Pietta 1851 Navy: A Comprehensive Guide

pietta 1851 navy


The Pietta 1851 Navy revolver is a remarkable piece of firearms history that continues to captivate enthusiasts, collectors, and reenactors alike. This black powder revolver, introduced in the mid-19th century, played a significant role in American history and remains a popular choice for those looking to experience the authentic feel of a classic firearm. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the history, features, usage, and maintenance of the Pietta 1851 Navy, ensuring you have all the information needed to appreciate this iconic revolver fully.

History of the Pietta 1851 Navy

The original 1851 Navy revolver was designed by Samuel Colt and introduced in 1850. It quickly gained popularity due to its reliability and robust construction. The term “Navy” denotes its use by the U.S. Navy, although it was also widely adopted by the Army and civilians. The revolver was named for its .36 caliber, which was smaller than the .44 caliber used in the Army Model 1860.

Samuel Colt and the 1851 Navy
Samuel Colt’s innovative design featured a six-shot cylinder and a lever-activated loading mechanism. The 1851 Navy was a significant advancement over previous percussion revolvers, offering better balance and accuracy. Its success cemented Colt’s reputation as a leading firearms manufacturer.

The Role of the 1851 Navy in American History

The 1851 Navy saw extensive use during the American Civil War, favored by both Union and Confederate forces. Its reliability and ease of use made it a preferred sidearm. The revolver’s popularity extended beyond the military, with many civilians and lawmen choosing it for personal protection and law enforcement.

Features of the Pietta 1851 Navy

The Pietta 1851 Navy is a faithful reproduction of the original Colt 1851 Navy revolver, maintaining the classic design and functionality that made the original so popular. Here are some key features of the Pietta 1851 Navy:

Design and Construction

The Pietta 1851 Navy features a steel frame and brass backstrap and trigger guard, replicating the materials used in the original. The revolver is available in various finishes, including blued, case-hardened, and polished steel, allowing enthusiasts to choose a model that suits their preferences.

Caliber and Barrel Length

The Pietta 1851 Navy is chambered in .36 caliber, consistent with the original design. The standard barrel length is 7.5 inches, which provides a good balance between accuracy and portability. Some models may offer different barrel lengths, catering to specific needs or preferences.

Sights and Accuracy

The revolver is equipped with a simple notch rear sight and a front post sight, typical of mid-19th-century firearms. While not as sophisticated as modern sights, they provide adequate accuracy for the revolver’s intended use. The long barrel and well-balanced design contribute to its overall accuracy.

Loading and Firing Mechanism

The Pietta 1851 Navy uses a percussion cap ignition system, requiring the user to load powder, a projectile, and a percussion cap for each chamber. The lever-activated loading mechanism makes this process relatively straightforward, although it requires practice to master.

Using the Pietta 1851 Navy

Whether you’re a reenactor, collector, or black powder enthusiast, understanding how to properly use the Pietta 1851 Navy is crucial. Here is a step-by-step guide to loading and firing the revolver:

Loading the Revolver

  • Safety First: Ensure the revolver is unloaded and pointed in a safe direction. Wear appropriate eye and ear protection.
  • Prepare the Components: Gather black powder or a substitute, lead balls or conical bullets, percussion caps, and wads (optional).
  • Measure the Powder: Use a powder measure to ensure you have the correct amount of powder for each chamber (typically around 15-20 grains for .36 caliber).
  • Load the Powder: Pour the measured powder into each chamber of the cylinder.
  • Place the Wads: If using wads, place one over the powder in each chamber. This helps to seal the chamber and prevent chain firing.
  • Load the Projectiles: Place a lead ball or conical bullet into each chamber. Use the loading lever to seat the projectile firmly on top of the powder.
  • Cap the Nipples: Place a percussion cap on each nipple at the rear of the cylinder. Ensure they are seated securely.

Firing the Revolver

  • Cocking the Hammer: To fire, pull the hammer back to the fully cocked position. This rotates the cylinder and aligns a loaded chamber with the barrel.
    Aiming: Use the front and rear sights to align your shot. The long barrel and balanced design aid in accurate aiming.
  • Trigger Pull: Squeeze the trigger smoothly to release the hammer. The hammer strikes the percussion cap, igniting the powder and firing the projectile.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Proper maintenance is essential to keep your Pietta 1851 Navy in optimal condition. Black powder firearms require more frequent cleaning than modern firearms due to the corrosive nature of black powder residue. Here’s a guide to cleaning and maintaining your revolver:

  • Disassembly: Remove the cylinder and barrel from the frame. Disassemble the cylinder to clean each chamber thoroughly.
  • Cleaning the Barrel: Use a cleaning rod with a patch soaked in a black powder solvent to clean the barrel. Swab until patches come out clean.
  • Cleaning the Cylinder: Clean each chamber of the cylinder with a solvent-soaked patch. Use a brush to remove any stubborn residue.
  • Cleaning the Frame and Parts: Wipe down the frame and all parts with a solvent-soaked cloth. Pay special attention to the hammer and trigger mechanisms.
  • Lubrication: After cleaning, apply a light coat of gun oil to all metal parts to prevent rust and ensure smooth operation.
  • Reassembly: Once all parts are clean and dry, reassemble the revolver, ensuring all components are correctly aligned and secure.

Historical Reenactments and the Pietta 1851 Navy

The Pietta 1851 Navy is a favorite among historical reenactors. Its authentic design and functionality make it an ideal choice for those looking to accurately portray mid-19th-century military or civilian life.

Authenticity in Reenactments

The Pietta 1851 Navy’s faithful reproduction of the original Colt design allows reenactors to showcase a historically accurate firearm. From the materials used to the loading and firing mechanisms, this revolver provides an authentic experience.

Safety in Reenactments

Safety is paramount in historical reenactments. When using the Pietta 1851 Navy:

  • Blank Firing: Use blank cartridges specifically designed for black powder revolvers to simulate firing without projectiles.
  • Safety Checks: Always perform thorough safety checks before and after each use.
  • Training: Ensure all participants are properly trained in handling and firing black powder firearms.

Collecting the Pietta 1851 Navy

For collectors, the Pietta 1851 Navy offers a blend of historical significance and craftsmanship. Here are some tips for those looking to add this revolver to their collection:

Variants and Special Editions

Pietta produces several variants and special editions of the 1851 Navy, including:

  • Engraved Models: Featuring intricate engravings on the frame and barrel.
  • Presentation Models: Often include deluxe finishes and wood presentation cases.
  • Historical Replicas: Replicas of specific historical models, such as those used by famous figures.

Display and Preservation

To preserve the condition of your Pietta 1851 Navy:

  • Display Cases: Use display cases to protect the revolver from dust and handling.
  • Climate Control: Store in a cool, dry environment to prevent rust and corrosion.
  • Regular Maintenance: Even if not fired, regular cleaning and lubrication are essential to maintain the revolver’s condition.

Shooting Sports and Competitions

The Pietta 1851 Navy is also popular in black powder shooting sports and competitions. Its accuracy and historical charm make it a competitive choice.

Black Powder Shooting Competitions

Competitions often include events specifically for black powder revolvers. These events test accuracy, speed, and historical authenticity.

Practice and Skill Development

To excel in black powder shooting competitions with the Pietta 1851 Navy:

  • Regular Practice: Regular practice helps improve accuracy and familiarity with the revolver.
  • Reloading Speed: Practice reloading to improve speed and efficiency.
  • Accuracy Drills: Focus on consistent aiming and trigger control.

Buying a Pietta 1851 Navy

When purchasing a Pietta 1851 Navy, consider the following:

Authorized Dealers

Buy from authorized dealers or reputable sources to ensure you receive a genuine Pietta product.

Online Retailers

Many online retailers specialize in black powder firearms and offer a range of Pietta 1851 Navy models. Ensure the retailer has good reviews and a return policy.

Second-Hand Purchases

When buying second-hand:

  • Inspection: Thoroughly inspect the revolver for any signs of damage or excessive wear.
  • History: Obtain as much history as possible about the previous ownership and usage.

Legal Considerations

Owning and using a Pietta 1851 Navy involves understanding the legal considerations in your area.

Federal and State Laws

In the United States, black powder firearms are often subject to different regulations than modern firearms. However, laws vary by state, so check local regulations regarding purchase, ownership, and usage.

Transport and Storage

Properly transporting and storing your Pietta 1851 Navy is crucial to ensure safety and compliance with the law.

  • Transport: When transporting your revolver, ensure it is unloaded and securely stored in a suitable case. Follow all local and federal transportation laws, which may include keeping the firearm in a locked container and separate from ammunition.
  • Storage: Store your Pietta 1851 Navy in a secure location, such as a gun safe, to prevent unauthorized access. Ensure it is unloaded and consider using desiccants or dehumidifiers to protect against moisture and rust.

Ownership Responsibilities

Owning a black powder revolver comes with responsibilities. Always handle your Pietta 1851 Navy with care and respect. Regularly review and comply with local laws regarding its use, transport, and storage.

The Pietta 1851 Navy in Popular Culture

The 1851 Navy revolver has been immortalized in popular culture, appearing in numerous films, television shows, and books. Its iconic design and association with the Old West and Civil War era make it a favorite prop for historical dramas and Westerns.

Films and Television

The 1851 Navy has been featured in classic Westerns such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and True Grit. Its recognizable profile adds authenticity to period films and series.


Many historical novels set in the mid-19th century feature characters using the 1851 Navy. Its presence in literature helps to convey the everyday realities of that era.

Community and Resources

For those interested in the Pietta 1851 Navy, many resources and communities are available to enhance your experience.

Online Forums and Groups

Join online forums and social media groups dedicated to black powder firearms and historical reenactment. These platforms offer a wealth of knowledge, from loading tips to restoration advice.

Clubs and Associations

Consider joining clubs and associations focused on black powder shooting and historical reenactment. These organizations often host events, competitions, and educational workshops.

Literature and Manuals

Numerous books and manuals are available that provide in-depth information on the Pietta 1851 Navy and black powder firearms. These resources can be invaluable for both beginners and experienced shooters.


The Pietta 1851 Navy is more than just a firearm; it is a piece of history that offers a tangible connection to the past. Whether you are a collector, reenactor, or shooting enthusiast, this revolver provides an authentic experience that is both educational and enjoyable. Its historical significance, combined with the craftsmanship of Pietta’s reproduction, makes the 1851 Navy a worthy addition to any collection.

By understanding the history, features, usage, and maintenance of the Pietta 1851 Navy, you can fully appreciate the legacy of this iconic revolver. Whether you’re delving into historical reenactments, competing in black powder shooting sports, or simply enjoying the craftsmanship of a classic firearm, the Pietta 1851 Navy offers a rich and rewarding experience.

Explore more about the Pietta 1851 Navy and join the community of enthusiasts who celebrate this remarkable piece of firearms history. Happy shooting!

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