5. Wadsworth Atheneum, E.H.J. Colt Firearms Collection, Hartford, CT 66 guns, 12 on display (18%). Established in 1905

Wadsworth Atheneum, E.H.J. Colt Firearms Collection Exterior
Wadsworth Atheneum, E.H.J. Colt Firearms Collection Case


In 1905, Elizabeth Colt donated the personal gun collection and memorabilia of her husband Samuel Colt, kept at their home ‘Armsear’, to the Wadsworth Atheneum. It consists of rare pre-1830 revolving guns studied by Colt, prototype and fine production guns made at the Colt Factory, and gifts from foreign dignitaries. It is distinct from the Colt Collection in the Connecticut Library, which was the Colt factory reference collection, donated to that institution by the Colt factory in 1957.

Guns from E.H.J. Colt Collection occupy a few deeply recessed cabinets wedged into the Decorative Arts Gallery of the Atheneum. Whilst the quality is superlative, it is a disappointment to see so few guns exhibited. On display is the roughly carved wooden model of a revolving cylinder that the young Sam Colt carved whilst on the Corvo ship, on his return from India. The prototype 1835 ‘Pearson’ revolver, leading to the Paterson revolver, is on show, as are the decorative scenes that were roll-died onto cylinders. Mint condition production models, as well as a spectacular cutaway 1858 Colt New Model Carbine, are also in the collection. A curiosity on show is a melted clot of guns from the 1864 Colt Factory fire, that took place during the Civil War.

There are examples of historic revolving cylinder long guns and hand guns that inspired Colt’s designs, most of which are in storage. The pre-1830 revolving guns figured to some degree in his patent defenses, and include a 1640 Revolver Musket that used a pawl to advance the cylinder, a 1680 Revolving Carbine from John Dafte, London, an 1820 Collier revolver and 1826 Porter revolving rifle.

Whilst the collection is small, it is substantial due to its historical importance, and H.G. Houze’s excellent book Samuel Colt: Arms, Art, and Invention makes up for the paucity of the display.

Wilson, R.L. The Arms Collection of Colonel Colt, Wadsworth Atheneum, (1964)
Houze, H.G., Samuel Colt: Arms, Art, and Invention, New Haven, (2006)