FALL 2022 PREMIER FIREARMS & MILITARIA AUCTION!
HISTORIC AND EXCEPTIONALLY RARE COLT EXHIBITION ENGRAVED GOLD, SILVER, NICKEL AND IVORY SINGLE ACTION ARMY FROM FAMOUS 1876 PHILADELPHIA CENTENNIAL WORLD EXPOSITION.
Standard configuration, manufactured 1874, 7.5″ bbl. w/ 1 line script address, 2 line 1871 & 1872 patents on left side of frame. Accompanied with letter from noted Colt Engraving authority R. L. Wilson wherein he extols the quality of this revolver and relates its history as he knows it. This revolver appears in full color on pgs. 172-177 & 178 of Colt Pistols, Wilson & Hable; several times in Mr. Wilson’s Colt engraving books, the original and Volume I; in color on pgs. 174, 181 & 305 The Colt Heritage, Wilson; again in Colt An American Legend, Wilson; and on p. 28 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West An American Legend, Wilson & Martin. Like the other exposition guns exhibited in the Philadelphia Centennial display, this revolver is magnificently fully Colt factory engraved. Revolver exhibits known features of both Helfrich & Ulrich which both include elegantly engraved superb delicate arabesque intertwined scrolls, floral & geometric design en suite on every component of revolver including nearly full coverage on hammer, cylinder barrel & ejector. In beautiful contrast to the bright polished nickel are gold plated cyl., hammer, trigger guard, backstrap & ejector housing including its spring. Revolver is mounted w/ finest polished smooth 1 piece ivory grips. Adding further to contrasting colors are the brilliant fire blued screws & cylinder pin. This special class of “over the top” decoration is seen only on special display & presentation Colts. The intertwined design as noted by Wilson as “special scroll” is only seen in 1870s and few guns after the Philadelphia Centennial examples. As there are no signed examples or Colt records identifying engraver, the engraver name is speculation though the quality is magnificent. In comparing signed Ulrich arms of this era, Herman Ulrich was most likely the artist, though his brother was chief contract engraver at the time.
There is no surviving list of serial numbers of the 18 Philadelphia Centennial Single Actions at center of the famous display. However; there is little doubt that 15 of the serial numbers are known based on Colt “loans” of revolvers for advertising via various expositions from known documents 1877-1895. The best known of these is dated October 15, 1877 on letterhead of H. & D. Folsom to Colt and lists 12 engraved SAAs in detail & Henry Folsom states in postscript: “They attracted a great deal of attention at the exposition and believe they have been a great advertisement”. This revolver and a few others are all accepted by knowledgeable arms collectors as being part of the Philadelphia display, though few survivors are known. This exact gun, SN11089, can be identified by its photograph along w/ SN 11088, almost identically engraved on the Colt display wheel. This is noted by Wilson in 1987 text “Colt An American Legend”. SN 11088 did not survive in the exemplary condition of 11089 being offered. SN 11086, 11087, 11088 are all listed in Colt ledgers as being “loaned” at various dates after the centennial, so why isn’t SN 11089 listed? We know it is pictured in the display. Wilson delves into reasoning in his accompanying letter. Regardless, this is the one of the best two Philadelphia Centennial Colt Single Actions. The other great example, SN 8928, had its grips changed after centennial display from ivory to wood based on 1877 ledger & photo in the wheel. Colt used these fanciest exhibition guns for promotion and advertising throughout the 19th century as noted by shipments as late as 1897 for at least one of the 1877 Folsom listed guns.
SN 11089 is well known to the collecting community & pictured along w/ 11088 in the 1984 Hable book & no doubt one of the Philadelphia Centennial revolvers. Several of the serial numbered guns on the Folsom list are known shipped on multiple occasions as “loans” for exhibitions. This is among the finest & most elaborate of all known Colt Single Action Army Revolvers, few better will ever come to market w/ such fantastic condition, history and renowned collection history. Revolver is housed in a custom leather French fitted green velvet lined casing made by Arno Werner. Removable fitted lid is elegantly gold embossed “PHILADELPHIA CENTENNIAL / 1876 / COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY REVOLVER / NO. 11089”.
UNATTACHED ACCESSORIES: accompanying is a framed, poster size copy of a photograph of the Colt “wheel” display at the 1876 Expo which includes the 18 engraved & ivory gripped Colt single actions in the center, one of which is undoubtedly this revolver; original book, Leslie’s Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition 1876, Frank Leslie; 1876 Centennial small picture booklet; an original James Creamer stereoview of the interior of the exhibit hall showing the United States booth, showing back side of Colt’s display; and one original admission ticket to the 1876 Philadelphia Expo. Also, an 11 page Larry Wilson letter concerning relevance of this historic pistol accompanies this lot.
PROVENANCE: 1876 Philadelphia Expo as part of famous Colt “wheel of 18 deluxe SAAs; Ex-collection R.E. Hable,Palestine, TX (1907-1984); Ex-collection Raymond Bentley ~1970; Ex-Dr. Gianfranco “Johnny” Spellman Collection ~1980; James D. Julia Auction lot 1267, March 15, 2015; Private collection. LITERATURE: “Colt Engraving” Wilson 1974; “Colt Engraving Book-Vol.1” Wilson, 2001, pps 174,181, 305; “Colt Heritage” Wilson, 1979; “Texas Gun Collector’s Magazine” Summer 1981, pg 4, “Most Outstanding Individual Weapon- Colt Firearms Company Display at the Philadelphia Centennial”; “Colt Pistols” Hable & Wilson 1984, pps 172, 176-179; “Colt An American Legend” Wilson 1987.