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

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by StrikeFire83, Jan 11, 2012.

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  1. StrikeFire83

    StrikeFire83 Member

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    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.
     
  2. Dr.Mall Ninja

    Dr.Mall Ninja Member

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    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.
     
  3. owlhoot

    owlhoot Member

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    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.
     
  4. vanfunk

    vanfunk Member

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    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
     
  5. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    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.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2012
  6. brnmuenchow

    brnmuenchow Member

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    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.
     
  7. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    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.
     
  8. StrikeFire83

    StrikeFire83 Member

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    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.
     
  9. baylorattorney

    baylorattorney Member

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    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.
     
  10. Dr.Mall Ninja

    Dr.Mall Ninja Member

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    If its one of 25 then it is big bucks! I wouldnt stop pushing till I found the answer.
     
  11. StrikeFire83

    StrikeFire83 Member

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    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?
     
  12. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Member

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    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.
     
  13. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    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.
     
  14. Jim K

    Jim K Member

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    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
     
  15. vanfunk

    vanfunk Member

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    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
     
  16. highpower

    highpower Member

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    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.
     
  17. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    Exactly!
     
  18. TonyT

    TonyT Member

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    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.
     
  19. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    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.
     
  20. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    The info I have from Doc O`Meara's book jibes with that.
     
  21. TonyT

    TonyT Member

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    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.
     
  22. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Member

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    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.
     
  23. PEP51

    PEP51 Member

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    So the consensus is an original First Generation. 38 Special is valuable. That makes me very happy seeing I have one with Colt Factory Letter verification. According to previous messages, it is either 1 of 25, or 1 of 85 ever made, making it rare. It is 5 1/2 barrel that was never molested or rebarraled. Shipped in December of 1930 (although some serial nu,be lists say it was made in 1931 - which is an error obviously).

    So the big question... what is the value of this "rare" and apparently significant SSA?
     
  24. BobWright

    BobWright Member

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    Baylorattorney:

    The .38 Long Colt dates back further than 1898, and was not a S&W developemnet. The .38 Long Colt evolved from the .38 Colt Navy of about 1871, then became the .38 Long Colt and finally the .38 Long Colt (inside lubricated).

    The .38 S&W Special originated around 1898, the .38 Colt Special came about a short time later and was identical to the .38 S&W special except for the flat point bullet.

    Here the S&W and Colt rounds compared:

    [​IMG]

    The evolution of the .38s:

    [​IMG]

    The .38 Army became the .38 Long Colt.

    Bob Wright
     
  25. Armybrat

    Armybrat Member

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