Pocket Pistols Then & Now II

by Fred Ray on April 1, 2012 · 3 comments

In the last post we looked at an early cartridge pocket revolver, the Otis Smith, and compared it to a modern Kel-Tec pocket pistol. Today let’s take a jump a bit farther back to the 1840s, when Colt’s cap and ball revolvers were just coming into wide use. Much has been written about how Colt’s revolvers changed the world, which I will not repeat here. We will, however, look at his pocket revolver.

Sam Colt had made small revolvers before, including a “Pocket Dragoon” in 1847, but the first one to really catch on was the Pocket Model of 1849. By then revolver technology had matured and everything fell together quite nicely into a pistol that just about everyone liked. And why not—the little .31 cal. pistol was light, handled nicely and held five shots. Barrel lengths varied between three and six inches (four seems to be the most common) and it weighed only 26 oz. empty. With an overall length of 8½” (w/ 4″ barrel) it was easy to stick in a coat pocket or boot.

As you can see from the photo, it’s quite a bit larger than the other two guns we looked at earlier, but for the time it was a ground-breaker and remained popular well into the 1870s before finally giving way to cartridge revolvers. In 1862 Colt rolled out a slightly larger Police Pocket in .38 caliber, but production was delayed by a fire at the Colt factory (Confederate sabotage?) and in general never it commanded the affection of its smaller brother.

Considerable numbers of Pocket Colts found their way into the holsters, boots, and pockets of Civil War soldiers, especially officers and guerrillas. It was said to be a favorite of Bloody Bill Anderson and there are stories of officers (Col. George Patton was one) secreting them to threaten doctors trying to amputate limbs.

Most examples came from the factory without a loading lever, which made the gun smaller but meant you had to load the cylinder on a table or something similar. Many had loading levers added later, either by the factory or by local gunsmiths, as has the example pictured above.

Although you can’t compare it to today’s pocket pistols, the Colt Pocket was a popular and effective weapon in its day.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad April 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Wouldn’t the Deringer pistol be the logical starting point to talk about development of the pocket pistol? It certainly is the most notable of the percussion lock pocket pistols.


Roger malone March 4, 2020 at 11:26 pm

I have a pocket gun found in a privy it seems to match the photograph of the older one on the bottom of your picture what type of Pocket Gun is that I believe it has a serial number found on the wooden handle 6788. I wish i could send a pic.,


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