Total Production – Revisited: If you were asking a gun writer of the percussion revolver scene in the know during the mid- 1970s through mid-2000s about the total number of Centaure New Model Armies produced by Fabriques d’Armes Unies de Liège (FAUL) in Belgium he or she would probably cite a ballpark figure of some 60,000 specimens and referring this to the 1971 DWJ article of the late H. J. Stammel.
We have tried every trick on supporting this figure of 60,000 Centaures, to no avail. According to our Centaure research since mid-2007 and to the best of our knowledge we come up with a total production of Centaures of significantly less pistols, namely only close to some 16,100 pistols, give or take a few, see table below.
These 16,100 pistols are an extrapolation based on the >750 New Model Armies (NMAs) reported into the survey of our website www.1960nma.orgby June 2013. They would also represent close to 5 % of the assumed total factory output of NMAs between 1959 and 1973.
|Of all Centaures produced the Regular New Model Armies (RNMAs) represent the biggest chunk with 81 %. It does not come as a surprise that they are the model most often encountered around the globe.
A further extrapolation by individual variations and sub-variations of the RNMA survey data provides some very rough indications of the approximate numbers of different variants, see table below.
Following the RNMAs are the Cavalry Models with some 7 % of all pistols manufactured, then the Civilians coming in as a close third with 6 % of the total FAUL C&B percussion revolver output. Fourth on the list are the 5 % of the Marshal Model belly guns whereas less than 0,3 % can be projected for the rare, special order Pocket Army snubbieswithout loading lever.
Colt’s New Generation Armies: To add some spice to this discussion, please consider that around 17,850 2nd generation Colt 1860 Armies were fabricated between 1977 and 1991 plus another 11,850 3rd generation or Signature Series Armies between 1994 and 2002. For a fair comparison of apples to apples we deduct the commemorative issues, special and “limited” editions from the Colt mix since they appeal to a small subset of collectors and to virtually no shooters. So, we end up with ca. 11,500 2nd and another 10,500 3rd generation standard production Colt Armies equalling a total of 22,000 specimens.
This compares to less than 15,700 standard production Centaures excluding factory engraved pistols, “colterized” models and other “special” variants, or 29 % less regular Centaures than newly made regular Colt Armies were produced. If you add the survival rate in this equation, however, the number of newly made Colt Armies by far exceeds the Centaures. This little math might stimulate some thoughts like which pistol is perceived as a shooter and which as a display pistol rather and why?
International Distribution: Approximately 50 % of the 1960 NMAs manufactured were sold into the USA, some 50 to 100 pistols to other parts of the world like down-under, the rest to Europe and Germany in particular. Another sizeable European market for Centaures was France but less so than Germany.
It is fair to state that majority of the US shipments were made in the period 1960 through 1970 whereas European dealers and shooters stepped on this Centaure bandwagon hesitating from 1963 only. Early “first owner” European sales were reported from Belgium, France and Germany.
Thoughts about the Many Models & Variations: Between 1959 and 1973 technicians and workers at FAUL’s were busy making prototypes and producing new models, variations and sub-variations of the New Model Army. What has been driving them, what could have been their rational?
|Take a look at the milestones on the SERIAL NUMBERS page. 1959 through 1963 seems to have been a period of straight line extension, driven by the creative minds of Bill Edwards and Sig Shore of Centennial Arms Corporation in the USA. Back in the 1960s Centennial Arms was the exclusive Centaure dealer in the USA. Edwards and Shore identified most of the market needs and niches for modifications of the basic New Model Army design. During these early years already 4 of the total of 5 models recognized by collectors today were launched:
RNMA in 3 variations plus a few sub-variations,
Civilian Model in 2 variations,
Cavalry Model in 1 variation but 3 distinctly different sub-variations,
Pocket Army as a special order item in 3 variations.
To this impressive list we have to add a number of Centaures “colterized” by noted US restorer & gunsmith Thomas Haas or his associate Horacio Q. Acevedo, for the personal collection of Edwards and Shore but later also for sale to the public.
Behind the scene at FAUL’s design improvements were addressed, some at the expense of period correctness but most of the alterations implemented improved the NMAs as a shooting iron.
The Belgians made them the premier target percussion revolver of the classic Colt 1860 Army pattern. Which is what a well maintained Centaurestill is today and more than that. Proof of that claim? For a starter take a look at our data on bulls eye and dynamic shooting achievements in the Milestones table below for the period 1992 through 2013. More detailed listings are in the report on CENTAURE RESEARCH presented at the 4thMeeting of the FROCS July 20/21, 2013.
These alterations include
# the evolution of the muzzle crown from a flat to a rounded one,
# the alterations of the front sight from the initial period correct low profile to the later tall blade to optimize POA and POI.
To further improve the sighting picture the FAUL technicians also experimented with
# a post type front sight in the Pocket Army in 1962,
# a bead type front sight in the first batch of Marshals in 1971.
# The evolution from the period correct square ended to the tapered arbor in 3 steps – with and without separate grease groove – was an important step to cut cost without compromising performance. With some overlaps to use existing stocks this program was completed around 1965.
# The first “down-sizing” of chambers took place ca. 1964, the change from period correct large to mid-size chambers. For further details, please check the page MAJOR CHARACTERISTICS & UNIQUE FEATUERES OF THE “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY”
Sales during these early years must have been pleasing the FAUL management with no direct competition until 1963 when Uberti’s launched their version of the Colt 1860 Army. Thanks to the still booming US market and some export sales market demand must have outgrown by far the FAUL’s production capacity around 1965/66.
During the second half of the 1960s Sigmund Shore in the USA moved his business focus gradually away from further developing the NMA line at Centennial Arms Corp. Bill Edwards was more and more busy outside the Shore Group with his editorial tasks for gun magazines he had never given up. He also got involved with other research projects.
# Thanks to Clint Eastwood and the Lee van Cleefs of this world, together with the popularity of the Spaghetti Westerns another sales boost for Centaures unfolded on the Eastern banks of the big pond. What had happened? Cowboy clubs mushroomed in all Western European countries, the Europeans rediscovered black powder shooting with percussion revolvers. This did offset a flat or declining business with the USA.
Carefully at first but determined, cousins Paul and Albert Hanquet stepped into the drivers’ seat vacated by Bill Edwards and Sig Shore. They further extended the Centaure line of New Model Armies to maintain their attractiveness among discriminating shooters. From the late 1960s they got the backing of an eager, motivated network of young and enthusiastic European Western gun dealers like Bärbel Harlos in Germany.
# From a technical point of view 1967 is an important year in the Centaure history. During this year the first RNMAs with the new stainless look, or “in the white” finish or high gloss polish were introduced. Centaure variants marketed in this pretty look were the 5th and 6th variation of the RNMA.
# Prototypes of still another version of the RNMA were put together, namely the fluted cylinder & traditional finish 4th variation of the RNMA which some collectors today consider the most gracious of them all.
# This period must have coincided with the second “down-sizing” of the chambers from mid-size to the small version a feature which again pleased the target shooters.
Financially this steady growth trend continued until the end of the 1960s/early 1970s when low-cost Italian and Spanish black powder replica guns flooded the US and European markets in general but particularly attacked the percussion revolver segment. This led to an erosion of market prices in a still growing market.
FAUL felt forced to protect their position as the premium supplier in the 1860 Army segment. To further participate in this dynamic business they needed to develop and implement new, hard hitting strategies to secure growth options.
According to contemporary witnesses from outside the Belgian factory and in an attempt to interpret what happened “after the case” it appears that FAUL tried to combat this new hostile business environment by applying two strategies at the same time. From today’s perspective their implementation was not properly followed through and eventually led to the end of the Centaure production.
Strategy 1 – Reach New Customers in the Shooters’ & Collectors’ Fraction: This explains the line extension beginning in 1971 to five models and the aggressive launch of unique 1860 pattern pistols, until the cease of the FAUL percussion revolver production.
The first European introduction 1971 was a new short barrelled Centaure model named Marshal as a regular production gun. No unpractical separate loading rod like the ill-fated special order Pocket Army model of the early 1960s. This new pistol was fitted with a convenient loading lever instead. The 5,5” barrel Marshal was available in the trendy “stainless look”/high gloss polish with blued screws and wedge. Tirst variants had the 3 screw frame called 1st variation today, later also a 4 screw version was launched as 2nd variation. The latter had the F-prefix like the 2ndvariations Cavalry Model.
Next in line 1971 was the re-launch of the Cavalry Model as the 2nd variation: In contrast to the 7,5” tube of the 1st variation this new version was fitted with the 8” barrel of the RNMA. Only a total of some 170 pistols were produced in two sub-variations. The 1st sub-variation came without shoulder stock and a pair of 4th screws almost flush with the frame. The 2nd sub-variation had the typical protruding pair of 4th screws. Hence most were supplied with a matching shoulder stock.
Also the first factory engraved RNMAs in de Luxe style hitting the market were an immediate success. Like the later launched factory engraved Super de Luxe and Presentation style RNMAs and the Marshals in de Luxe style they were targeted at the collectors.
It is an often overlooked fact that FAUL wrote gun history with their introduction of the first stainless steel C&B revolver as the 7th variation RNMA. This happened years before Armi san Marco, Armi san Paolo aka Euroarms, Colt, Ruger and Uberti realized the market opportunity or had acquired the technology to join the joy ride.
Strategy 2 – Increase Production Output & Implement Cost Cutting: To accomplish these two objectives additional unskilled labor was hired … which quickly led to quality complaints and subsequent loss in credibility as the high quality gun maker demanding premium prices in the market place … see details in PRODUCTION page.
Be that as it may a couple of well thought of measures were implemented at the factory. Unfortunately, they did not pay out quickly enough, like the return of the square ended arbour, but without separate grease groove this time. Or back-straps that used to be welded from 3 separate parts were now casts.
The inventory cutting which went alongside with this program, however, is another explanation for the many small-scale variations and sub-variations of the New Model Army.
|Post-Centaure: Milestones 1992 through Today|
|2006||“Long Tall Texan” wins Ambush at Indian Creek, Donegal, PA, SASS Frontiersman Class, with Centaures|
|2007||Summer: Hofheim/Germany-Coppell/Texas connection established to research the Centaure C&B revolvers
September: foundation of special interest non-profit group FROCS FRiends Of the Centaure Society, supporter & furtherer of the Centaure research
Fall: rediscovery of 4 of 5 Centaure models RNMA, Civilian, Cavalry, Marshal
December: Centaure & FROCS Website www.1960nma.org online
|2008||“Long Tall Texan” champion PA State Black Powder Shootout, Muncy Valley, PA, SASS Frontiersman Class, with Centaures
February: established Coppell-Classification for clear-cut description of the confusing number of Centaure variants, rediscovery of 5th Centaure model Pocket Army in US literature and ads
May: K. Nedbal completes Centaure RNMA Richards conversion
August: K. Nedbal completes Centaure RNMA Thuer conversion
|2009||“Long Tall Texan“ wins PA State Black Powder Shootout, Donegal, PA, SASS Frontiersman Class, with Centaures
“Long Tall Texan” wins Ambush at Indian Creek, Donegal, PA, SASS Frontiersman Class, with Centaures
May: K. Nedbal completes Centaure Richards-Mason conversion
December: K. Nedbal completes first FROCS Special commemorative
|2010||February: visit Shore Galleries – collection of early Centaures, “colterized“ Centaures, inspection of first specimens of Pocket Armys
July: 1st FROCS Meeting in Hofheim, K. Nedbal presents Centaure RNMA “Mystery” conversion
December: K. Mumme completes Centaure Marshal Long Cylinder conversions
|2011||“Lederstrumpf” aka “Socks” champion 8th Open Hesse State Championship, Philippsburg, in BDS 1870 class, with Centaures
March: K. Nedbal completes Centaure RNMA Richards Transitional conversion
September: 2nd FROCS Meeting in Hofheim
|2012||“Cougar”: champion Frankfurt County Shoot, Frankfurt, in DSB Rapid Fire, with Centaure
“Long Tall Texas”: 3rd & clean match, PA State Championship, Muncy Valley, PA, SASS Frontiersman Class, with Centaures
“Magic Joe“: wins 9th Open Hesse State Championship, Philippsburg, in BDS 1870 class, with Centaures
“Fir Mountain Ranger”: clean match 9th Open Hesse State Championship, Philippsburg, in BDS 1870 class, with Centaures
“Magic Joe“: wins 12th Open German Championship Philippsburg Star, Philippsburg, in BDS 1870 class, with Centaures
“Magic Joe”: wins The Last Bullet, Philippsburg, in SASS Frontiersman class, with Centaures
August: 3rd FROCS Meeting in Hirschau
November/December: WBK-Kassel gunshow hosts VDW Centaure exhibition
|2013||“Magic Joe”: wins 3rd Open Range Gunfight, Klein-Umstadt, in BDS 1870 class, with Centaures
“Magic Joe”: wins 10th Open Hesse State Championship, Philippsburg, in BDS 1870 class, with Centaures
July: 4th FROCS Meeting in Rodgau-Jügesheim
When you bring into perspective the relative rareness of the different RNMAs, Cavalry, Civilians, Marshals or Pocket Army Models, their variations and sub-variations that leads to another interesting insight: because it is the many short runs and variations over the whole period of production of the New Model Army from 1959 to 1973 that created today’s growing interest for collectors of these guns.
# Total number of Centaures ca. 60,000 specimens? With slightly more than 16,000 confirmed MYTH BUSTED!
# Identical models and variaitons are numbered using different schemes in the USA and Europe? Sorry, wrong again. MYTH BUSTED!
# No correlation of serial numbers to year of production? Although no company & Liège Proof house records are available anymore indirect correlation through sale slips, proof house inspectors’ service terms etc. confirm correlation. MYTH BUSTED!