Appraisal Video: (3:29)
Arms & Militaria
J. Christopher Mitchell American Antiques & Militaria
GUEST: My grandfather bought it in the '50s, and it came with the story that it was given to one of the lieutenants of Custer as a wedding present. It was a presentation piece. And that right after his honeymoon, he went to Custer's last stand and the gun, theoretically, had not been fired. However, there's one of the caps missing, so I'm guessing it was fired once. All I can tell you, it's a Navy Colt. And that's pretty much it for me.
APPRAISER: That is correct. It's a Colt. It's a model 1851 Navy. It's in .36 caliber. One of the things that kind of ties it in with the Navy designation is if we look here on the cylinder, there's this naval engagement scene. The gun is in what we would consider in the trade just an exceptionally fine condition. Obviously it's set in this case, so that's helped protect it. The gun was actually made in 1867, so it's after the American Civil War. It's also 11 years before the Battle of Little Bighorn, so that's in 1876. Most of the guns that are used at the Battle of Little Bighorn are center fire cartridge. You have the trap door Springfield,
GUEST: Okay, yep.
APPRAISER: You've got the Colt single action. This, actually, is a percussion gun. It does not shoot a center fire cartridge. You have to manually load this pistol. You think maybe it's only been fired once.
APPRAISER: That's actually possible. But, then again, it's almost impossible to know that. I mean, it may have been shot 30 or 40 times; it may have never been shot. The fact that we have one missing cap out of the cap tin, well, that's kind of neat, but it doesn't really tell us for sure.
GUEST: Oh, okay.
APPRAISER: But what's important, and what makes it where we know it wasn't used a great deal, is all of this wonderful original finish. I mean that, to a Colt collector, is the end-all, be-all. This is what you're searching for. You've got all this wonderful fire blue on the barrel, most of the fire blue on the cylinder. We can still see the safety pins. So when you cock the hammer back, there's a slot that slides over this pin to keep the cylinder from rotating. Well, as the gun is being shot and messed with and monkeyed with, the hammer hits those pins and smashes them. This has not happened to this pistol. So that's a really nice indication that it hasn't been used a great deal.
APPRAISER: We have a Colt factory box. We have this wonderful green lining; the flask itself recharging the gun is like new; the tool, which is actually this little device here, is to remove the nipples.
GUEST: Oh, okay.
APPRAISER: If they get damaged... When they get bent over. There is one other aspect that is a little unusual for it to be a military service gun because this pistol was never... never martially marked. It's never been inspected. It's almost set up to be sold into the civilian market. Now, if Colt gave the gun to someone, well, then that would make sense. But he's also in the habit of inscribing on the back of them, "Presented by Colonel Colt."
APPRAISER: We have no inscription. So, could be true, but we're not sure. But still, all in all, it's just a wonderful gun. Any idea as to value of a gun in this kind of condition?
GUEST: Ten years ago my parents had it appraised. It was, like, uh, $4,000 or $5,000.
APPRAISER: $4,000 or $5,000?
APPRAISER: All right, I'll be perfectly honest with you, even ten years ago that was quite light. Colt collectors are passionate, and passionate about condition. You take this gun out of the box and remove all the finish and just make it kind of brown...
GUEST: Yeah, yeah.
APPRAISER:...it's still going to be a $1,500 gun.
APPRAISER: What's interesting is the vast difference, because of finish. This gun, retail, with the case and accoutrements, with the finish, is a $30,000 retail value.
GUEST: Wow. I'm pretty happy with that.