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RICHARDS CONVERSION, MODEL 1860 COLT ARMY PISTOL – .44 CALIBER COLT CENTER FIRE - AN EXCELLENT SPECIMEN – ALL MATCHING NUMBERS - STAMPED "US" AND ORDNANCE INSPECTED:   Originally manufactured in 1862 during the Civil War, this Model 1860 Colt Army Revolver was one of those 1,000 plus Colts selected by the U.S. Army for application of the Richards Conversion to alter the pistols to fire the .44 caliber metallic center fire cartridges.   

While Colt eventually produced a number of these Richards Conversions specifically for the civilian marketplace, the first 1,000 conversions were completed to fulfill the contract for the army.  As the original parts were refurbished and the conversion parts were added, the government inspectors on scene at the factory applied their initials to each major component as it passed inspection, and at some point in the assembly process the government “US” was applied to the left side of the barrel boss.  Once the conversions were completed and ready for delivery, each was subjected to a comprehensive examination by Ordnance Department Inspector Ainsworth and he applied his cartouche to the left side of the grip on those pistols which he accepted to fill the contract.   

A significant number of these completed pistols – each bearing the sub-inspector initials on the major components, and in apparently in some cases already stamped with the “US” on the barrel boss – were rejected for any one, or combination, of a number of reasons.  Something as minor as a flaw in the pistol’s finish could disqualify it from acceptance.  These rejected pistols were retained by Colt, stamped on the left side of the front trigger guard post swell with “.44 CAL”, some, if not all, were nickel plated at some point, and they were sold on the commercial market.  Well into the late 1870’s, until the production of Model 1873 Single Action Colts met the requirements of the U.S. Army contracts, and Colt could begin offering the new pistol in significant numbers on the commercial market, the Richards Conversions continued to sell quite well to civilian buyers anxious to acquire a fixed cartridge pistol.   

Such was the case with this Richards Conversion.  It is one which was produced under the initial contract and altered from one of the Model 1860 Colts in the inventory of the U.S. Army Ordnance Department.  The matching serial numbers on the trigger guard and back strap confirm that these two pieces were salvaged from the same pistol that had been produced in 1862.  The left side of the barrel boss bears Ainsworth’s small “A” inspector’s stamp, applied immediately to the rear and a little above the wedge slot.  On the same side of the boss, a faint, but legible “US” was stamped immediately in front of and a little above the wedge slot.  The cylinder is stamped “A” and “P” immediately below the serial number banner, indicating Ainsworth inspected it and the cylinder had survived the proofing test.  Another small Ainsworth’s “A” is stamped on the trigger guard between the serial number and the bow.  While these government ownership and inspector stamps indicate this pistol was altered for the army, the caliber designation on the trigger guard bow identifies it as one of those rejected at the time of the final inspection, later marked with the “.44 CAL” designation by Colt, nickel plated, and sold on the civilian market.   

The mechanics are excellent, with the cylinder indexing properly and locking up tight at full cock.  The metal finish is generally very smooth with some light scattered pitting concentrated on the rear top of the barrel – perhaps where it rested in a holster.  The nickel plating is very strong overall, showing minor points of wear on the back strap and concentrated around the trigger guard bow.  The cylinder scene is still legible, and the barrel address and frame stamping are clear and legible.  The exposed brass of the trigger guard where the nickel plating has worn has a nice mellow patina.  The barrel measures 7 13/16” long – the muzzle having been faced during the conversion process - and the muzzle retains a sharp edge without any excess wear.   The rifling in the bore is very strong with only minor areas of frosting.  The screw heads have sharp edged, distinct slots with no sign of abuse or wear by means of the exception of the extractor housing retention screw which shows minor wear.   

The matching Richards assembly/serial number stamp – “178” – is legible and present on the frame, backstrap, cylinder, trigger guard, barrel, extractor lug, conversion ring, loading gate, and wedge, and this same matching serial number is written in the grip channel under the backstrap.  The trigger guard and back strap also bear the additional matching serial number of 71557 applied when the pistol was first manufactured in 1862.   

The grips are in excellent condition, retaining the original varnish, having no wear at the toe, none of the wear to the sides of the panels normally encountered, and no cracks or breaks.   

This Richards Conversion is a very attractive specimen, and a historically significant example of the process of altering these pistols for the early Indian Wars army.  While not one that passed the final inspection to be eventually issued to the soldiers in the field, this pistol was produced in the early contract and it bears the desirable inspector’s stamps and the “US” government ownership stamp.  Quite a scarce piece, this is one of a very small original number of pistols which were involved in this conversion project – some estimates placing the number at just over 1100 pistols being converted to meet the 1000 pistol contract.  Having survived in very nice condition, this Richards Colt offers the collector the opportunity to own a credible example of a scarce early Indian Wars pistol at much less than a cartouched example in commensurate condition would cost.   (0178) $6500  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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