Author Topic: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.  (Read 273 times)

Offline pitfighter

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 29
  • Newbie
    • View Profile
1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« on: April 20, 2018, 09:30:30 PM »
Hi folks, I am new here, so thought I'd re-post my piece from Calguns.
I like this new one and probably did too much writing on it, but there you go.

This is a recent Calguns (CA shooting forum) purchase, this revolver meets the criteria of not being particularly valuable or prized by collectors but possessing of inherent interesting details and stuffed full of a rich and veritable history.  A wonderful example of, “…If only it could tell it’s tales…”
*Apologies for the length of this post, but I got enthralled in the research.

METROPOLITAN NAVY MODEL, .38” SHORT CARTRIDGE-CONVERSION, AUTHORIZED PERIOD COPY OF COLT 1851 NAVY DURING CIVIL WAR YEARS 1864-65, LATER USE ON AMERICAN FRONTIER.
This actual revolver would have left the factory between 1864 and 1866.

History of Metropolitan:
(Abbreviated from several on-line sources and the page or so in Flayderman's book.)
An almost exact copy of the Colt 1851 Navy, considered to be a secondary issue during the American Civil War. In 1864, Colt's East Armory erupted into flames which destroyed all but two of its buildings. The event could not have happened at a worse time for the concern for America was embroiled in a Civil War and US government contracts were readily available.
With the need for more and more guns for the war effort ever growing, the now-damaged Colt production lines needed assistance in keeping up with demand. The Syms Brothers, formerly of Blunt and Syms, quickly formed the Metropolitan Arms Co, as such, the Metropolitan Arms Company of New York stepped in to offer production of Colt revolver copies, giving rise the oft-forgotten species of revolver known simply as the "Metropolitan Navy Percussion".

These firearms were aimed to satisfy the enormous demand for revolvers during the Civil War, and were used by both North and South.

Only about 6100 Navy’s were produced by Metropolitan. In order to give the impression of greater production, starting at about number 50 the serial number was increased by 1100. Thus, in order to determine the correct manufacturing sequence, 1100 must be subtracted from the serial number.

Variances from the Colt 1851 Navy included (1) No barrel address or rolled cylinder scene through serial number 1800, (2) a “Metropolitan Arms Co. New-York” barrel address after SN 1800, (3) a rolled cylinder scene depicting a ship battle at New Orleans April 1862 was added after SN 1800, (4) right hand twist rifling, and (5) hammer face recesses on rear of cylinder, instead of safety pins.

All had 7-1/2” octagon barrels and were of 36 caliber. During production there were some additional minor changes made to grip size and contour, and screw direction of the loading rammer.

Bearing matching serial numbers 4344, this included the Metropolitan Arms Company barrel address. The letters “ME” is missing from the word “Metropolitan”, an indication that the roll die began to fail after less than 600 applications.

As can be seen in the photos, serial number 4344 is strongly visible on frame, back-strap, trigger guard, 344 remains on the cylinder, and wedge. The abbreviated number 44 was applied to the loading lever. Unlike Colt, Metropolitan did not number the cylinder arbor (pin), which was built as an added part of the frame.

The original one-piece walnut grips are nice.
The rifling is the Colt style graduated = starts out almost straight and then twists just a little towards the second half of the barrel.

Production of the Metropolitan Navy continued until 1866, when Colt was able to come back online. A few of the post-Civil War production revolvers were sold through dealers such as St. Louis based H. E. Dimmick. These Navy’s saw service all over the American West, along with the Colt counterpart, through the late 1870’s. Unlike some of the newer cartridge guns, percussion caps, black powder, and lead remained available – even in the more remote frontier areas.

Ok - history lesson done :oji: - now onto this revolver in particular:

What is interesting about this Metropolitan revolver:
It has been period-converted to fire the .38” short cartridge - this has been achieved by a fairly-talented gunsmith, permanently altering the revolver in a rather basic but extremely-practical manner.
The patina is identical for conversion parts and gun alike.
1. The hammer has been replaced with one that has a firing pin designed for a center-fire cartridge.
2. The original cylinder (serial number still showing) has been lathed and permanently fitted with a end cap, to accept center fire cartridges,
3. The cap-loading area has been widened and polished to allow loading of center fire cartridges.  Yes, if you aimed upwards at a steep angle you ran the risk of your brass sliding-out.
4. The top of the frame has been cut and then fitted with a cover, to fill the gap that would have allowed for the “percussion” hammer to pass.
5. The lower-barrel-frame area has been trimmed, this is the original barrel, but a new lower piece has been very carefully applied, either for extra strength or to fix an old break - this is the work of an artisan and would be difficult to notice if the serial number had not been lost in the fix.
6. The Cylinder scene has been evenly lathed or re-fin shed and removed - only the remains off the serial number remain visible.

Photographed alongside some items picked up last week in El Paso, where I think a revolver like this "might" have lived on into the 20th century, and would have served someone not able to buy himself a new 1873 style revolver, perhaps a farmer or South of the border bandit for whom a disposable cheap firearm served a practical purpose.  Whoever it was went to a LOT of trouble fixing and converting this revolver, it was truly loved - or cherished:
1. Mexican, Caballero style spurs.
2. Two 1915 era State of Chihuahua bills.
3. Two bandolier's full of .30-30 and a few .30-06 just awesome old leather work, and the real deal.
4. The holster, is a steel clip, open-back style quick-draw - barely fits this revolver, but beggars and bandits can't be choosers.











The loading lever now serves no purpose, except to aid in take down - apply half-cock, tap out edge, and then depress loading lever, which pushes against the cylinder to evenly remove the frontal assembly.  On many conversions, they removed the lever altogether and smoothed the under carriage, to make it lighter in weight - see the sales-ad at the bottom of this post.




Could that be an original percussion hammer, filed and machined, into a firing pin?  I checked the thumb grooves and they are identical to a factory Metropolitan.
Also, it looks like the right side wood grip was repaired, and repaired well, many years ago - as mentioned, someone cared a lot about this revolver!


A similar 1851 conversion system in a catalogue from the 50’s -
« Last Edit: April 20, 2018, 09:32:48 PM by pitfighter »

Offline pitfighter

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 29
  • Newbie
    • View Profile
Re: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2018, 09:33:50 PM »
Some more pics:

What is fascinating is that both the conversion and the original cylinder have achieved a very distinctive and rather fetching "gray" patina - almost identical in color.
Look at the cylinder, it appears that someone purposely sanded, or used an abrasive, to remove the New Orleans River battle etching -


Look closely and you can see where the lower was repaired, many moons ago.


I could probably do with cleaning these grooves a little, lol - but, you can just make out the Colt style rifling.


The address plates wore out after the first 600 revolvers, and it says something that they were not renewed, by this revolver, 3000 or so into the production, the barrel address would have been lightly punched even on leaving the factory - that it remains at all is a blessing.


Check out the "smith's" work on that conversion - really quite interesting.



Offline jaxenro

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 343
    • View Profile
Re: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2018, 04:55:06 AM »
Not ve gun nice write up

Back in the day labor was cheap and steel expensive. Today it would be cheaper to make a new one than convert an old one
Check out my website www.percussionrevolvers.com

Offline ssb73q

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2463
  • Gunsmoke junkie
    • View Profile
Re: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2018, 09:32:28 AM »
Hi pit, thanks for the interesting write-up and photos. The best I can afford are replicas, but always enjoy seeing the real thing.

Regards,
Richard
There’s nothing better in the morning than the smell of bacon and black powder smoke!

Offline Captainkirk

  • Administrator Extraordinaire and Part-Time Gunslinger
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4273
  • "Nothing like a nice piece of hickory"
    • View Profile
Re: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2018, 09:22:18 PM »
Pit, Welcome to Colt Country!
Thrilled to have you here!
I found your write-up fascinating. I had no prior knowledge of the Metropolitan and it's history. To have photos of an original conversion, I find fascinating. Thanks for sharing!
"You gonna pull those pistols, or whistle Dixie?"

Offline pitfighter

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 29
  • Newbie
    • View Profile
Re: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2018, 11:23:51 PM »
Pit, Welcome to Colt Country!
Thrilled to have you here!
I found your write-up fascinating. I had no prior knowledge of the Metropolitan and it's history. To have photos of an original conversion, I find fascinating. Thanks for sharing!


Glad to help - I hadn't heard of them either so the research was fun, and I am sure there is more to come.

More guns to come -

Pit.

Offline Calibre58

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 46
  • Newbie
    • View Profile
Re: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2018, 06:23:41 AM »
Pit:  Nice write-up and pictures.
Most Colt collectors are familiar with the factory conversions or cartridge revolvers of the percussion era. It is nice to see other manufactures. Below is a Bacon .38 calibre and a Colt 51 non-factory conversion also .38 cal. ......Jim

Offline pitfighter

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 29
  • Newbie
    • View Profile
Re: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2018, 12:38:52 PM »
Pit:  Nice write-up and pictures.
Most Colt collectors are familiar with the factory conversions or cartridge revolvers of the percussion era. It is nice to see other manufactures. Below is a Bacon .38 calibre and a Colt 51 non-factory conversion also .38 cal. ......Jim

Very nice Jim,

I am of course also familiar with conversions, particularly the more well known ones, F. Alexander Thuer or the Richards-Mason, my lack of familiarity was with the metropolitan arms manufacturer :)

Nice revolver - the Bacon's seem to show up on GB quite regularly, like the Manhattan's - an interesting study for sure - that is a neat case for yours!  Thanks for sharing the pictures.


Pit.

Offline Calibre58

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 46
  • Newbie
    • View Profile
Re: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2018, 03:29:34 AM »
Pit;  Here are a couple you mentioned.................................Jim

Offline valforgettaboutit

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 137
  • Newbie
    • View Profile
Re: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2018, 10:02:56 AM »
Very nice writeup! Always appreciate new info, and those pics are great.

Offline pitfighter

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 29
  • Newbie
    • View Profile
Re: 1851 Metropolitan Navy conversion - my first post here.
« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2018, 09:43:27 PM »
Pit;  Here are a couple you mentioned.................................Jim

Calibre58 -

We now know where all the conversion revolvers are, and why they are so rare and expensive - what a great collection - thanks for sharing the images!

A very, very important part of any historical study on Colt's revolvers, and on the advancement of firearms in general - sometimes it's not simply enough to be innovative to be successful in business, the design must feel familiar, the fuel (brass cartridges) that your invention works on must be available, and most importantly, it's good to be reliable, but better to be cheap (as in back in the 1870's, cheap.)