The Belgian Colts – Shooting the Historically Challenged Centaure 1860 Army Colt

Visually the Centennial Centaure is nothing special. It is not as historically correct as the modern Pietta copies. And the fit and finish are nothing you would say wow that’s pretty, like with a 3rd Gen. Colt. Why these guys command such high prices was my question. And you be the judge if it was answered.

Beware of pump ‘n dumps! That was my approach when I learned about Colt 1860 Army revolvers made in Belgium. They are called by the manufacturer name sometimes, “Fabriques d’Armes Unies des Liège (F.A.U.L.)”. And sometimes you see them called Centennials, because that is what they say on them. That also reflects when they were released. In 1960, the 1860 Army was 100 years old, and that is from then that the “Centaure,” which is its most common name, originates. But they all say Made in Belgium, which makes them different from every other replica Colt percussion revolver.

I had never heard of these guns until a few years ago, then I saw a ton of people talking about them on my Civil War and black powder boards. Then I found a convoluted website that seems to be the source from which all the hubub has originated. Historical provenance is a constant source of fraud in the gun world, and that is why you will never see me pitching the ideal of buying original antiques. I do have some, but I do not suggest that you go down that road. Replicas are much more fun. One of our most prominent authors and appraisers from the 1980s actually went to jail for defrauding collectors with fakes (R.L. Wilson), and people are still buying his books today.

The story of the Centaure has it that Sam Colt visited Belgium in 1853 and licensed some Belgian gun makers to build his famous line of revolvers. This part of the story is true. The guns are called the Colt Brevete, and it was an 1851 Navy copy. There are also rifle versions, all in 36 caliber.

I mistakenly called this logo a minotaur in the video. The correct name is Centaure, by which this gun is usually referred.

That is where things get hinky. Because we are then asked to believe that almost a decade later, this same group of guys built an 1860 Army. Yet there are not even enough Brevetes to warrant their own Wikipedia page, even though a hardcover book was released in 2012 about them. This book claims that Colt used a licensing scheme to bring some money in against the numerous bootleg copies being made in Europe at the time. Until that book, the Colt Brevette was synonymous with period manufactured “Colt Fake”.

They are called Centaure because Centennial, the parent company, copied the the idea of the Colt horse logo with a similar looking image of a mythical centaure creature. it has the torso of a man and the body of a horse from the waist down.

The markings on the gun reflect the Centennial anniversary of the 1860 Colt Army. They were released in 1960.

I love silly stuff. But this clearly silly logo, to me, indicates that these guns had zero historical relevance at the time, and that the chance they were made with any machinery from Colt is about zero. All of the percussion replicas, to this day, have been made by true enthusiasts, with a reverence for the heritage of these guns. If there was any true historical significance those machines would have been auctioned to collectors long before 1960. To me that silly logo just screams, “enjoy these guns but do not take them seriously.”

The Made in Belgium is what will surprise most people. I can’t say that it wasn’t me who used the gun as a hammer at some point. But I don’t recall doing so. These were never meant to be treasured collectibles. But as a high quality replica they are definitely no slouch.

But if you look around the internet, including right here on GunsAmerica, you will find that the Centaure commands a very high price. I have seen them listed for upwards of $1,000, even though I paid $500 each for the two that I own. Even $500 is high for a “nothing special” replica percussion revolver, but I wanted to dig into this saga myself. Most of the Centaures that you find on the market have a good deal of wear, but my mine are pretty clean and tight. And after shooting one of them for the video, I would say both have been worked on by a gunsmith at some point, probably a SASS guy.

Are the Guns all that Special?

Shooting one of my two guns for performance, head to head with a brand new Pietta 1860 Army, I do see why the guns were considered desirable by shooters. I don’t know if this gun was tuned up by a gunsmith, and I suspect that it was, but I can see that with a good, tuned, mouse fart load that is made just for target shooting, the Centaure is going to be a rock solid performer. I have shot the other gun, as soon as I got it out of curiosity, and it was nothing special. But sitting down with this one head to head, i do see it.

My guns do not have any of the markings that are shown on the FROCS website. They don’t even have the quasi battle scene you will see on many guns apparently.

For the average hobby shooter, or even a casual SASS shooter, as you can see from the video, the Pietta is no slouch either, right out of the box. Both guns group into about a 4-5″ circle with fairly hot loads from a plastic table at 10 yards. This is several times the distance of your average SASS target, so if you back down your powder to just within the velocity rules, I’m sure that the gun will perform just as well. If you care about performance and winning, send it out to one of the SASS gunsmiths and they will tune it up and bring it to shoot to point of aim.

In the video I mentioned the issue of shooting to point of aim. Most of the Colt replicas, going back to my first 36 caliber 1851 Navy, shoot high, often as much as a foot. to fix this you can either file the notch in the hammer back, or replace the front sight with a higher pin. Most people choose the former, and good gunsmiths can do it very discretely. The Centaure shot to point of aim “right out of the box,” but the box was the shipping box from a GunsAmerica seller after the gun had been through its paces for over 50 years. I would take the performance example as a best case scenario should you up to find one of these guns.

In the video I shot three targets each from the Centaure and a brand new Pietta 1860 Army. Accept for the Pietta not shooting to point of aim, which is fairly standard for Italian replicas, the accuracy with roundballs was comparable, with a slight edge to the Centaure. I am pretty sure the gun has had a tune up and sight adjustment in it’s 50 year or so history.

In part iI do think the hype can be somewhat attributable to word of mouth among shooters. When I was shooting SASS matches in the early 90s, I remember a guy who always won the category for those of us who were shooting percussion revolvers. I was shooting Colt Patterson replicas at the time (before they banned them, and not cuz a me!), and I consistently finished last because the guns are quirky and you can’t shoot them fast. I never really investigated what made that guy so successful. But he was for sure shooting 1860 Armies, and I suspect they were Centaures.

A Brief (ahum) “History” of the Centaure

The Centenial project was created by a couple of guys who were not part of Navy Arms at the time. Some websites claim that they were originally involved with the negotiations in Italy involving Aldo Uberti, and the first generation of awesome Italian replicas of Civil War guns. But good luck trying to verify anyone’s claim, as all of these guys are long gone.

Apparently the company was started by William B. Edwards, a gun historian, and it was financed by Sigmund Shore. If you want to read up on what is out there, the site with the most random facts is FROCS, in their “Book of the Centaure.” I find the site difficult to figure out when you are looking for the real story, but that could be because the real story does not exist. I have no idea what FROCS means, and I honestly don’t care.

The hype, I think, was created to show off an elaborate collection of these guns, owned by the descendants and friends of the original principles. I will not come out and say it is an intentional pump ‘n dump. You be the judge.

Because what for sure does exist is a ginornormous collection of Centaures that were engraved, plated, and otherwise adorned with some of the most tasteful artwork I have ever seen on a Colt. The battle scene on the cylinder of the original Centaures is rudimentary, and does not exist on the two that I own. But the elaborate work done on these guns is itself very collectible, regardless of what you think of the verifiable history of the underlying guns. There are claims that famous engravers did some of the work, but I don’t know enough about researching engravers to even ascertain if these claims are true.

My issue is that the primary source of information on these guns claims that it came about in apparently 2020, based on the notes at the bottom of the pages. But the Wayback machine has no record of the site before Dec. 3rd, 2021. I also saw people talking about them for quite a while before finally seeing that link posted in a forum. And the page source on the site does not have a timestamp in the META tags.

This shouts “caveat emptor” pretty loudly to me. I had never heard of the guns prior to 2019 myself. And those that have come for sale on the major gun selling platforms online have not been from this elaborately engraved collection. They have generally been guns with a lot of wear, all listed for sale after repeated postings on the black powder discussion boards by a select few people.

My suspicion is that someone thought to prep the market for a large estate sale of these guns at some point in the future. And I am sure many people have contacted the people because of that website to try to front run such a sale and make offers on the guns. I would love to have a few of them myself. It is also no surprise that resourceful long time shooters of these guns gamed up the prices online while people were talking about them.

No doubt there will be a cadre of defenders in the comments who paid big bucks for one more of these guns recently. But to them I (always) say, there is a quote by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, who was a brief contemporary of Sam Colt (he was 27 when the latter died).

“It is easier to fool people than it is to convince them that they have been fooled. “

So How Do You Figure All The Expensive Engraving?

There is no mystery as to why such elaborate work would be put into replica Colts. Because unlike true period guns, the brand new in the box Centaures had little intrinsic collectible value themselves, similar to a Pietta today. Navy Arms never came out with an 1860 Army, so the majority of the people who love this model had no way to even own one, let alone a fancy one. The Centaure is clearly more elegantly made than an 1851 Navys of the time as well. And unlike the the ’51 Navy, and also the Remington New Model Army, there are curved surfaces on the ’60 Army that make it much harder to manufacture.

Navy Arms was doing fine with what they had, and though Italy would eventually produce a lot of what most people consider the most elegant Colt, at the time production would have been way too expensive for what these otherwise “cheap guns” commanded. I paid $75 for my original brass frame 36 caliber 1851 Navy.

At the time, engraving a Civil War era Colt would have been considered blasphemy, but by golly those of us who love these guns love love love them would have no problem spending our money on a fancy copy. So when the Centaure became available, I am sure that those of means took advantage of the well made replicas to build their dream Colts. My father spent tens of thousands of dollars on an engraving an Italian shotgun few people had ever heard of at the time, (Bertuzzi), just so he could immortalize the bird dogs that he hunted beside during his tenure. Gun people like what we like.

Quantifying Performance

As you can see in the video, I did have to happily eat a little crow on how well the Centaure shot. I came into the review of one of these guns with an attitude. Pump ‘n dump is one of things i just can tolerate in the historical gun world, and I knew from what I saw that the historical significance of these guns was a joke.

i shot paper roundballs using paper cartridges in my tests. The kit is at cartridgekits.com. In the 44 kit, just beware that you have to use the minimum dipper fill with conicals. Roundballs tolerate a lot more powder.

I have to also note that Pietta admittedly does not make their normal production guns for competitive shooters. In the ’58 Remington they even build a “Shooters Revolver” model, with a trademark silver trigger guard. It features progressive rifling and cylinder holes all bored by the same cutter. Shot to shot they are very consistent. I have two of those also and will cover them at a later time. They are $1,100 at Dixie Gunworks. Both of mine came from GunsAmerica, and were in the $800 range used.

I couldn’t find my second Centaure on this trip to the range, so I may return to this subject later. I have to get stuff done when things line up “good enough,” and this was good enough. If this Centaure is not representative of the one you guy, this would be understandable. I found a lot of them that were so loose they were barely together, all north of $500 in 2021.

My feeling is that there is no reason to seek out one or more of these Belgian Colts. Clearly when the fancy ones come into the market they are not going to sell for utility prices. One article is not going to break the Mark Twain rule, and I don’t think I will return to this subject.

Roundball Paper Cartridges

For this test I tried to focus on how I would envision most people shooting these guns. The 1860 Army is the best of the BP revolvers for shooting conicals. It was shipped at the time with the Colt 44H bullet mold, which included a conical and a roundball for every cast. But despite the availability of the very good Johnson & Dow bullet historical conical mold from Eras Gone Bullets, most people shoot roundballs, usually in the .451 swaged size.

This video is indexed to where I make roundball cartridges when you click play. You just cut the paper a little longer and fill the dipper to almost overflowing to get the most full snot loads that will still compress right. for conicals you don’t want that much powder for the Colts. Make sure you can see the edges of the dipper.

I didn’t have any of those around, so I brought my .457 hand cast roundballs, loaded into paper cartridges made from cigarette rolling papers. They system is available at cartridgekits.com. I used the standard 44 kit, and with roundballs, you can fill the dipper right up for the Colts. If you want to make conical rounds, be sure to test your first one for height before making a lot. If you can’t seat it all the way, don’t force it. Take a knife and scrape away the top of the bullet until it clears the cylinder gap. Then reduce the powder charge by how much you had to scrape.

These days I use Hodgdon Triple Se7en for all but my flintlocks, and for that reason I don’t shoot my flintlocks often. If you are a purist, and can find some real black powder these days without having to take out a second mortgage, you should have similar performance. Triple Se7en has advantages with velocity, but I have never seen an inherent accuracy advantage. Just make sure to dip your cartridges in a good lube so that the fouling stays soft and mushy. Otherwise your cylinder will start to drag fairly quickly. And I do not suggest you force it.

You do have to clean your guns with Triple Se7en, especially if you leave them in a humid environment, but it is not even close to real black powder when it comes to corrosion. If you want to leave rounds to sit for years and wait to be shot, seal them in something to protect them from moisture and humidity. This you would not have to do with real BP. But otherwise, there is no advantage at all. Don’t even waste your time on Pyrodex or other BP substitutes. Triple Se7en is all you will ever need. And no, they don’t pay me to say that. I don’t even bother to ask them to send it to me for free anymore.

A .451 roundball will not shave in these guns, so loading will be a lot easier. When you make paper cartridges in advance, it makes for a nice day at the range. Again, just make sure you lube the bullets, and if you don’t use paper cartridges, make sure you thumb some lube into the front of the chamber.

Historical Farces

When it comes to collectibles in the gun world, I suggest that you stick to what you personally love. Don’t follow the herd, any herd. And don’t believe that there is a new trend in valuations for something that was not formerly collectible. Replicas are not inherently collectible. They are basically fakes, and have no provenance at all. If you personally love a double action Starr, and you can get the Pietta copy to shoot, great. If you love Pattersons and want to see what Jack Hays had to deal with on his horse, go buy one and shoot it. That is what these guns are all about. Enjoy them. You may never feel like shooting your Glock again.

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  • Bert Barnett October 21, 2022, 10:22 pm

    I have owned a variety of Centennial Arms revolvers (Belgian make) throughout the years; mostly as collectibles, one as a shooter. During the CW Centennial, they produced a good variety. My favorite is the “Jeb Stuart” which was a shoulder-stocked, fluted cylinder, 4-screw early model, with a 7 & 1/2” bbl. Others were made in standard 3-screw versions. Quality started out as very good, but by the 1970’s was not reliably as good, as competition intensified. It was speculated that a # were produced as engraved “dealer sweeteners,” to induce stocking dealers to carry them. My shooter was one of my favorite C & B guns, accurate & reliable w/.451 roundballs.

  • Cary Nickel October 18, 2022, 8:19 am

    Interesting to see this article considering I just purchased a Centennial 1960 New Model Army about 2-3 weeks ago. I almost passed on it, as I already had a 30+ year old Traditions/Armi San Marcos 1860 that I bought new and wasn’t really interested in another 1860. But the Belgium angle intrigued me, and the price was right. I’ve been around guns, including blackpowder, for 45 years and had not heard of the Centennial/Centaure, and didn’t really take notice until I spotted the “Made in Belgium” on the bottom of the grip frame. I’ve owned many old Spanish and Italian blackpowder weapons (and still own a few), but had never seen one made in Belgium. I research everything to death (helps that I have a background in investigation) so while I pondered the potential purchase, I was able to quite quickly trace and locate information on the Centennial/Centaure going back quite a bit further than 2020, particularly discussion among cowboy action shooters, with references to the FROCS (Friends of the Centaure Society) website, going back to at least 2007, and some of the names considered “experts” back then are still involved in researching and cataloguing them today. Many of these folks are European, and considered the pistols collectible even then, which is understandable considering modern Europeans aren’t known for their widespread “gun culture” the way the US is. Guns aren’t everywhere, and folks seeking out particular weapons seem to do so out of interest, and dare I say “love” for the subject (even all things associated with the US “Old West”), more so than as monetary investments. The main “movers and shakers” on the subject of Centennial/Centaure “1960 New Model Army” revolvers are both German, and I suspect much of what you see as the convoluted nature of the website stems from translation issues between the German and English languages more than anything else. Honestly, I don’t get the sense of any “pump and dump”, considering the time period involved…15 years and counting is a long time for a scheme like that, and folks interested in traditional blackpowder aren’t getting any younger…there are fewer and fewer of us all the time (Just look at the variety of reproduction flintlocks, caplocks, and cap and ball revolvers, and kits to build them, widely available in the 1970’s-80’s, compared to now, where inline muzzleloading has become king…Much to my chagrin) Anyhoo, I like novelty (and even more so a good story, and the Samuel Colt story surrounding the Centennial/Centaure, even if a “tall tale”, certainly qualifies!), so that’s the main reason I decided to purchase my Centennial/Centaure. Heck, just the fact that it predates the Italian replicas is enough of a historical tidbit for me (According to the serial number, mine appears to date back to the mid-1960’s). It does seem to be a quality pistol. A previous owner really buggered the screws on mine, but otherwise it’s in very good condition. The action is tight, and the trigger pull is crisp. Mine also has the traditionally highly detailed 1860 Colt-style engraving on the cylinder. I haven’t fired mine yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

  • Mark N. October 18, 2022, 2:04 am

    I agree that these reproductions are not collectible, but are meant to be shot. However, they have been going up a lot in price since I bought my first one for $300 twenty years ago.

    What do you have against Pyrodex? I’ve never had any issue with corrosion using it, and 40 grains by volume in a .45 Colt is quite a thump. The only thing I found using it is that you have to use more than the manufacturer’s recommended maximum load for the particular pistol. The first time I shot my first, a Pietta ’61 Navy, the ball would not clear the forcing cone with the recommended 15 grain load, but was quite happy with 20 grains. I also noted that some of the historical paper cartridges where anywhere from 12 grains to 20 grains, most falling around 17. Not that I would stand in front of one, but it isn’t a particularly powerful load. I also use lubed wads. On the second shot, the wad cleans out a lot of the gunk from the first shot. They also nicely lube the barrel as you go.

    • Paul Helinski October 18, 2022, 10:54 pm

      It does not have the velocity consistency of Triple Se7en. It cruds up much quicker. It stinks to high heaven.

  • Ken October 17, 2022, 5:57 pm

    I have one of these. It is really Fine shooting. And the Firearm has the Look of what a 1860 might have looked like when being in use/issued in the civil war. Mine would be not quite MINT. I have shot it, and cleaned it immediately afterword. It is tight, and not close to Worn out. Whoever owned it before me, took really good care of it as well. I have the original box for it too, the box is worn. It is by it’s serial number a 65 year made one. The cylinder engraving of the Naval battle is just like all the other 1860 army revolvers I have seen, nice engraving. It does shoot dead on nice for a firearm of that type, Point of Aim. I doubt a gunsmith ever did this gun, they just came Nice in the 60’s. back then there was a real Civil War nostalgia thing going on.

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