not too hard to imagine the scene: A cattleman of some means walks
into a San Antonio
general merchandise store one day in the mid-1870s and asks to see
one of those new fangled pistols he's heard about. It holds six
metal cartridges, a new technological development that makes it
faster and easier to load than any other handgun on the market.
Made in Hartford, Conn. by the Colt Manufacturing Co., the weapon
first hit the market in 1873, only eight years after the Civil War.
Satisfied at its look, feel and how smoothly it operates, the rancher
reaches in his pocket and pulls out a $20 gold piece. The pistol
cost $17.50. Throw in a holster and some ammunition and the coin
Back then, that Texan, as did thousands of others, saw such a weapon
as an investment in personal and family protection. Today, that
gun or any like it amounts to a financial investment that likely
to appreciate better than stocks and bonds.
San Antonio resident
Kurt House, who has a ranch in Live
Oak County, has been a gun collector since his high school days
when he used to hang around Alamo City pawn shops to pick up then
cheap vintage Colt six-shooters. His collection of old guns and
relics connected to the Old West is now world-class.
These days, old Colts, assuming they have not been overly tampered
with, are priced in the thousands. (Beware of foreign-made clones;
real Colts are only U.S.-made.) For a recent fund-raising auction
in Fort Worth, House
donated a Colt Peacemaker with a serial number in the 50,000s. He
said the full retail for that handgun likely would be $6,000-$7,000
and much higher if a letter from Colt showed it had been shipped
to anyone famous back when.
The single-action, .45 caliber Peacemaker, also known as the Model
P, was adopted by the U.S. Army in 1873 and remained the standard
issue service revolver until 1892. Originally with a 7.5-inch barrel,
the hard-hitting pistol was popular with Western lawmen and their
quarry, the outlaws. Cattlemen also favored the handgun, which became
known, not inaccurately, as "The Gun That Won the West."
The Peacemaker and earlier models played such a vital part in Texas
history that the expression, "Sam
Houston made us free, Samuel Colt made us equal" arose.
It turns out that Colt is the only American gun manufacturer that
has kept all of its shipping records. If you have a Colt serial
number, Colt will provide a factory letter telling you when the
gun was made and where or to whom it was shipped.
Before the bidding started, House told a story about a fellow gun
guy who had a Peacemaker for sale at a gun show. Someone offered
him $6K for the handgun.
Well, in so many words, the seller said, let me get a letter from
Colt first and I'll get back to you.
When the factory letter came back, the firearms company reported
that the pistol's serial number showed it had originally been shipped
to one Bat Masterson. Masterson, of course, was one of the Old West's
most famous gunmen.
"Suddenly," House told the prospective bidders that night, "that
$6,000 Colt became a $300,000 Colt."
And needless to say, the fellow who offered $6K for the wheel gun
got to keep his money but not the Colt.
In this auction, held July 15, the nickel-plated, ivory-handled
Colt donated by House brought $4,100. House is too savvy a gunman
not to have gotten a factory letter first, but the buyer still got
a heck of a deal.
"If you can afford to buy one," said Jim Dunham, another collector
at the auction, "they're worth more money every year. I own 12 of
them already. My dad gave me my first Colt for Christmas in 1958."
However, when it comes to investing in old guns, don't go off half-cocked.
Given their value, there are plenty of fakes on the market. (Within
the last year, a derringer supposedly given to gunfighter Doc Holliday
by his alleged girlfriend Big
Nose Kate was purchased by the Glenwood Springs, Colo. Museum
for $84,000 since that's the town where Holliday died. But it was
quickly determined that the small pistol had no connection whatsoever
to the late Old West dentist-turned-shootist.)
Dunham, the collector with a dozen old Peacemakers, tongue-in-check
noted that the famous Colt is the only firearm mentioned specifically
in the Bible. You know, the line that says, "Blessed are the peacemakers..."
"Texas Tales" July
27, 2017 column