This is an extremely rare Southern Dealer Marked Colt Model 1849 Pocket Revolver. The left side of the barrel near the muzzle is stamped "L. HOFFMAN" upside down. Louis Hoffman was both a gunmaker, gunsmith, and dealer in Vicksburg, Mississippi from 1853 to 1886. As a maker Hoffman specialized in building percussion Deringers and half stock rifles. The "L. HOFFMAN" stamp of this Colt is the same one found on many of his Deringers. See photos. We've had a number of Colt 1849 Pocket Revolvers over the years that were made just prior to the Civil War that have turned up in the south with serial numbers dating to 1859, 1860, and early 1861. Based on the photographic evidence of Confederate soldiers brandishing model 1849's and their dates of manufacture, and where they turn up, there is little to no question that these were shipped south prior to the beginning of the war. Unfortunately, the Colt Archives has very little in the way of surviving shipping records to put an exclamation point on the end of what we already know to be true. That said, this little Colt Revolver is in the right range (170,000 which is 1860), turned up here in the South, but unlike the others we've seen, this one has the name of the original southern dealer...and not just any dealer, but one from Vicksburg, MS.
Louis Ferdinand Alexander Hoffman was born in Germany in 1823. His father was a Prussian Army officer and reading his bio, it appears that both of his parents died during childhood. Growing up he apprenticed at the Borsig Machinery Shop before emigrating to New York in 1852. From there, he lived for a short time in Paterson , New Jersey followed by St. Louis, MO before moving down the Mississippi river to the town of Vicksburg, MS in 1853. Being one of the few gunsmiths in the area, Hoffman set up shop and found a strong demand for his pocket Deringers by riverboat travelers along the Mississippi as well as sporting rifles from wealthy southern planters. A number of his Deringers and half stock rifles still exist and share the same marking as this revolver. He also made holsters at some point with a unique metal belt clip. Prior to and during the Civil War, Hoffman supplied the Confederacy with guns and provided repair work. He was there during the siege by Union forces and fall of Vicksburg in 1863. Following its capture, Hoffman was one of a handful of citizens put on trial for aiding the Confederacy by the Union commander, General Ulysses S. Grant. The outcome of the trial appeared to be inconclusive and Hoffman was made master armorer for the occupying Union forces. Following the war, Hoffman continued to make, repair, and sell guns in Vicksburg as well as hardware. Hoffman lived to the age of 91 and died in 1914. His stepson Frank Hoffman continued the business before selling it to two employees at which time it was named O'Neill McNamara Hardware Company. This company lasted until 1982.
This Colt has a standard 5" octagonal barrel with five shot cylinder in .31 caliber. This gun probably saw steady use for the entire Civil War and then some. For a gun that was used by the Confederacy, it is quite respectable for what it is. Serial number is in the 170,000 range which dates its production to the middle of the year 1860. In terms of historical timeframe, this is right there when the trouble is brewing in the lead-up to the 1860 presidential election which resulted in the secession of the southern states from the Union. Last year, we had another Colt 1849, also in the 170,000 range which turned up in Greenville, SC. The numbers are all matching except the wedge which has been replaced. Overall Condition grades to NRA Antique Good. The metal must have been heavily oxidized when it was found and was at some point carefully cleaned. Fortunately, it has never been buffed as the edges are hammer knurling are nice and the markings are all decent and legible. There is even about 25% of the original roll-engraved stagecoach robbery scene on the cylinder. The "L. HOFFMAN" is also clear on the left flat of the octagon barrel near the muzzle. The mechanics are in good working order. On close inspection, we found two minor anomalies that differ from the standard Colt 1849 and may be Civil War period Confederate alterations. The first is the brass front sight which stands higher off the barrel and is a little slimmer in profile. The other is the hand which turns the ratchet is hand-filed, very old and well made, but not by Colt. We think that both of these items may have been by Louis Hoffman himself as he specialized in this type of work. The original grips are in good condition with some chips repaired and a mended crack on the right side. Very well done. The screws are in very good condition and the cylinder has some remnants of its original safety pin stops for resting the hammer on the back of the lugs between chambers. All in all, a respectable example of an 1849 and the only pocket model we've found. I've been collecting for over thirty years and been at this full time since the late 1990's and this is the only pocket model Colt we've seen that was marked by a southern dealer.