This is an early Colt Model 1892 New Army Double Action Army Revolver in caliber .38 Colt. Standard 6" round barrel, six-shot cylinder, blued finish, and walnut grips. These early Colt Double Actions saw action in the American West, Spanish-American War, Philippines Insurrection years, and served as secondary weapons behind front line troops in the First World War while others were issued to National Guard units as well as the US Navy. Some were even shipped to Great Britain during the early days of World War 2 under the Lend Lease program.
The following information can all be found in Robert Best's book, A Study of Colt's New Army and Navy Pattern Double Action Revolvers 1889 to 1908. This is the only literature I know of that tackles the complex and confusing subject of these early Double Action Colts and their development. Reading this book has helped explain a great deal of mystery behind this revolver and its many upgrades and improvements made during its military service life. It covers not only the US Army Models but the Navy 1889, 1895 as well as commercial models. If you plan on collecting Colt Double Actions, I would highly recommend obtaining a copy of this book. It is out of print but copies occasionally turn up on Amazon.com.
For starters, this is a first contract Model 1892 with a serial number in the 3,800 range but it's more than that because the Army kept sending it back to Colt for upgrades. Some guns have a couple of things...this one got them all and so it provides a historical road map in the evolution of the Colt Army Double Action, not to mention that it has a military history as well. As Best explains, following field trials, the US Army Ordnance board recommended adopting the new Double Action Colt with its swing-out cylinder on March 23, 1892. After passing up the chain of command and Colt submitting bids, a contract for 5,000 units was awarded to Colt on June 16, 1892. Colt made its first delivery of 500 revolvers on October 27, 1892 with subsequent deliveries of 500 made each month through late July 1893. Based on the serial number, we'd estimate this one was delivered around May 1893. Back in the early days, many of the first 1892's found their way out west to cavalry units like the famed African-American Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments.
Not long after their delivery around the end of 1893, Army units in the field began to notice a problem with their new Model 1892 Colts. Commanding officers began reporting that the hammer could still operate when the cylinder was not fully locked in place and was out of battery. This was especially concerning because the cylinder rotated counter clockwise and the cylinder swung open to the left side in the same direction. Colt engineer FB Felton soon fashioned a solution which once in production became known as the US Army Model 1894. All subsequent contracts awarded to Colt had this improvement. Still the original 1st contract of 5,000 as well as the 2nd contract of 3,000 Model 1892's had to be pulled from the field and upgraded. The upgrades took place systematically between 1895 and 1898 and were performed initially by Springfield until Colt objected and stopped selling the upgrade components to the Army as spare parts. This is why you will find Colts marked "Model 1892" with early 1884 and 1888 patent dates on the barrel...and yet the Model 1894 hammer block installed. Until obtaining a copy of Best's book, we had trouble explaining these when they turned up. Here is what was upgraded by Springfield to the Model 1894 and not by Colt. We had this one a few years back:
Colt felt that the Army was getting their improved technology without having to pay for it so it stopped the sale of these components which the Army was purchasing as cheaply priced spare parts while performing the modifications in-house. From there, the Army had little choice but to return the remainder of its Model 1892's to Colt if it wanted to have the remainder of its Model 1892's upgraded with the hammer block safeties. Basically, the device kept the hammer locked when the latch was not fully closed preventing the cylinder from being struck when not locked in the frame. Externally, you will see there is a little beneath the cylinder latch. On the guns that went back to Colt, these were not only upgraded, they were completely refurbished, and returned as if they were brand new Model 1894's. The original barrel was usually retained but re-rolled with the new patent for this device which was awarded on March 5, 1895. The guns were also re-stamped Model 1894 on the bottom of the handle but still retained the original Model 1892 contract serial numbers 1-8,000. Based on historical records, we know that approximately 95% of the original Model 1892's shipped to the US Army had been returned and upgraded with the hammer block device by early 1898. Today, there are just a handful of unmodified Model 1892's known in existence. The last one I saw for sale was at a show sometime back at $4,500. They are RARE RARE RARE!!!!!
From there, most of the original upgraded 1892/1894 Army revolvers saw service in the American West and/or the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the Philippines. It was against the fierce Moro tribesmen of the Philippines where the Army encountered trouble with the .38 Colt cartridge. Firing all six rounds into an angry Moro could stop him, but not before he killed you first. So sometime between 1901 and 1910, this one went back to Colt again for a rebuild and the installation of a lanyard loop bringing it up to current Model 1901 standards. Just as it had done with the Model 1894 upgrades, Colt's bottom of the handle was re-marked "US ARMY MODEL 1901" while retaining the original four-digit Model 1892 serial number. Even though it's marked, "Model 1901", this is a pre-1898 antique under the approx. 115,000 serial number cutoff for the Colt New Army Double Action. It was upgraded twice by Colt for the US Army but m'fd in 1893. The sole improvement on the final Model 1901 upgrade is simply the addition of the lanyard ring.
Now, some guys will ask, "If the gun is stamped Model 1901, how do you know this was originally a 1st Contract Model 1892?" First, there is a very simple way to find out. The frames on the Model 1892 had a small slot milled out behind the hammer. When the next model came along, the US Army Model 1894, that slot on the frame was lengthened. This one has the small slot which is only found on the 1892...nothing later had this. See page 180 of Robert Best's book for photographic illustration and a more detailed explanation. Secondly, the serial number is in the 1892 1st and 2nd contract range which is 1-8000. Unique to the Model 1892, the serial number is the same for rest of the assembly numbers located on key components. This number was applied on the butt, inside the frame, crane, sideplate, cylinder, barrel, and inside the grips. This gun is 3,809 on the barrel, the frame, butt, and sideplate. The cylinder is in the low 3,000 range while the grips are from other 1st and 2nd contract 1892's in the 3,000 and 5,000 serial range. Now, if you really want to get technical, Best goes into even more detail with another possibility. On some guns returned in poor condition from the Span-Am War and/or Philippines that were rebuilt by Colt, the original serial numbers were lost in the polishing process. Since some guns were outside of the 1st and 2nd contracts and used random four-digit assembly numbers on their parts due to the longer five- and six-digit serial numbers...Colt had no way of knowing what the original serial numbers were so it just applied the four-digit assembly numbers as the new serial number. Confused yet? So this means that some 1901's with four-digit serial numbers are actually later Models but have serial numbers in the same range as the Model 1892's with and without the 1901 upgrades. The good news here though is that:
1. The small slot behind the hammer is unique to the Model 1892...1 through 8,000. Later guns won't have these.
2. The barrel on the Model 1892's were serial numbered to the rest of the gun...which did not occur on the later Model 1894, 1896, 1901, 1903 Colts. This gun has a barrel that is numbered to the frame further identifying it as unique to the Model 1892 Contract. That said, this can be definitively identified as one of the original 1st Contract Model 1892's that was produced in the year 1893 upgraded to the 1894 (hence the 1895 patent date on the early barrel), and then the Model 1901 upgrade. From there, RAC inspector markings (US gov't inspector Ronaldo A. Carr) are located on the bottom of the grips, left side of frame, and back of cylinder, with several small sub-inspector marks visible on the latch, underneath the barrel, cylinder, inside the frame, and on the crane. Left side of barrel is clearly marked "COLT D.A. 38".
Overall condition is NRA Antique Excellent as rebuilt 100+ years ago by Colt. It retains 92% original Colt blue from its last rebuild at the turn of the 20th century. Fire blue is present on several screws and rear face of the hammer. Grips are in Very Good condition and provide nice contrast with the blued finish on this Colt. No cracks, repairs, or major damage. Right grip displays five old kill notches. Action works well in double and single action modes. Bore is Very Good. Only thing negative I can say is that it appears someone colt-model-1892-da-new-army-upgraded-1901-double-us-rac-spanish-american-war-philippinesd some burrs off the front sight resulting in some finish loss but solid and procolt-model-1892-da-new-army-upgraded-1901-double-us-rac-spanish-american-war-philippines is good and has not been lowered. This is a great piece of history and one of the best pre-1898 martial Colts you will find on the market for under $1000.