Every story has a beginning, and the story of Samuel Colt begins in the mid-1830s with his first company, established in Paterson, New Jersey, to develop and manufacture America’s first production revolver. Though this venture ended in bankruptcy in December of 1842, Colt’s first revolvers endured, becoming famous in the hands of Texas Rangers throughout the 1840s and establishing a legend that has continued to flourish for more than 170 years. Today, Paterson Colts represent a distinct genre of vintage firearms collecting, including equally rare blackpowder reproductions from Uberti and Colt Blackpowder Arms.
Four different Paterson revolvers were made between 1837 and 1842, along with some model variations and improvements, beginning with the No. 1 or Pocket Model, also known as the Baby Paterson. The No. 2 Pocket Model came next, followed by the larger No. 3 Belt Model and the No. 5 Holster Model, more popularly known today as the Texas Paterson. Each increased progressively larger in size and caliber, sharing a similarity distinctive to Colt’s original design. After the bankruptcy, John Ehlers sold guns built using No. 2 Pocket Model parts as well as late rounded-shoulder cylinders and loading levers.
Technically, only the No. 5 Holster Model, in both variations—the first without a loading lever and the second with a loading lever—has been reproduced. I say “technically” because between 2001 and 2008, America Remembers and I teamed up with master gunsmith Robert L. Millington to produce a limited edition of the Ehlers Belt Model No. 2 Paterson and Improved Belt Model No. 2 by reverse-engineering Uberti’s No. 5 reproductions to create a .36-caliber Pocket Model with a 3½-inch barrel.
Each gun was handcrafted and only 100 were made with charcoal-blued, antique-blued or aged-gray finishes. Each came with a walnut presentation box, a small Paterson powder flask, a single-cavity bullet mold and a combination tool. This marked the first of three significant breaks with traditional Paterson reproductions that would be created for America Remembers. The second version was a hand-engraved Ehlers model with carved ivory grips, a 5-inch barrel, Colt bluing and Turnbull casehardening.
Colt Paterson Reproductions
In 1998, Colt Blackpowder Arms (CBA) began creating a new generation of Colt Paterson models. While it is hardly a secret within the firearms industry, the second- and third-generation CBA models were produced with parts made to Colt specifications in Italy by Uberti and shipped to the U.S. “in the white.” The guns were hand-fitted, blued and color-casehardened using Colt’s original proprietary formulas.
CBA was originally established to handle the manufacturing of Colt’s second-generation blackpowder models. The second-generation Colts did not include a Paterson model and are considered products of Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, while the third-generation guns, which introduced the 1842 Paterson No. 5 Holster Model, are regarded as CBA products. They’re still Colts in name, but CBA was not working directly with Colt as it had for the second generation. The noteworthy difference is that second-generation models can be lettered by the Colt factory, while third-generation models cannot. In terms of construction, there are slight differences in the bluing, silver plating and the use of Samuel Colt’s signature on the backstraps of third-generation models to quickly differentiate them from the second generation.
The third-generation CBA Paterson—considered the first Colt-branded Paterson in 150 years—was introduced in 1998 as a deluxe model with hand engraving and a gold barrel, cylinder and recoil shield bands. The design copied the original engraved No. 5 models. These were always made in very limited editions (selling for $4,500at the time), and it wasn’t until 2002, the final year of third-generation CBA production, that a standard blued No. 5 Holster Model was introduced, with a retail price of $1,200. None of this, however, would have happened if legendary Italian arms-maker Aldo Uberti had not begun producing No. 5 Holster Model reproductions in 1988.
In 1958, Aldo Uberti began reproducing the Colt 1851 Navy, slowly adding more authentic blackpowder Colt replicas to his company’s lineup. With virtually the entire catalog of historic Colt percussion models available by the 1980s, Aldo ventured further back in time to add the first circa-1842 Paterson No. 5 Holster Model in 1988, some 30 years after building his first Colt Navy reproduction.
The Paterson was initially a blued gun with the standard 7-inch barrel and roll-engraved cylinder. The guns were of the first No. 5 design without a loading lever. Uberti then followed Colt and added a second variation with a loading lever to perfectly duplicate the original designs. These were the same parts that would eventually be used to build the third-generation CBA Paterson models, all three versions of the America Remembers Patersons and a handful of additional special limited editions for America Remembers, the U.S. Historical Society and the American Historical Foundation.
These limited models vary in terms of availability, engraving and finish options. Among the rarest is the cased Samuel Colt Texas Paterson from the U.S. Historical Society and the Samuel Colt Heritage Museum of Fine Firearms. This handsome, hand-engraved pistol, with its blued finish, fine engraving, color-casehardened bottom frame plate and silver inlaid details, was limited to 1,000 examples. The cased set included a Paterson powder flask, an authentic Colt capper, a single bullet mold and tools and a copy of the book Paterson Colt Pistol Variations by Philip R. Phillips. The set sold for $2,500 in 1988.
End Of The Line
All great things come to an end at some point, and for the original Patersons, it was the late 1840s, after John Ehlers sold the last of the Paterson inventory he’d purchased from Samuel Colt’s bankruptcy in 1842. Ehlers sold his improved “Ehlers Paterson” models until he exhausted the stock. These late-model Colts had the rounded-shoulder cylinders and loading levers added to the No. 2 Pocket Models.
For CBA, the end of production came in 2002, with the final run of Colt percussion models and the blued No. 5 Holster Models. Uberti discontinued the Patersons in 2008 after 20 years of Paterson manufacturing. Additionally, Beretta purchased Uberti after Aldo’s passing. But it wasn’t quite over yet.
America Remembers purchased the very last Patersons in the CBA inventory in 2002 and put them in storage for a future project that would become the most ambitious and rarest Paterson reproduction series ever done.
After five years in development by America Remembers, I began working with gunsmith and engraver Conrad Anderson to put a limited edition of just 20 original-style Paterson cased sets into production in 2011. Each hand-engraved guns came with a rare 4-5/8-inch barrel as well as a scarcer 12-inch barrel.
Colt Paterson Accessories
The accessories were as important to each set as the guns themselves, and included the very last of the finely reproduced Colt cappers and period-correct tools, including an authentically styled and functioning two-piece, five-round Paterson powder-and-ball flask copied from the original design.
The pistol frames and barrels were engraved in an original vine scroll pattern with silver accent bands, also copied from original guns, and the case was made in the correct period size and style with spring devices for securing accessories, a wooden spool for the spare cylinder and brass pins to secure the gun and extra barrel.
Anderson hand finished and engraved the guns, while Doug Turbull blued them. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania furniture maker Duncan Everhart handcrafted the cases and wooden accessories. The 20 guns sold out almost immediately and took more than two years to complete, selling for $5,995 each. An original 1842 Paterson cased set like this would be worth over $400,000. And you would be just as hard-pressed to find one for sale today as one of the 20 reproductions.
Rarity By Demand
If you have tried to find an Uberti Paterson for sale these days, you know it is a long search. They are out there, but few in numbers, and engraved examples fewer still. Limited editions like those from the U.S. Historical Society and the Samuel Colt Heritage Museum of Fine Firearms are even harder to find. Only a handful of the America Remembers No. 2 Belt Models exist, and the two-barrel set done in 2011 remains virtually unavailable.
In the end, Uberti really closed the door on the Paterson as an authentic reproduction of Samuel Colt’s first models. Today, the only Paterson reproduction made is the Texas Paterson with the 9-inch barrel (favored by Texas Rangers in the 1840s), and manufactured in Italy by Pietta. It differs from those Uberti and CBA produced, but it’s as close as anyone making them today will likely ever come. Even reproductions can be very collectible!
This article is from the Fall 2019 issue of Guns of the Old West magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com. For digital editions, visit Amazon.