Colt Model 1878 Revolver, .450 Boxer

British War Department W^D Marked

This very rare revolver is one of only 165 Colt Model 1878 revolvers that were supplied to the British War Department in an emergency purchase in March 1879. How this came about is an interesting story.

In January 1879, British military forces in southern Africa suffered a major defeat against Zulu tribesmen in the Battle of Isandlwana. The following day they very nearly lost again in the Battle of Rorke's Drift. Once news of these events reached London it caused major shock. How was it possible that a rag tag army of primitive tribesman could defeat the might of the technologically superior British army? Very quickly a reinforcement force was organized to sail to Cape Colony. But there was a problem. There wasn't enough revolvers to arm the troops. The standard British service revolver at the time was the Adams Mark III which had been officially in use since 1872. However, recent changes to the requirements for arming infantry units had resulted in a surge in demand for these revolvers and Adams was having difficulty keeping up supply.

In desperation, the War Department turned to the gun trade. It approached Tranter, Webley and Colt's London agency seeking to purchase revolvers suitable for use by the British army. It was an opportunity Colt's London agent, Frederick Von Oppen was waiting for. He quickly arranged for the supply of the stock he had on hand. In total 165 Colt Double Action Model 1878 revolvers were supplied, each chambered in .450 Boxer, the standard British military revolver cartridge at the time. In addition to Colt's offering, Tranter supplied 235 of his Model 1868 revolver, and Webley offered an unknown quantity which somehow failed to pass inspection and were not accepted into service.

This Colt 1878 is one of those that was accepted. It is marked on the lower left frame with the British war department W^D stamp and also with a strange CS over D marking. This marking is not fully understood. The known Tranter revolvers that were accepted are marked CS over A and there are reports of a few being marked CS over B.  It's thought  the CS could stand for something like Commercial Supply or Civilian Service. No one really knows. Some of these revolvers are found marked with an acceptance date of 3.79 (March 1879) although this it is absent on this example.

In addition to these markings this revolver is marked with London proofmarks as well as military inspection marks on the frame barrel, grip and cylinder. A Sold Out of Service stamp also appears on the left frame. The serial number is 883.

This exact revolver is pictured in Colt's Double Action Revolver Model of 1878 by Wilkerson and also in British Military Pistols by Brooker.


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