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Colt or S&W in the Old West?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Kleanbore, Aug 29, 2013.

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  1. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator Staff Member

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    There is mention in The Standard Catalog of a single example of a No. 3 Frontier D/A in .45 Special having been submitted to the Army for evaluation ca. 1898.

    The company requested its return when they realized that the ejector stroke was too short.
     
  2. RetiredUSNChief

    RetiredUSNChief Member

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    Sure is.

    In IE, click "Favorites", then "Add to Favorites".

    I think Apple you click "Bookmark".

    :)
     
  3. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Here is a photo of some antique 45 Colt cartridges in my collection. The one all the way on the right may be what you are talking about. Notice how tiny most of the rims are in this photo, except the one all the way on the right. The rim diameter of this round is a whopping .539. Modern SAAMI spec for rim diameter of the 45 Colt is .512. Most of the other rims in this photo are much smaller than that, which is why the 45 Colt was never chambered in rifles until recently, but that's another story for another day. The round all the way on the left is one of my handloads with modern brass.

    45ColtCartridges.jpg



    Here is a photo of the headstamp on the large rimmed round. FA stands for Frankford Arsenal, the government arsenal where a lot of the old cartridges were developed. 12 13 is a date code, meaning the round was manufactured in December of 1913. The rim on this round is so wide it barely chambers in one of my Colts, it does not quite chamber all the way in the other. There is interference with the ratchet star. The round will not chamber at all in my Ruger Vaqueros, their ratchet star has a different shape, and will not allow this round to chamber all the way. Notice too that this round does not have a large primer, the primer is the same size as a small pistol primer.

    frankfordarsenal45Colt.jpg
     
  4. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    I once visited the old mining town of Bodie, CA, then read a period item from the Sacramento Bee about the town in its heyday. They called Bodie "Bad Shot Gulch" for the large number of shootouts and the few casualties. The only casualty of one gunfight was a bystander's cigar.

    That might have been connected to the report that Army and Navy revolvers carried in scabbards were seldom seen in Bodie, the usual armament was a Bulldog revolver in a leather or canvas lined coat pocket.
     
  5. StrawHat

    StrawHat Member

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    Elmer apparently blew up a lot of revovlers while experimenting. I remember one of the articles or books mentioning a revovler he blew up and tossed into a box with the rest of them. The cylinders on the 44 caliber revolvers gave him a bit more leeway to experiment.
     
  6. StrawHat

    StrawHat Member

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    If you reread the article, you will see he specified that the 45 long Colt load was the factory, black powder load.
     
  7. jim in Anchorage

    jim in Anchorage Member

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    That drives me crazy to. Worse sometimes they take the forestock off to make it look like a Henry.
     
  8. BBQLS1

    BBQLS1 Member

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    At least we are seeing more variety in newer westerns.
     
  9. BBQLS1

    BBQLS1 Member

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    That's what I've read. He had to walk the shots onto the target.
     
  10. BlindJustice

    BlindJustice Member

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    Wasn't John Wesly harnding known to
    carry a S&W .44 RUssian?

    & Bill Hickcock stuck with his 1851 Nay .36 cap & ball?

    3:10 to Yuma movie, one of the characters uses a S&W
    break open.R

    S&W offered a small batch of Schofield Repros a couple of years
    ago, but they were engraved and $10K

    R-
     
  11. Corpral_Agarn

    Corpral_Agarn Member

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    Love me some old west revolvers

    I would have been happy with a Colt or a No. 3 Smith.
    I have found both of them to be pretty darn accurate and I appreciate the grip style of the colt and the top break design of the No. 3.

    I did notice that the hammer on the the No. 3 is harder to reach one handed but even with small hands I found it to be manageable with practice.

    I like the design of the No. 3 better but the one i purchased from Uberti did not function well after 20 rounds (cylinder bound up). My SAA seems to function all day no worries.
     
  12. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    If I remember right, the plain version was around $2000.


    Actually, he used a pair of them in holsters like this. Except his were black and lined with red suede. ;)

    IMG_1776b.jpg
     
  13. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Yes, one of the many guns that John Wesley Hardin used during his long career as an outlaw was a S&W 1st Model Russian. The one that looks just like the American Model.

    Although he is best known for his prowess with the 1851 Colt Navy, there is some evidence that late in his career Wild Bill also owned cartridge revolvers. He may have been wearing one when he was murdered in Deadwood in 1876.

    The character in 3:10 to Yuma was using Schofields, as was The Schofield Kid in Unforgiven.

    According to the SCSW Members of the James Gang, including Frank and Jesse owned Schofields at one time, as did Cole Younger. Bill Tilghman is thought to have carried one at some time too.

    One more note, it was a New Model Number Three that Robert Ford used to kill Jesse James in 1882.

    Smith and Wesson produced the Schofield model again from 2000 until 2002. Standard finish was blue. They certainly did not cost $10,000. I was at an auction a few weeks ago and one went for $1610.
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2013
  14. tipoc

    tipoc Member

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    From Craig,

    I think this hits the nail on the head. It puts the horse in front of the cart.

    Hollywood is and was interested in making dramas that entertain and make money. If they are historically accurate well that's nice but don't expect it.

    The question to ask is why did the Colt SAA become the go to handgun of Hollywood movies? Why not the others? Craig gives the answer. It was the only one still in production and that had the Great Western as a replica beginning in the 1960s. It was available for the rough and tumble where the others were not. Same is true of the Winchester 92.

    Going back to the silent movies the movie makers had only the vaguest idea what westerners wore or shot only 30 years before them and little interest in it.

    My idea of a cowboy as a child was Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry. Far as I knew that's how they all dressed.

    http://www.jbench68.com/images/Actors/Rogers_Roy-1.jpg

    http://img121.imageshack.us/img121/580/gene20autry.jpg

    The great William S. Hart

    http://movieroundup.in/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/treasures.jpg

    http://cowboylands.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/William-S-Hart-Ad.jpg


    tipoc
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2013
  15. Jim K

    Jim K Member.

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    Hi, Driftwood,

    That FA 12 13 round is the Model 1909 cartridge. It was made only by the Army and used only by the Army in the Model 1909 revolver, which was a Colt New Service. The story is interesting. Around 1908, the part of the Army that was charged with shooting people got tired of waiting for that part of the Army that loved testing guns to adopt an auto pistol and decided to get some .45 double action revolvers. They adopted the Colt New Service in .45 Colt as the Model 1909 and ordered a batch marked that way. But they found that the .45 Colt cartridge with its small rim jumped the extractor. (That had not been a problem with the SAA since it used a rod ejector.) The Model 1909 cartridge can be loaded into the SAA only in every other chamber, making the gun a "3-shooter". That, of course, was of no concern to the Army since the SAA Model 1873 was totally obsolete by 1909.

    So the Army got Frankford Arsenal to make special cartridges, identical to the .45 Colt, but with a bigger rim. That was the Model 1909 cartridge. The guns were used in the Philippines and the ammunition was made into 1915. Some Model 1909 revolvers were used by troops in the U.S. in WWI. No commercial ammo was ever made or contracted for.

    So was the the ".45 S&W Special" the Model 1909 cartridge? I think so. Neal and Jinks say that, "In 1908 or 1909 the company seriously considered introducing a model that was to be called the '45 Special.' This cartridge was designed for use in the .44 Hand Ejector First Model. The cartridge was a revolver cartridge developed for military use at the Frankford Arsenal. The project progressed so far that the company actually made boxes for the gun, but it was never commercially sold."

    I think that makes it quite clear that the ".45 S&W Special" was the Model 1909 cartridge; the project was probably cancelled when the M1911 pistol was adopted and the Model 1909 revolver instantly became obsolescent.

    Another interesting item about the Model 1909 revolver. During the testing of the Colt and Savage pistols, two Model 1909 revolvers (the current service revolvers) were fired as controls, round for round with the auto pistols. We all know the story of the failures of the Colt and Savage pistols, but the revolvers had only TWO failures, both due to lack of powder in the cartridges!

    Jim
     
  16. tipoc

    tipoc Member

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    There were two malfunctions but only one was due to lack of powder! The other was due to a sticking cylinder latch! This was in a 6000 round endurance test. (Bady, pg. 191)

    tipoc
     
  17. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Well, I beg to disagree. While it is true that the 1st Gen SAA was in production right up until 1940, if you look at the sales numbers for the last few years, they were pitiful. In its heyday Colt produced as many as 12,000 Single Action Army revolvers in a year. The high point was 1902 with 18,000 produced. But after 1907 sales fell off steadily. 1908 -1912 sales were 4,000 each year, with a blip of 5,000 in 1911 at 5,000. Then sales steadily declined to 2,000 in 1917, with only 200 sold in 1918 and 800 in 1919. WWI probably had something to do with that. Sales picked up again in 1920 to 3,000, but they never reached that level again, dropping to 1,400 in 1929, the year the stock market crashed. Sales up until 1940 were pitiful, which could be expected during the Great Depression.

    1930-400
    1931-400
    1932-300
    1933-200
    1934-200
    1935-100
    1936-100
    1937-700
    1938-500
    1939-400

    In 1940 sales jumped to 859 and then production ceased until 1956 when the 2nd Gen was introduced. These figures are from Kuhnhausen's Colt Single Action Revolvers Shop Manual.

    Winchester Model 1892 production peaked in 1907 with 61,422 produced. Then a steady decline to 1919 with with 32,706 produced. Sales plummeted in 1920 to 3,104, then rose steadily through the Roaring Twenties to 16,986 in 1927. Sales dropped in 1928, perhaps a precursor to the crash, to 5,633. In 1929 sales dropped further to to 2,720. In 1930 only 491 Model 1892 rifles were sold. The highest sales figure for the Depression was 862 in 1933. Sales continued to decline until 1940 with just 92 Model 1892 Winchesters sold. These figures are from George Madis' The Winchester Handbook.

    My point is, I really doubt the movie studios were going to their local Colt or Winchester distributors and ordering up caseloads of new revolvers and rifles. Particularly not in the heyday of Oat Burner production, during the 1930s and 1940s. Old Colts were a glut on the market at that time. Production was down simply because of economic hard times, and because the shooting public wanted the newfangled double action revolvers or semi-automatics. Old Colts and Winchesters could be bought for a song from gun shops and antique stores. They were old, not worth much, and nobody cared if they were dropped and kicked across the floor. They simply had very little value.

    No, I have no hard evidence to prove this hypotheses, but it makes much more sense to me that prop masters simply picked up large quantities of old, used revolvers and rifles. And they did not limit their purchases to Colts and Winchesters. As I said, I have seen real Henry rifles in at least two old Westerns. They had not been produced since 1866. Nobody cared much, they probably were not worth very much at the time. Watch some of the other movies made during that time. Movies about foreign wars. The movie studios owned huge stocks of all kinds of weapons. Many had not been produced for years. The great movie moguls may have been paying top dollar to their stars, but they were notoriously stingy in every other department. It simply made more economic sense for them to buy old guns at bargain basement prices. And if they wanted something special, the prop men were geniuses at modifying old guns.

    In the 1980s, before the crash of 1987, the movie studious realized they were sitting on a huge pile of cash with all the old guns that had appreciated greatly in value. With typical short sighted thinking, they were all sold off. That is why today the studios have to hire specialists to supply guns for the movies. When you see a nice Colt or Schofield or Winchester or Remington in a movie today, chances are it was made by Uberti and rented to the movie company on a contract basis.
     
  18. 4v50 Gary

    4v50 Gary Moderator Staff Member

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    Driftwood Johnson - thank you for your photo essay. It makes it easier to understand how the Schofield works. :D
     
  19. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    Yes but it's all relative. How many S&W single actions, Remingtons, Merwin & Hulberts, etc. were produced in those years? Not every movie character used an old worn out surplus Colt. Those were the cheap SAA's of the day. The fancy nickel plated and engraved guns often used by the hero were not. We can't stop at WWII either as many of us grew up with the westerns of the `50's, `60's and `70's. Until Clint Eastwood began using cartridge conversions, the guns used were universally Colt and Great Western SAA's. John Wayne didn't use two surplus Colt SAA's in The Shootist, he used two brand new engraved Great Westerns.
     
  20. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Well Craig, it looks like we are just going to have to agree to disagree. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. If John Wayne used two brand new Colts in his last movie, in my mind that is an exception. I never said that the old guns the movie studio used were worn out, I just said they were old and not worth very much. It does not take a SAA or a '92 in perfect condition to fire five in one blanks. The hammer and trigger just have to work and the cylinder has to lock up. And prop masters were very good at changing out parts to make a working gun from two or three non-working guns, particularly if they had bought them cheap enough. One of my 2nd Gen Colts is such a parts gun, the numbers on the grip frame do not match the rest of the gun, and the fit is slightly less than perfect. But I got it pretty cheap, considering.

    My contention is that during the heyday of when the movie studios were grinding out westerns in the 30s and 40s and 50s, most of them were original 1st Gen guns that the studios had picked up cheap.

    I just can't see Louis B Mayer or any of the other movie moguls of the heyday of westerns buying new guns for their movies. These guys were notorious cheapskates. That's how they got so rich. The movies had lots of Colts simply because so many had been produced, and when they fell out of favor, the prop departments were able to buy them up cheap.


    *****


    By the way, you can't fan a Top Break Smith. The bolt is activated by the trigger, not the hammer. Hold the trigger back and you can't cock the hammer. Same with the Merwin Hulbert. I forget that sometimes when I shoot my old Top Breaks at a Cowboy match. Not that I'm trying to fan them, just a little bit of pressure on the trigger and you can't cock them.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2013
  21. TennJed

    TennJed Member

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    The west would have been won a lot quicker if Bill Ruger had been born 100 years earlier ;)
     
  22. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    Not really but they were Great Westerns. Look at the fancy rigs all the singing cowboys like Roy Rogers used. They didn't use old surplus SAA's, they used fancy engraved and nickel plated guns.
     
  23. tipoc

    tipoc Member

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    Good points here.

    I won't try to untangle some of the tangle that's been tangled in other posts but the Colt SAA was used in the movies because it was:

    1.) Available and still in production as were it's parts.

    2.) More strongly identified with "The Old West" than any other gun (right up there with lever action rifles). It's branding was strong.

    3.) If a movie cowboy or gunslinger carried a gun was it gonna be a Colt45 or a Merwin and Hubert in 44 Russian? Or a 32 Model One and a Half S&W? Truth be darned! What's more dramatic Wyatt Earp with a Buntline or Virgil Earp with a First Model American?

    4.) The movie prop shops often took double action revolvers and welded ejector rods to the barrels so that they looked like Colts in those cases where an actor could not fire a single action fast enough. Note this in Gregory Peck's westerns he was too slow thumb cocking for his directors. Now Randall Scott, Lee Marvin and many others they could shoot fast with a single action.

    5.) Though other guns were also used by the military the Colt SAA was identified with the cavalry going back to the Walker.

    6.) For the millions of urban immigrant movie goers and their U.S. born kids who had never been west of Pittsburgh (the great bulk of the American population by the 1930s) the Colt was the handgun they identified with the west. They expected to see it in the hands of their screen heroes.

    tipoc
     
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