There are two percussion revolvers that separate the men from the teenagers when it comes to Colt collecting. They are the Walker model — which is indisputably the Holy Grail for Colt collectors and investors — and the early Paterson revolvers, made in four variations.
Colt’s original company was the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, located in Paterson, NJ, circa 1836-late 1841. Samuel Colt’s original idea of manufacturing a five-shot revolver with a folding hidden trigger was actually made into a working prototype by John Pearson, a machinist friend of Colt’s who had been schooled in England as a clockmaker. It was not a good working relationship, and on May 9, 1836, Pearson bitterly wrote:
“How can you think that I can lay out my money in this way by God you use me anything like a man. I shall expect some money or I will stop work for I can get Half a Dozen places of work and get my Pay every week. You are in a Devil of a hurry but not to pay your men…”
Without Pearson, there wouldn’t have been a prototype that Colt filed for a U.S. patent on July 21, 1835. Two years later, production began on the No. 1 Pocket Model, which often times is referred to as the Baby Paterson. It was available in either .28 or .31 caliber and had standard barrel lengths between three and four inches (usually rifled). Late production had a factory-installed loading lever and capping cut out on the recoil shield. Only 500 were manufactured circa 1837-1838, and one of the biggest reasons the Baby Paterson was never a huge success was that the caliber was underpowered for self protection. There is evidence that Colt amply rewarded Pearson for his earlier efforts later with a lump sum of $30,000 at the peak of his prosperity in 1861.
The No. 2 (Pocket Model, approx. 800 mfg.) and No. 3 (Belt Model, approx. 800 mfg.) variations followed in either .31 or .34 caliber. Finally, the No. 5 Holster Model in .36 caliber was released during 1838, and over 1,000 were manufactured. At a recent Greg Martin auction featuring the famous Al Cali Collection, the finest known cased No. 5 Holster Model sold for $977,500. The Republic of Texas purchased 180 of these for the Naval service, and some of these guns also found their way into the hands of the Texas Rangers.
Capt. Samuel H. Walker was part of the Rangers during this time, and his experience with the Texas Paterson resulted in Walker and Colt redesigning the gun in 1846, and the Walker model was introduced in 1847. At 4 pounds, 9 ounces, it was and remains the original .44 Magnum handgun. The rest, as they say, is history.
During these tumultuous years between 1836-1842, the flamboyant Colt was usually broke, overextended on his credit, juggling past due accounts and the majority shareholders of the company thought he was a loose cannon. This resulted in a lot of internal conflict, including lawsuits between Colt and company officers. Combined with lagging sales and military complaints about the functionality of both the revolvers and carbines, the assets of Patent Arms Manufacturing Company were sold on Dec. 9, 1842.
So what’s this cased First Model Baby Paterson worth with the accessories in NRA Very Good Plus original condition? To accurately assess its value, the individual components need to be added separately. Figure the revolver in this condition at $120,000-$150,000, then add another $15,000-$20,000 for the original accessories: unnumbered extra cylinder, bullet mold, combination tool, primer capper and brass mounted powder charger. Add another $10,000-$15,000 for the original mahogany case. So a realistic total could be in the $145,000-$185,000 range — maybe more if the right buyer wants it bad enough. Most early percussion cased Colts like this end up at auctions these days, and if the rarity and original condition factors are there, the upper end of pricing can be very unpredictable.
Some information courtesy of The Book of Colt Firearms by R.L. Wilson. Images courtesy of Collector’s Firearms.