In today’s blog, Peter Smithurst, Emeritus Curator at the Royal Armouries explains the link between Colt revolvers and Yorkshire.

We are so used to thinking of “Colt” revolvers as being quintessentially American that it may come as a surprise to some that there was a strong Yorkshire input. Colt favoured steel produced by Thomas Firth and Sons of Sheffield and in using it, he was adding an element of invisible quality beyond that of many of his contemporaries, once again exhibiting his pioneering spirit and leading the way for others to follow. A testament to the value placed on Thomas Firth & Son is the magnificent cased pair of Model 1861 Navies presented to Mark Firth.

A cased pair of guns from 1861
A cased pair of Model 1861 Navies (PR.3536)

Special care was taken with the finish of these revolvers; the blueing of the barrel and cylinder and the colour case hardening of the lock frame are spectacular.

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Percussion six-shot revolver – Colt Navy Model 1861 (1863) (PR.3537)

In the same year that Colt introduced his new model Navy revolver, Firth’s were supplied by Greenwood and Batley of Leeds ([1]) with:–

Order 271       1 10″ centre lathe with hollow spindle, cone and clutch motion to cut                                   off the steel cylinders for revolver pistols, upon a 7ft bed with 3                                     supports for rollers, 3 sets of conical gripping chucks for 2 1/8, 1 5/8 1 7/16 dia steel bar

                      

These sizes of bar would correspond with the Navy, Pocket Navy and the newly introduced Army revolver cylinders. Not only that, Firth’s also received from Greenwood and Batley:

Order 272                   1 vertical boring machine with 3 spindles & conical gripping                                                chucks, self acting feed and stop motion to each separately, for                                             boring centre hole in above sized cylinders when cut off.

along with

Order 273                  1  8″ centre single geared slide lathe on 8ft bed with self acting                                             motion for sliding only to turn cylinders for revolvers.

It seems likely, therefore, that at this time Firth’s were also supplying Colt with part-machined components. We are fortunate that a drawing of one of these machines is preserved in the Greenwood and Batley Collections at West Yorkshire Archives:

Another source from Firth’s shows that they continued to supply Colt’s with steel at least until 1869 but that is the last and only reference which has been found outside of the order books ([2]). It is contained in a memorandum book which records a total of 9221 lbs. of steel was supplied in that year. By that time, of course, Sam was dead and perhaps his successors did not have the close ties with Firth’s that he had obviously developed, or perhaps they preferred to buy closer to home. Whatever the case, Colt’s Yorkshire connection came to an end.

[1] Greenwood and Batley order books, West Yorkshire Archive Service, 2 Chapeltown Road. Sheepscar, Leeds LS7  3AP, UK.

[2] Thomas Firth & Sons, Memorandum Book, part of the Firth-Brown archive held by Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield; item no M508.