Uberti Colt 1861 Navy
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- Last updated: 04/02/2017
Colt percussion revolvers earned themselves a reputation for simplicity, ruggedness and reliability on the Western frontier over many decades. Despite their apparent weakness against a solid frame design, the Colt factory turned out a total of almost 900,000 examples of the various models between 1847 and 1873.
Ask any Colt fan what is the most attractive revolver turned out by the company and you will get a variety of answers, but for sure the two Navy or Belt models – 1851 and 1861 – will be high up on the list, with the former probably just edging the latter. The two models are identical from the front of the frame backwards, with the difference being in the contours of the barrel and loading lever.
As men and women streamed westwards to California when gold was discovered, the need for personal protection was never greater. There were a great many who headed to the goldfields with no intention of using a pick and shovel, but were willing to rob those who had done the hard work. Multishot pepperboxes were prized possessions and changed hands at premium prices. The small Colt Baby Dragoon had been in production for a little less than two years when, in 1849, the Gold Rush began in earnest and at the height of the gold fever, Sam Colt introduced two of his most popular percussion revolvers, the .31 calibre Pocket Model and its larger brother the .36 calibre Belt Model. These are now commonly named the 1849 Pocket and the 1851 Navy, although both likely came out around the same time in 1850. Both were an instant success with the Pocket going on to be the most prolific of the Colt percussion revolvers.
The cylinders of all Colt revolvers at this time were rolled with an engraved scene and that used on the 1851 Belt model – and its successor – showed a representation of the Texas navy’s fight with the Mexican navy in the Gulf of Mexico in 1843. It is sometimes believed that this cylinder scene gave the pistol its ‘Navy’ nomenclature, but as the same scene appears on the later 1860 Army model, this is clearly not the case. The scene was chosen by Sam Colt as a tribute to his friend Commodore Edward Moore, commander of the Texas Navy at the time. The general custom among manufacturers at the time was to name their .36 calibre revolvers ‘Navy’ models, while the larger .44 calibre pistols were known as ‘Army’ models.
The Colt Navy revolver, in both its guises, is a single action, six-shot model with a seven and a half-inch barrel. The 1851 barrel is octagonal, while the later version is round. The round barrel profile also came with the new ‘creeping’ loading lever that had been introduced on the .44 calibre Army model a year earlier. The two models were sold side by side – each in their own serial number range – until their discontinuation in 1873. During this 12-year period the octagonal barrelled 1851 outsold its younger sibling by around three to one.
As with all of their products, the Uberti 1861 Navy is a super rendition of the original revolver, although in this case not quite 100% accurate. The early model 1861 Colts were supplied with brass trigger guards and back straps, apart from a few military examples, which were made to accept the detachable shoulder stock. These had a steel back strap, presumably to reduce the wear on the notch in the butt. The example we have here is a shoulder stock model – see the fourth screw and cut-out in the recoil shield – so the back strap is correct but the trigger guard should be brass, of particular concern to those re-enactors who wish to get it right. A brass strapped ‘civilian’ model, albeit still with the shoulder stock frame, is available at a slightly reduced cost. The frame, loading lever and hammer have dark case colours, with the barrel, cylinder, straps and all small parts a nice deep black. The rolled cylinder scene (minutely different to the originals) is sharp and exhibits the marking around the front of the cylinder ‘ENGAGED 16 MAY 1843’. The patent mark on the cylinder is also different to the old Colt. It is here that Colt would have stamped the serial number, whereas Uberti have not numbered the cylinder. The safety system on these early Colts consists of a pin on the shoulder between each nipple, which locates in a slot cut into the hammer face, which in theory allows the pistol to be carried fully loaded.
The 7½-inch barrel has been nicely polished, particularly around the lug area, where the contours are very good. The cutout for loading the bullet is quite deep, making bullet placement very easy. The loading lever catch and latch work well and the length of the lever on these 7½-inch models gives much better leverage than the shorter barrel examples, which often require some sort of extension. The proof marks, BP only and Made in Italy marks are stamped on the underside of the barrel.
All of the Colt open top percussion revolvers use the same technique for a rear sight, this being a v-notch cut into the top face of the hammer. Front sights vary from model to model, with the 1861 having a brass blade sweated into the barrel about half an inch from the muzzle. It’s very basic but works quite well in practice. I have seen examples of this type of revolver where the owner has opened up the rear sight a little with the use of a file, but have never found this necessary myself.
The walnut grips have the usual Uberti deep gloss varnish and were a shade proud in a couple of places on this example. The size and shape of the grip was deemed suitable for most hands and in 1873 was carried over to the Peacemaker model and is still produced by Colt today in roughly the same dimensions.
Regardless of how goodlooking a pistol is, if it does not do the business on the range then it really is not earning its keep. Percussion revolvers are never going to be tack drivers, as they were in essence designed to hit a fairly large target at relatively short range, but they can turn in some respectable scores in the hands of capable shooters.
Having owned one of these revolvers for many years I already had a load, which performed as well as I needed at 25-yards. This consisted of 20-grains of Henry Krank fine black powder behind a .375-inch round lead ball. Initially, I used lubricated wads between ball and powder but then changed to wax ‘cookies’ (made from beeswax and old candles) some years ago, as they did the same job of keeping the fouling soft and were considerably cheaper. My percussion cap of choice is Remington – this revolver preferred No. 11. There is a shallow groove in the cutout on the right recoil shield to aid in the placement of the caps. This is a comparatively mild load, with minimal recoil and if I did my bit it was quite easy – most of the time – to put five shots on to a small round paper plate shooting one-handed against the clock. I know that there are many precision shooters out there who can probably reduce that small plate target down to a 50mm circle and still put their five shots in.
The biggest drawback of the Colt open top design, as opposed to a closed frame such as the Remington, is the occasional broken spent cap, which will drop down into the hammer channel and halt the proceedings. There are fixes for this problem but it was never a big deal for me and on this occasion I did not experience it once.
The main spring feels a little lighter than some other single action revolvers I have used and cocking requires the minimum of effort, aided by positive but not overly sharp knurling on the hammer. The cylinder locks up nice and tight and the trigger breaks cleanly without any creep, again with a bit less effort than some other examples.
Fouling will eventually rear its ugly head and begin to slow the rotation of the cylinder, and when this occurs will depend on each individual gun. I have shot a BP revolver for 80 rounds with very little decline in operation (a Palmetto Whitney), while another has become very stubborn after 25 or 30 shots (Uberti 1858 Remington). With the 1861, I began to feel the binding at 35 to 40 discharges and at 50 I stopped to give the gun a wipe down. The cylinder arbour on Colt-type revolvers has a spiral groove around its circumference. A coating of grease in this groove before shooting helps to prolong the effect of fouling and I wiped the arbour when I stripped the gun and reapplied some more grease. A quick brush around the forcing cone area and front of the cylinder before reassembly and we were good for another hour or more.
The fourth screw in the frame, which is used to attach the shoulder stock, stands a couple of millimetres proud, and depending on how you like to hold the pistol, could prove a little uncomfortable even given the mild recoil of this model.
The Uberti 1861 Navy is a well-made, good-looking revolver, particularly with the black steel grip straps on this version. If you are a Colt fan and you do not need the extra punch of a .44 calibre, then this is well worth your consideration.
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