This is an early Colt Model 1889 Double Action Revolver in .38 Colt. This was Colt's first design with a swing-out cylinder and a much improved double action mechanism. Some collectors consider this to be the grandfather of the modern revolver. The first 5,000 Model 1889's were built and sold exclusively to the United States Navy in 1889. These saw service all over the world in the hands of sailors and United States Marines. They saw combat in Cuba with the US Marines and against the Spanish fleets in Cuba and Manila Bay in the Philippines. This one is in the 600 serial range with all of its original Navy ownership markings intact on the bottomstrap. It has all the little naval inspector marks in the form of a "Star C" on the latch, frame, barrel, crane, and cylinder. The assembly numbers are matching as well which include the barrel, cylinder (under the ejector), latch, crane, and frame.
Being a new design, the 1889 had a couple of hindrances that kept the US Army from ordering this model until it was improved. The main problem with the 1889 was the lack of cylinder stops and stop bolt to lock chamber in place during use. This was corrected with the Model 1892. The other problem was that the gun still functioned with the cylinder slightly open as there was nothing to lock the mechanism when the latch was disengaged. This problem was corrected with the Model 1894. The Navy purchased additional improved Model 1895 Colts which were basically the civilian version of the 1894's being purchased by the US Army. These are easy to spot because they have naval markings with hard rubber grips. This gun still has its original wooden grips but as you may note from the cylinder, it is among the 92.7% of the original 1889 contract that was upgraded by Colt to the Model 1895 standards.
By the mid-1890's, the Navy began sending all of its Model 1889's back to Colt for upgrades to the Model 1895 standards. The problem was that these guns were scattered all over the world on ships, bases, etc. Nonetheless, they did a pretty good job of getting the 1889's pulled from service and upgraded. The upgrade program was administered by Ensign Nathan C. Twining who sent the Model 1889's in small batches to Colt from mid-1896 until 1901. Of the original 5,000, Flayderman's Guide states that 4,637 were returned to Colt for upgrades. In reading Best's book on Colt Double Action, he lists the various components replaced and that new parts were inspected with a "triangle S". This one must have been an early upgrade...it just has the Star C inspector marks. Colt either replaced the original barrel (many were badly corroded) or re-rolled the original barrels with the additional patent. This one appears to be the original barrel as it is clearly numbered to the gun and bears the early naval inspector marking. Since the grip areas of the frames are shaped slightly different and will not accomodate the newer style checkered hard rubber grips, the Navy opted to keep the original wooden grips making these very similar in appearance to the US Army's Model 1894.
Overall condition grades to NRA Antique Good+. When we found this revolver, it was covered in old black paint. I almost wondered if perhaps it was used as a movie prop at some point in its life. We were able to remove nearly all of the nasty paint but there is still a bit in the corners and protected areas. The metal is a somewhat splotchy mixture of gray to dark gray, but nonetheless exhibits excellent markings and sharp edges throughout. Over the years, I've noticed that many of the Colt 1889's with 1895 upgrades had their original naval inspector markings nearly buffed off when they were refurbished by Colt. In spite of it having no finish remaining, this gun is REALLY sharp with nice Star C's. There is a little bit of fire blue remaining on the trigger profiles and grip screw. The original wood grips show a lot of wear with 10-15% original varnish remaining on or near the base of the panels. The action is in good working order. The bore was the biggest surprise on this gun. It was pretty dirty but it cleaned up to Excellent. It's bright and shiny with nice rifling throughout.
The holster is an original Model 1889 United States Navy holster. The flap is marked "USN". It's in poor to fair shape but with the exception of the little end plug, it's complete. The leather is pretty dry and needs to be treated. The gun fits into position perfectly but I'm concerned that it needs to be made a little more pliable before doing this often. There are some old dry cracks that are forming into tears but the surfaces are remarkably intact. I think this holster would improve considerably with some TLC.
Just a neat old Colt 1889 Navy Revolver with a nice low three digit serial number in an original Model 1889 US Navy holster.