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Colt, the Revolver of the American West

In Pictures is a still and moving image gallery for significant works, events and places

Tom Mix’s Single Action Army model
Tom Mix’s Single Action Army model Courtesy of Rizzoli

AnOther celebrates the bicentenary of Samuel Colt, shotgun inventor and America's first industrial tycoon

Next year will mark the bicentenary of the birth of Samuel Colt, inventor of the mass-produced revolver and the first industrial tycoon in American history. Colt’s success was owed partly to the historical events that unfolded during his lifetime: the Texas Revolution, the Mexican-American war, the California Gold Rush, the Civil War and, of course, the settlement of the American West. More than two million people flooded into the West in the last four decades of the 19th century and almost all of them relied on firearms in one way or another. The Colt quickly became the handgun of choice on the frontier (it was the first revolving firearm capable of firing more than one shot without having to be reloaded), and was used by just about everyone – from settlers and Native Americans to law-enforcement officers and outlaws. Today a symbol of the American experience, it is celebrated in a new book published by Rizzoli featuring 100 models that belonged to famous American politicians, showmen and desperados. Here are five favourites selected by AnOther.

"The Colt quickly became the handgun of choice on the frontier...and was used by just about everyone"

Tom Mix’s Single Action Army model (above)
Every cowboy in Hollywood’s history can be traced back to Tom Mix: starring in more than 250 early Western films (and a real-life cowboy), he set the standards other actors such as John Wayne or Clint Eastwood would later follow. Mix had extravagant tastes and a preference for large white Stetsons and flower-embroidered silk shirts. His 1915 Colt, entirely engraved and with sterling silver grips, reflected his flair for luxury.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Single Action Army model
Theodore Roosevelt’s Single Action Army model Courtesy of Rizzoli
Theodore Roosevelt’s Single Action Army model
Before being elected 26th President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt spent years living the life of a cowboy on a cattle ranch in Dakota. He soon earned the reputation of being the fanciest rancher in the area thanks to his lavish, custom-made fringed suede outfits. His taste in firearms was no exception: he even had his Colt (which he consistently described as the “best Western revolver”) custom-engraved and plated in gold and silver.

Paul Newman’s Single Action Army model pair
Paul Newman’s Single Action Army model pair Courtesy of Rizzoli
Paul Newman’s Single Action Army model pair
Hollywood’s embodiment of the likeable rebel was cast in 1976 as William “Buffalo Bill” Cody in Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians, a dark political comedy about the mistreatment of Native Americans set in the Wild West. Careful attention went into making sure every set and prop in the film looked authentic, including revolvers. Newman wielded vintage Colts that had been revamped with ivory grips and an engraved floral design.

Emmett Dalton’s Single Action Army model
Emmett Dalton’s Single Action Army model Courtesy of Rizzoli
Emmett Dalton’s Single Action Army model
In 1892, as part of a plan to simultaneously rob two banks in Kansas, ex-cowboy and outlaw Emmett Dalton ordered 10 engraved Single Action Armies (complete with painted blue details and deluxe pearl grips) directly from Colt. Dalton and his gang were planning their holdup in style, and with each bandit carrying a pair of revolvers they set out to rob the C.M. Condon & Company Bank and the First National Bank in Coffeyville in broad daylight. The robbery was an utter failure, though, and Dalton was shot 20 times by law-enforcement officers, but managed to survive.

Pancho Villa’s Bisley Model Single Action Army
Pancho Villa’s Bisley Model Single Action Army Courtesy of Rizzoli
Pancho Villa’s Bisley Model Single Action Army
The iconic Mexican revolutionary alternated all his life between legitimate political pursuits and banditry. At 16, he killed the owner of the hacienda at which he worked; years later, in 1910, he joined forces with revolutionary Francisco Madero to overthrow Mexico’s dictatorial President Porfirio Diaz. Villa used a variety of weapons throughout his life, but his favourite was his plain Colt with mother-of-pearl grips.

Colt is out now, published by Rizzoli.

Text by Marta Represa

Marta Represa is a freelance writer specialising in fashion, art, photography and culture.

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