Samuel Colt (1814–1862) was one of the most famous and successful American inventors and entrepreneurs of the early industrial age. By patenting the first mass-produced multishot revolving firearms, Colt achieved worldwide fame and a vast personal fortune. His introduction of precise machine-made weapons and his promotion of the interchangeability of parts were innovations that transformed the arms industry. Colt actively promoted sales through advertising and displays at international fairs, and by presenting deluxe arms to men of influence. His precise and reliable standard-model revolvers were highly valued by soldiers and frontiersmen. His more elaborately embellished exhibition and presentation arms appealed as functional objects of beauty.
Early American arms usually were plain, serviceable weapons intended for hunting and self-defense. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the increasing wealth and sophistication of the middle class created a new demand for decorated arms. English and German designs initially served as models for American arms decoration. A new era of creativity began with the arrival of German-born gun engravers and die-cutters, who joined Colt's engraving staff at the Hartford, Connecticut factory beginning in about 1853. In addition to embellishing standard models, these engravers created some of Colt's most lavish and ambitious gold-inlaid arms, which were intended for promotional display or for presentation to influential citizens, politicians, and heads of state. The finest decorated Colt revolvers typically have blued steel surfaces deeply engraved with dense foliate scrollwork, with motifs such as human figures, animals and birds, and invariably, Colt's name inlaid in gold set flush with the surface. On the most luxurious examples, some of the gold was modeled in relief, resembling sculpture in miniature.
This Dragoon model revolver and its mate (presented to the Czar of Russia) are considered among Colt's masterpieces. Apparently, they were created as part of a set of three pairs of gold-inlaid revolvers that Colt took with him to Europe in 1854. That year saw the outbreak of the Crimean War, which pitted Russia against Turkey and her allies, Great Britain and France. Colt aggressively marketed arms to both sides. In November 1854, he presented three gold-inlaid revolvers, one example from each pair, to Czar Nicholas I of Russia. Of these, the Third Model Dragoon serial number 12407 (now in The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg) is actually the mate to the Museum’s pistol, serial number 12406. The gift clearly demonstrated the technical and artistic aspects of Colt’s product, while its patriotic motifs proudly proclaimed its American origin. The museum's pistol features a portrait of George Washington and the Arms of the United States, while on the Czar's pistol there are a view of America's capitol building and a personification of American industry.
#4414. Colt Third Model Dragoon Percussion Revolver, Serial Number 12406
Dimensions:L. 14 in. (35.6 cm); L. of barrel 7 1/2 in. (19.1 cm); Cal. .44 in. (11.2 mm); case; H. 3 in. (7.6 cm); W. 16 3/16 in. (41.1 cm); D. 8 1/8 in. (20.6 cm); Wt. 3 lb. 9.8 oz. (224 g)
Credit Line:Gift of George and Butonne Repaire, 1995
Signature: Gold-inlaid on the barrel with the maker's name: Saml Colt.
Inscription: Gold-inlaid on the cylinder: G. WASHINGTON; inscribed on a band scroll on the cylinder, and on the left side of the frame: COLTS PATENT.
Marking: Stamped on the walnut grips: 4785; on all metal parts: 12406.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Arms and Armor: Notable Acquisitions 1991–2002," September 4, 2002–January 18, 2004, no. 32.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, no. 38.
Houze, Herbert G. "The True Origins of the 'American' Style of Firearms Decoration: A New Look at What is Often Described as a Wholly American Style of Gun Engraving." Man at Arms for the Gun and Sword Collector (Jan./Feb. 2002), p. 27, ill.
Texas Gun Collectors Association and R. L. Wilson. Antique Arms Annual (1971), pp. 96, 144, 150, ill.
Tarassuk, Leonid. The "Russian" Colts: From Colonel Samuel Colt to the Russian Imperial Court. North Hollywood, CA: Beinfeld Pub., 1979.
Wilson, R. L. The Colt Heritage: The Official History of Colt Firearms, From 1836 to the Present. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. pp. 136–37, ill.
Wilson, R. L. Steel Canvas: The Art of American Arms. New York: Random House, 1995. p. 130, ill.
Wilson, R.L. "The Sultan of Turkey's Famous Colt Dragoon Revolver, s/n 12406." The Rampant Colt 16, no. 1 pp. 4–8.
Vaule, Eric. "A Magnificent Gift." The Gun Report 44, no. 11 pp. 38–40, cover, ill.
Wilson, R.L. Fine Colts: The Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection. Doylestown, P.A.: Republic Publishing Co., Inc., 1999. pp. xiv, 226, 228.
Wilson, R. L. The Colt Engraving Book. Vol. 1. New York: Bannerman's, 2000. frontispiece, pp. 197–201, ill.
Boorman, Dean K. The History of Colt Firearms. New York: Lyons Press, 2001. pp. title page, 106–107, ill.
Pyhrr, Stuart W., Donald J. La Rocca, and Morihiro Ogawa. Arms and Armor: Notable Acquisitions, 1991–2002. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002. pp. 36–37, no. 32, ill. (color).
Lee, Robert M., and R. L. Wilson. "The Gold Standard: Magnificent Colts from the Robert M. Lee Collection." American Rifleman (June 2012), p. 83.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Thomas P. Campbell. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 167, ill.
Pyhrr, Stuart W. "Of Arms and Men: Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan, 1912–2012." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (Summer 2012), p. 45, fig. 74.
Wilson, R. L. "Factory Gold Inlaid Colt Percussion Revolvers." The 91st London Antique Arms Fair (Autumn 2013), pp. 45–46, ill.
Andrew Mowbray. Man at Arms, for the Gun and Sword Collector (December 2017), cover, ill.
Byck, John. "Firearms in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Arsenals of History: Firearms and Museums in the 21st Century (2018), p. 50, fig. 18.
Byck, John. "Pulls by Gustave Young and Ernst Moritz at The Met." Bulletin - American Society of Arms Collectors (Spring 2020), p. 83, fig. 3.
Byck, John. "New at The Met: A Gold-Inlaid Smith & Wesson Revolver." Man at Arms, for the Gun and Sword Collector (February 2023), p. 12.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.