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The Colt Firearms Traveling Exhibit

Photo from the website of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

Those in the Texas Panhandle area had a unique opportunity to view the impressive Colt firearms traveling exhibit at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (PPHM) in Canyon, TX. Only four sites in the United States hosted this exhibit entitled "Samuel Colt: Arms, Art, and Invention." The exhibit was organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT and PPHM had the exhibit on display from May 24 - September 1, 2008.

Visitors entering the exhibit area were first faced with a beautiful specimum of a Colt Paterson #5 under glass. Other displays contained samples of most of Colt's early firearms, including some Colt prototype firearm models used for marketing. An 1835 promotion/prototype of Colt's revolving pocket pistol in excellent condition was featured in that display and is pictured below from the PPHM website. According to Haven and Beldon's 1940 book, A History of the Colt Revolver, that revolver is a 5-shot, .40 caliber model used as a promotion model to sell stock in the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company and was probably made shortly before the company was formed. The prototype display also included a model of Colt's revolving cylinder shotgun.

1835 prototype revolving pocket pistol

Samples of "counterfeit" firearms acquired by Colt to defend his patents were featured in yet another display. One of the displays even included a couple of melted machine parts found after the fire that destroyed his factory.

For me and others I talked to during my visit, however, the highlight of the exhibit was a display of Colt firearms mounted on a wall, not under glass, in a compass rose design used by Colt at exhibitions (see photo below). The firearms were donated by Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt who had collected the display of firearms that were in production at the time of her husband's death. Enhancing the impressiveness of the display was the fact that each firearm was in mint condition. Included in the display were new model rifle muskets, new and old model belt pistols with an attachable breech, new and old model pocket pistols, and new model holster and police pistols.

Photo courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

In addition to the firearms themselves, we learn more about Colt as a promoter and inventor. According to the website of the PPHM, "Colt was the Bill Gates of his day...and established production lines three decades before Ford and invented machinery for making interchangeable parts. His marketing savvy produced the first celebrity endorsements, introduced 'new and improved' as an advertising motto, and demonstrated the value of branding."

The PPHM staff also chose this time to feature their own collection of early Colt firearms in the museum lobby, and that collection was equally impressive. Included were the Colt Paterson #1, #2, and #5 models, the Paterson revolving model carbine, the Colt Walker, the "baby" Dragoon, the 1st and 3rd model Dragoon revolvers, many of Colt's pocket models and derringers, Richards conversions of the 1860 Army revolver and the 1862 pocket Navy model, and superb examples of the 1873 single action revolver, the 1877 Lighting revolver, and the 1878 Frontier revolver. One of my favorites in their collection were two Colt "Root" revolvers (second and third variation models) which I had never seen before. They are sidehammer pocket revolvers named after Elisha K. Root who designed the revolver (with Samuel Colt as inventor). A photo I took of the 3rd model Root revolver in their collection appears below (with permission from the PPHM.)

1855 "Root" sidehammer pocket revolver, third model variation.

The exhibit was truly remarkable, and I hope many of you in the Texas Panhandle area took advantage of visiting the exhibit. Those who didn't get to Canyon, TX in time to view the traveling Colt exhibit should try to visit the PPHM some time to see their Colt collection. If you find yourself in the Hartford area, you can see both the Atheneum collection as well as the Colt Firearms Collection at the Connecticut State Library. The State Library collection is described elsewhere in my website at The Colt Firearms Collection at The Connecticut State Library.

Like many museums, the Atheneum and the Panhadle-Plains museums usually have space only for a portion of their collections and must rotate items on display. If I've described a specific firearm you'd like to see, check with the museums before your visit to make sure that the firearms you'd like to see are on display.