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Old April 9, 2011, 10:38 AM   #1
otisrush
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Help Identifying Colt Revolver

I've got a Colt revolver I'd appreciate any help in identifying what this is and any other information people could provide.

I don't have a way of measuring the caliber. Holding a measuring tape up to the muzzle I'm eyeballing 13/32". Would that be .40 caliber? It's a 6 shot. There are patent date stamps under the cylinder (on the side) with dates
Sep 19, 1871
Sep 15, 1874
Jan 19?, 1875



Thanks much.

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Old April 9, 2011, 10:46 AM   #2
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Probably a .41 Colt.
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Old April 9, 2011, 10:59 AM   #3
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Your revolver is a Colt m1877 Lingtning in .38 Colt or m1877 Thunderer in .41 Colt. They are the same gun, just in different calibers. I you would provide the serialnumber we can give you a date of manufacture also. You don´t have to provide the entire number, for instance 444XX would suffice.

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Old April 9, 2011, 11:46 AM   #4
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Thanks.

SN 498XX

I saw a comment on another site about "the numbers all match.". I didn't understand this until I saw them on this piece. Now I get it. :-). And, yes, they all match.

Thx for the help.

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Old April 9, 2011, 11:50 AM   #5
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Your revolver was made in 1884.

Regards!
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Old April 9, 2011, 12:03 PM   #6
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Thanks Anders! I appreciate it.

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Old April 9, 2011, 12:58 PM   #7
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Quote:
Your revolver is a Colt m1877 Lingtning in .38 Colt or m1877 Thunderer in .41 Colt
Bit of trivia- Colt did not name their revolvers "Lightning" or "Thunderer", that was done by a western novel ("dime novel") writer in the late 1800s. Much like "Peacemaker" and "Single Action Army", these are indiscriminately applied (Single Action Army really applies to the P model in 45 Colt). But they're in common use, so . . .
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Old April 9, 2011, 03:20 PM   #8
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otisrush, you´re welcome!

Scorch, yes (though I hadn´t heard or read the bit about the dime novelist), the names are however generally accepted even among collectors, so much so that the names are used in reference litterature. And as for the general public, "Colt Lightning Double Action revolver" may ring a bell, "Colt m1877" probably won´t.

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Old April 9, 2011, 09:43 PM   #9
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IIRC, the names "Lightning" for the .38 and "Thunderer" for the .41 were bestowed on the guns by E.C. Meacham, Colt's St. Louis distributor, in their catalog. Colt did not use the terms, though they did use the name "Lightning" for the pump action rifle.

The caliber is (or was) on the left side of the barrel.

Jim
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Old April 10, 2011, 07:39 AM   #10
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Quote: "The caliber is (or was) on the left side of the barrel."

True, and looking more closesly at the picture I can clearly see the outline of the etched panel on the barrel, and (although not very clearly) make out the name "Colt". I bet that looking closely you can still make out the calibermarking, because that etched panel is usually totally gone. If I can read "Colt" on a not perfect picture, then the caliber should be readeable in real life.

Have another look otisrush, and if you don´t know what your´re looking for then take closeup pics of the left side of the barrel and post them.

Anders Olsson
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Old April 10, 2011, 09:06 AM   #11
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Anders & Jim:

Thanks very much. That answer, quite literally, was staring me in the face. The close-up capability of my old eyes is fading and - given I thought the stamping on the top of the barrel was the only thing at all - I didn't look more thoroughly. I had a look at it without my contacts in and BOOM! There it is.

"Colt D A .41"

After you guys gave your initial replies to my question and I had the model I did some cursory reading and learned about the intricacy and reliability (lack thereof) of this action. I figured this piece was on the edge as far as moving the action. I certainly would not dry fire it - but is it best to not move the hammer and cylinder at all? I can guarantee is has not been activated in any way for 20 years at an absolute minimum, and it wouldn't surprise me if it had not seen movement in 40+ years.

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Last edited by otisrush; April 10, 2011 at 09:27 AM.
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Old April 10, 2011, 10:17 AM   #12
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They are an intricate and rather delicate construction. If you´re not going to shoot it (and I take it you´re not) then keep it oiled inside and work the mechanism as little as possible. If you work the mechanism and it freezes, don´t use force. Instead, take a look at the locking bolt for the cylinder lockup. It protrudes from the face of the recoilshield into slots in the back of the cylinder (between the chambers). On a worn m1877, the bolt will often engage the cylinder (locking up the mechanism) prematurely. If this happens, you can usually free it up by using a needle or something to push the bolt back into the frame.

All that said, I do have one in the same caliber, which I shoot occasionally. The mechanism is a bit funky but functional. I´m not worried about the mechanism. Although I am not a certified gunsmith I know that I could fix it if something breaks or wears out. I´ve had mine apart to the last screw and spring, I´ve even replaced a couple of parts, and was able to put it back together with no problems whatsoever.

This guns mechanism isn´t rocketscience. Thing is today any gun that needs a bit of handfitting to any new or repaired parts gets a reputation for being hard (or even impossible) to work with, and most gunsmiths just won´t work on them.
But if you are somewhat mechanically inclined and have a strong interest in not only the guns themselves but how they actually work (and why), it is fully possible to learn how to work on them.

I´m not writing this to convince you to pull the gun apart or anything. I´m just trying to explain that although of a complicated and delicate nature, it´s not impossible to work on them.
As I said, most gunsmiths won´t, but I think that´s more becuase they would rather be drilling or tapping frames and receivers for scopes or rails, rather than do "traditional" gunsmith work. There´s more money for them in that kind of work. That´s my take on where the m1877´s reputation as a lemon comes from.

Anders Olsson

Last edited by Swede68; April 10, 2011 at 10:23 AM.
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Old April 11, 2011, 03:34 PM   #13
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Also, mandatory warning if you haven't heard much about the cartridge and you decide to shoot your gun...

The .41 Long Colt was originally loaded with an outside-lubricated heeled-base bullet, like .22LR. This type of bullet has drawbacks in larger calibers, and as other comparable cartridges were introduced with superior inside-lubricated bullets, Colt switched the .41LC to use this type of bullet as well. Since this required reducing the outside diameter of the bullet from ~0.410" to ~0.386" to fit entirely inside the case, a hollow-base bullet was used to theoretically maintain accuracy if the new ammo was fired in an older gun. (In practice, hollow-base bullets that expand to grip larger-diameter rifling don't work very well, leading partially to the cartridge's reputation for poor accuracy.)

Around 1890 when the bullet design changed, new Colt 1877 revolvers were supposed to have changed from ~0.408" groove diameter to ~0.401" groove diameter to work better with the new bullet, but from what I've been told, the actual groove diameter of individual guns varies substantially. Some newer guns have the "old" 0.408" bore, with others have "In Between" bores in the 0.403"-0.405" range. (Herein lies another reason for the cartridge's reputation for poor accuracy.)

Due to this factor, it's important to slug the bore of your .41LC 1877 before you shoot it, and be prepared to order a custom mold matched to the bore diameter of your individual gun. Do NOT count on being able to get good results using off-the-shelf bullets.
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Old April 11, 2011, 09:49 PM   #14
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"Although I am not a certified gunsmith I know that I could fix it if something breaks or wears out. I´ve had mine apart to the last screw and spring, I´ve even replaced a couple of parts..."

The problem is only partly the complexity of the gun, the main problem is that most parts are just not available and some that are, like the cylinder stop, are available only as reproductions that have to be carefully fitted. Something like cutting the SA notch in the hammer deeper throws off the whole timing.

Jim
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Old April 11, 2011, 11:50 PM   #15
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Thanks again for all the info. It's really helpful.

I'm most definitely not going to shoot it. I think it needs a good cleaning and some oil. I want to preserve the shape it's in and hold onto it.

When I open the loading gate I notice a moth at some time decided to take up residence. There is a nice old nest sitting in that chamber of the cylinder. :-)

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Old April 12, 2011, 03:13 PM   #16
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From Colt catalog, 1877,

"The new Colt double action revolver has an ejector rod which can be used for ejecting fired cartridges and moth nests from the cylinder chambers."

Jim
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Old April 13, 2011, 08:47 AM   #17
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JK:

Excellent one.

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Old April 24, 2011, 12:00 AM   #18
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didn't billy the kid carry a .41 cal?...he had it on in the famous backwards developed picture...
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Old April 24, 2011, 02:26 AM   #19
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Quote:
didn't billy the kid carry a .41 cal?...he had it on in the famous backwards developed picture...
How can you tell its not the 38 cal version?
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Old April 24, 2011, 08:05 AM   #20
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Colt

Speaking of Billy The Kid carrying one.
Didn't Doc Holliday carry the 38 in his Shoulder Rig
or was that just the Movies ?
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Old April 28, 2011, 02:16 AM   #21
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i don't know that it wasn't a .38...i just read somewhere that it was a .41...
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Old April 28, 2011, 09:52 AM   #22
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FWIW the most famous criminal I know of that carried a .41 Colt was Raymond Hamilton, a member of the Barrow Gang.

He, Clyde Barrow, and one or two other companions* were approached by Atoka County Sheriff C.G. Maxwell and Deputy Sheriff Eugene Moore at a dance in Stringtown, OK on August 5th, 1932 after several people at the dance witnessed them drinking in their car. (This was during Prohibition, and ironically, Clyde Barrow was something of a teetotaler who almost never touched alcohol, so it was probably only his companions who were partaking.) Barrow and Hamilton immediately started shooting, killing Moore and wounding Maxwell. In several historical accounts, Hamilton's pistol is identified as a ".41 Colt", although I'm not sure of the model. It may very well have been an 1877.

*Footnote: The number and identity of Barrow's companions is debated. Most historians agree that Bonnie Parker was not present.
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Old April 28, 2011, 10:02 AM   #23
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"It may very well have been an 1877."

I'd bet it would have been a Colt Army Special or similar.

The 1877 was known to be a VERY fussy piece, easy to put out of order, while the modern side-swing cylinder Colts were a lot more reliable.
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Old April 28, 2011, 10:31 AM   #24
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I don't wish to change the subject but I've seen the Single Action Army referred to as the "Frontier Model," but apparently only when chambered in .44-40. Was that an official Colt name?
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Old April 28, 2011, 10:43 AM   #25
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Quote:
I don't wish to change the subject but I've seen the Single Action Army referred to as the "Frontier Model," but apparently only when chambered in .44-40. Was that an official Colt name?
Yes, officially the .44-40 was the Colt Frontier Six Shooter and that was etched or roll marked on the barrel. If I recall correctly (which is definitely a tricky business for me), Colt introduced it in 1877.
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