The Pietta reproduction
The Pietta is based on the original factory engraved gun which is documented to have been done by Gustave Young. The Germanic scrollwork pattern with punch dot background is typical of Young’s work for Colt.
The 1851 Navy is perhaps the most important black powder pistol in the history of Colt reproductions, having been the basis for creating Navy Arms back in 1956. Pietta also got its start building the 1851 Navy in 1967. The very latest 1851 Navy model from the Italian armsmaker is an outstanding reproduction of the rare, documented F. B. Schaeffer .36 caliber factory built 3-1/2 inch barrel length model with shortened loading lever.
Using Pietta’s proprietary deep laser engraving technique, the Gustave Young pattern used in 1856 has been closely duplicated on the barrel, loading lever, frame and hammer. This limited edition Navy has 100 percent coverage over the frame and barrel, and like the original, leaves the roll engraved cylinder in its original form.
The original gun, built in 1856, was intended for close in use, essentially the 1850’s version of a medium caliber backup gun. You might wonder how accurate a 3-1/2 inch barrel was back in its day, since the 1851 Navy was actually built with a 7-1/2 inch barrel for military use.
To conduct a range test of the Pietta 3-1/2 inch Navy, the pistol was loaded with 20 gr. of FFFg, topped by a lubricated felt wad (as a modern safety precaution against chain firing, to lubricate the barrel and reduce fouling from black powder), and a Hornady .375 caliber lead ball; the chambers were capped with Dynamit Nobel No. 1075 percussion caps. Test range was 10 paces (about 30 feet) from a man-sized cardboard target. All shots were fired using a classic one-handed target shooting stance.
Not surprisingly, the Navy’s very elegant short loading lever cannot generate enough torque to seat a lead ball into the cylinder, so the cylinder was removed and hand-loaded using a hardwood short starter. What was surprising was the accuracy of the gun at this distance, granted, there is virtually no appreciable recoil with an 1851 Navy, even with a full 20 gr. charge, but you are aiming with a hammer notch rear and brass beehive bead front sight and on a gun with only a 3-1/2 inch barrel.
On the other hand, if the gun is accurate, the sight radius on a black powder pistol is a total of barrel length, plus cylinder, plus cocked hammer (remember the top of the hammer is the rear sight), so on this little handgun sight radius is just shy of seven inches, almost the entire length of the pistol, which is 9-1/2 inches.
The Pietta’s hammer flats also bear a version of Gustave Young’s famous wolf’s head design.
As for being accurate, the best five rounds from 30 feet grouped at 1.75 inches, all in the 10 ring, and a second group measuring 2.25 inches, put two rounds on top of the X. In a close quarter shootout, Captain Schaeffer’s short barreled 1851 Navy would have been more than enough gun to stop the fight. The limited edition, deep laser engraved Pietta 1851 Navy with 3-1/2 inch barrel will be available this fall from EMF.
Portions of this article were adapted from a 1940 written history by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in conjunction with the office of the Adjutant General and the California State Library.
SPECIFICATIONS PIETTA 1851 NAVY
Barrel: 3½ inches
OA Length: 9½ inches
Weight: 2½ pounds
Grips: White Micarta
Sights: Brass bead front hammer spur rear
Finish: Laser engraved polished stainless
Capacity: 6 MSRP: $395