Colt revolvers, like the Single Action Army and the Colt Python, are as American as apple pie. And, none so much as the classic Colt 1860 Army revolver, followed in short succession by the Colt 1861 Navy Revolver. These revolvers were instrumental throughout the American Indian War and Civil War, and are often mistaken for each other.

Learn everything you need to know about these colt revolvers and what makes each unique. Find out what differentiates the revolvers in functionality, design, and aesthetic. And, see why these classic Colt models are sought by firearms collectors the world over.

The Colt Revolvers Classic Showdown: 1860 Colt Army vs 1861 Colt Navy

One of the reasons why Colt revolvers from as far back as the 1800s continue to delight collectors is because – if you are lucky – it can likely be shot, today. That being said, don’t attempt to fire an antique firearm unless a professional verify that it is safe to shoot, and you know how to operate a cap-and-ball style black powder revolver. Whether or not you are lucky enough to shoot one – when you find yourself holding one of Colts classic revolvers, like the 1860 Army or 1861 Navy, you can’t help imagining what it was like to carry it on your hip in battle, during the American Indian War or Civil War. 

colt pistolsAt first glance, the 1860 Colt Army and 1861 Colt Navy revolvers appear almost identical. But, for firearms collectors, there is a fascinating history behind these two guns, and the similarities far outweigh the differences. Today, either model is a highly-valuable and coveted collectible to find at auction. 

Differentiating the 1860 Colt Army from the 1861 Colt Navy Revolver  

When looking at these two Colt revolvers, the 1860 Army set the bar for success, quickly becoming a widely popular sidearm in the military. The 1860 Army is chambered in .44 caliber, features a rebated cylinder, and measures about 14-inches long, from end-to-end. Weighing in under 3 pounds, the 1860 Army was lightweight for easy maneuverability and powerful enough to take down a bull with a single-shot.

Army soldiers in the mid-1800s often had to draw and shoot on horseback. The Navy, on the other hand, had very different circumstances in which they fought. A sailor in the US Navy of the mid-1800s was in close-quarters to other sailors and a shorter revolver was more desirable.

When drawing and aiming their revolvers, there is considerably less room onboard a US Navy vessel than there is for an Army soldier on the open plains or horseback. So, the 1861 Navy revolver was designed with a shorter barrel, no rebated cylinder, and chambered in .36 caliber. Overall, the 1861 Colt Navy revolver measures 13-inches long, and weighs-in just over 2-pounds.

How Did These Classic Revolvers Function?

Both the Colt 1860 Army and 1861 Navy revolvers feature aesthetically beautiful and intricate hand-engraving on the gun’s frame and action. Each revolver is designed to be single-action, with a 6-shot cylinder, and similar colors. Both revolvers are cap-and-ball, which requires the shooter to load each cylinder with a loose ball, primer, and percussion cap. The cap-and-ball firing system was succeeded by cartridge-fire ammunition, but both these Colt models remained popular amongst the public – even after they were succeeded by the famous Colt Single-Action Army revolver.

Unannounced to many – and contrary to popular assumptions – the 1860 Colt Army and 1861 Navy revolvers were first released to the public – not the military. After being released, they gained popularity with the Army and Navy but were never a standard issue among the military branches. And, this might be why only 2-3% of these models still exist, today.

The rarity of these classic revolvers is, in part, responsible for their demand amongst avid firearms collectors. Are you looking to consign or bid on a classic firearm? Talk to an auction associate to find out what Colt revolvers and rare firearms are available in the upcoming spring auction.