This is a fantastic "US"-marked Colt SAA Revolver in semi-relic condition with a low first year production serial number in the 2,750 range. Standard 7-1/2" barrel in .45 Colt with original early features and walnut grips. From the looks of it, it appears as though it was lost in the field during its military service. Fortunately, someone found it many years ago before the elements got the best of it as it still has legible markings and fairly sharp profiles. One can still read the early style slanted barrel address, two-line patent dates of the frame next to a clear U.S. property mark, the numbers which are all matching, as well as the tiny "A" (OW Ainsworth) inspector initials on various parts. It even still has its original walnut grips.
Comes with a two-page letter of authentication by Colt expert and author, John Kopec, which is dated 2012. See photos. In it, Kopec states: "This revolver...was a new listing to our survey", making it a fresh find to Colt experts who have studied martially-marked Single Action Armies for many years now. Based on Colt repair records of US-marked Colt SAAs returned to the factory for repairs and/or refurbishment, the estimated survival rate on martially marked specimens in the 2,000-3,000 serial range show only a 12-13% return rate and this was in the late 19th century. This would most likely be inclusive of both Cavalry Models and those converted to Artillery Models with mixed numbers and 5-1/2" barrels. As of 1976, Kopec's survey had recorded just 375 of the original 12,000 Ainsworth inspected SAA's which also included reworked Artillery Models. That number has certainly risen over the past forty years of study since my copy of A Study of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver by Moore, Kopec, and Graham was written.
As noted by Kopec in his letter, the serial number consecutive to this one is listed in his survey. He goes on to state that the closest (1870's era) match to this serial number found in the National Archives (which can also be found in Springfield Research Service, Volume 1, page 86), is serial number 2,717. This particular weapon was issued to Company D of the United States 3rd Cavalry and is recorded as being "LOST" on July 1, 1875. He cites the primary issues to the 3rd Cavalry "were made during the 3rd Quarter of 1874." Among these issue destinations we find several 3rd Cavalry troops were at that time stationed at Fort Sidney and Camp Sheridan, Nebraska; Fort Fetterman, Wyoming Territory; Fort D.A. Russell, Wyoming Territory; Camp Robinson, Wyoming Territory; Camp Brown, and North Platte, Nebraska. He also cites a couple of SAA's in the 2,500 range which belonged to the 8th Cavalry and that the earliest known recorded issues to the famous 7th Cavalry are in the 3,200 and 3,600 ranges. Unfortunately, there are precious few records on these early Single Actions from the 1870's Indian Wars Era in the National Archives so to learn the fate of one of these just a few digits away is pretty exciting. Most entries are from the 1890's in which most are listed as Artillery Models, meaning they were disassembled and rebuilt with little regard to matching numbers. There are three in the 2,700 that were refurbed by Colt for the State of New York in 1895. As with most surviving specimens, we will probably never learn the exact unit this Colt was issued to but we do know it was among the first to be issued, most likely in the American West in 1874, and almost most likely to a Cavalry unit prior to the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.
Overall Condition grades to NRA Antique Fair. The metal surfaces are a frosty gray patina with scattered light to moderate pitting. I'd say whoever found it used a heavy wire brush to remove the rust but they made no attempt to polish or smooth out the surfaces which is why the markings are so nice. Over the years, I've seen a number of these early well-worn Ainsworths which have had so much cleaning done to them that they are barely recognizable. This one isn't pretty but it's righteous and hasn't been ruined beyond recognition. In Kopec's words, it is a "colorful old U.S. Cavalry revolver"...in "near relic condition". The only thing missing on it was the cylinder pin retaining screw and the early ejector housing which Kopec notes was probably missing for a long time. We put an original housing on it ( a later 1st generation housing with an original spring and rod with what is I believe a repro of the early bullseye knob) for display purposes. This will come with the gun but I'm sure an original early housing could be procured with some dedicated scrounging. The action is in Very Good working order...full/half cock, cylinder locks, everything works. The bore is in surprisingly nice shape for a relic and would grade it no less than Good+ with very decent rifling. The hammer has sharp checkering in the early longer pattern. Original Front Sight. Frame has the correct early style small "U.S." next to 1871 and 1872 patent dates. To date, I have found several small "A" inspector markings for US Gov't inspector OW Ainsworth. These are located on the top of the backstrap, underneath the barrel, side of the cylinder, on the butt of the grip, and bottom of the barrel with the US Gov't "P" ordnance proofmark. We were able to get photos of most of these. There is also the correct letter "C" on the back of the frame just above the hole for the firing pin. Cylinder pin appears to be the original. Grips are remarkably solid for a gun left out in the elements for so long. Back East, these wouldn't have lasted long so most likely, this was lost somewhere out West. They are weathered and shrunken but solid with only one chip missing off the lower left corner. The Ainsworth "A" is still visible on the bottom (see photo) and if you look closely, you can see a hint of the original border that went around the OWA cartouche at the bottom of the left side. See photo. Also evident is some light flattening off the sides caused by chafing in a leather holster...common on cavalry guns. There are four notches at the base of the left grip...also mentioned in Kopec's letter. A really neat old early production Colt Single Action from the Indian Wars that was there!