Guns and Gear

Wheelgun Wednesday: Pancho Villa’s Golden SAA Estimated to Fetch Nearly a Million Dollars!

Pancho Villa’s Golden SAA
Photo credit: Rock Island Auction Company

Welcome back to Wheelgun Wednesday!  This week, we are taking a look at the most hotly anticipated and highly valued firearm to hit the auction block in Rock Island Auction Company’s premier auction in December.  Normally, a gold-plated and engraved 1st Generation Colt Single Action Army would be a hot item in its own right.  This particular model, however, has some serious historical value, having been inscribed and gifted to Pancho Villa in 1917.

Wheelgun Wednesday @ TFB:

Pancho Villa’s Golden SAA. Photo credit: Rock Island Auction Company

RIA provides the following extremely detailed historical information in regard to this revolver:

July 20, 2023, marks one century since the assassination of legendary Mexican Revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa, the most famous figure of the Mexican Revolution both within Mexico and globally thanks to his fight against a series of Mexican leaders for a decade starting in 1910. In the end, his enemies won and sent him to an early grave, but it was not before Villa and his men in the Division del Norte (Division of the North) had made their mark on Mexican history and the history of the American Southwest. This beautiful and historic Colt Single Action Army revolver is inscribed to legendary Mexican Revolution leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa and is accompanied by multiple factory letters starting with a letter from July 2, 1958. The letters confirm that the revolver was the sole gun of this type sold to Shapleigh Hardware Co. in St. Louis, Missouri, and shipped to City Loan & Jewelry Company on April 18, 1917, in factory order 313. The date is just twelve days after the U.S. declared war on Germany, in part due to the Zimmerman Telegram which offered Mexico territory in the American Southwest in return for joining World War I on the side of Germany. The factory letters confirm this revolver was in .45 caliber with a 5 1/2 inch barrel, gold finish, and grade 2 engraving. The grips are not listed in the letters, but they are not consistently listed in the factory records. If the revolver’s historic inscriptions were not present, this revolver would already be one of the rarest First Generation Colt Single Action Army revolvers based on its special order engraving and gold plating. Only a very small percentage of Colt Single Action Army revolvers were engraved at the factory. Most of those revolvers would have been blue and casehardened finish or nickel while more deluxe finishes such as gold or silver plating are very rare. R.L. Wilson in included letters notes that “Gold-plating is of such rarity that only a few specimens are presented in the author’s ‘The Colt Engraving Book.’ No examples of full gold-plating appear in ‘The Book of Colt Firearms,’ and none appear in ‘The Colt Engraving Book,’ within the Helfricht chapter.” The factory engraving from legendary factory Master Engraver Cuno A. Helfricht covers the vast majority of the metal consisting of elaborate scroll patterns with beaded backgrounds banners around the markings, floral accents, checkerboard patterns, fan designs, multiple border designs, rayed accents, wavy lines, and entwining lines. The finish is gold over nickel. Just under a year before this revolver shipped, a silver plated Colt Single Action Army, sn. 332088, was shipped to Shelton Payne Arms Co. in El Paso, Texas, for George S. Patton, and Patton’s famous Single Action Army revolver has very similar engraving as the current revolver. The barrel has a blade front sight, “45 COLT” on the left, and “COLT’S PT. F.A. MFG. Co. HARTFORD CT. U.S.A.” The frame has the two-line “PAT SEPT 19 1871./JULY 2 72 JAN 19. 75” patent marking followed by the Rampant Colt trademark. The left side of the trigger guard has the triangular “VP” proof and a “1.” The loading gate has the assembly number “899” which is also repeated on the back of the frame on the right. A “U” is marked on the heel on the right. The back of the cylinder has the matching partial serial number “5515,” and the full matching serial number is on the frame, trigger guard, and back strap. The right grip panel is carved with the head of a golden eagle in raised relief with a contrasting opal eye inlay. The back strap is inscribed “Al General Francisco Villa/de/su Division del Norte” on the back in script and “FRANCISCO VILLA” in bold lettering on the butt. The inscriptions’ styles, especially the inscription on the back strap, are very similar to the inscriptions on the case lid plaque of the Damascened Irindo y Guisosola revolver presented to “DON DOROTEO ARANGO VILLA” from President Francisco I. Madero in 1910 and displayed at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The Pancho Villa Museum in Columbus, New Mexico, also had another similar Colt Single Action revolver presented to Villa 1911 by Don Abraham Gonzales in .45 Colt with engraving and pearl grips. Both inscriptions on the current revolver may have been inscribed at City Loan & Jewelry Company in El Paso or by another engraver or jeweler in the region after the revolver was shipped. However, it is also possible the butt inscription was executed at the factory as suggested by R.L. Wilson. Regardless, Wilson states, “It makes no difference whether the inscription on the butt strap was cut at the Colt factory, or in El Paso-the point is that both the back strap inscription in script and the butt strap inscription in block letters are 100% genuine, as is the revolver itself.” While the rarity of the revolver’s configuration already makes this revolver among the rarest Colts, the inscriptions place it in the top tier among the rarest and most historically significant American firearms and link the revolver to the most famous figure in the Mexican Revolution: Pancho Villa. Also accompanying the revolver is a one troy ounce .999 silver Pancho Villa commemorative coin fit in a sterling silver bezel depicting Pancho Villa on horseback armed with a Colt Single Action Army and a design based on the Coat of Arms of Mexico on the other side along with a two troy ounce .999 silver commemorative coin showing Pancho Villa on horseback with a raised long gun and an Aztec calendar on the other side, and the books “Centaur of the North: Francisco Villa, the Mexican Revolution, and Northern Mexico” by Manuel A. Machado, Jr., “The General & The Jaguar: Pershing’s Hunt for Pancho Villa, a True Story of Revolution & Revenge” by Eileen Welsome, and “The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906-1920” by Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler.

Pancho Villa’s Golden SAA. Photo credit: Rock Island Auction Company

Given the extremely high potential opening bid, this revolver will remain only in reach of extremely well-heeled private collectors or museums.  The December auction also will be the very first auction at RIA’s new facility in Bedford, Texas.  For those wanting to catch a glimpse of this revolver and many other fine firearms slated for the auction block, a preview day will be held on December 7th.  For more information, please visit Rock Island Auctions.

Pancho Villa’s Golden SAA. Photo credit: Rock Island Auction Company

Pancho Villa’s Golden SAA. Photo credit: Rock Island Auction Company

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