Can you ID this old Colt D.A. 38?


Chuck Dye
April 22, 2005, 08:49 PM
My best friend has acquired this Colt and asked help in identifying the model, year of manufacture, and chambering. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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April 22, 2005, 10:39 PM
This appears to be a Colt Model 1892 "New Army and Navy" revolver.

These were made from 1892 to 1901, with a total of 291,000 made.

Calibers were .38 Colt, .38 S&W, .41 Colt, and 32-20.
The .38 Colt and .41 Colt are obsolete rounds no longer made, and the .38 S&W was the short .38 round NOT the .38 Special.

Some of these revolvers have cylinders bored straight through, and the .38 Special and even .357 Magnum WILL chamber, but should NEVER be fired in these old guns.

This revolver is the direct ancestor of all the double action Colt revolvers made up until 1969, including the Official Police and Python.

Barrel lengths were 3", 4.5", and 6" standard, with blued or nickel finishes.
Standard grips were the "gutta percha" hard rubber as on your gun.

Jim Watson
April 22, 2005, 10:43 PM
That is a Colt New Army & Navy .38 Long Colt, made sometime between the last patent date of 1895 and the end of production in 1907. It is one of the infamous "left wheelers"; the cylinder rotates to the left instead of the right like most other Colt revolvers before and after. The action is kind of fragile and the cylinder is stressed ONLY for .38 Long Colt.
CAUTION, the cylinder is bored straight through and will chamber a .38 Special or even a .357 Magnum. Specials would wear the gun out rapidly, a +P or magnum would demolish it.
If it is tight and mechanically sound, it would be safe to shoot a little .38 Long Colt but the action is not sturdy and it will wear out faster than any other name brand revolver except the previous 1889 Navy model or 1877 Lightning.

Edit to add: Dfariswheel, I never heard of a Colt of this vintage being made in .38 S&W; thought that came along in later models under the name of .38 New Police or .38 Police Positive. But I don't have detailed collector references to say for sure.

April 23, 2005, 12:04 AM
I have one my father carried during the roaring 20's when he drove truck in Il. I shot it as a kid and we used wadcutters only knew my father to use it one time ,seemed to work that night. Its not shot any more and it still locks up tight I will leave to one of my daugthers when I go.

Old Fuff
April 23, 2005, 11:36 AM
Your revolver has pretty well been covered in previous posts. I would add that the serial number (79,9xx) indicates it was made in 1897. While it is possible some were made in .38 S&W (which Colt called the ".38 Colt New Police”) they would be extremely rare. Colt did not push anything that had "S&W" in its name.

If, as I expect, the chambers are bored straight through, it is chambered to use the .38 Long Colt cartridge, and should not be fired with .38 Special or in particular, .357 Magnum’s although they will sometimes fit in the chambers. I believe that some smaller companies are making .38 L.C. ammunition for cowboy action shooters, and that ammunition could be used in your revolver.

As an aside, this revolver was adopted as the official U.S. military sidearm in 1892, and while replaced in 1911 with a .45 pistol remained in service as late as World War Two.

Chuck Dye
April 23, 2005, 12:06 PM
Thanks folks! It does, indeed, appear that my friend’s Colt is the Model 1892 New Army & Navy in .38 L.C. with chambers bored through. Curious , though, that the most recent patent date is 1895 - an improvement? A search has found some ammo and an order has been placed. Seems the previous owner ran more than a few .38 Specials through the gun :what: , so it will get a thorough going over by a gunsmith before being fed anything. Any ideas as to value?

Jim Watson
April 23, 2005, 04:44 PM
All I have to go on is the Blue Book which says there were New Army & Navy variations of 1892, 1894, 1896, and 1901 without giving details as to what was done. Appearently he has the 1896 version based on an 1895 patent, actually made in 1897, but what that covered, I do not know.

Like I said, this and the earlier 1889 Navy left wheeler have a reputation for lack of durability and they may have been trying to beef up the basic design, but eventually gave up and brought out the Army Special in 1908 with normal (for Colt) right hand cylinder rotation and better lockup.

Jim K
April 23, 2005, 08:50 PM
First off, that gun is not military, it is the civilian model. It was called the Army and Navy Revolver, but Colt never assigned model numbers to its civilian guns. The Model 1892, etc., are military designations. Changes to the civilian guns tracked changes to the military guns, but Colt did not change the civilian designation.

As to the various model numbers and what they represent, it is confusing, but I will take a crack it.

First, the Model 1889, also called the New Navy revolver, locked up at the rear of the cylinder; there are no notches in the outer surface of the cylinder. Its deficiency was that when the trigger was released, the cylinder could turn, possibly resulting in a second attempt to fire the same chamber. The Model 1892, though appearing very similar, was improved, with the cylinder having two visible notches. The first was engaged by the top of the trigger to stop cylinder rotation. The second (front) engaged the cylinder when the trigger was released. A projection on the cylinder latch kept the cylinder from turning backward under pressure from the downward moving hand before the front cylinder stop engaged.

The system worked reasonably well, but wear on both the ratchet and the cylinder latch was high and often results in the guns not functioning correctly.

The Model 1892 gave reasonable service, but one complaint was that the gun would fire with the cylinder not quite closed. So the Model 1894 added a locking lever, which prevented the hammer from being cocked unless the cylinder latch was in the forward position (Frank B. Felton patent 535097, March 5, 1895. The design had actually been worked out in 1894 and was being installed on Model 1894 contract guns prior to the formal issuing of the patent). A screw end just under the latch indicates the presence of this modification.

The Model 1896 was the same as the Model 1894 except for strengthening the hand and bolt springs. There are statements made that the rifling and/or bore dimensions were changed at that time; this may be true, but I don't have both models for a comparison.

The Model 1901 was the same as the Model 1896, but has a lanyard ring. The Model 1903 is like the Model 1901 but has a shorter grip (front to back) and thinner stocks.

The Model 1905 USMC revolver is the same as the Model 1901, but has a rounded butt and a lanyard loop.

Wow! To add to the confusion, the Navy bought quantities as it had the money and took whatever Colt was making for the Army at the time, giving the guns a Navy model number. All the while, Colt was making civilian guns, tracking changes with the military model. Civilian models, for some reason, had a shorter (front to rear) and slightly differently shaped butt.

Then (do I dare go further), the Army and Navy kept upgrading the guns, the Navy even having Colt upgrade 1889 models to the 1894 configuration.

In any event, the .38 caliber failed rather miserably in the Philippines, and the Army once more went to .45 caliber, adopting the Model 1909 revolver, which would be supplanted in a short time by the Model 1911 auto pistol.

Much of this information comes from the book "A Study of Colt's New Army and Navy Pattern Double Action Revolvers 1889 to 1908", by Robert Best. The knowledge of the internal workings and the problems with the guns comes from personal knowledge, learned from frustrating experience trying to time those blankety blank guns.


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