This is a fairly early civilian production Colt SAA Revolver. Being "early", we mean it has wooden grips instead of later hard rubber stocks and the barrel is 7-1/2" which was the original standard length for this model. The serial number is in the 89,000 range. Made in 1883. This looks like a decent example to me...but I'm not an SAA guru and what we're going to do here is give the best description we can and provide at least twenty-five photos...from about every angle I can think of for the pistol.
Some background on Colt Single Actions that you probably won't find in a book: Colt SAA's have been collected for almost as long as the gun itself has been around. Pick up an old Texas Gun Collector magazine from the early 1950's and you'll see photos of old timers posing with Colt SAA's...who could very well have been the original owners of these same guns at the end of the 19th century. That said, whenever something is collected so heavily for a period of several decades, lots of things can happen over time. With some of the Single Actions we've seen over the years floating around on the market, one can only WONDER how many parts have been changed over time...OR even how many TIMES one particular part has been changed! In the age of "condition is everything", high demand for pristine examples of SAA's has pushed prices well past what a faker has to invest in the art of deception. There are restoration artists who specialize in rebuilding SAA's who are honest and candid about their work. That said, sometimes the intent to alter a gun's appearance was considered "well-meaning" at one point in time only to become highly undesired some years later as gun collecting evolved. Just imagine a nice original Colt SAA back in the 1930's that perhaps gets passed from an original owner down to a son or grandson. It's seen a lot of use but it's all there and original. Fast forward twenty years later...perhaps after seeing a few too many cowboy western-themed movies (you know those ones where all the cowboys looked like 50's era Hollywood gunfighters with the greased back hair, wore these ridiculous flashy gun rigs and spoke with unsalted 20th century accents. It was as if they had just stepped off a motorcycle in the parking lot to sit on a horse in a movie set. Somehow, in a moment of mindless enthusiasm, that next owner gets inspired to pull his grandfather's gun out of the closet and play quick draw. Then, he thinks about shooting it but original ammunition is too hard and expensive to come by. So the unthinkable: he sends the gun to his gunsmith or even BACK TO COLT for an "upgrade" to .38 Special. During the process, the original barrel and cylinder are scrapped...and to match the new parts, the rest of the gun buffed on a wheel to a bright sheen and refinished. Instead of those tired old busted grips, a fancy new pair of "Lone Ranger style" plastic stag grips are installed. Now, the gun is up to par for a 1950's or 60's Hollywood movie which from the owner's viewpoint is far better than that useless old brown Colt that Grandpa used to own. Next, fast forward thirty or forty years and two or three owners later...that 1950's rebuild looks about as attractive as a pair of polyester checkered green bell bottom pants from 1975. In an effort to bring the gun back to its original look...the gun gets stripped of its refinish, the over-buffed markings get restamped, a pair of original...but ill-fitting grips are installed...and somewhere down the line, a poor innocent, but less desirable Colt 1878 Model DA revolver and/or a Bisley Model gets robbed of its original barrel and/or cylinder to bring it back to its original caliber AND make this tired old Colt more valuable. Now Grandpa's old Colt appears to be "original" again but it's a far cry from being truly original. Worst of all, it's out there just waiting to become some newly minted collector's worst nightmare.
That said, it is PERFECTLY UNDERSTANDABLE why so many collectors try to stay away from Colt Single Action Revolvers today. There are simply too many bad ones on the market and you DAMN near have to dedicate your entire life to this one subject to figure out what's right vs. what isn't. It's not much different than buying a classic Corvette that's been restored three times. What's correct vs. What isn't? What's original vs. What isn't? ETC.
So let's explore this Colt Single Action together. I am anything but a Colt SAA guru so if there is something you think I've left out, feel free to ask questions and we'll try our best to leave no stone unturned. For starters, my overall impression of this gun is that it's basically a fairly original gun.
CONDITION: Judging from the wear on the front sight and the muzzle, it appears to have been carried and kept in a holster. So it basically is the typical "Grandpa's Gun". Although there isn't a whole lot remaining today, this gun was originally nickel plated. The gun probably got rusty inside of a holster and someone cleaned it at some point in time. The metal is mostly a smooth salt and pepper gray patina with about 20% original nickel remaining on the frame, 15% on the trigger guard, and perhaps 5% on the backstrap. There is zero percent nickel left on the cylinder and if you look at the photos, you'll see there some pitting in several of the flutes of the cylinder.
NUMBERS: The serial numbers are matching on the frame, trigger guard, and backstrap...with matching sub-assembly numbers on the loading gate and inside the frame (see photos). There are no numbers located on the barrel or cylinder which I believe to be correct for an 1883 vintage commercial Colt SAA. I could not find the handwritten inked number on the inside of the grips...whatever was emulsified by years of dirt, oil, etc. They fit well and appear original to the gun...and walnut would be correct for an 1883 vintage Colt.
MARKINGS: The barrel address is quite strong and reads:
-- COLT'S PT. F.A. MFG Co HARTFORD CT. U.S.A. --
The serial numbers and sub-assembly numbers are clear and legible. The left side of the trigger guard is stamped: 44 C.F. The left side of the barrel is supposed to have an acid etched panel which I believe is supposed to read "FRONTIER SIX SHOOTER"...or something to that effect. Given the years of use, holster wear, rust, and subsequent cleaning, there are only shadowy fragments left of that marking...you can just see an outline of the left side of the panel and a few ghost-like shadows of the original lettering...it is all but worn away. Etched panels, I'm told, were quite thin and are frequently worn away...which fits a COLT SAA like this that saw a lot of usage. Also, the three line patent dates on the left side of the frame show a tremendous amount of holster wear...with none of the 1871 patent date visible (1st line), fragments of the '72 date (2nd line), and a little over half of the 1875 date (3rd line).
MECHANICS & BORE: There is good news in this department. The mechanics of this gun have been gone through and the action works perfectly. Hammer works perfectly making all four clicks. The cylinder pin looks to be original to the gun. The bore is in Good+ condition with sound rifling...no rings, or bulges. We also carefully inspected the barrel both inside and out and can verify that it has never been stretched...a process where a cut barrel (usually the longer 7-1/2" SAA's) is brought back to its original length. This one is original. Front sight has been filed down 1/3 of its height but still looks good and is original to the gun.
MISCELLANEOUS: Being an 1883 vintage Colt, it has the black powder frame without the later style cross-pin...which came out in the 1890's for releasing the cylinder pin. Inside the back of the recoil shield, the hole for the firing pin has a round bushing. The hammer also appears original to the gun as it has the longer style checkering pattern with the line in front of the pattern. The knurling is very strong. There are also small traces of original nickel on the back of the hammer that are consistent with amounts of original nickel found on the rest of the gun. The ejector housing also appears to be original to the gun as it has traces of nickel in the corners and underneath the housing which rests against the barrel. The ejector rod also appears to be the original but I'm not 100% sure whether the bullseye on the end is THE original to the gun. It may be a replacement...or it's the original and was heavily cleaned. The ejector spring is a dirty but we held it up against a magnet and it didn't stick...we cleaned off some of the years of dirt and found it to be the original bronze alloy spring.
All in all, from my estimation, I feel this is a good sound example of an original early Commercial 1880's era Colt SAA that was probably found rusted in a holster and cleaned up. There are still portions of the original nickel plated finish remaining on most of the components. The mechanics appear to have been correctly tuned up and no alterations or components (aside from whatever might have been necessary for the tune-up, i.e. bolt stop, cyl. stop spring) have been replaced. Again, I'm not an expert on Colt SAA's which is a very specialized field but will be happy to answer anything we may have missed in our assessment.