Colt Single Action Army "First Generation" in .38 Special?


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StrikeFire83
January 11, 2012, 01:22 AM
My mother's husband just inherited a Colt Single Action Army in .38 Special and is interested in selling it. He's turned to me because I know a lot about handguns. Unfortunately, my knowledge is relegated mostly to semi-autos, and I know nothing about single-action Colts. He swears that his father used to call it a "First Generation" but my research indicates that First Generation Colt SAAs weren't made in .38 Special, only in ".38 WCF" and ".38-40" ... whatever the hell those calibers are. :) I don't have the serial number at this point.

Any help yall can provide would be err, helpful.

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Dr.Mall Ninja
January 11, 2012, 02:52 AM
From my qucik google searches I dont think that they models in 38 special till much later. I'm sure an expert will have the answer soon.

owlhoot
January 11, 2012, 05:09 AM
Look at the serial number on the gun in question. If it has neither prefix nor suffix just a number, it is a first generation.

vanfunk
January 11, 2012, 05:58 AM
Many first generation Colts were rebarreled and rechambered for the popular .38 Special in the 50's. Tyoically, these barrels have "Colt Single Action Army .38 Special" on the left side, and the Colt address on the right.

It could be originally chambered in .38 Special, but the odds weigh heavily against it. The barrel marking for .38-40 was "38WCF" which some may mistake for .38 Special. In order for us to help you out further, we need to see pictures of the gun, clearly showing all rollmarks (no blurry cell phone pics, please :) ).

Thanks,

vanfunk

Driftwood Johnson
January 11, 2012, 08:33 AM
Howdy

38 S&W Special (38 Special) is a rare chambering for a First Generation Single Action Army. There were only 25 of them that left the factory that way, starting in 1930. Additionally, there were 89 that left the factory marked for 38 Colt Special, dimensionally the same as the 38 S&W Special. A first Gen chambered in 38 Special would probably be worth a lot of money, but it would have to be lettered to determine if it left the factory that way. 38 Special was a standard production caliber for Second Gen Colts, but I have no numbers on how many were made.

First Gen Colts were made from 1873 until 1940 when production ceased to open up production capacity for more 1911s. First Gen Serial Numbers are on the underside of the frame, right in front of the trigger guard. First Gen Serial Numbers ran from 1 to 357859. Second Gen production ran from 1956 until 1975. All Second Gen Serial Numbers have a SA suffix, running from 0001SA up to 73319SA.

38-40 is the old 38 WCF (38 Winchester Center Fire) cartridge, a rifle cartridge introduced by Winchester for the Model 1873 Winchester in 1879. Other 38 caliber cartridges First Gen SAAs were chambered for include 38 Colt, 38 S&W, 38-44, and 380 Eley.

brnmuenchow
January 11, 2012, 09:37 AM
38-40 is the old 38 WCF
This is what I am thinking as well, if was ever made in .38 Spl. (1st Gen.) I imagine it was after the turn of the century.

CraigC
January 11, 2012, 11:16 AM
38 S&W Special (38 Special) is a rare chambering for a First Generation Single Action Army. There were only 25 of them that left the factory that way, starting in 1930. Additionally, there were 89 that left the factory marked for 38 Colt Special, dimensionally the same as the 38 S&W Special. A first Gen chambered in 38 Special would probably be worth a lot of money, but it would have to be lettered to determine if it left the factory that way.
This is the information that I have on hand. There were also a couple thousand guns in the ubiquitous .38Colt. There were two Bisley's made in .38Spl along with a handful of guns in .38S&W and .38-44 (not high velocity). All rare chamberings for 1st generation guns. The .38WCF is cetainly the most prolific of the "38's", though actually .40 caliber.

StrikeFire83
January 11, 2012, 03:02 PM
According to him, the serial number is all numbers, no "S" or "A" either prefix or suffix. So it's definitely a First Generation, the question is now whether it was is one of the 25 originally chambered in .38 Special (not likely) or if it was re-barreled at some point.

baylorattorney
January 11, 2012, 03:09 PM
I'd buy it seeing as how it's one of a kind rare! Make sure and get a letter tho. ;) aka the 38 long colt it was created by smith and Wesson at the turn of the century or 1898.... Maybe that will help u some.

Dr.Mall Ninja
January 11, 2012, 04:54 PM
If its one of 25 then it is big bucks! I wouldnt stop pushing till I found the answer.

StrikeFire83
January 11, 2012, 05:00 PM
I'm telling him either way that he NEEDS to get the letter from Colt. $100 is a small price to pay for certainty. Even if it was modified that was done in early 50s...and it's still a First Generation and worth what, like 3 or 4 grand?

Old Fuff
January 11, 2012, 06:43 PM
1. Look at the serial number (on bottom of frame in front of the trigger guard), and see if it has an SA sufix. If there is no sufix, is the serial number under 354,100? If so it's a likely a rebuild with post-war cylinder and/or barrel.

2. Check the barrel marking: It should be Colt Pt. F.A. Mfg. Co. Hartford, CT., U.S.A. if it's a post-war rebuild or early 2nd. Issue.

Prior to 1956, and the reintroduction of the Single Action Army, both Colt and private gunsmiths rebuilt and/or referbished several thousand 1st. Issue SAA revolvers that are chambered in either .38 Special or .45 Colt. Western movies and TV shows caused most of the demand. These are scarce, but not rare, and do not demand any higher prices then ordinary revolvers of the same kind. In fact they actually command less money then those left in original condition.

CraigC
January 11, 2012, 09:09 PM
According to my source, the .38Spl started in 1930 and 1930 production started with 353,800. So if it is well below that, count on it being a rebuild. Hopefully it's between there and 192,000 and thus a smokeless frame. Fine as a shooter but not worth several thousand dollars as hoped. Would still be interesting to get it lettered.

Jim K
January 11, 2012, 11:40 PM
I once had a SAA in .38 Special that had started out as .32-20. It was a rebuild of the kind Fuff mentioned and had a barrel and cylinder from Numrich. It never shot very well and I traded it even for an M1 rifle in near new condition (British LL). That early M1 is worth more today than the worked over SAA would have been.

One problem is that when you get an SAA in .38 or below, it is a darned heavy gun. I have handled an original .22 (one of some 200 made) and it was awfully heavy; the caliber was small but it would have taken a big man to handle that gun. (That, of course, was the reason Ruger scaled down the Single Six; full size it would have never sold like it did.)

Jim

vanfunk
January 12, 2012, 07:06 AM
Hi StrikeFire,

He can save the money on the Colt letter if he agrees to post pictures and info here on this forum. We'll be able to tell in about 5 seconds whether the revolver is original or not.

HTH,

vanfunk

highpower
January 12, 2012, 08:40 AM
I'm telling him either way that he NEEDS to get the letter from Colt. $100 is a small price to pay for certainty. Even if it was modified that was done in early 50s...and it's still a First Generation and worth what, like 3 or 4 grand?

Sorry, not even close if it's been modified. A local shop has a 1902 vintage Colt SAA that was sent back to the factory in the early 50's and converted to .38 special and reblued. They have been trying to get $999 for it and can't get any takers. I checked around and determined that it would cost at least $2500 to restore it and then it would be barely be worth the cost of the restoration.

Things are only original once. Collectors place a very high value on guns that haven't been modified in any way. As soon as someone decides to "improve" or "restore" a gun, the value drops through the floor.

CraigC
January 12, 2012, 09:34 AM
Sorry, not even close if it's been modified. A local shop has a 1902 vintage Colt SAA that was sent back to the factory in the early 50's and converted to .38 special and reblued. They have been trying to get $999 for it and can't get any takers. I checked around and determined that it would cost at least $2500 to restore it and then it would be barely be worth the cost of the restoration.

Things are only original once. Collectors place a very high value on guns that haven't been modified in any way. As soon as someone decides to "improve" or "restore" a gun, the value drops through the floor.
Exactly!

TonyT
January 12, 2012, 12:08 PM
Check in Sutherland's book on Colt firearms. I am away from home for the winter so cannot provide a irect quote but I believe the first generations could be orderd in any caliber available at that time. While the most popular calibers were 45 Colt, 44-40 and perhaps 38-40 one in 38 Special would not be out of the question. Sutherland's book shows the number of pistols chambered in each caliber.

Driftwood Johnson
January 13, 2012, 09:57 AM
Check in Sutherland's book on Colt firearms. I am away from home for the winter so cannot provide a irect quote but I believe the first generations could be orderd in any caliber available at that time. While the most popular calibers were 45 Colt, 44-40 and perhaps 38-40 one in 38 Special would not be out of the question. Sutherland's book shows the number of pistols chambered in each caliber.

Howdy Again

Jerry Kuhnhausen's Colt Single Action Revolvers Shop Manual lists the following calibers for the First Generation Single Action Army.

22 Rimfire
32 Rimfire
32 Colt
32 S&W
32-44 S&W
32-20 Winchester
38 Colt
38 S&W
38 Colt Special
38 S&W Special
38-44 S&W
357 Magnum
380 Eley
38-40 Winchester
41 Colt
44 Colt
44 Smooth Bore
44 Rimfire
44 German
44 Russian
44 S&W American
44 S&W Special
44-40 Winchester
45 Colt
45 Smooth Bore
45 ACP
450 Boxer
450 Eley
455 Eley
476 Eley

Of these, 45 Colt was the most common, followed by 44-40, 38-40, and 32-20.

Kuhnhausen includes the year each caliber was first chambered in the SAA and how many of each chambering were produced. He states his information was compiled from available records. This may be the same information in the Sutherland book, which I believe is now out of print.

As I stated earlier, the SAA was first chambered for both 38 Colt Special and 38 S&W Special in 1930. Kuhnhausen states that 89 guns were chambered for 38 Colt Special; 82 standard SAAs and 7 Target models, and 27 were chambered for 38 S&W Special; 25 standard SAAs and 2 Bisleys.

CraigC
January 13, 2012, 10:03 AM
The info I have from Doc O`Meara's book jibes with that.

TonyT
January 13, 2012, 09:37 PM
Since Colt SAA first generation were more common in the larger calibers. I would presume that an authenticated first generation Colt SAA in 38 Special would command a premium. That would probably require a factory letter from Colt.

Old Fuff
January 14, 2012, 12:25 AM
Since Colt SAA first generation were more common in the larger calibers. I would presume that an authenticated first generation Colt SAA in 38 Special would command a premium. That would probably require a factory letter from Colt.

An original 1st. Issue in .38 Special would command a substantial premium, but a $100 letter is not necessary to determine if it is or isn't. Such things as barrel markings and the serial number should identify it, one way or the other.

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