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The Colt Firearms Collection at the Connecticut State Library



The Connecticut State Library in Hartford houses one of the largest and most diverse collections of Colt firearms. Their collection originally served as a factory showroom display of all firearms produced at Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company and was donated to the Museum of Connecticut History at the State Library in 1957.

Entering the exhibit room and turning left are two Colt-made Gatling guns (see below).The photo below that was taken standing behind the Gatling guns looking to the back of the room and the next photo was taken from the back of the exhibit room facing the entrance. The two photos of the entire exhibit room give you some idea of the large number of firearms in the collection that is on display.

Colt-made Gatling Guns at front of exhibit


Photo of exhibit room from behind the Gatling guns


Photo from back of exhibit room


In the above photo, the statue of a rearing horse can be seen in the middle of the exhibit room that stood on top of a blue onion-shaped dome at Colt's armory in Hartford for over a hundred years. Named the Rampant Colt, the statue became a symbol of the Colt armory. The statue in the exhibit room was the original statue made of wood and gilded with a zinc alloy and was acquired by the museum in 1995.

The Colt firearms collection from the Wadsworth Museum of Art (also in Hartford, CT) was previously described in this website in the article on The Colt Firearms Traveling Exhibit. It can be noted that the Wadsworth collection featured pristine firearms, many donated by Samuel Colt's wife, Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt. The collection at the Connecticut State Library is unique in a couple of ways. It not only features firearms sold at the factory but includes early Colt prototypes and experimental firearms that Colt also displayed in his factory showroom. A photograph of that factory showroom often appears in books about Colt firearms. The other unique aspect of the State Library collection is that the factory design and patent drawings for many of the guns were included in the donation to the State Library and are presented in the display cases alongside the guns themselves.

One of the experimental firearms in the collection was a Colt Dragoon Rifle manufactured in 1847 (see photo below). The rifle was built with a .44 caliber revolver frame (see expanded view below the first photo) and has a Paterson style buttstock with an overall length of 50 inches.



The cutlass pistol pictured below combined a Bowie knife blade and a six-shot double action pistol and was manufactured by Colt about 1842. Never one to miss a marketing opportunity, Colt modeled this pistol after a single-shot cutlass pistol made by George Elgin in 1837 who sold it to the U.S. Navy. Colt was probably hoping to sell his more lethal, multiple-shot version to the U.S. Navy as a "boarding weapon" but this firearm was made just prior to the dissolubtion of his first firearms factory.



One display case in the collection contains multiple Colt Walker and Dragoon handgun models. Another case shows several of Coltís Army and Navy handgun models, including the Thuer and Richards conversions to adapt those handguns to accept the new metallic cartridges.

In still another display case are several of Coltís first revolving cylinder handguns, the Paterson. A unique pre-Paterson prototype handgun in the case, shown in the photograph below together with its patent drawings, was designed in response to a request of Colt by the Navy to submit two pistols for examination and trial. One was to have been a pocket pistol, but the other was to have been the size of the Navyís current ship pistol which, in 1836, was a single-shot flintlock that was 13 ľĒ long shooting a 56 caliber ball. The pre-Paterson prototype that Colt submitted to the Navy was 14 ľĒ long using a 52 caliber ball. The shape of the prototype bears a strong resemblance to the shape of the flintlock in use by the Navy at the time with Colt presumably hoping to capitalize on that familiar shape in competing for the Navy contract. Unfortunately for Colt, the Navy chose another flintlock design. Those familiar with the Paterson models that Colt eventually produced will note that the prototype had a fixed trigger and trigger guard whereas the Paterson design Colt finally produced has a trigger that drops down when the hammer is drawn back. A beautiful cased pair of Paterson #5 pistols was featured in the same display case and appears in the photograph after that of the prototype.



Always one to improve on his products, in 1840 Colt began production of the Improved Pistol #1, the "Baby" model shown below. Together with adding an attached loading lever and other features, this meant that the barrel no longer had to be removed for loading the cylinders. The note in the display case with the pistol indicates that the case is leather and made to look like a book. The spine of the "book" has the title "LAW FOR SELFDEFENCE."



There were 21 deringers, old line, and new line pistols in one display case. Among the items was a cased set of Coltís new line revolvers made in 1874 for one of Coltís supporters. A photograph of that set appears below. One of the pistols was a five-shot 32 caliber revolver, and the other was a five-shot 41 caliber revolver.



The collection does include one display case of all of Colt's police firearm models, and still another case displays the 1911 Colt automatic weapons used by the military. The final photo I'm including shows three models of that famous military handgun on display. The two on the right were special order firearms. The presentation gun at the bottom right of the photo has an engraved, gold inlaid World War I motif that includes portraits of General John J. Pershing and President Woodrow Wilson, an artillery battery, and an infantry charge.



It was difficult to choose what to highlight in photos and comments for this article. Excluded, other than those already mentioned, are the Colt-made rifles and shotguns at the back of the exhibit room that can be seen in the photo at the beginning of this article. The exhibit is a "must-see" for any fan of Colt firearms. There is no admission fee to the Museum, and it is open every day except Sunday and state holidays.

Do plan a visit to the museum if in the Hartford area and, while at the State Library, check out the The Guns of Connecticut display in the Connecticut Collections exhibit only 50 feet away. That display shows sample firearms that were made in Connecticut by over 20 different companies with many rarely seen models.

Note: An edited version of this story has been published in The Cowboy Chronicle, July 2015, pp.62-65.