purchased the earlier Colt Paterson Revolver, but this was Colt's first major success in the gun trade; the naval theme of the engraved cylinder of the Colt 1851 Navy revolver was Colt's gesture of appreciation. The engraving was provided by Waterman Ormsby.[3] Despite the "Navy" designation, the revolver was chiefly purchased by civilians and military land forces.[4]

The .36 caliber (.375–.380 inch) round lead ball weighs 80 grains and, at a velocity of 1,000 feet per second, is comparable to the modern .380 pistol cartridge in power. Loads consist of loose powder and ball or bullet, metallic foil cartridges (early), and combustible paper cartridges (Civil War era), all combinations being ignited by a fulminate percussion cap applied to the nipples at the rear of the chamber.

A very small number of Navy revolvers were produced in .34 caliber, and are so marked. Another rarity in the 1851 Navy production is the .40 caliber model, probably 5 were made 1858 for testing by the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance.

Sighting consists of a tapered brass cone front sight pressed into the muzzle end of the top barrel flat with a notch in the top of the hammer, as with most Colt percussion revolvers. In spite of the relative crudity of the sighting arrangement, these revolvers and their modern replicas generally are quite accurate.

Colt 1851 Navy conversions[edit]

The first metallic cartridge revolver made by Colt’s was the Thuer-Conversion Model Revolver, a design that would not require a cylinder with cylindrical chambers to not infringe on the Rollin White patent. A small number (about 1000-1500) of Model 1851 Navy revolvers was converted, using front-loaded, slightly tapered cartridges to fit the chambers of the cylinder reamed to a slight taper.

After the expiration of the Rollin White Patent (Apr. 3, 1869), Colt 1851 (and 1861 Navy) Revolvers were converted or newly made to fire .38 rimfire or centerfire cartridges, the Colt Model 1851 Richards- Mason Conversion by the Colt factory.


Famous "Navy" users included Wild Bill Hickok, John Henry "Doc" Holliday, Richard Francis Burton, Ned Kelly, Bully Hayes, Richard H. Barter, Robert E. Lee, Nathan B. Forrest, John O'Neill, Frank Gardiner, Quantrill's Raiders, John Coffee "Jack" Hays, "Bigfoot" Wallace, Frederick Townsend Ward, Ben McCulloch, Addison Gillespie, John "Rip" Ford, "Sul" Ross and most Texas Rangers prior to the Civil War and (fictionally) Rooster Cogburn.[5][6][7] Use continued long after more modern cartridge revolvers were introduced.

Canadian issue 1851 Colts (London made) are stamped in the wooden grip "upside down" with letters U_C (for Upper Canada, now Ontario, Canada) or L_C (for Lower Canada, now Quebec, Canada), a letter code for the unit, and the number of the weapon in that unit. e.g.


This decodes as Upper Canada, D = Toronto Cavalry Troop, 21st pistol.

The Ottoman Empire used the revolver as late as the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 even though it was quite antiquated compared to the Russians' Smith & Wesson Model 3

See also[edit]


  • Bates, Johnny; Cumpston, Mike (2005). Percussion Pistols and Revolvers: History, Performance and Practical Use. Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse. 
  • Burton, Sir Richard Francis (2003). First Footsteps in East Africa. The University of Adelaide Library. 
  • Herring, Hal (2008). Famous Firearms of the Old West: From Wild Bill Hickok's Colt Revolvers to Geronimo's Winchester, Twelve Guns That Shaped Our History. Globe Pequot. ISBN 978-0-7627-4508-1. 
  • Hounshell, David A. (1984), From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 978-0-8018-2975-8, LCCN 83016269 
  • Keith, Elmer (1956). Sixguns: The Standard Reference Work. New York: Bonanza Books. 
  • Norris, Keith (1990). Australia's heritage sketchbook. PR Books. ISBN 978-1-875113-37-8. 
  • Roberts, Gary L. (2011). Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-13097-1. 
  • Wilson, R.L. (1985). Colt: An American Legend. New York; London: Atabras, A Division of Abbeville Publishing Group. 


  1. ^ Wilson, R.L. Colt: An American Legend. New York; London, Page 78
  2. ^ Hounshell, David A. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932, Page 47
  3. ^ Chicoine, David (10 June 2005). Guns of the New West: A Close Up Look at Modern Replica Firearms. Iola: Krause Publications. p. 50. ISBN 0-87349-768-6. 
  4. ^ Hounshell, David A. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932, Page 47
  5. ^ Norris, Keith Australia's heritage sketchbook, Page 161
  6. ^ Herring, Hal, Famous Firearms of the Old West: From Wild Bill Hickok's Colt Revolvers to Geronimo's Winchester, Page 21
  7. ^ Roberts, Gary L. Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. John Wiley and Sons, Page 54

External links[edit]