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 Colt M1860 Army Revolvrs

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Mick Archer


Messages : 6
Date d'inscription : 01/10/2013

MessageSujet: Colt M1860 Army Revolvrs   Sam 8 Mar - 19:33


Here is a Q & D (Quick & Dirty) aid in making choices among the Colt Model 1860 Army (aka New Army) Revolver reproductions for a more finely tuned impression. Meaning, not using a type before it had come out, and say carrying a late 1863 revolver in 1861 for example.

The .44 Colt M1860 Army is an evolution with a handful of variations that would require a longer study than this, but I will try to focus on the major developments in the Civil War side of the roughly 200,500-some made between 1860 and 1873.

Thinking in the late 1850’s was seeing shift away from the earlier concept of a large saddle carried pistol in favor of one that could be carried on the belt and not left with the horse. Colt had looked at lightening up the 3rd Model Dragoon, but gave up. This came at the same time Colt came out with a new steel alloy they called “silver steel” that was lighter and stronger than iron. Colt and his engineers then set about paring down the then current Third Model Dragoon to a lighter and more streamlined version.

The new Model 1860 Army revolver had seen metal taken off from the barrel, frame, and cylinder. In the “streamlining” the obsolete and out of production 3rd Model Dragoon down from four (4) pounds ten (10) ounces down to two (2) pounds ten (10) ounces (also said to be eight) . The “New Model Army” was also much indebted to the Colt M1851 Navy (but not as much as the M1861 Navy and M1862 Pocket/Police revolvers would be). The Navy’s frame was enlarged, the front half of the cylinder enlarged, and the whole blocky barrel on the M1851 Navy streamlined by rounding it and adding a creep type loading lever. And because the M1860 was nearly “perfect” or at least at is zenith, it was not changed or revised except for minor points. However, the minor points occur in time, and can date an impression.

While there are a handful of “variations on the theme” in the first five years of manufacture, they are perhaps best kept track of as we do with other Civil War material culture and use a “typography” system.
The Colt Model 1860 Percussion Army Revolver (aka “New Model Army”) was made in essentially four “types.’’ Evolutions aka changes are clear, but the exact dates and serial numbers at the time of change are generally not known, likely the combined result of history and the Colt factory fire in February of 1864. Be that as it may, some 2/3rds of M1860 records did manage to survive time, fire, and floods.

A limited and flawed amount of rough guesswork can be applied to trying to date changes. Most calculations, including my own, are based on averaging out a year’s production EVENLY but not knowing whether say any particular month was above or below “average” can skew the snapshot.

Perhaps not so oddly, Colt found his initial best customers to be in the South. Between December 1860 and April 1861, 2,230 M1860’s went south to various states.

The United States Navy ordered 750 fluted cylinder revolvers in May 1861 later issued to ships on the blockade. Army orders began in May, and 127,157 M1860 Army’s were delivered before the 1864 fire put the Colt factory out of business for the rest of the War.

Type I’s.

The “Navy” gripped Army.

The initial production M1860 started out with an unengraved round, rebated cylinder. There appears to have been two variations on that, one with a more pronounced front section and step-up and one with a larger rear section and a more rounded step referred to as being “rebated.” Since the cylinder was larger in the front than the rear, the frame below it was stepped accordingly.

A minority of the first 1,000 (between serial numbers 1,000 and 3,500) made were made with 7 ½ barrels, then being roughly equal during fluted cylinder production. A very small number (55) were made for the “civilian” market with Navy grips, 7 ½ inch instead of eight inch barrels, no cap channel, no provisions for the shoulder stock (no recess in the recoil shield, 4th stud/screw, or grip frame recess), a round cylinder with rolled engraved scene, and a silver plated grip frame and trigger guard. Plus another 20 of the same with Army size grips.

Type I’s have brass trigger guards, but iron grip frames with the exception of a few early production brass grip frames.

Type II’s.

The Army gripped and fluted cylinder Army’s. (1861 to early 1862 production)

The “lighter is better” line of thinking still floating around manifested itself in Colt trying to shave off some more weight by removing metal from between the chambers in the cylinder and creating fluting.
Fluted cylinder M1860’s dominate the first 2,000 Army’s made, but trailed off in favor of the “rebated” cylinder finally vanishing at 8,000.

It is believed the idea for the fluted cylinder came from South Carolinian Wade Hampton. There is a connection between the fluted cylinder versions and the cavalry, as early invoices often refer to the M1860 with fluted cylinders as the “cavalry’ model.

About a maximum of 4,000 fluted cylinder M1860 Army’s were made.

Type III’s. Aka "the Four Screw Colt." (1862 production)

The round, rebated cylinder Army’s. The second most numerical and the most commonly found, but usually the most common reproduction.

The Type III M1860 Army marked the return to the rebated cylinder as had been found on the earliest production run but now with the same naval battle scene as found on the Colt Navy’s.

A (so-called) Civilian Model was introduced lacking a shoulder stock and the modifications to the pistol. The only difference between a Type III and a Type IV involves the shoulder stock.
“Ideally” all (use of a universal so noted) martial M1860 Armies were made for the detachable shoulder stock. One shoulder stock was (ideally) issued for every pair of revolvers. But revolvers often being in short or shorter supply, that was not usually followed and single pistols were issued with no shoulder stocks. About serial number 25,000 the common practice took over, and the new Type Iv’s were made without provision for the shoulder stocks. A small few are known with stocks, but they are believed to be special orders for shoulder stocked versions.

A very rare small number of Type III’s were fitted with a two leaf rear sight at the bottom end of the barrel in front of the cylinder and forcing cone.

Type IV’s.

The shoulder stockless Army’s. Aka "The Three Screw Colt." (1863 production).

Numerically the largest number produced

Since the shoulder stocks were no longer part of the “package,” production was simplified by eliminating the features on the pistol itself. Later Type III’s were modified by using a screw in place of the so-called 4th stud/screw. Once existing stock of the old style frames were used up, the 4th screw holes and bottom grip recess were eliminated entirely. And the M1860 went to the standard three screw system seen on other Colt models but Colt did not reconfigure the frame so it continued having the recoil shield milled out for the no deleted shoulder stock. Later production models would have the un-milled frame lacking the shoulder stock cut-out.

The U.S Government started buying Colt Army’s in two batches of 500 in May of 1861. 4,000 more were bought and delivered By October, 1861. For 1861 Colt delivered 14,500. For 1862, 53,702. For 1863, 58,955. None for 1864 or 1865. Another 2,027 were purchased on the open market as well.

It would appear that Colt managed to have enough pieces parts to make 3,000 Type IV’s for 1864 and another 3,000 in 1865.

A “transitional” version with just a screw and not a shoulder stock stud (this variation can be made by swapp9ing out the stud for a screw quite easily.):

Civilian models.

Since Colt was not known to have liked to turn down a dollar, they ran a custom order business out of the factory for the civilian market. Pretty much, you want it, and paid for it, Colt customized it for you.

The “lighter” issue finally was resolved in Colt’s best work, the .36 M1861 Navy which is basically just a scaled down M1860 Army.


Dating can be hard if not problematical. A more detailed or exact system might could be worked out comparing Colt factory records with the features of surviving M1860’s with their serial numbers.
What some do is look at the serial number range starting numbers for each year, and then average out production to guestimate based on even and uniform production levels what month a given serial number might would have be made in.
IMHO, this works fairly decently for say national armories where the monthly production figures were say constant.
IMHO still, Colt production cannot easily be assessed as it appears it was not an eve keeled monthly deal but rather a wait and hurry up affair driven by when Colt’s contracts came in and the terms of the contract as to how many revolvers had to be delivered by the contract’s dates.
The usual “system” for dating looks at yearly blocks and where the serial numbers were at the beginning of the year. While not totally exact, here is a fairly decent breakdown:

1860- 1-2000
1861- 2,000-25,000
1862- 25,000-85,000
1863- 85,000-150,000
1864- 150,000-153,000 (No Government purchases)
1865- 153,000-156,000 (Also no Government purchases)

On May 4, 1861, Colt received a contract for 500 M1860’s, followed on May 15th for 500 more. These were delivered on June 4, 1861 along with 300 more.
Based on this success, Colt was granted a large contract for 5,000 “as soon as possible.” With the factory at full production, he filled that contract by October 9, 1861.
Demand for cavalry was so high, Colt was contacted on September 17, 1861 for as many M1860’s as he could make and deliver. As a result, between October 21, 1861 and April 15, 1862 Colt delivered 25,000 more.
They were followed by another on June 6, 1862 for 15,000, followed by an August 1862 for 30,000.
Demand remained high and on January 30, 1863 Colt received yet another large contract for 30,000 at the rate of 7,500 per month.

Colt’s last order for M1860 Army revolvers was received on May 25, 1863 for 20,000 which were all delivered by November 10, 1863.

All told, Colt sold to the U.S. Ordnance Department 14,500 M1860’s in 1861, 53,702 for 1862, and 58,955 for 1863 for a total of 127,157 (not counting the 963 purchased on the open market from Joseph Grubb & Co., and 1,064 purchased from B. Kittredge 7 Co. (total 2,027) in May of 1862.


While an earlier gun can be used for a later impression, later guns should not.

The most commonly found Italian M1860 Army reproduction is usually the Type III or Type IV.

Colt, without getting into a discussion of Colt guns being Italian parts finished and assembled in America, offered as part of their older “2nd Generation” series and “Signature Series” a Type II and a Type III.

The “Italians” also offer a fluted cylinder Type II.

And last but not least. There were no brass framed Colt M1860 Army’s.

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Messages : 2042
Date d'inscription : 26/12/2011
Age : 54
Localisation : Robin Springs

MessageSujet: Re: Colt M1860 Army Revolvrs   Dim 9 Mar - 8:15

Thanks Mick for this interesting threads! Evil or Very Mad 


The craftsman is known by his work....

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MessageSujet: Re: Colt M1860 Army Revolvrs   Dim 9 Mar - 9:21

Thanks Mick !!
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