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October 08, 2008

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1847 Colt Walker .44 Fetches $920K at Auction

A pristine, corrosion-free Colt Walker .44 black powder revolver (ca. 1847) sold at auction in Fairfield, Maine to an unknown bidder yesterday for $800,000 (plus a 17 percent auction commission).

The sale reflected the most ever fetched for the model, of which fewer than 170 are believed to exist. It was also the highest price ever paid for any type of Colt firearm.

The black powder cartridge pistol was sold with the original powder flask, issued at Vera Cruz to Private Sam Wilson in 1847.

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The gun’s owner, Montanan John McBride, 80, said he decided to sell it at auction because his family had no interest in historic firearms and wanted to use the proceeds to purchase property. The gun previously belonged to McBride’s great-great uncle.

“It was a painful decision,” McBride told the Kennebec (ME) Journal newspaper. “The family would rather have land than pistols. I can understand that. I don’t necessarily agree with it.”

A spokesman for the auction company’s firearms division said the price commanded for the pristine Colt was all about condition. There was not a spot of rust or oxidation on the massive, 9-inch barrel--or anywhere else on the gun.

“This is a military gun that normally is found in relic condition,” said Wes Dillon, “What we are seeing here is a unique opportunity in the gun-collecting world.”

Known as one of the most powerful handguns in history, the original Colt Walker had an overall length of 15.5 inches and weighed approximately 4.75 pounds. It held 50-to 60-grains of black powder and shot a conical 220-grain bullet or .44 cal. roundball.

By comparison, the original .45 Colt cartridge used a 250 grain bullet and 40 grains of powder. The Walker stood alone in repeating handgun ballistics superiority until the introduction of the .357 Magnum in 1935.

Only about 1,100 Walker pistols were made during a short production run in 1847. Its namesake, Capt. Samuel Hamilton Walker, a war hero who fought in the Texas-Mexico wars, collaborated with gunmaker Samuel Colt to create a pistol suitable for the Texas Rangers and the U.S. Dragoons.

Capt. Walker wrote in 1847 that the gun was “as effective as a common rifle at 100 yards and superior to a musket even at 200.”

Besides the fact that relatively few of the pistols were manufactured in the first place, a contributing factor in the scarcity (and value) of the Walker Colt today is that many of the guns were damaged by mis-loading. When it was introduced, few men had ever seen a revolver--much less shot one--resulting in burst cylinders and the accidental firing of all six chambers at once.

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