This is quite frankly one of the most interesting and enigmatic Colt revolvers it has ever been my pleasure to offer.
This is a perfect cased Colt London pocket pistol with all of the correct accessories including the elusive “Colt pocket pistol” flask which in itself is a highly collectible item. The set has the correct cap tin, bullet mould and original instruction leaflet pasted into the lid of the mahogany case. This is a London proofed pistol with the requisite British proof marks and all matching serial numbers and made to the usual high standards of the London factory with domed head screws and superior cross hatching on the hammer. The revolver cocks and locks perfectly and has a very visible cylinder scene and has toned down to a nice even grey with some original colour in protected areas. The wooden butt has a crack on one side and three marks on the other but these have a possible explanation.
In comparison to modern times these sets were purchased as a “plug and play” item, everything was there to be effective and protect you and your family or possessions and was often sold to travellers who could not be certain of being able to obtain components such as caps or balls overseas. Of course one would hope that there never would be a requirement to rely on Sam Colt's great "equalizer"!
These sets were expensive and would represent at least 2 months’ salary of a middle class person.
The sets were cherished and looked after because they were expensive and could mean the difference between life and death, and sometimes they did!
This particular set is untouched from its time and the grips have their original varnish however they have been defaced with three deep cuts Why deface such an expensive item? . In contemporary times it was common to mark weapons with “kill marks”. Why? It is not a natural thing to kill a man and it not affect you as a life changing event unless you are a sociopath. Circumstances and events lead many ordinary people into situations where they were forced to take life. Some braggarts may boast of the event or others require a chill reminder of the event and this is why some guns are marked like this.
To find a cased set correct in every aspect with the right accessories and with the right wear is not uncommon, I have sold several. To find a case with possible provenance is rare.
This case is signed J C Bowring on the instruction label and from the oxidisation of the ink this is a signature contemporary to the time the pistol was sold. From the timeline I have researched and deduced that the pistol was probably owned by John Charles Bowring an individual of substance who certainly would probably not have worried about disfiguring the grips of his revolver should he have used it in earnest.
John Charles Bowring (1820–1893) was a Hong Kong businessman, a partner in the firm Jardine, Matheson & Co., and a keen amateur naturalist and JP for the County of Devon.
He was the eldest son of Sir John Bowring (1792-1872), of Exeter, Devon, Governor of Hong Kong, and accompanied him on some of his travels. He was brother of Lewin Bentham Bowring and Edgar Alfred Bowring.
The firm of Jardine, Matheson, and Co. properly began in Canton (now Guangzhou), China, on 1 July 1832. It was founded by University of Edinburgh Medical School graduate William Jardine (1784-1843) and University of Edinburgh graduate James Matheson (1796-1878) and carried on the existing business of Cox, Reid, and Beale, a firm which had begun as agents of the Austrian Empire's Trieste Company. With the cession of Hong Kong under the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, the firm set up its headquarters on the island and grew rapidly. Initially trading in smuggled opium, tea, and cotton, Jardine’s soon diversified into other areas including insurance, shipping, and railways. By the turn of the 19th century, the company had become the largest of the hongs or foreign trading conglomerates with offices in all the important Chinese cities as well as Yokohama, Japan.
Given his association with the trading company and his travels to a country where life was “held cheap” I would not doubt that this revolver has a tale to tell that could be unravelled by further research.
Cased pocket pistols range from £2500 to £10,000 dependent on condition but in this instance we are not comparing the condition and value to that of a stamp or coin, we are considering a wonderful set with a history. Clearly the provenance is based on a signature but bearing in mind the value of the item at the time, the necessity for owning it and the uncommon name and initials I believe this revolver travelled to China and has a tale to tell!
A wonderful and interesting historical artefact.