Old Colt SAA revolver with history


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RancidSumo
July 20, 2008, 06:57 PM
My dad recently gave me an old Colt revolver. It was given to my dad's grandfather shortly after the Johnson County Cattle Wars in exchange for a train ticket out of Wyoming. The other in the pair is on the other side of the family. It originally had ivory grips but my grandfather took them off so he could shoot it without worring about them. It is a 38 W.C.F. six shot revolver. Patent date is September 19, 1871. Other markings are under the Pat, it is stamped July 2 72 Jan 19 75. To the right of that there is then Colt horse with the arrows or spears or whatever they are. On the right side of the trigger guard is what looks like an upside down triangle with a V joined with a P inside it. On the right side of the barrel it is stamped 38 W.C.F. and on the top of the barrel it says, COLT'S PT.F.A. MFG. Co. HARTFORD CT. U.S.A. The serial number is also in three places. Anyone have any information on value or anything else about this gun or caliber?

http://i307.photobucket.com/albums/nn285/RancidSumo/Firearms/7-20-2008_035.jpg

http://i307.photobucket.com/albums/nn285/RancidSumo/Firearms/7-20-2008_036.jpg

http://i307.photobucket.com/albums/nn285/RancidSumo/Firearms/7-20-2008_041.jpg

http://i307.photobucket.com/albums/nn285/RancidSumo/Firearms/7-20-2008_042.jpg

http://i307.photobucket.com/albums/nn285/RancidSumo/Firearms/7-20-2008_043.jpg

http://i307.photobucket.com/albums/nn285/RancidSumo/Firearms/7-20-2008_044.jpg

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RancidSumo
July 20, 2008, 07:12 PM
Ok, pics are up. Sorry for the poor quality.

woodsltc
July 20, 2008, 07:23 PM
Lots of knowledgeable people here that can help you. But the guys on the "Colt Forum" may be more experienced in the old SAA Colts.

Try this link: http://www.coltforum.com/

Don

dfariswheel
July 20, 2008, 07:47 PM
Much depends on exactly when the revolver was made.
Here's a site that will allow you to determine actual year made:

http://proofhouse.com/colt/

What determines actual value in Colt Single Actions is condition, year made, barrel length, and caliber, among others.
If you have any documentation about the Johnson County War concerning THIS specific gun, that will add to the value.

You can buy a Colt factory Historical Letter that will tell you everything Colt knows about the gun.
This will include the date it was shipped, the original finish, caliber, barrel length, type of grips, and WHO it was shipped to.
The letter costs and takes time to get, but this would be an invaluable addition to the gun:

http://www.coltsmfg.com/cmci/historical.asp

The "upside down" triangle is a "VP" in a triangle.
This is Colt's "Verified Proof" stamp indicating the gun passed inspection.

Your gun is a smokeless frame model as made after 1896.
Since the Johnson County War was in 1892, the fact that your Colt was made in 1896 may conflict with the family history of it.

DO NOT "clean up" the gun or alter anything until an expert has seen this gun, evaluated it, and placed a value on it.
Many guns that WERE worth thousands of dollars were worth hundreds of dollars after someone mistakenly "cleaned it up".

I'd suggest first checking for the year on the above site, then contacting Colt for a factory letter.
After that, contact the Colt Collector's Association and ask about finding an expert to give you a true appraisal.

RancidSumo
July 20, 2008, 08:45 PM
I just talked with some family and my understanding of the story was slightly off. The gun was aquired sometime in the ten years following the JCCW by my great granfather, Gustave States.

What would you consider the condition to be? The only problem other then the obvious lack of finish is scratches on the front sight. The finish is slightly better then it appears in the pics because the light made it look more "shiny" then it actually is. The color in the second pic just above the trigger is about the color of the entire gun other then some areas of the barrel.

RancidSumo
July 20, 2008, 08:51 PM
Would shooting it once or twice with some mild handloads be alright or should I just put that idea out of my head now?

XavierBreath
July 20, 2008, 09:04 PM
DO NOT "clean up" the gun or alter anything until an expert has seen this gun, evaluated it, and placed a value on it.
Many guns that WERE worth thousands of dollars were worth hundreds of dollars after someone mistakenly "cleaned it up".

I'd suggest first checking for the year on the above site, then contacting Colt for a factory letter.
After that, contact the Colt Collector's Association and ask about finding an expert to give you a true appraisal.

I can't do better than that. You have been given a gift of significant family and historical value, as well as one of (I suspect) significant monetary value. I am far from being a SAA expert, or even amatuer, but it appears the gun is 100% correct to my uneducated eye. There is a fair chance the ivory grips shipped from Colt with the gun. A factory letter will state whether or not they did.

I, too, cannot emphasize enough that nothing should be put on this gun but a light coating of oil. Do not try to clean it up, and whatever you do, don't have it re-blued.

In addition to the Colt factory letter, you might want to consider having a presentation case made up for it. Google "wooden gun box" and you will get an idea of what is available.

Old Colts have always had a ready and willing market, but the interest has skyrocketed with the popularity of SASS. Do not entertain any offers until a bonafide expert has appraised your revolver.

At The Armchair Gunshow (http://www.armchairgunshow.com/otsCA_single_action_army.htm), Jim Supica has a reworked 1st Generation, smokeless frame SAA that is going for $2,250. His listing reads:
Colt Single Action Army Revolver - 1st Generation, smokeless frame. - with documents from Colt & ATF - .38 WCF (.38-40) - Altered to Excellent condition. - Excellent quality refinish, grip frame, hammer & ejctr housing about 100% blue; frame with about all excellent case colors; cylinder 95%, left side barrel 40%, right side 90% what appears to be original blue w/ some small light rust spots. Some of the strong markings are probably reworked. Good mech; excellent bore; excellent replaced grips. - Documents show originally shipped with shorter 4.75” barrel in this caliber to Hibbard Spencer Bartlett, June 5, 1911, single gun shipment. With “JAK” initialed evidence tag. - s/n 317970 - C&R - item #CA-7970 - $2,250

SouthpawShootr
July 20, 2008, 09:06 PM
Would shooting it once or twice with some mild handloads be alright or should I just put that idea out of my head now?


Get that Colt letter first. If it's original, I wouldn't shoot it. I suspect it's worth a great deal of money (not to mention the sentimental worth of family heirloom status). Preserve it in the condition it is now in as best you can. Lots of collectors around, so it shouldn't be hard to find a referral to an expert who can appraise your gun, but you'd probably need to have that letter for an accurate appraisal.

RancidSumo
July 20, 2008, 09:14 PM
Ok, thanks. I won't shoot it now but it is very hard not to. The gun just feels perfect in my hands and points great. Guess I will have to go buy a new single action revolver to shoot. Anyone have any info on the 38 W.C.F.?

XavierBreath
July 20, 2008, 09:22 PM
The 1860 and 1866 were both great steps forward, but the best was yet to come. In 1873 the now-legendary Winchester '73 emerged differing from the 1866 in two major areas. The frame was made of steel instead of brass. The ammunition was no longer rimfire but a reloadable centerfire, the .44 Winchester Center Fire, known today as the .44-40.

The original chambering was joined by the .38 Winchester Centerfire in 1879, and this was followed by the .32 Winchester Centerfire in 1882. When Colt added these three cartridges to the Colt Single Action Army it became possible for a shooter of that age to have a sixgun and saddlegun that chambered the same cartridge. A most desirable feature.Link (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BQY/is_6_46/ai_62370186)

Beagle-zebub
July 20, 2008, 09:23 PM
If I were you, I wouldn't sell it for love or money. It's an heirloom not only of your family, but of how long they have been in Wyoming.

Packman
July 20, 2008, 09:24 PM
Not me, but just my opinion...

That gun is a family heirloom. Treasure it. If you give it up, you'll never have another like it, even if you get an identical model. In my family, family guns stay in the family. No matter what. A personal history is worth more than any monetary value to me.

That said, it's your gun. Definitely have it appraised.

XavierBreath
July 20, 2008, 09:27 PM
TAFFIN TESTS: THE .38-40 (.38WCF) (http://www.sixguns.com/tests/tt3840.htm)

The .38-40 is a .44-40 necked down, which is basically a .45 necked down to .44 caliber, and perfectly good .38-40 brass can be made from .44-40 brass with properly designed sizing dies as offered by RCBS. The standard .38-40 sizing die does not push the shoulder back far enough, however, using the RCBS trim die and extended shell holder, .44-40's are instantly transformed into .38-40's.

The .38-40 was also offered in the Colt DA Frontier and New Service, the Smith & Wesson Single Action, Double Action Frontier, and Triplelock, the Merwin & Hulbert, and is now being offered in both Single Action and Bisley replicas from Italy. After 50 years of being dead and buried as far as American Manufacturers were concerned, the .38-40 is once again being offered by Buckeye Sports in the Ruger Blackhawk Convertible supplied with two cylinders, one for the aged .38-40 and the other for the modern up-to-date 10MM.


A look at the specs of the .old 38-40 proves quite interesting. From a black powder sixgun, the 180 grain bullet had a muzzle velocity of 975 feet per second. The .38-40 is not a .38 at all, (which is really a .358), but is .40 caliber. The ancient .38-40 turns out to be the exact equivalent of today's hottest defensive cartridges, namely the .40 S&W and the 10MM in its FBI loading, which are both .40 caliber with a 180 grain bullet at 975 feet per second. The .38-40 chambered in a modern sixgun turns out to be the Smith & Wesson Model 610 in 10MM chambering.

The present .38-40 Winchester factory loading consists of a 180 grain jacketed soft point that clocks 872 feet per second when shot from a six and one-half inch barreled sixgun and over the triple skyscreens of the Oehler Model 35P. At this speed it seems like a terrible waste of good jacketed bullets, BUT liability rears its ugly head once again and there are plenty of ancient black powder sixguns out there that could become bombs with hotter ammunition. I also clocked some .38-40 ammo I had left over from the 1950's that were headstamped Western averaging 972 feet per second and the warmer Remington UMC going 1023, all from the same six and one-half inch sixgun. ALL HANDLOADS MENTIONED IN THIS EDITION ARE FOR USE ONLY IN THE RUGER .38-40 BLACKHAWK OR THE THOMPSON CENTER CONTENDER! THEY ARE ESPECIALLY NOT FOR USE IN COLT SINGLE ACTIONS OR IN COLT REPLICAS.

The .38-40, being a bottle-necked cartridge as are the .32-20 and .44-40, is not as easy to reload as standard straight-walled sixgun cartridges such as the .44 Magnum or .45 Colt. Extra steps are added as cases must first be lightly lubed, then sized, then wiped clean, before expanding, priming and reloading. Bullet seating can also be a problem as the combination of a tight neck, or slightly oversized bullet, or both, will result in a collapsed neck unless bullets are seated and then crimped separately. This of course adds another step to the loading routine. Case necks, while not quite as fragile as either the .32-20 or .44-40, dent quite easily and if they are fed into the die at any stage off-center, it is already too late. The brass is ruined. Slow and steady may or may not win the race, but it is the only way to approach the reloading of the WCF line of sixgun cartridges.

The accuracy of the .38-40 has always been hampered by revolver barrels with oversized groove diameters. The .38-40, like the .401 PowerMag, is a true 10MM but barrels were often many thousandths over size. This of course did nothing for accuracy. The new Ruger Blackhawk .38-40 (available only from Buckeye Sports, 2655 Harrison Ave, SW, Dept AH, Canton Ohio 44706) is built on the large Super Blackhawk sized frame and has a tight barrel as can be easily witnessed by the fact that it shoots 10MM loads exceptionally well with the auxiliary 10MM cylinder installed. At last we have a properly chambered and barreled .38-40 sixgun, that is also far superior in strength to any previously offered .38-40 sixgun.

RancidSumo
July 20, 2008, 09:38 PM
I have no intention of selling it. I just want to know about it including the value. This gun, just like the many others that have been passed down in my family, will never be sold. Well, I will never sell them anyway.

RancidSumo
July 20, 2008, 09:43 PM
XavierBreath, that listing on The Armchair Gunshow has been refinished right? If so, would mine be worth more or less?

Iggy
July 20, 2008, 09:51 PM
If Gustave States was a participant in the JCCW, there are probably records and maybe even pictures of him floating around.
The Gang that went up to clean out Johnson County weren't bashful while they were in Cheyenne.

There are probably extensive records of who was there and what they did on the JC war. The State museum and archives in Cheyenne and the library at the University should have a great deal of stuff about that little fracas. Also museums and historical societies in Sheridan and Buffalo may be a good source of info.

Jim March
July 20, 2008, 09:56 PM
XavierBreath, that listing on The Armchair Gunshow has been refinished right? If so, would mine be worth more or less?

Between the original finish and the ivory grips (even better if the ivories are original or at least Colt-sourced of that period), I suspect your gun is worth more.

Your front sight appears to be mildly customized but it was done tastefully and in a pattern I've not seen an exact match to.

XavierBreath
July 20, 2008, 10:04 PM
XavierBreath, that listing on The Armchair Gunshow has been refinished right? If so, would mine be worth more or less?If you have any remnants of the original finish at all, your revolver would be worth more. When you consider that the one Supica is auctioning has had a barrel swap, your revolver could be worth significantly more if you have the original barrel.

RancidSumo
July 20, 2008, 10:17 PM
The barrel is original I think. It has Colt markings and there is about 50% of the finish left. Other then that the gun is in great shape. It has a 7.5 inch barrel. How can I tell if the grips are original? Would the set be worth more then two random Colt SAAs of the period? They both have ivory grips. I plan on contacting the person who has the other one and seeing if he has any more information about them and their history.

Catalina25
July 20, 2008, 11:00 PM
RancidSumo, Man good for you. So, did I read that right there is two of these? Matching? TKM

TallPine
July 20, 2008, 11:29 PM
Wow, what a treasure! :)

The .38-40 is a .44-40 necked down, which is basically a .45 necked down to .44 caliber

So does this mean that the 44-40 (and 38-40) basically use the same balloon head brass as the .45 Colt ?

RancidSumo
July 20, 2008, 11:37 PM
RancidSumo, Man good for you. So, did I read that right there is two of these? Matching? TKM

Not sure what TKM means but yes, it is one of a matching pair. The other is on the other side of the family.

mtngunr
July 20, 2008, 11:44 PM
Great heirloom! The hammer looks like a 3rd Gen Hammer in the RH view....also the total lack of case color gives that impression, but it's hard to tell from the photos...

Barrel marking detail will tell if it's the correct barrel for the vintage.

Assy number on loading gate and on cylinder frame under top grip strap should match.

Ejector, tube, grips, basepin, trigger look correct.

If Doc O'Meara posts here, show him this stuff, as he's written several Colt books....or try the www.sixgunnercommunity.com forum and page him there.

You will not harm the gun by shooting SAAMI spec .38WCF ammo, and will not increase its value by not shooting....it's already well-used and modified, and the smokeless-proof gun is plenty safe to shoot.

Even if it's only mostly Colt parts, and broken, it would still be a $1000 gun...all original 1st Gen parts would make it a $2000 min. gun even with sight mod....replacement 1st Gen hammer in nice shape for your manufacture date would be $300-$400 IF your hammer isn't original....but, it's a shooter-grade, was made to be shot, and you need to take it out periodically and shoot it....

Can't say about the ivories....the insanely expensive Colt letter would let you know what configuration the gun shipped in, including finish, grips, and barrel/caliber.

Very nice family gun....VERY nice...about the same shape as my 1st Gen .38WCF, but the only story with mine is that it was owned by a WWII Screaming Eagle vet who bought it well used out in Colorado....

mtngunr
July 20, 2008, 11:48 PM
There ain't no balloon head brass in any caliber, and hasn't been since almost Frankford arsenal BP load days....the .45 COLT is a different load than the 38 or 44 WINCHESTER, the Winchester loads originally rifle loads for the 1873, as well as the 32WCF....all cases today are solid head, and have been for almost 100yrs.

RancidSumo
July 21, 2008, 09:48 AM
^^ What makes you think it is modified? And there is no way it is third gen.

RancidSumo
July 21, 2008, 10:04 AM
http://www.appliedinternet.com/guns/colt-saa-1st-gen/

There. Looks like the same hammer in that picture as on my gun.

As for the finish, I don't know. It wasn't a collectors gun untill my dad got it and I am sure that is obvious from the pics. I believe the front sight has not been replaced, I think it was ground down in the back for some reason as the back where it curves up is shinny and has no finish. If someone could help me with determining wether the barrel is original or not I would really appreciate it.

TallPine
July 21, 2008, 11:26 AM
all cases today are solid head, and have been for almost 100yrs.

I know that - I was talking about the originals. :rolleyes:

mtngunr
July 21, 2008, 11:52 AM
3rd Gen hammers have a flatter flat at the top point....one photo looks like there's flat possibly there, but admitted it's hard to tell from photos supplied....also, the hammers were originally case-colored, and that one looks polished...and the front sight has been altered....these latter two all qualify as "modified"....the gun is worth buying several books on Colt SAA's, and it's very hard on the internet to post/type every possible permutation of what to look for to determine originality....I suspect your gun is 100% original parts with hammer polished and front sight modified, BUT, the gun would need to be disassembled to verifiy assembly numbers, barrel/frame marking and SN placement, correct hammer/cylinder, etc.....

mtngunr
July 21, 2008, 12:00 PM
Tallpine, my apologies....there are so many posts here retelling old wives tales on guns, that a guy could make a full-time job of bubble-bustin'....and I'm aplogizing for assuming your post was one of those.....I believe all the early successful US metallic cartridges had a brief stint as folded-head before more sophisticated brass drawing techniques came into play....but this is just an assumption on my part.

RancidSumo
July 21, 2008, 12:27 PM
The hammer is not polished as there is still some remnents of finish there, it is just worn like the rest of the finnish on the gun.

TallPine
July 21, 2008, 01:24 PM
Tallpine, my apologies....there are so many posts here retelling old wives tales on guns, that a guy could make a full-time job of bubble-bustin'....and I'm aplogizing for assuming your post was one of those.....I believe all the early successful US metallic cartridges had a brief stint as folded-head before more sophisticated brass drawing techniques came into play....but this is just an assumption on my part.

Apology accepted. :)

Actually, my question was based on the fact that .45 Colt is not considered a good rifle cartridge (and apparently was never offered in rifles back in those days) because of the narrow (and at that time, fragile) rim did not reliably hold up to rifle extraction.

But the .44-40 was a rifle cartridge that was also available in civilian SAAs (correct?). But if as a previous post seemed to indicate, the .44-40 is just a .45 Colt necked-down to .44 (.429?) then it would seem to have the same rim issues, especially in the pre-1900 or so version.

Dirty Dawg
July 21, 2008, 02:27 PM
Pretty nice. I'll have to keep up with this thread to see how it works out.

gp911
July 21, 2008, 03:01 PM
After you find out what it is worth, shoot the darn thing so you can truly see what it was like to own one of these way back when. I'd obviously stick to light loads and have it checked over for safety first by someone trustworthy, but part of the line of history with guns like these is firing them, IMHO. A gun that is borderline unsafe is one thing, but if it is safe to fire and you have all the documents (and insurance!) I would go out and blast a few bottles with it to walk in the shoes of your forebears.

Again, IMHO.

gp911

tipoc
July 21, 2008, 03:52 PM
Drop by www.coltforum.com

for a few more opinions.

A letter from Colt is the way to go. It will cost you $100.00 but is well worth it. The link to the Colt historian is available at the Colt website. The letter will tell you the date the gun left the factory, where it was shipped to, the original caliber, original barrel length and any other special features of the gun. If your gun differs from that it's because it was altered by one or another owner. If the alteration was done at the factory it may mention that.

tipoc

mtngunr
July 22, 2008, 12:43 AM
TallPine, the comment about the 44WCF and 38WCF being the same basic case as the .45 Colt has me sorta scratching my head.

The WCF cases certainly have a much more actual rim designed for case extraction on Winchester rifles. The .45 Colt rim was basically vestigal until modern times, sufficient to keep the cartridge headspace in the SAA, but that's about it...different rim, different taper, the WCF cases have a neck, but otherwise the same? My Suzuki is the same bike as my Harley, the Suzuki just being downsized?

mtngunr
July 22, 2008, 01:23 AM
RancidSumo, as I said earlier, it's just plain hard to go just by photos, especially ones lacking detailed close-in shots of parts, markings, etc.....from the sound of it, it still sounds like an original gun (aside from front sight mod), worth $2000 min., but no way to tell for sure without detailed photos and disassembly to verify markings both interior and exterior....and don't forget to shoot that gun....

mtngunr
July 22, 2008, 12:08 PM
RS, just another quick shooting note....the VP mark was applied circa 1900/SN192,000 and the gun is completely safe with 13,000cup (not psi) loads....circa 1905/SN261,000 and all subsequent can handle 20,000psi loads....but I'd stick to the earlier-type loads, which are humdingers anyhow, that basically presaged 10mm auto ballistics.

RancidSumo
July 22, 2008, 01:01 PM
I understand about the pics and I have tried to get better ones without success.

ohlode
July 22, 2008, 01:29 PM
Appears to be a nice, original SAA. The 7 1/2 barrell length is usually a desireable plus. It's a smokeless powder as opposed to a black powder frame. The SAA Colt "Compendium" is a great little book that gives detailed information and helps you determine originality of various parts. One thing you can check is taking off the grips to look for the s.n. that is usually scratched inside. (usually last four digits) The grips should have an exact fit and feel along the edges. The .38-40 is a better than average caliber in this era gun. The .44-40 a bit more desireable to some collectors. I have the same caliber piece in a 4 3/4" bbl in about the same condition. I value mine highly but then we tend to value or own guns a bit high... If it has the original holster or holster rig that can add significantly to the value. I know the complete Eastern Colorado history of mine from the original owners son and it came with a beautiful floral Heiser period holster rig and they can go for nearly as much as the gun. Also came with the fellows spurs...
Don't underestimate the value of your history of the gun and get it down on paper to stay with the gun.

ohlode
July 22, 2008, 01:48 PM
I'd add that the front sight is modified and that's not unusual. I've even seen them with silver coin fashioned sights replacing the standard. Depending on the year and this appears to be as previously suggested it should slope at the front as it does and then straight down in the rear rather than curve in.
Colt letters are pricey but worth the bucks. Used to be $50. but inflation caught up. $2000.00 baseline is close but from a casual glance its probably another $500 to $1000. depending as suggested on correct parts, e.g. hammer, grips, bbl, cylinder, bore condition, etc., etc.. If it is all correct (sans the front sight) and timed adequately, then shooting it can be great fun; especially with that length of barrel.

Vern Humphrey
July 22, 2008, 02:05 PM
What I would do with this gun is get better documentation:


Get a letter from Colt.
Write down the history in the family. Get family members of the older generation to sign it.
Track down your Great-grand father's history -- pictures, his obituary, and so on.

Keep all this with the gun -- and it will about double in value.

BADSBSNF81
July 22, 2008, 04:09 PM
+1 and then some on what Vern posted.

You need to have the Colt letter. Do you know anything about the other one? Were the two in sn sequence? Try to get the family side that has that one to letter it.

FYI a set of fitted ivory for a Colt SAA nowadays runs @ 500 USD.

RancidSumo
July 23, 2008, 12:24 AM
I know who has the other and I am in the process of writing him a letter. I will see about getting the letter soon. I am not sure exactly when I will order it but I will make sure to get one. Thanks for all the information.

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