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POSTING IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF FRED ELLIS 1944 - 2000.
Fred was fascinated with pyrotechnical devices. He loved these
and other flare type pistols. He died in a fire and explosion
initiated by the accidental discharge of a parachute flare. He
was a fine family man, an Associate Professor of Machine Tool
Technology at Jefferson College near DeSoto, Missouri where he
taught Metallurgy, Advanced Mathematics and Computerized Drafting,
a member of the Pyrotechnic Guild International and Missouri Pyrotechnic
Association. He was also a collector of antique firearms and flare
pistols, and a past president and officer of the St. Louis Antique
Arms Association and a member of the Missouri Arms Collectors
Association. A very unique, intelligent human being of unlimited
interests who will be missed by his associates, students and fellow
collectors. His untimely death should serve to remind us all that
the constant awareness and practice of safety should be paramount
in whatever we do at home, business or in the following of our
hobbies. He shall be missed as a husband, father, friend and advisor.
Here's to you Fred, and as you might say, "you know, it was
great knowing you."
U.S. NAVY MODEL 1861
ARMY MODEL 1862
OF BRIGHT GUYS
UP THE NIGHT
All pictures: 1863 dated U.S. Navy Model 1861 Percussion Signal
- All pictures: 1862 dated U.S. Army Model 1862 Percussion Signal
Both pistols used B.T. Coston's cylindrical single and multi-color
"lights" for signaling at night in the same manner as signaling
flags were used during the day. They were used over land or water.
Under good conditions the Coston light system had a practical working
range of 5 miles or so. The Coston flares were not projected from
the muzzles of these pistols but were rather held in the barrel
by closing the locking lever which clamped the flare in place. A
standard percussion cap was placed on the nipple, the pistol was
cocked, held away from the body, pointed upward and the trigger
pulled. The exploding cap ignited the signal light at the front
end furthest from the muzzle and the holder of the pistol held it
upright from 8 to 26 seconds, depending on the type of flare, until
the light burned out. It was then ejected by moving the barrel lever
forward allowing a new signal light to be loaded. A one light Coston
signal burned for about 8 seconds. The two light signal lasted around
17 seconds and the three light about 26 seconds.
Coston light signals came in white, red, green and blue configurations.
Red was 0, green was 1, green/red was 2, white/white was 3, green/white
was 4, red/white/green was 5, white/red/white was 6, white/green
was 7, red/white/red was 8 and red/white was 9. The letter "P" (prepare
for signal) was white, "A" (affirm) for answering or ready to receive
was white/red/green. "Int" (interrogatory) for questioning was white/green/white,
"N" for numbers following was green/red, "B" which requested information,
was blue/blue and "Geo", meaning not understood, was green/white/green.
In the two and three element signal lights, the 8 second pyrotechnic
elements were separated by an ignited/delay element which made each
color burn separately from the one before it. Each of the waterproof
units had color bands on the body indicating the colors it would
locking and ejecting levers in their forward position.
The U.S. Navy Model 1861 Percussion Signal Pistol was manufactured
at the U. S. Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. in a total quantity estimated
at 1,000. With the exception of a steel combination locking and
ejection lever, steel trigger and screws, it is of all brass construction.
It is 9-5/8" overall with an inside muzzle diameter of .75. The
muzzle is ported and there is a flat tapered metal tongue-like protrusion
therein about ¾" long that appears to have been used to hold
the Coston light signal flare (the 1862 Army model does not have
this metal protrusion). There is a removable plate on the left side
of the pistol and a trigger screw. Those features make it easily
distinguishable from the similar looking U.S. Army Model of 1861
(not pictured) which is seamed in the center and does not have the
removable side plate or a trigger screw.
The markings on the left side of this pistol are: "U.S.O.Y.W." (United
States Ordnance Yard Washington) over "W. M." (William Marston?)
over "1863". The serial number "17" is stamped on the frame in front
of the removable side plate and on the side plate itself at the
front opposite the frame marking.
- Left Side of Pistol
End Of Pistol
Metal Tongue-like Protrusion at Muzzle Base)
The U.S. Army Model 1862 Percussion Signal Pistol was manufactured
by William Marston at New York in 1862 in an estimated quantity
of 1,000. It has an all brass frame with steel hammer, trigger and
combination locking and ejection lever plus two-piece walnut grips.
It is 7-5/8" from the bottom end of the grips to muzzle center.
The inside muzzle diameter is .75, the same as the navy model. However,
the short, stubby, flared 1¾" "barrel" is not ported and
there is no internal protruding tongue. Whether it took a different
type of Colson "cartridge" is unknown to me. There is also a removable
plate on the left side of the pistol but no trigger screw.
This pistol is stamped on the frame at the bottom center of the
grips with 5 separate stampings. They are "ARMY SIGNAL" - "PISTOL"
- "1862" - "A.J.M." (Inspector) and "1862". The serial number "1031"
is stamped upside down on the lower left side of the frame. The
grips cover this stamping. There is also an "I", "1", or lower case
"L" stamped to the side of the serial number (see picture below).
Both wood grip pieces are stamped, on the inside top, with the same
End of Pistol
Number - Lower Left Frame Under Grip
Number Stampings - At Top Inside Grips
While they served, they were the best we had. Both are highly desirable
collector items. Both type pistols were later supplanted by the
"Very" Signal Pistol, another collector's piece.
References used for this postings were "FLAYDERMAN'S GUIDE TO
ANTIQUE AMERICAN FIREARMS.....and their values" by Norm Flayderman.
"SMALL ARMS OF THE SEA SERVICES" by Colonel Robert H. Rankin,
USMC (RET) and most of all, an article entitled "A COSTON SIGNAL
LIGHT DISPLAY BOARD" by Konrad F. Schreier given to me by Fred
Ellis, the honoree of this posting. The bibliography for that article
was given as: "FARROW' S MILITARY ENCYCLOPEDIA", Military-Navy
Publishing Co., New York, 1895. Lustyik, Andrew F., "MILITARY
PYROTECHNICS", Gun Report, Aledo, April, May and June 1968 issues
and Russel, Frank, "EARLY U.S. MARTIAL SIGNAL PISTOLS", Gun
Report, Aledo, August 1970 issue, plus unspecified miscellany.