View Full Version : Callin' All You Pistol Historians.....

February 23, 2011, 04:16 PM
....I've been doin' some research and, to be totally honest, I want somebody to confirm my hypothesis! :D

Did Colt ever make the 1851 Navy in .44 caliber?

....inquiring minds wanna know.....and no, I'm not talkin' 'bout all the replicas out there today....I KNOW they're out there in .44....I'm talking 'bout the "real" ones from 1851-they stopped making them.....


February 23, 2011, 04:39 PM
The short answer, off the top of my head is NO because "smaller than 44 cal" is what constitutes a navy vs army revolver. Early revolvers were sold to the army with the idea/purpose in mind to have enough power to drop a horse in order to takeaway the calvary advantage. Since seahorses are much smaller than land horses, the Navy said "hey, we don't need such big gun" and the 36 cal Navy Colts were born.

A 44 cal Colt Navy would probably be just about the same thing as a Colt 1860 44 army, but this all off the top of my head and is subject to misunderstanding, wrongful assumption or failure to remember important details.

February 23, 2011, 04:57 PM
I was told by a museum director in California that the Army and Navy colts were designed to use the shot that the Army and Navy already used in their cannons.

He said the army used shot that happened to be .44 caliber,,,
And that the Navy used .36 Caliber shot.

He said this went back to the original Patterson design,,,
Sam Colt knew there was a ready supply of .36 balls in those made for the Navy,,,
He simply decided to use something that was already in steady production and readily available.

When he was working up the design for the Walker/Dragoons he wanted a bigger ball so went with the size shot already being made for the Army.

I have no idea if this is true or not,,,
But the man worked as a director at the Presidio Museum,,,
In a way it makes sense for old Sam to use something already available.

It sounds feasible but the sceptic in me wants to Cry B-S on it.

Has anyone else ever heard this same explanation?,,,
or even anything close to this account?


February 23, 2011, 06:53 PM
I'd sure like to see his documentation on that tall tale. I'd love to know what the Army was using .44 shot in their cannons for and the Navy .36? Is he reverring to shot used in cannister rounds? If so, I highly doubt it. A lot of 'tales" have been passed down through the years - a lot of them "tongue in cheek" which soon become "fact". It's like the one I often hear about cannister rounds in the Civil War - "Oh, they shot them at the ranks of the enemy and it was like a shotgun on them". True, the cannister rounds had round steel balls in them but they were not directed directly at the enemy unless they were smack dab in front of the muzzle. Cannister rounds were fired "in front" of the enemy ranks for the purpose of it hitting the ground and ricocheting (sp?) off the ground and "up" into the ranks. I once was part of a test that we held at Camp Grailing in MI where we used cannister rounds against cardboard cut-outs of ranks. Fired directly, there were few hits on the cut-outs. Fired at the ground in front and having the balls ricochet upwards into the ranks was devastating. But - I've been wrong before, so if someone can provide some actual documentation of this guy's claim, I'll be more than pleased to "eat my hat" . . . or let my pet billygoat do it anyway. :D

February 23, 2011, 06:55 PM
As a follow up to my post - the test we did with the cannister was at Camp Grayling - not Grailing - a slip of the finger. The cannon we were using was a 10 pd. (3 inch) Parrott Rifle.

February 23, 2011, 07:00 PM
Did Colt ever make the 1851 Navy in .44 caliber?

No and Colt never made a brass frame either. Some Southern makers used bronze with a high copper content but they also never made a .44 in a frame that wasn't iron.

Fingers McGee
February 23, 2011, 11:58 PM
It sounds feasible but the sceptic in me wants to Cry B-S on it.

The skeptic in you would be correct. That museum director was telling some tall tales.

The octagonal barrel on the '51 Navy was too small to bore out to anything over .40 cal, and the cylinder was too small as well. In order to get a .44 caliber round on a '51 Navy frame, Colt had to cut a notch in the water table, add a rebated cylinder, and beef up the barrel. While they were at it, they streamlined the barrel, extended the grips, and put a creeping loading lever on it.

What Hawg said +1 also.

February 24, 2011, 03:04 AM
Colt had to cut a notch in the water table

Sorry ahead for my lack of knowledge, but what is the water table (in reference to the 1851)?

February 24, 2011, 05:01 AM
I reckon that the water table refers to the area of the frame below the cylinder where a notch was cut to accommodate a rebated .44 cylinder.
It's not common gun lingo to me either, but the water table is located below ground level.

February 24, 2011, 07:28 AM
I certainly agree that Colt's Manufacturing never produced a .44 cal 1851 Navy revolver. However, I have seen reports of a single prototype .44 cal in the 1851 design in the museum in Hartford. IIRC it was reported to have a steel frame. If those reports are true (and/or if my memory isn't completely gone) then the answer is yes, Colt 'made' one. Exactly one. But there was never any factory production of that design.

I gotta get over to that museum some day.

February 24, 2011, 09:02 AM
Not related to the .44 question but to the brass frame. This ad appeared in the Aug 26th 1861 Memphis Appeal.

"Wanted. 10,000 lbs of old zinc, copper and brass immediately for military purposes....Thomas leech and Co.

Another confederate revolver I don't hear much about is the Shank & McLanahan revolver. Shank was a close friend of Leech. The Shank revolver was very similar to the Spiller & Burr, a top strap, brass frame .36. The barrel was actually cut to .377.

Fingers McGee
February 24, 2011, 01:05 PM
Water table is an old term. I get kinda archaic at times.

The prototypes in Hartford are .40 Cal from what "A History of the Colt Revolver" says.

Shawk and McClanahans were made in very small quantities prior to the Civil War (1858-1859/60). Shawk was a staunch Unionist and tried to get a contract to manufacture muskets for the Union.

Another little known Confederate revolver was the .36 cal Cofer. There were about 150 of them made in Virginia. Supposedly, the Confederate government bought 82 of them for the 5th Virginia Cavalry.

February 24, 2011, 06:16 PM
I think the closest Colt ever got to making the 44 Navy was either (by custom order) putting Navy grips on the 1860 Army and putting Army grips on the Navy.

February 25, 2011, 11:57 AM
Thanks to all who've lent their knowledge and expertise.

It appears that I've managed to acquire the (absolutely) necessary guns for my daughter and I to shoot SASS (i.e. a set of pistols each, a 1892 rifle to share and an 1897 shotgun to share).

I have a desire to shoot black powder -- even if only once a month or every other month (we shoot 2-3 times per month now). So, I've been eyeballing cap and ball pistols.

I'm into the history as much as the shooting, so I like to be "as accurate" as I can be. I realize that if I purchased an 1860 Henry, that I won't be shooting 44 Rimfire, so there's only a limit to my "accuracy."

I've been told, and listened, and rejected (:p) those who tell me that I should go with 1858 Remmies as my first cap and balls. I just like the Colts better. Sorry. Plus, I'm shooting 1871/72 Open Tops now. I like representing the time period from 1865-73 or so.

Therefore, I'm looking at '51 Navies and '60 Armies. My current cartridge pistols have Navy grips, so that appeals to me. I'm concerned (although not overly so) about my ability to knock down pistol knockdown targets with the .36 caliber. I like the "big bang" that comes with the .44 (lotsa smoke! :)).

Anyhoo, that's what started my thinking (which is always where I begin to get myself in trouble) about '51 Navies in .44 caliber. I suspect when I'm actually ready to dump some money on my first set of cap and balls, then the right set of pistols will emerge. Heck, I missed out on a pair of Pietta '51 Navies on GB the other day -- the pair sold for $233. :eek:

I know, I'm ramblin' and will shut up now. Again, thanks for the input.