Uberti 1851 Colt Navy revolver
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- Last updated: 15/12/2016
In 1959, with the centenary of the start of the Civil War fast approaching, A.Uberti was commissioned to produce 2,000 revolvers for the American market and the model chosen was the Colt Navy. From this small beginning the company has grown to produce accurate, quality reproductions of many nineteenth century American firearms. The Colt 1851 Navy revolver has a large following among shooters, collectors and re-enactors, many of whom will tell you that this is the most attractive of the Colt family of percussion revolvers. Whilst I may not agree – my choice would go to the 1862 Police model – there is no doubt this is a nicely proportioned pistol and Uberti’s recreation of an early example should find favour among its many fans.
When first introduced by Colt in 1850, the pistol was officially known as their ‘Belt’ model to differentiate between the ‘Pocket’ model (1849) and the ‘Holster’ pistol (at the time of the ’51 birth this was the Dragoon). These pistols were also known at one time as ‘Ranger’ models in some quarters, but this description was short lived and is no longer used. It is not certain how or when the pistol was first known as the ‘Navy’ although the U.S. Navy did make their first purchase of this model in 1852, but by far the greater number were purchased by the Army, some 17,000 before the outbreak of the Civil War. What seems certain is that the name is not derived from the naval scene that is rolled on to the periphery of the cylinder as this was done from day one, before the pseudonym was evolved and that same scene is also used on the later 1860 Army model. A number of other manufacturers of the day named their .36 calibre revolvers as the ‘Navy size’ while the .44 was generally known as the ‘Army size’.
During its twenty three year lifespan, Colt produced more than 215,000 examples of their 1851 Navy revolver in their Hartford factory, a figure surpassed only by their 1849 Pocket model during the percussion era. Another 42,000 were turned out of the London factory between 1853 and 1857. Standard configuration was a .36 calibre, single action revolver with a 7½” octagonal barrel and no other permutations were offered. A number of minor changes were made to the design during its lifespan and collectors have divided the 1851 into four ‘sub-models’, the first two with square back trigger guards while the third and fourth had round guards. The model we have here is a representation of the Second Model square back, the difference between this and the First being the placement of the wedge screw, above the wedge here, below on the First Model. This Uberti also has traces of Fourth Model features, being a capping groove milled into the cut out on the right side of the recoil shield and the thick loading lever catch. These are very minor points which would probably matter only to a serious collector or the most ardent re-enactor.
As Good As It Looks
The fit and finish on this example is first class with the black on the barrel and cylinder being deep with a high gloss, evidence of some fine polishing. The trigger and screw heads too are all black. The case colours on the frame, hammer and loading lever are strong without being too garish. The brass straps have a high shine and the edges are nice and sharp, as are the ? ats on the barrel. Metal to metal fit is super and there is only the slightest hint of the grips being oversized on the front strap and at the heel where a tad too much brass had been polished away. Perhaps it’s because I have not handled this model for a while but the walnut grips felt a little thicker than I remember.
The naval engagement scene on the cylinder is clear although the ‘Ormsby signature’ is a little blurred. Waterman Lilly Ormsby was an engraver who worked on plates for banknotes and also provided the stagecoach holdup scene that appeared on the Colt pocket revolver. Visible markings on the exterior of the pistol are kept to a minimum, which will please re-enactors, being confined to the Italian proof marks on the left side of barrel lug and frame, and the serial number stamped on the bottom of the barrel lug and frame. The ubiquitous ‘black powder only’ along with calibre and Uberti marks are under the loading lever.
The basic sights are as used on all Colt percussion pistols of the period, the front being a brass conical post on the top barrel ? at and the rear a (very) shallow notch in the hammer. The front cone on this example has a rounded rather than pointed top, making for a less than perfect sight picture, but this was never a strong point of the Colt open top design.
The rear of the cylinder has six small pins located on the ? ats of the shields between each nipple. With the hammer at rest, any one of these pins can be located in was an engraver who worked on plates for banknotes and also provided the stagecoach holdup scene that appeared on the Colt pocket revolver. Visible markings on the exterior of the pistol are kept to a minimum, which will please re-enactors, being confined to the Italian proof marks on the left side of barrel lug and frame, and the serial number stamped on the bottom of the barrel lug and frame. The ubiquitous ‘black powder only’ along with calibre and Uberti marks are under the loading lever. Firing featuresThe basic sights are as used on all Colt percussion pistols of the period, the front being a brass conical post on the top barrel ? at and the rear a (very) shallow notch in the hammer. The front cone on this example has a rounded rather than pointed top, making for a less than perfect sight picture, but this was never a strong point of the Colt open top design. The rear of the cylinder has six small pins located on the ? ats of the shields between each nipple. With the hammer at rest, any one of these pins can be located in the notch in the hammer face, essentially allowing the pistol to be carried with six loaded chambers in relative safety.
Those buying this revolver for precision target shooting will doubtless have the time to work up their own loads for their chosen discipline using their favourite components. They may also want to tweak those sights a little to improve that department. For the CAS shooters out there this pistol will do what you want right out of the box, with perhaps no more than a little polishing of the action to suit your own preference. Lockup on the test pistol was just about perfect, 99.9% bank vault tight – the best I have come across on a pistol for a long time. Barrel to cylinder gap was also very tight out of the box at just .002”. My preferred load for this pistol (I shoot an 1861 version) is twenty grains of Henry Krank’s black powder behind a home-made grease cookie and home cast .375” lead balls, the latter fitting tightly in the .371” chamber mouths. Remington number 11 percussion caps provide the ignition.
Point of Aim
Almost every Colt type pistol I have used shoots, for me anyway, a little high and to the left and this was no exception. The lack of any adjustment to the sights means that you soon get used to altering your point of aim to bring the point of impact into the area you want it. Recoil is very modest with this load and with my modest skill I was usually able to keep five shots in a six inch circle at twenty five metres, shooting one handed. Perfectly adequate for CAS and definitely capable of improvement for more serious work. After thirty five shots black powder fouling began to make itself evident but a couple of drops of oil on the cylinder arbour kept it going for another twenty before I took the barrel and cylinder off and gave things a wipe over. Competition, CAS or precision, will not require you to shoot this many shots consecutively fouling will not be a problem. I wonder how they fared in a combat situation with these guns? In almost one hundred shots I did not have one case of a broken cap in the hammer slot as sometimes happens with this design of pistol.
I guess the argument will always rage as to which is the better design, the Colt or the Remington. Each side has its admirers and detractors so it is really down to personal choice. You will hear it said that the open top is not as strong as the closed frame – probably true - and will eventually “shoot loose”. I doubt that anyone reading this will ever put enough balls through a Colt percussion revolver to make it shoot loose and there are a great number of pistols out there that went through the American Civil War and are still capable of doing the business. In the end I suppose it comes down to looks, and the Colt wins hands down for me.
Those with thick fingers may find this square back design a shade restrictive but could be OK with the standard round guard. Cocking the pistol is easy and the trigger pull is fairly smooth and I’m guessing it breaks at around four pounds (must get that gauge repaired!). So, what we have is an attractive, well made pistol that can perform. If you are in the market for a .36 calibre percussion revolver this Uberti should be on your list of contenders.