GrandPappy's Pistol


March 20, 2004, 10:40 PM
My Grandpappy pasted away last Dec. at the age of 103, My Aunt aksed me today if I wanted his .38 pistol that he used to keep under his pillow when he used to sell insurance door to door. I figured it was a Police Positive or Agent. Imagine my suprise when she handed me this:

Serial Numder is 91XXX, so I think it was made before 1899. What I need to know is, if there is a site that has a break down of serial numbers by the year, and if this weapon was made for smokeless powder.

I would say the finish is at 50% and it's tighter than my S&W Centinnial. The barrel has no pitting at all. Any help would be great. Thanks

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March 20, 2004, 10:53 PM
Check your Colt serial numbers here ( - select "Colt serial numbers", then on the next screen, scroll down the left selection panel to choose the model. Serial numbers and years will appear on the right. If that's a Lightning, its serial number places it as being made in 1893! At that time, AFAIK, these revolvers were not made for smokeless powder.

Jim March
March 20, 2004, 10:53 PM
Ehhhh...don't be in a hurry to shoot that. It's both delicate and valuable.

March 20, 2004, 10:57 PM
That gun would mean enough to me not to shoot it, just becuase it was Grandpappy's. Keep it oiled and polished and be proud of it, maybe someday it can be your grandsons?


March 20, 2004, 11:01 PM
Don't say this too often but .. that has to be a safe queen ... what a treasure.

Cal?? I am assuming 45 Colt?

Jim March
March 20, 2004, 11:12 PM
No, it's a 38 - which I vaguely remember to be the LESS common member of the Lightning family (most were 41s).

Again: that there is a blackpowder safe queen if ever there was one. Get it prepared to nearly fall over dead if I recall the values on those right.

March 20, 2004, 11:19 PM
I believe it is a 38 Long Colt black powder pistol. They weren't the strongest or best product from Colt. You should check around the CAS sites for info on a gunsmith to check it over and tune it up. They were fair revolvers. is a source for 38 Long Colt. These were called Lightning revolvers. Parts are available from the internet. Your Colt Model of 1877 was made in 1895. The production for 1895 was 3,625. I would assign a value of $1,000.00. You might need to buy extra coverage on your homeowners policy.

March 21, 2004, 12:11 AM
I had the pleasure of holding Elmo's prize (uhhh..his old Colt .38 that is) today and man it's nice!

It's smaller and lighter than it looks. Very handy. What a beauty!

March 21, 2004, 12:38 AM
Since I live near the Nevada-California border I read what history of the area I can find on the towns of Bodie, California, and Aurora, Nevada.

During the area's heyday the most commonly mentioned gun of the time was the Lightning.

That it was so popular certainly surprized me, espeially with it's fragile lockwork, but among others, IIRC, we have Samuel Clemens commenting on it.

Buy a replica gun with that handle shape in 38 Special, and you'll have a gun that is only single action, but looks similar to the real thing. Then take the replica and some cowboy loads and blackpowder reloads and have fun. Don't know if it'd be rated for +P, but the old FBI or Chicago load ( 158 grain SWCHP +P ) is better than any load the Lightning ever threw. Matter of fact, the 38 spl round nose lead beats it too.

4v50 Gary
March 21, 2004, 12:46 AM
What a treasure. Now, interview Grandma and get everything you can on the gun from her. When did he buy it and where? How much? Why? What companies did he work for? Any stories regarding practice or use in saving his life? Type it out and have her sign it. Those papers become the provenance of the gun and adds to its historical value.

March 21, 2004, 01:16 AM
4v50 Gary, I would like to but Grandma passed away in 79', I'll try and get ahold of Colt this week and see what they can tell me.

I would like to thank everyone who replied, y'alls help is greatly appreciated.

March 21, 2004, 03:09 AM
Colt won't TELL you anything. They will SELL you a letter of documentation for $85.00. I would spend the money but, it doesn't really give good information.

Jim March
March 21, 2004, 03:41 AM
Here's a link to the SA replica of your gun:

It was designed in the US and built by Uberti of Italy. Cimarron is one of the better Uberti import houses, and specifies a good level of quality from the Italian plant plus does limited US inspection and tuning where necessary.

The smaller 38Spl piece shown there can fire at least limited amounts of 38+P defense loads but is really meant for milder SASS/CAS-spec fodder. Handling should be damned close to gran'papy's piece although without the DA trigger.

March 21, 2004, 07:40 AM
I've seen some nice examples of that gun, I shure wouldn't shoot that gun for fear of loading ammo too hot and scattering that pretty gun all over the landscape.
I just love those guns.

Lone Star
March 21, 2004, 10:15 AM
P95 Carry-

You didn't look closely enough: the .45 Colt version is the M1878 d.a. Army model. It was of larger dimensions and looked it.

Webley had a similar piece called the Army Express in .455 or (I think) .476, as well. Some of those may have been made in .45 Colt, which was pretty popular in the British Empire.

In fact, if you read, "King Solomon's Mines" by Sir Henry Rider Haggard, his African explorers carried Colt SAA .45's. (He didn't say ".45 Colt", but referred to "the heavier pattern of cartridge" as I recall. The only other round made for the SAA then was the .44/40...I think the book appeared in 1883, and it is better than any of the movie versions.

Lone Star

March 21, 2004, 12:36 PM
You didn't look closely enough: Lone Star ... no I didn't!! :p ...... I made a hasty assumption/guess ... and as I may have said before, sadly cannot claim to be at all well versed on firearms history.

I am learning tho all the time ... particularly from fascinating threads such as these.:)

Old Fuff
March 21, 2004, 02:30 PM
Colt made the model 1877 from that year to 1909 or 1910. During the later years the boxes were labeled "Not for use with smokeless powder," or words to that effect. No model 1877 in either .38 or .41 Colt should ever be fired using a smokeless powder load, and some argument can be offered that they shouldn't be fired at all.

March 21, 2004, 04:01 PM
Old Fuff, you know what not firing that pistol is like? I would use the analogy of spending the night with Mira Sorvino and doing nothing but playing Uno. LOL I do strongly suggest a gunsmith trip first. Every old firearm was made as a tool. I like to use my tools. I don't own safe queens. The Cimmaron Lightning model is a small 22 frame that is upped to a 38. They are finicky, difficult to load and have ejector issues. I would not have one on a bet.

March 21, 2004, 05:32 PM
Lightnings are hard to find in good condition. The fire blued parts fade quickly, the nickel flakes, and the panels were acid etched rather than roll stamped.

Have it cleaned, put it in a glass display case along with an old pocket watch and insurance papers.. might make a nice shadow box.

I'd still like to see those crafty Italians make a working DA lightning in 38 special.

Old Fuff
March 21, 2004, 09:01 PM

You know what its like to shoot an antique that even the manufacturer said not to use with smokeless? Possibly a ruptured cylinder and blown topstrap. And if in the process one of the many small springs in the lockwork goes "snap!" the cost of repairs ... well lets not even think about that.

Yes, you can safely shoot some antiques - years ago I shot original Colt and Remington cap&ball revolvers with black powder before the replicas came out. Now I usually don't because I don't want to destroy a part of our history. We "Old Fuffs" deserved to be retired - even if I'm not.

March 21, 2004, 09:19 PM
Old Fuff, I gave the link for Old Western Scrounger. They have the proper 38 Long Colt load and original 38 Long Colt of the period for display. I don't think I could own such a revolver without creating at least one target that I had shot with grandpappys Colt. I often shoot my S&W 1902 round butt in 32-20. I have a passion for machinery. I used to have a Hemi Cuda, it was my daily driver in college. I suspect my being a CAS shooter has something to do with it. I compete with Rugers. I do pull out the 1895 manufacture 44-40 Colts just for fun every now and again. The fellow CAS shooters go ape over those old SAAs. I would not ruin a NIB excellent firearm that has not been fired by firing it. A used firearm should continue to be used. Just my opinion. YMMV

Jim March
March 21, 2004, 11:19 PM
Lightnings are so delicate that...well, y'all KNOW I'm not one to have a safe queen about but...this would be an exception. 'Specially given the family connection.

March 22, 2004, 04:06 AM
To get an idea of what your gun's worth, see the prices here ( and here ( For one in as good a condition as yours, I think you're talking well into 4 figures... certainly something worth preserving.

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