GUNS Magazine 1850s Percussion Pocket Pistols
The Paterson was produced in .28, .31, .34 and .40, all of which Sam Walker says were underpowered. The Dragoons certainly weren’t, and all were big six-shot .44 percussion pistols weighing 4 pounds. or more and not easily transportable. Colt’s first belt gun, so-called because it was easily carried in a holster such as the “Slim Jim” on the belt, was the .36 caliber 1851 Navy followed by the .44 1860 Army and the .36 1861 Navy. All three were extremely popular and easily and comfortably transported.
For an overview of the history of Colt pocket pistols which I use as a resource, A History Of The Colt Revolver From 1836 To 1940 by Charles Haven and Frank Belden, 1940. This book is remarkable in its coverage of so many aspects of Colt’s history and personally remarkable because I bought it in the Kent State University bookstore in 1963. What are the chances of finding such a book in a university bookstore today?
The following is from the Haven & Belden book: “The first pocket model released by Colt at its new Pearl Street facility was a .31 caliber five-shot rotary pistol with a standard barrel length of 4″. The notches for engagement of the cylinder locking bolt were round or elliptical, the rear of the trigger guard was square, there was no roller on the hammer at its fulcrum on the mainspring and arm n didn’t have a wand. The barrel was octagonal and similar in shape to those of the smaller Paterson models, but the frame was square to the rear like the ’48 Dragoon and all subsequent models.
The authors call this the Old Model Pocket Pistol which was later followed by the Old Model Police Pistol. Also according to the authors, the former is sometimes referred to as the Baby Dragoon while the latter is identified as the Wells Fargo Colt.
There is considerable confusion and disagreement over calling this latest model the Wells Fargo Colt. The authors say this: “As the Wells Fargo Express Company was not organized until 1851 and did not send its first representative to the West until 1852, three years after the improvements were applied to the Model 1848 revolvers , one of two things must have been the case if the Model 1848 with the arm supplied to them. Either Colt had on hand the remaining stockpile of weapons from the previous model, an unlikely event when his factory could not follow his regular orders, or many old type weapons were specially made for some reason that seemed good at the time. Either of these possibilities is of course possible, but we consider them unlikely.
Whatever the actual situation is now lost to history, but both models are available as replicas as the Model 1848 Baby Dragoon and the Model 1849 Wells Fargo. Both are .31 caliber, five-shot, and have no loading/hammer levers. Cylinders must be loaded outside the gun.
With all of these models on offer, none of them, at least according to civilian sales, were the most popular. That distinction goes to the Pocket Pistol of 1849. It was a five-shot .31 caliber single-action percussion pistol for easy concealed carry. The fact that it was the most popular of all the percussion revolvers offered by Colt further attests to the fact that most sixguns of the time were not carried openly but rather carried in a pocket.