The history of our preferred Belgian Colts or New Model Armies (NMAs) goes back to the end of the 18th century. As early as 1796 we have the first mentioning of the makers, the Hanquets family, and their involvement with the gun business.
They played their role in the famous consortium of seven Liège gun makers that signed the licensing agreement with Samuel Colt in April 1853 regarding the production of Colt C&B revolvers (COLT BREVETEs). This agreement was never terminated.
BREVETES produced under this agreement where mostly open top pattern revolvers with hinge type loading levers like Dragoons, Navies and Pockets, but none of the later models of the 1860 through 1873 period with round barrel and the advanced creeping type loading lever.
This happened over 100 years later with what collectors, re-enactors and shooters around the globe call the Centaure 1960 New Model Army percussion revolver today … or Centennial Army … or Belgian Colt Army.
In essence the Centaure is a Colt Army Model 1860 pattern pistol produced under a never terminated license from Colt’s, using advanced 20th century production technology, higher grade steel. Compared to 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation 1860s or their Italian made clones the Centaures’ virtues are obvious when taken through the paces on the shooting range and on second glance after disassembly.
|Pre-Centaure Milestones 1796 to 1950|
|1796||Martin Hanquet starts the Hanquet gun business|
|1853||End of April: agreement between Sam Colt and consortium of 7 Liège gun makers Ancion & Co., Callotte, Dandoy, Drisseur & Co., Hanquet (Jean), Petry, Brothers Pirlot regarding licensed production of Colt C&B revolvers|
|1913||May 30: Centaure trademark registered|
|1950||FAUL official Colt distributor for Belgium (ended 1992)|
The Centaures were produced by Fabriques d’Armes Unies de Liège (FAUL) at 22, Rue Trappe in Liège, Belgium. Back then FAUL was the name of the Hanquetfamily’s gun business. Between 1959 and 1973 they produced the NMA in five basic models and numerous variations and sub-variations.
In this page we will look at the serial numbering and its rational.
|Centaure Milestones 1959 to 1973|
|1959||first model guns manufactured presented to Paul Hanquet & Fred Roff, President Colt’s|
|commence production RNMA 1st variation 1st sub-variation|
|1960||launch RNMA 1st variation 1st sub-variation in USA|
|launch Civilian Model 1st & 2nd variation in USA (production discontinued with 2nd variation 1963)|
|Fall: commence production of Cavalry Model 1st variation|
|First pistols with rampant centaur logo observed|
|1961||launch Cavalry Model 1st variation 1st sub-variation as First Model Centennial Revolver in USA (production discontinued 1963)|
|launch Cavalry Model 1st variation 2nd sub-variation in USA (production discontinued 1963)|
|launch RNMA 1st variation 2nd sub-variation in USA|
|Thomas Haas has H. Acevedo engrave a die for an Ormsby-style naval scene for RNMA 3rd variation|
|launch RNMA 3rd variation 1st sub-variation in USA (prototypes)|
|1962||launch RNMA 2nd variation 1st sub-variation in USA|
|launch special order Pocket Army in 3 variations in USA|
|launch Cavalry Model 1st variation, 3rd sub-variation in USA|
|1963||launch RNMA 3rd variation, 2nd sub-variation in USA|
|first European sales recorded in Belgium, France, Germany|
|first NMAs with 2nd version arbor observed|
|1964||launch RNMA 3rd variation 3rd sub-variation in USA (discontinued 1970)|
|change corporate logo to walking centaur|
|gradual change from early type ratchet teeth on the back of cylinder to late type|
|first pistols with mid-size chambers|
|1966||launch RNMA 1st variation 3rd sub-variation (discontinued 1970)|
|first pistols with 3rd version arbor, regular through 1973|
|few 4th version arbors found (repairs?)|
|change from mid-size to small chambers|
|1967||launch RNMA 4th, 5th & 6th variation (prototype) in Europe|
|change from mid-size to small chambers|
|1968||Liège Proof House discontinues inspector marks and C over crown mark by Feb. 26|
|1969||end of transition from early to late type ratchet teeth on the back of cylinder|
|launch RNMA 2nd variation 2nd sub-variation|
|1970||gradual introduction of cast parts|
|1971||launch Cavalry Model 2nd variation 1st & 2nd sub-variation|
|launch Marshal Model 1st & 2nd variation in Europe|
|launch factory engraved RNMAs de Luxe in Europe|
|launch RNMA 5th variation 2nd sub-variation in Germany|
|launch RNMA 6th variation 2nd sub-variation in Europe|
|1972||launch RNMA 4th variation 2nd sub-variation in Germany|
|launch RNMA 7th variation first stainless steel C&B revolvers in Germany|
|launch 2 additional grades of factory engraved RNMAs in Germany: Super de Luxe & Presentation|
|launch factory engraved Marshals de Luxe in Germany|
|4th version arbor commonly found through 1973|
|barrels with 8 & 12 (!) grooves found in selected NMAs|
|1973||early Summer: discontinue all production of RNMAs, Marshals|
Placement of Serial Numbers: Like the 1st generation Colt 1860 Armies of the 19th century complete or partial serial numbers are to be found on all major parts of the Belgian cousin. Serial numbers were visibly stamped on barrel lug, frame and trigger-guard. Regarding the cylinders they are to be found on the front side (very early pistols only), AND breech-side (early 3rd variation Regular New Model Armies only) or breech-side only. A few pistols had no digits on their cylinders or extra cylinder at all.
Hammers and back-straps were stamped with all digits of the serial number whereas the wooden grip was usually marked with the last 2 or 3 digits only. Few grips are stamped with the last digit but even fewer grips of the very early pistols had their serial number written with a pen under the grip.
|Typical placement of serials on #12307 on barrel lug, frame and trigger-guard …||… but trigger-guard of #7957 is not numbered|
This observation refers to of the regular production NMAs namely
# Regular New Model Army (RNMA),
# Marshal incl. the F-prefix variant,
# Civilian (C-prefix),
# Cavalry (F-prefix) Model,
but not to the special order Pocket Army Model. The few specimens of the latter that could be inspected feature no visible serial numbers. Contrary to other Centaure models you have to disassemble these rare pistols to find them. For further details please, scroll down this page or look up the subject chapters of the MODELS & VARIARIONS page.
|Digits of #1269 on the front side of the cylinder||Serial number of #1423 between the cylinder scene||Like #4612 most pistols have (last) digits of serial on the breech side of the cylinder||#11783 without serial on cylinder|
One Block of Serial Numbers: It is our today’s understanding that FAUL numbered their
# 1st variation Marshals,
# factory engraved variants of these models,
# 2nd variation Cavalry Models (late production F-prefix 1971 made),
# 2nd variation Marshals (late production F-prefix 1971 made)
consecutively and together in one block of serial numbers, from #1 up to approximately #14300, no matter the model, variation or sub-variation.
Regarding 2nd variation Cavalry Models and 2nd variation Marshals (F-prefix) there is just the F-prefix added to the digits of the serial number underneath the barrel lug. However, these pistols’ other serial number were applied without the prefix.
Separate blocks of serial numbers were used for the
# Civilian Models (C-prefix)
# 1st variation Cavalry Models (early production F-prefix)
# Pocket Armies.
|Serial on hammer of #9248…||…and back-strap of #12043||Last 3 digits stamped in the grip of #12966|
Extra & Mismatching Cylinders: In the USA you could order your 1st variation RNMAs with extra cylinders with a naval scene roll-engraved. Your choice was either the Centaure proprietary naval scene, or the one with the Colt-type naval scene, or both. The Colt- or Ormsby-type naval scene as some initiates call it was by far the most popular one over there.
European owners of a 1st variation RNMA had less choice. They could special order an extra cylinder with the Centaure proprietary naval scene only.
Serial numbers of these extra cylinders did not match the ones of the pistols. They were produced in separate batches and not proof tested together with the pistols they were eventually mated with.
If your 2nd or 3rd variation RNMA has a cylinder mismatching the pistol this is likely the extra cylinder installed some years ago and the original rebated, plain cylinder has gone missing. In other words what looks like a 2nd or 3rd variation RNMA is actually a 1st variation. Provided, of course the serial number is below the assumed total #14 300 of pistols without prefix!
We have one RNMA 6th variation, 2nd sub-variation from 1973 in the survey with all matching numbers. This pistol was delivered with an extra cylinder of the plain, rebated kind in the proper high gloss polish without any serials.
A caveat is in order here: mismatching cylinders can and did occur for other reasons as well. The making of the Centaures required lots of manual operations. In-process documentation procedures were under-developed during that time at the Liège factory. This just called for the occasional mismatch in the serial number department:
# due to transposed digits when manually stamping digits of the serial number on the cylinder,
# after a batch of pistols was being returned from the Liège Proof house they were disassembled at the factory for cleaning but occasionally reassembled with a wrong, mismatching cylinder,
# the roll-engraving of the Ormsby cylinder scene was not done at FAUL’s in Belgium but in Lincolnwood, IL, USA, home of Centennial Arms Corporation. Quite a few such mismatching cylinders slipped through their QC … and in the 1960s and early 1970s nobody cared.
Why? Three main reasons in my book. For details regarding this cylinder roll-engraving procedure at Centennial Arms Corp. check the respective chapter of the MOTHERLOAD page.
- Human factor – back then the Liège Proof house was concerned about the matching of the visible serial numbers only, namely the ones on the barrel lug, frame and trigger-guard … which were usually matching.
- The majority of buyers during the 1960s were shooters or re-enactors but no collectors. Hence they were not serial number crazy as we are today. They purchased that C&B revolver as a shooting or re-enactment iron and not as a collector’s piece where matching numbers enhance the value.
- No gun license was required for C&B revolvers in most European countries during the 1960s and early 1970s. Legally they were not really considered firearms like they still are today in the US of A.
- therewas little government pressure on gun makers regarding proper serial numbering for the identification of black powder guns.
- FAUL’s QC and the Liège Proof house alike (see 1. above) would go away with the visual inspection and recording of the 3 matching serial numbers on the barrel lug, frame and trigger-guard … and everybody was happy.
A Gap in the Serial Numbers: We noted a major gap in the serial numbers of RNMAs between #7295 and #7528. So far no Centaure has been encountered with a 4 digit serial number in the 73xx or 74xx range. RNMA #7295 is the highest serial number recorded with inspector marks on the left side of the barrel lug and frame and on the cylinder, and crown over R mark on the left side of the barrel lug applied by the Liège Proof house. Guns tested after February 26, 1968 no longer feature the inspector marks and/or the crown over R mark because the Liège Proof house discontinued these marks by that date. RNMA #7528 is lowest serial number of a Centaure in the survey without these marks.
Strange Serial Numbers & other Irregularities: At the high end of the serial number block of RNMAs and Marshals 1st variation three further gaps of serial numbers exist between the highest recorded regular production serial number #14296 from 1973 and three other RNMAs in the survey:
- between #14296 and #18408 (USA),
- between #18408 and #5 1971 (Germany),
- between #5 1971 and #043573 (Germany).
Please, browse down for a proposed explanation.
Be prepared, however, for further gaps suspected but not yet exactly quantified, like a block of serial numbers set aside for the before mentioned extra cylinders. There might be other turns in the FAUL use of serial numbers yet to be discovered, however.
#18408 is a 3rd variation RNMA with the barrel marking “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY” CENTENNIAL TRADE MARK. If she were a 1973 production made gun as indicated by the high serial number the barrel marking should just be “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY”. The digits on the breech side of the cylinder read 458 but not 408.
#5 1971 (below) presents itself with a few unique features as well:
- This is theCentaure with the highest 5 digit serial number currently known.
- There is a distinct gap between the digits “5” and the “1971” of the serial number. No other Belgian has been found where the serial number is embossed into barrel, frame, trigger-guard and hammer in such a way.
|RNMA #5 1971|
The late H. J. Stammel of German cowboy novel writer fame, Western gun shooter and renowned cowboy gun collector owned the two RNMAs #10024 and this pistol #5 1971. He described the latter in German gun magazine Deutsches Waffenjournal (DWJ) in 1971 but did not mention the unusual fashion in which the digits of the serial number were stamped.
- When she was rediscovered 2008, her new owner let me disassemble and inspect her: the hammer was stamped correctly and thecylinder was marked 971, i. e. the 3 last digits of the visible serial number. Back-strap and grip were found marked #13709 and 709 respectively, however. She was also stripped of her original blue/CCH finish that she had in the 1971 article. In this writer’s humble opinion there are two aspects to be considered here:
# Stammel’s description of his RNMA #5 1971 in this 1971 DWJ publication led later writers to state as a fact that some 60,000 Centaure percussion revolvers were manufactured … which our research cannot substantiate at all, see respective tables in the TOTAL PRODUCTION IN PERSPECTIVE page.
|Barrel marking of #5 1971|
# As FAUL obviously did not make 60,000 Centaures … is #5 1971 the correct serial number?
Could “13709” be the correct serial number instead, but “5 1971” points into a different direction like Stammel specially ordered his Centaure from FAUL with “5 1917” visible because this number had some meaning to him? Or does this “out of range” serial number imply special production of some kind?
No Centaure with the serial number #13709 is currently known. If #13709 is correct the serial number that means 1973 production. Based on the RNMAs of the #137xx through #142xx serial number range in the survey the barrel marking of #5 1971 should be “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY”.
The barrel marking of #5 1971 is CENTENNIAL TRADE MARK “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY”, however.
|Back-strap of #5 1971||Stammel’s paper was published in the August 1971 edition of the DWJ. This would date the making of # 5 1971 somewhere between 1970 and 1971! Centaures of 1970-72 production period feature the barrel marking CENTENNIAL TRADE MARK “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY” … which is what we have here!
Hence the barrel marking of # 5 1917 tells me she was made during the 1970/71 period …
#043573: This confusing story got a new twist November 26, 2009 when Centaure #043573 was discovered at the big German gun show in Kassel. In line with FROCS unwritten SOPs she was liberated on the spot. This RNMA 1st variation, 2nd sub-variation has the barrel marking CENTENNIAL TRADE MARK “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY”.
#043573 is currently the only 6 digit Centaure known where the visible digits look like they were stamped at the factory. Like #5 1971 she has again the “wrong” barrel marking for a 1973 production gun but more importantly disassembly revealed that only barrel lug, frame and trigger-guard were stamped #043573. Cylinder, hammer, back-strap and grip were marked #11909 or digits thereof. No Centaure with the serial number #11909 is recorded in our survey. If #11909 were the correct S/N she was made earlier during 1971 … which is in line with the barrel marking.
|RNMA #043573; barrel lug, frame & trigger-guard stamped #043573…||…but hammer & back-strap marked #11909, cylinder #909, grip 9 (not pictured)|
When I discussed these findings with Colt collector and well-known Western gun dealer Kurt Bouras of Mainz (www.classic-firearms.com) he was not surprised at all and challenged me: “What did Colt do towards the end of the production of their 1860 Army? Did they scrap the surplus parts? No, they grabbed whatever usable parts there were on the floor and in the warehouse and assembled them into new (mismatching) Armies, used the parts for repairs, for the making of factory conversions, or just sold them to the highest bidder”.
After having digested his blunt statement here is my considered opinion about what happened at FAUL’s between 1971 and 1973. The Belgians swept the house, double-checked quality and proof house rejects and/or returned pistols which were all serial numbered, and cannibalized them for usable parts. New parts from the production line namely barrels, frames, trigger-guards were irreproducibly serial numbered, and mated with these salvaged parts to turn out new pistols for sale. Fitting and finish found in these mismatching pistols is of the standard you would expect from similar later production NMAs.
Currently no explanation can be offered for the numbering rational applied, except that it is “out of range” and/or beyond the assumed regular production serial numbers.
Further Strange Serial Numbers: This is not the end of the strange serial number story. Recently a couple of RNMAs 1st variation, 3rd sub-variation of 1967/68 production surfaced. We can only speculate about the reason why their common characteristics are again “out of period” serial numbers. They just might be the result of an earlier “house sweeping action”:
#6464 (below): “6s” of the visible serial numbers are over-stamped with “8s” (deeper impression), the factory finish has been removed by one previous owner.
#7070 (below): “0s” of the visible serial numbers were over-stamped with “8s”. These “8” are taller compared to the other digits.
#7091 (below): only one “888” stamped over barrel lug/frame. The trigger-guard is not numbered (Italian replacement?). The original digits on the cylinder were bored out and “88” was applied. The original serial number of the hammer was removed but no new digits applied. Back-strap and grip are correctly marked 7091 and 091 respectively. The cylinder installed features the large size chambers of early production, however, mid-size only would be correct.
I like to refer to these pistols as Mixed Serial Factory Reworks or MSFRs.
To get the definition straight MSFRs comprise newly made or renumbered barrel, frame and/or trigger-guard (visible serial numbers) mated with back-strap/grip assembly +/- cylinder and hammer of returned and/or reworked pistols. Of course, these newly assembled pistols were then fitted and finished like regular production guns.
*Inspector marks: proof testing before Feb. 26, 1968; none: proof testing after Feb. 26, 1968
Since the highest serial number of a regularly numbered Centaure with all matching parts currently known is #14296 it is suggested that you carefully check the matching of the parts whenever you happen to stumble over a Centaure with a serial number higher than #14296 … because you might just have found another rare MSFR. Based on my June 2013 re-calculation and extrapolation of the 750+ Centaures in the survey I estimate that the total number of MSFRs amounts to ca. 30 RNMAs, i. e.20 of the 1st variation and 10 of the 3rd variation.
Gaps in the Serial Numbers of F-Prefix NMAs: Another gap of serial numbers was found in the Cavalry Models. The first production runs of these F-prefix NMAs were between 1960 and ended probably 1963, serial numbers between #F1 and #F1000, the F-prefix stamped in front of the digits of the serial number. They all feature 7,5” barrels. Many were sold with matching shoulder stock. Today we call them the 1st variation Cavalry Models.
Another mini batch was produced years later in 1971 with 8” barrel that we call the 2nd variation Cavalry Model today. They are non-consecutively serial numbered between #F11072 and #F11295. Hence, it is assumed that no more than a total 172 of these later Cavalry Models were made.
The 2nd variation Marshals, F-prefix and 4-srew version, was produced in the serial number range of the 2nd variation Cavalry Model. Like these later Cavalry pistols these very rare variants of the Marshals feature that single F-prefix in that same position under the barrel lug as the 2nd variation Cavalries but nowhere else on the revolvers, see pictures below.
|F-prefix of #F85 1stvariation …||… and of #F11117 2nd variation Cavalry Model||F-prefix of #F11510 2nd variation Marshal Model|
Neither factory nor period Liège Proof house or Liège Army Museum records exist anymore or are available to study production figures of Centaures. To relate serial numbers to year of production this issue had to be addressed “indirectly”. Therefore, approximate dates of original purchase can be estimated by Proof house inspectors’ time of duty which has been released recently. Some early original sales slips have been found, too. According to old correspondence available from dealers it seems that the pistols were always in short supply on both sides of the Atlantic, implying very short turn-around time on the dealer’s shelf. This gives a reasonable guesstimate for the early period through February 1968. For the later period there are many sales slips from original buyers still available.
Based on the inspector marks we have to assume that in addition to model guns and prototypes some 100 regular production NMAs were turned out and proof tested already in 1959!
Lowest regular serial number in the survey is #2, highest is #14296 because we are disregarding the MSFRs in this equation. Since the Liège Proof house did not mark any gun with inspector marks between March 1968 and 1973 this would indicate that FAUL discontinued production of the Centaures during early summer 1973.
After the first 500 RNMAs with the rebated and plain cylinder were made starting 1959, i. e. 1st variation RNMA, the Civilian Model was added later in 1960, numbered from #C1 up.
In late spring of 1961 the first fluted and stocked Army, the Cavalry Model 1st variation, was launched, numbered from #F1 up. Production of the Cavalries started, however, already in 1960 according to the inspector marks found.
The special order Pocket Armies were launched assumingly during 1962, numbered from #1 up.
NMAs including the prefix models have all numbered parts with matching numbers or last digits thereof. No assembly numbers were used.
C-prefix (Civilian Models) and F-prefix pistols (1st variation Cavalry Models only) have their prefix in front of the digits on barrel lug, frame, and trigger-guard. The prefix may or may not be present on cylinder, hammer and back-strap. Grips inspected do not feature the prefix.
2nd variation Cavalry and Marshal Models have one single F-prefix stamped above the digits of the serial number under the barrel lug only and/or on top of the back plate of the shoulder stock as applicable. All other serial numbers are without the prefix.
Pocket Armies inspected have no visible serial numbers! Their serial numbers are on the barrel lug between the holes for the barrel pins, on the breech side of the cylinder (as usual), on the left side of the trigger guard (covered by the grip), on the lower left side of the hammer (as usual), on the rear side of the frame below the right rear back-strap screw (covered by the back-strap), on the right side of the lower strap of the back-strap (covered by the grip), in the rear channel for the back-strap of the grip (as usual).
Date Letters? Since 1922 the Liège Proof house used date letters as year codes. These date letters were lower case letters. Greek letters for the period 1959 – 1961, Latin letters for the period 1962 – 1972. None of these date letters has been discovered on any of the NMAs inspected. So, please, holler when you find a date letter on your Centaure.
WDN/June 5, 2013
© 2007-13 Wolf D. Niederastroth