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Frederick Seward Asks Samuel Colt for Presentation Pistol Prices
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your best quality of ornamented revolvers…

President Abraham Lincoln often presented gifts to foreign heads of state or dignitaries, and Samuel Colt’s pistols were excellent examples of American ingenuity and craftsmanship.

FREDERICK W. SEWARD. Letter Signed, to Samuel Colt, Washington, D.C., October 28, 1861. 1 p.

Inventory #24247       ON HOLD

Complete Transcript

Department of State,

Washington, October 28th, 1861.

Samuel Colt, Esq.,

Hartford, Conn.


            I will thank you to furnish this Department with a list setting forth the cost of your best quality of ornamented revolvers, mounted with gold, Silver &c.

                                                                        I am, Sir,

                                                                           Your obedient Servant,

                                                                                    F. W. Seward

                                                                                 Assistant Secretary.

Historical Background

Samuel Colt promoted his revolvers by presenting custom engraved versions to heads of state and heroes such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, Hungarian revolutionary Louis Kossuth, and defender of Fort Sumter Robert Anderson. Since the State Department had no role in purchasing arms for the military, Frederick Seward was inquiring for prices of ceremonial pieces that his father Secretary of State William H. Seward could present to foreign dignitaries in President Abraham Lincoln’s name.

Late in 1862, for example, Secretary of State Seward sent a case of two pistols, “which are of Colt’s revolving pattern—are of the finest workmanship, and elaborately ornamented,” to the King of Sweden and Norway Charles XV.  They were counterparts of those recently sent by President Lincoln to Danish King Frederick VII.[1] In 1864, President Lincoln gave a pair of Colt pistols with silver handles by Tiffany to Kibrisli Mehmed Emin Pacha, Governor of Adrianople, Turkey, in appreciation for capturing the assassins of an American missionary. Lincoln presented another pair of Colt pistols to Emir Abdelkader, an Algerian religious and military leader who sheltered large numbers of American and European Christians during anti-Christian riots in Damascus, Syria, in 1860.

Frederick W. Seward (1830-1915) was the son of William H. Seward and served as Assistant Secretary of State from 1861 to 1869. Frederick Seward graduated from Union College in 1849 and was admitted to the bar in 1851. He served as secretary to his father, then U.S. Senator, from 1849 to 1857 and also as associate editor of the Albany Evening Journal from 1851 to 1861.

The plot to kill Abraham Lincoln also intended to kill William Seward and other key figures. On the night Booth shot Lincoln, Lewis Powell attempted to kill the Secretary of State (saved by a meal neck brace worn due to a recent carriage accident) and also struck Frederick Seward so violently with a pistol that had failed to fire, that it caused several skull injuries. Both father and son, as well as others injured, recovered. Frederick Seward again served as Assistant Secretary of State from 1877 to 1879 and edited and published his father’s autobiography and letters.

Samuel Colt (1814-1862) began building guns and first applied for a patent for his revolver in 1835. His company in Paterson, New Jersey (the manufacturing city founded by Alexander Hamilton) went bankrupt in 1843, but an order for 1,000 revolvers for the Mexican War revived his fortunes. He built a factory in Hartford, Connecticut, employing an assembly line. He vigorously protected his patent rights and enjoyed a virtual monopoly on revolver sales. His innovative marketing techniques included using artists to create scenes featuring his guns in an early form of product placement. As the Civil War began, Colt sold firearms to both the Union and the Confederacy. He died of gout on January 10, 1862, three months after this letter.

[1] William H. Seward to Jacob S. Haldeman, January 24, 1863, Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, Accompanying the Annual Message of the President to the First Section of the Thirty-Eighth Congress, Part II (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1864), 1214. See also William H. Seward to Bradford R. Wood, November 17, 1862, ibid., 1096.

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