Early third model Colt 1851 Navy percussion revolver, s/n 5449, manufactured circa 1851 and inscribed on the back-strap ‘Charles Nephew, & Co. Calcutta’. It is my opinion that this revolver was displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and afterwards acquired by Charles, Nephew & Co. Calcutta.
Serial number 5449 bears all the Colt Third Model characteristics: It has a 7 ½ inch octagonal barrel, with attached loading lever. It bears the early address: “-ADDRESS SAML COLT. NEW-YORK CITY-”. It has a rare dovetail front sight. The revolver is chambered in .36 calibre with a six-shot round cylinder, that is roll engraved, depicting the battle between the Texas Navy and that of Mexico.. The barrel and cylinder are blued with a casehardened frame, hammer and loading lever. The brass back-strap and small trigger-guard grips are silver-plated and the grips are of one-piece varnished walnut. The left side of the frame is stamped with a smaller version of ‘COLTS/PATENT’.
The following is some of my reasoning to support my theory.
Pittar & Co. in Calcutta became Charles, Nephew & Co. from 1848 to 1870. The new company, was founded by Charles John Pittar and Parke Pittar, who were uncle and nephew, hence the name. As retailers they were acknowledged for their creative design and superb finish as one of the most prominent jewellers, watchmakers, gold and silversmiths in the world. They also operated from Simla in India from 1848 to 1870. Examples of their work are highly sought after by collectors today. They were also agents for the famous London firm of Elkington & Co in 1851.
Interestingly in the Census for 1851 it shows that Parker Pittar lived at 40 Gower Street, London and states his profession as an East India merchant. The British East India Company gained a foothold in India in 1615 and by the end of the 18th century controlled the majority of the Indian subcontinent. At this time, it was very lucrative for traders such as Parker Pittar to establish a good business in this growing market. Not all merchants were successful and many failed, going bankrupt in the process.
Reverting to my research on Pittar and serial number 5449, I go back to an article that I wrote in 2004. The subject was a factory engraved Colt Second Model Dragoon percussion revolver serial number 10223 with panel scene portrait of the Marquis De Lafayette. My submission in the article was that along with serial number 10,222 (which has a panel scene portrait of George Washington on the left side of the barrel lug) the two revolvers were the figure-head guns in Colt’s display at the Great Exhibition of 1851 held at Crystal Palace in London from 1st May to 15th October, 1851. This gun was also beautifully inscribed “Charles Nephew & Co. Calcutta” to the rear of the trigger-guard running down to the toe of the butt.
It was and still is my submission that this inscription was engraved after the Great Exhibition when Colt disposed of his display of up to five hundred firearms to important politicians and military men of the period.
At that time I wrote “After the Great Exhibition closed on 15th October 1851 most of the display guns were either presented to prominent persons and institutions or to serving British officers that were leaving for the far outposts of the British Empire in South Africa, India or Australia. Charles, Nephew & Co. Calcutta at that time were European goldsmiths and silversmiths with businesses in India from 1848 to 1870. They are known to have retailed firearms during this period. It is my opinion that serial number 10223 went through their hands where it was inscribed on the rear of the trigger-guard ‘Charles, Nephew & Co., Calcutta’. Similarly engraved Colt Second Model Dragoon serial number 10333 with a hunting scene panel scene is also inscribed on the back-strap ‘Charles Nephew & Co. Calcutta’. Probably both revolvers went to India together sometime after the 1851 Exhibition”.
I have also owned and have seen several other Colt revolvers of that period with a ‘Charles, Nephew & Co., Calcutta’ inscription. Bearing that in mind it would appear to me that the business relationship or friendship between Park Pittar and Samuel Colt began at the Great Exhibition in 1851. It is highly possible that Charles, Nephew & Co. also had items on display at the exhibition and both entrepreneurs had a mutual respect for each others display.
During that time period Colt may have confided to Pittar regarding his dilemma with British customs. Sam had agreed not to sell any of his display guns in England without them first being proof-fired and proof-stamped at the London or Birmingham Proof House. He was allowed to gift them to military personal who were being posted to some far-flung country within the British Empire or present them free of charge to high-ranking military officers or politicians or anyone else who could further his career. In return British customs would allow entry of his massive display without stamping proof-marks on the cylinders and barrels of all his firearms. It would have been a massive task to have done this and the highly engraved guns would have been badly marked and even could have been damaged in the process. It was a risk too great to take.
It is highly probable that after the exhibition Pittar agreed to buy or sell on a consignment basis a number of Colt’s decorative and standard non-engraved (5449) firearms including Dragoons numbered 10,223 and 10,333 plus others. Pittar would have then exported them to sell at his retail premises in Calcutta, India. At that time they would have been inscribed ‘Charles, Nephew & Co’. The friendship or business relationship between Pittar and Colt would have then continued for at least two years to 1853 when Sam presented him with a cased & inscribed exquisitely engraved Colt Model 1851 Navy Square-back revolver serial number 207.
In May 1857 Park Pittar bought a substantial share-holding in the Great Barrier Land Harbour & Mining Co. on Kalkoura Island in New Zealand. The company was wound up in June 1868. He also held shares in the Otea Copper Mining Company in New Zealand. Parke Pittar had mixed fortunes during his business career and is known to have gone bankrupt at least once during his lifetime. In the December of 1870 he was declared insolvent in Calcutta. This may have been due to a ship floundering or some other misadventure. He was awarded a silver sabre in grateful recognition after he had fully repaid his creditors with appropriate interest. He died in 1884 aged sixty nine. Park Pittar was well travelled and suffered a lifetime of mixed fortunes. The Pittar family with their entrepreneurial spirit prosper today as they have done for the last two centuries throughout the world.
Known guns inscribed ‘Charles Nephew, & Co. Calcutta’.
Colt Second Model Dragoon:
10223 Circa 1851 Engraved (Panel Scene)
10333 Circa 1851 Engraved (Panel Scene)
Colt Third Model Dragoon:
11022 Circa 1851 Not engraved
Colt Model 1849 Pocket:
30847 Circa 1852
30861 Circa 1852
39847 Circa 1852
Colt Model 1851 Navy:
5266 Circa 1851
7109 Circa 1851
18890 Circa 1852