Colt Model 1851 Cartridge Conversion – Silvercore Firearms Training BC
Before and during the American Civil War revolvers were percussion cap and ball. That meant that each cylinder was loaded with loose powder and a bullet. Each chamber of the cylinder had a nipple which held a percussion cap, a small metal cap holding a bit of explosive chemical. When the hammer struck a percussion cap a spark was driven into chamber which ignited the gunpowder and discharged the pistol.
After the Civil War the cap and ball revolver had become obsolete. The new Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army “Peacemaker” fired self contained cartridges which held the bullet, gunpowder, and cap (primer) in a metallic casing. They were faster to load and more reliable. The problem was that many who had cap and ball revolvers didn’t want to give up their old pistols for a Colt Peacemaker. Some had carried their Colt percussion revolver since the 1850’s, or carried them through their service in the Civil War. Other didn’t want to pay the money for a brand new pistol.
The most popular compromise was to convert cap and ball pistols into a pistol that could chamber and fire self contained cartridges. This was actually very simple and cheap. Above is a Colt Model 1851 in its original cap and ball condition. Below is a Colt Model 1851 which has been converted to fire metallic cartridges. Notice the differences. The nipples on the cylinder have been removed, leaving open chambers, or the cylinder itself may have been replaced. A loading port has been added on the right hand side so that the user can load metallic cartridges into the chamber. On the original cap and ball, the revolver has a loading device (loading lever); when the powder and bullet was loaded in a chamber, this device was worked by pulling the lever towards yourself, which would work a ramrod that crimped the crimped the bullet and powder down in place. On the conversion this had been removed and replaced with an ejector rod which ejected from the cylinder empty cartridge casings. A firing pin may have also been attached to the hammer.
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