Colt “Brevete” Copies: Legal, Illegal, and Post-Legal

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When you think about early revolver patent infringement, the name that probably comes to mind is Rollin White. But Sam Colt had more than his share of infringement to deal with as well! Colt’s most important patent was on the linking of the hammer and cylinder, so that cocking the hammer would automatically rotate and index the cylinder (basically, the single action concept). He patented this in the US and throughout Europe around 1836, but his initial business efforts in Paterson, New Jersey were a failure. It wasn’t until the late 1840s that he created a really successful revolver design. By this time, more than half of his patent period had passed, leaving him only until the early 1850s to exploit his legal monopoly on his ideas.

European and American gunmakers were making unlicensed (illegal) copies of his guns from the first Paterson days, although they really took off in popularity with copies of the 1851 Navy model. Colt reacted to this by setting up a licensing fee system and hiring an agent to represent the company at the Liege proofhouse in Belgium, where it was possible to intercept most of the illegitimate guns. Those deemed of sufficient quality could pay 10 Francs and be stamped ”Colt Brevete”, rendering them licensed and the manufacturer safe from legal action by Colt.

These Brevete Colt copies are a whole world of interesting collecting by themselves, and one that is ignored by most Colt devotees. In this video, I take a look at 9 different examples to give you an idea of the wide variety of guns that were made both as licensed copies, illicit unlicensed copies, and legal unlicensed copies made after Colt’s patents expired.

If you are interested in learning more about these guns, I strongly recommend the book ”Colt Brevete Revolvers” by Roy Marcot and Ron Paxton:

Hi guys thanks for tuning into another Video on Forgotten weapons comm I mean I Am here today at the Rock Island auction Company taking a look at a whole bunch Of revolvers which are not actually Colts these are all what are called Brevet Colt revolvers in the collectors Parlance these are all fakes copies and Well licensed copies and unlicensed Copies how about that Sam Colt of course Patented this rather revolutionary Concept of combining the action of the Hammer with the action of the cylinder Of a revolver Colt had a lot of patents But by far the most important one was That the idea that when you [ __ ] the Hammer the cylinder is automatically Rotated to its next position and then Locked in place Colt came up with this Idea pretty early this was fundamental To his very earliest Patterson guns and So he started patenting it in 1835 and 1836 and he patented it both in Europe And the United States smart guy planning Ahead there he got his US patent in 1836 He got his Belgian patent in 1835 I Believe he got his French patent in 1835 Those are the three most important ones Also a UK patent in I believe also 35 And this protected him now it’s Interesting that the copies started Appearing as early as the 1830s people Saw the Patterson guns and thought wow That’s a good idea why didn’t I think of

That well who cares he thought of it but I can still make them and they started Producing copies and this was illegal if It was done in a country where Colt had A patent enforce but that doesn’t stop People from doing it and during these Patterson days in the late 1830s Colt Business didn’t go very well in fact it Went pretty poorly and in 1840 the Patterson concern completely fell apart Out of business bankrupt done so there Are a small number of copies of Patterson IRRI guns that are out there And that were made Colt was in no Position to be trying to you know file International lawsuits and track down These people it just didn’t happen Colt comes back into the the realm of a Successful business after 1847 When he gets an order from Captain Walker of the Texas Rangers and makes a Large sale of Walker horse pistols which He follows with the Colt 1848 dragoons And in the 18-49 pockets and ultimately The Colt 1851 Navy was a particularly Successful revolver that one really hit The big time the pockets were very Popular too and the navies and at this Point people copying his work really Start to take off all over Europe and in The United States too for that matter And it’s in 1851 that Colt really Actually starts enforcing his patents Primarily in Belgium Belgium

Specifically the Liege area has long Been a center of firearms manufacturer Especially firearms manufactured by Small shops a lot of copies of things There were don’t get me wrong there were Some very talented gun makers in Liege But there also a lot of really cut-rate Crude shops as well so it comes to Colts Attention that people are making fake Colt guns some of them are making guns With their own names that just copy You know infringe on Colts patents some Of them are marking the guns Colt and Trying to pass them off as being American Colt high quality guns and this Really makes him quite upset he was not Necessarily the most even-handed or even Tempered guy and the idea of someone Else not just infringing his patent but Trying to infringe on his company’s good Name really pissed him off so he set up A program to try and enforce this patent Now part of the problem is most of these Copies are being made by little like one Man-to-man three-man shops they don’t Really have any money if he spends the Money to actually take them to court Across the Atlantic Ocean which is going To take him away from all of his other Business and be a huge hassle and and Inconvenience for him even if he wins Which he almost certainly would what Does he get he gets the satisfaction of Crushing this little shop but it’s not

Like they have any money that he can get So that’s not a practical solution what He comes up with instead on the advice Of one of his lawyers was to set up a Licensing fee so he recruits a guy named Musher devil Serra in liege who acts as His agent With the liege proof house now firearms Are proofed in the United States by Government edict they’re proofed by the Companies making them but in most of Europe any firearms sold commercially Has to go through a proof house a formal Centralized proof house and be safety Tested well if you stick your agent at The proof house you can intercept all The copies that are coming through to be Proofed now for sure some of these guys Who are making knockoff guns are going To skip the proof house and they’re Going to put their own fake proofs on The gun – not necessarily a lot you can Do about that but the more legitimate Gun makers who wanted to copy Colt Patent because that’s the you know the Newest technology and it’s what people Really wanted a lot of these guys still Did very good work so you can you can Get them to pay you if you have a guy at The proof house and what debo sera did Was he would inspect any Colt copy guns That came in and assuming that they met With Colts quality standards because Colt didn’t want to be seen as

Supporting anything that was a piece of Junk assuming the gun met with Colt Standards he would then stamp Colt Brevet which means patent on the gun he Would charge the manufacturer ten francs Which was a not a huge amount of money But not trivial either it was a low Enough bar that people were willing to Pay it It was a high enough bar that there were Some people who tried to make their own Fake Colt brevet stamps to avoid paying That anyway he would take their ten Francs which by the way he got to keep One franc of the other nine went to Colt That was his his salary was a 10% share Of the royalties that he collected and Stamped the thing colt prevent and how It goes for sale and someone can get a Gun that is high quality it’s not American-made cult cult still gets a Licensing fee though to recognize his Patent rights so this is a pretty good Situation for everyone and this was set Up in 1851 and between the winter of 51 And the spring of 1853 devil Serra Collected seventeen thousand five Hundred and fifty francs and royalty Fees so like seventeen hundred and fifty Revolvers came through the liege proof House that were effectively Colt copy Now the Belgian patent for there’s an Interesting side note here because Colt Patented these guns in 1836 with his

Patterson but then it wasn’t until the Late 1840s that he really had a Successful gun and a successful company He didn’t necessarily get the same Duration of patent protection that he Would have had the patterson taken off Right away So his belgian patent actually expired In 1854 so you know when this ten franc Licensing fee came to be there were a Number of shops that just decided you Know what forget it we’ll just wait 18 Months a year two years whatever it is At that exact period and then the patent To expire and then we can do whatever we Want a lot of people I think mistake or Confuse patents and copyrights Especially today copyrights are some Have some ludicrous length of Enforceability it’s like from the death Of the the creator of content plus Seventy years the patent is enforceable Basically it’s every time Mickey Mouse Comes close to becoming public domain People lobby Congress to extend Copyright protections however patents Are not the same patents at this time Factly change right around this period Went from 14 years to 17 years in the United States and 14 years was pretty Standard in the rest of the world Now you could lobby for a seven-year Extension as well and Colt got an Extension in the US so his patent on

This connection between the hammer and The cylinder extended until 1857 in the United States but it ended in 1854 in Belgium actually in Belgium he got a Four-year extension which took him to 1854 so it’s around you know in the 1850s this patent is expiring so his Opportunities to get royalties only Lasted a couple years because he had This big kind of empty blank space where Between when the Patterson failed and When he managed to get the 48 and 49 and 51 models that were very successful by The way there are copies pretty much Everything we’ve got on the table here Today is a 36 caliber there are 44 Caliber brevet Colt guns Colt copies but They’re pretty rare mostly what was Popular and in demand in Europe was the 31 and the 36 caliber versions so it Wasn’t just in Europe Colt also enforced His patents legally in the United States In particular there was a fairly Landmark case in 1851 when he sued the Massachusetts firearms company or that Manhattan firearms company I’m sorry for Infringing on his patent and he won that Pretty handily with all that history in Mind the these Colt copies both licensed And unlicensed really run the gamut from Total junk – really nice guns that are Probably every bit as good as an Original Colt produced revolver and They’re kind of an underappreciated area

Of studying it there’s not that long ago A really good book came out documenting Hundreds of these guns which is a really Nice boon to people who are interested In them among really hardcore collectors They’ve always kind of been a ignored Subject you know oh well those are Crappy fakes we don’t care about those We’ll ignore them but in reality in some Ways they’re more interesting than Genuine Colts because there’s a lot more Variety and neat features to them so I Have nine of them here on the table Ranging from really nice ones to decent Ones to you might not wanted yeah that’s Kind of the side so let’s go ahead and Take a moment and take a look at each of These and see what it is that makes them Special let’s start with a nice example And this is a really nice example a Couple things to look for on a Legitimate licensed Colt copy you will Find this mark Colt brevet on the back End of the barrel stamped in place it’s Usually not quite Square to the barrel And that was Moshe DeVoe sohe stamping Those guns indicating that they were in Fact Colt approved guns after shortly After this licensing program really Started to take off for Colt he decided To also start sending parts to Belgium To be used so originally he had what he Had authorized just a couple of Higher-end manufacturers to actually

Make forgings to make the raw components For the cylinders the frames the barrels Etc and that was causing some problems Because it just didn’t work very well And it was suggested to him and he Thought it was a fantastic idea that he Could sell some of these raw parts made In Hartford Connecticut over to Belgium He could charge gunsmiths To buy those and then he could charge Them again the licensing fee on the Complete guns and actually worked Reasonably well so some of these guns You will find with authentic Colt parts Of various types because authentic Colt Parts did go over there but not always And you’ll generally you’ll never find One that’s all original Colt because not Every little part was sent over so this Is a particularly nice gun it’s well Made it handles well it has a half [ __ ] Notch which is nice just really good Example you’ll notice the barrel still Has really nice bluing on it let’s see The finish on this one isn’t quite so Good but mechanically this is also a Very nice example you’ll see there we Again have Colt brevet stamped on it our Cylinder scene is rather different that Cylinder the cylinder scene on a Colt Revolver was one of Colts kind of Trademark characteristics he had Commissioned some master engravers to Make the scene the role dies for those

Scenes for the different models of Colt Revolver and that was something it was Very difficult to fake so a lot of Belgian manufacturers they didn’t try to Actually like copy the exact scene Because maybe people wouldn’t be able to Identify what scene was supposed to be On a particular gun but what they did do Instead in order to maintain the same Style as Colt was to put a role engraved Scene of some sort on the cylinder so This one’s got some some game birds There and some trees and that sort of Thing you’ll find all sorts of different Engraving and scenery on these Cobra Vets so it’s really small but I should Also point out these are Belgian proofed So we’ve got an e LG in an oval here on The cylinder that you will definitely Find on any legitimate Belgian copy Because I was required under Belgian law You can also see on the better examples They’ll have sterilized Parts in the same way that original Colts do so the trigger-guard the frame The barrel are all serialized they are Just like a legitimate cold now here’s Another really nice example this one was Actually made as a factory engraved Revolver and right off the bat you can See that this started off as an Octagonal barrel that has been turned Down through most of its length and it Gives it an interesting little style

Flair there and then there is engraving On the side plates back strap the front Strap and elsewhere if we look at the Top of the barrel will see that Colt Brevet marking and then in addition on This one the manufacturer has actually Engraved his name very nicely on the Barrel and this is a dead giveaway that This is a legitimate licensed version of The gun because if you are making an Illegitimate copy and wanted to avoid The fees you would never put your name On it because that was one really easy Way for someone to track you down and Figure out who was making fake guns but These guys were very proud of their work And legitimately rightfully so they mark Their guns with their name they paid Colt his licensing they were doing Everything by the book you can see that We have another different cylinder scene Here there’s our Belgian proof mark on The cylinder and we’ve got some hunting Dogs there this one’s a little gummy From hardened grease but really nice Take a look at the engraving that’s you Know that that is talented engraving This isn’t you know crappy you know Smoky off the the alley kind of backyard Gun maker this professional guy with a Lot of talent It’s serial numbered as well I’ve got The engraving there engraving on the Back strap this piece is really every

Bit as good of a gun as a true Colt now Let’s take a look at a few examples that Aren’t quite as nice or perhaps are a Little sketchier this one for example it Looks pretty decent generally in the Pattern of an 1851 Navy it’s got a nice Bright finish on it still nice case Hardening on a lot of the non Lewd parts but there’s something Interesting on the barrel so if we take A look up here we’ll see Colt brevet Which looks correct but we also have a Colt address address Sam Colt New York City you can if you look closely you can See some horizontal lines there those Are basically lines for the engraver to Use to keep all his letters in a row and If this were an authentically stamped Colt barrel that would have been well Stamped it would not have been hand Engraved that marking is clearly hand Engraved which is a kind of a giveaway That this is almost certainly an Illegitimate copy this is a counterfeit Gun someone has added that marking in an Attempt to fool you into thinking it is An original American Colt When it really isn’t now whether that’s A legitimate or a fake brevet stamp no Way to know that but once once you see That that hand engraved address line That should raise some real questions Both today as a collector trying to Figure out what you’re looking at hand

Back in the 1840s or 50s As a consumer trying to figure out Exactly what you were buying now in this Case we’ve got a little stamp at each Cylinder indicating that every cylinder Has been proofed I believe this is German you’ll notice as well that the Brass color on the the trigger guard Here is wearing away and it’s actually Silver underneath this is not in fact a Solid brass or solid gunmetal part like It should be it’s just plated so another Indication of kind of a lower budget Counterfeit thing masquerading as Something better than it really is Here’s another example this one we’re Getting a little bit less a little bit Away from the Colt style so for instance This grip frame is kind of at a Different angle it’s got a square back Grip a lot of these parts are clearly Made by the presumably Belgian shop that Made this one now this is a legitimate Brevet colt so this has been this is a Licensed copy but yeah the mechanics Aren’t quite as good on it Probably a little cheaper there’s the Barrel mark actually have a pretty Decent cylinder seen on this one and It’s got a half [ __ ] notch here Somewhere There we go We’ve got a decent cylinder seen on this One you’ll see some way worse ones in

Just a minute so that’s kind of an Intermediate quality example now this is A German produced example it is an Illegal copy because it is not marked With anything up here either that or it Was manufactured after the the patents Expired could go either way This one again appears to be a Reasonably decent quality but it’s Definitely straying a bit from being an Exact copy of a colt the front sight is Substantially different see that now It’s bigger which is kind of nice except That the rear sight the downside here is The rear sight is virtually non-existent So that’s that’s kind of an iffy Proposition there they didn’t bother to Put a cylinder scene on this one at all Either that or it was very lightly done And has worn off now no markings on the Barrel fact no markings at all A few little stray serial numbers here Notice that the front of the trigger Guard here is shaped instead of being Square I don’t see any proof marks on This one at all which would be another Indicator that it’s probably an Unlicensed and illegal copy on the other Hand it does have some nice checkered Grips to it and a little other aesthetic Features like the the barrel having this Nice bevel to it kind of a different Rifling pattern you’d normally see in a Proper Colt as well and now we come to

Some of the really crappy guns this one Is it’s funny that this one is sort of It’s intended to be engraved but it’s Really bad engraving take a look at the Back strap here I think that’s supposed To be flowers I guess or scrollwork but It really kind of looks like a kid’s Doodle and Head not not good not good there’s some Of that on the bottom there as well We’ve got a little bit of it on the Trigger guard the gun serialized but ye Engraving is not good so the cylinder Engraving is equally amateurish and if We look at the top of the barrel we see A Colt patent stamp that’s not Colt Brevet and when these were being Licensed by Colt they didn’t use a stamp Like that what this suggests is that This is a gun that was made after the Patent expired and this is an attempt to Convince people that this is a an Approved licensed Colt gun when it’s Actually not there’s no way this would Have passed Colts quality standards the Machine work actually looks reasonably Decent but that that engraving would Just kill this thing now here’s one Where the machine work is not so great This is actually a Russian copy a lot of Variations here obviously from the Colt Standard you’ve got different profiles a Hammer this trigger guard is very much Different the profile the grip is

Different the recoil shield and the Capping cut away are different this is This is kind of a vaguely colt shaped Gun and again a spurious patent mark Here s colt patent I suppose you had Some plausible deniability you could Claim that while you’re just trying to Inform people that this uses the Colt Patent and not trying to get them to Think Colt made it at all no certainly Not hopefully not because Sam Colt would Be really pretty peeved if he saw you Trying to sell this under his name I Suspect Does have a lanyard loop on the butt Alright and we’ll wrap this up with one More Belgian gun this is clearly Someone’s someone decided to take make Their own take on what the the grip Style and overall shape of a proper Revolver ought to be and you end up with This unique design this is Belgian it is An unlicensed gun so we have nothing Nothing up here could have been before The could have been while the patent was In force and an unlicensed copy could Have been afterwards when it was just Another gun that used this mechanism That was now available to anybody but Colt patent style loading lever as well Actually a pretty decent cylinder seen On this one We’ll heavily faded they’re heavily worn Colt patent they’re on the cylinder

Scene he’s going to be annoyed if he Find you out Now all this shouldn’t be taken to mean That this wasn’t a perfectly functional Revolver it’s an interesting grip style Different kind of cool but definitely Not an authentic and approved Colt copy So that’s the sort of thing that makes This field of prevent pistols really Interesting thank you for watching guys I hope you enjoyed the video hopefully You’ve learned something new today about Colt copy revolvers because you know What it’s actually a really cool field And there’s a lot of interesting things To see and in this realm I’m fortunate Here to have nine different ones that Were able to take a look at today these Came from at least one if not a couple Of different collections that Fortuitously ended up together so if You’re interested in any of these they Are all coming up for sale there is an Elaborate list in the description text Below of links to Rock Islands catalog Pages for each of these they’re all each One sold individually they’re not a Badge so if you’re interested in some or All or only one of them take a look at Those links you can check out Rock Islands descriptions and photos and you Can place bids on any you might be Interested in either over the phone on The website or here live at the auction

In person thanks for watching

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