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Old October 21, 2020, 10:16 PM   #1
WoodnSteel
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Civilian Handguns in the 1960s

So, I'm hoping to get a little insight here into the real life guns everyday people might have had during the 1950s and '60s. For some reason, I have always had it in my mind that, outside of the armed forces, revolvers were far more common than auto-loaders for many, many years. I don't know if there's any truth to that.
Obviously the Colt Python made it's debut midway through the '50s, as well as other police revolvers. But I want to know more about what ordinary people, hunters, plinkers, and the like, actually owned, which was presumably not the top-of-the-line Python in many cases.
So, whatever information you have, personal experience or otherwise, I'd love to hear.
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Old October 22, 2020, 08:45 AM   #2
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I was a teenager in East Texas in the late 60's. My recollection is that revolvers were by far the most common handgun around. Smith & Wesson and Colt were the 'elite' handguns. My buddies and I didn't own handguns yet, but we read all the magazines and drooled over the displays at Sears and Montgomery Wards and Gibson's and White's Auto. Our fathers mostly owned Ruger Blackhawks and Single Sixes. One dad had a 1911 and one had a Walther P38. There was no one in our circle (lower middle class, maybe even upper lower class) who had a S&W or Colt. Charter Arms revolvers were starting to show up in the stores but I didn't know anyone who owned one at that time. The semi autos weren't taken out much and we kids didn't get to handle them much. The Walther, especially, was treated almost like some kind of magical thing. There wasn't much 9mm ammo around. A guy might have to go to Dallas to buy some. In general, as you recall, semi autos were mostly seen as military or police weapons. There was a Texas Ranger in our town, and DPS special investigator who had moved up from the Rangers to that spot, and they both carried 1911's. The city police carried S&W and Colt revolvers and the sheriff's deputies carried those and 1911's, but mostly revolvers.
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Old October 22, 2020, 08:52 AM   #3
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The semis most folks had at that time were generally .22lr like High Standard, Colt, etc. along with some 1911 from WWII or any German/Japanese bring backs. S&W and Colt were the standard issue fro most police departments. Remember that concealed carry and similar was not generally available to the public at that time.
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Old October 22, 2020, 09:56 AM   #4
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I am just of that period. My parents were not enthusiasts but carried for self defense, my Dad was a city bus driver and had a well stocked change box to protect.

I had both a Woodsman and Combat Masterpiece .22. Still have and shoot them.
I had a Luger which was very fine as long as the Canadian surplus ammo held out, but it was not reliable with US commercial so I sold it to a collector.
In college, I diverted some textbook money to a 1911.

I did not get serious about revolvers until I got into PPC competition in the 1970s.
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Old October 22, 2020, 10:54 AM   #5
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My dad built quite a gun collection - accumulation, as there was no real focus - in the '50s-'60s, and most were either war surplus, both WWI and WWII, or U.S. commercial products of the '10s-'20s.
I don't think he ever bought a new gun.
He'd done some deer hunting, and used a sporterized M1917 "Enfield".
When he traveled, his carry gun was a Beretta M1934.
The "house gun" varied, but after he passed, I found a loaded S&W revolver - HE Mk. II converted to .45 ACP - in the closet.
The only rimfire he owned was a Colt .22-.45 Conversion Unit, which might have been mounted on the M1911 or M1911A1 he'd bought straight from Uncle Sam.
The nicest gun he owned was a Colt Frontier Six Shooter that he'd had restored by Colt.
Dad, my brother, and I went to the range once or twice a month, and we'd usually take one rifle or one pistol, and then I'd get a lesson in field stripping and cleaning.
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Old October 22, 2020, 10:55 AM   #6
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Bought my first handgun in 65, High Standard Sentinel, Dad had an H&R, a Single Six. Then came a Colt Targetsman, a model 15, a 28 and in 70 a model 17......... Didn't buy a 1911 til the 80's. I still carry revolvers, easier to conceal a 642. Autos are mostly range toys.
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Old October 22, 2020, 02:42 PM   #7
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There were literally millions of imported guns. Some revolvers, and many pocket automatics in calibers ranging from .22 short to .380.
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Old October 23, 2020, 07:43 AM   #8
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Lots and lots of surplus handguns from Europe and a pretty even mix of semi-automatics and revolvers. Iver Johnson, Harrington & Richardson were pretty often seen for sale most everywhere from Feed & Seed to Auto Supply stores. High Standard and Browning and Colt automatics as well as the many many imports. The Shooter's Bible was always on the table at my doctors office and always well thumbed.
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Old October 23, 2020, 06:51 PM   #9
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My very first handgun was a Ruger Standard .22 semiauto gifted by my parents in 1956.
I was 12 years old. Traded it for a Ruger Single Six revolver in 1959 plus $20.
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Old October 23, 2020, 11:01 PM   #10
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My Dad had his Father's Colt PPS with the round thin front site and a 1917 "Pre-woodsman" .22.
Once I started working after high school, I bought a S&W M39-2, then M15-4 .38Spl.
So, it varies as to opportunity to purchase.
I think my Dad wowuld have like to buy a BHP but the 70's they were still pricey.
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Old October 24, 2020, 01:55 AM   #11
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My first was a 6” S&W model 10, .38 cal. Chief made me carry it empty with one round in my breast pocket.
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Old October 24, 2020, 06:51 AM   #12
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My first handgun was a Ruger Standard .22 in 1965. Lousy trigger but the gunsmith at the USAF Academy range cured that. 2nd was a Ruger BH .357, a good gun that I later sold to my sergeant in the USAF....he's still got it and brought it along for a visit several years ago.

Our Academy pistol team shot Hi-Standards...Citations IIRC, with 1911 Colts, heavily gunsmithed, in the centerfire & .45 matches. Ammunition was free and we shot a lot.

Our team sergeant, CMsgt Ed McFarland, could break ten cent balloons on the 100 yd rifle berm with his .45...and this was just the balloon, not a 4'x4' piece of steel with the balloon in the middle. He would also split a .45 LSWC on an ax blade at 50' for distinguished visitors, breaking a clay bird on either side. Hellofa shot in his day, a great coach and mentor.

The 60's were 99% revolvers in police use with 1911's in the Army & Marines with S&W revolvers issued in the USAF. S&W's were half again more expensive than Rugers at the time so on my limited military pay, I was a Ruger fan. At the time, aircrews were issued an alloy snub nosed .38 Spl. S&W, with hardball ammunition, and that's what we qualified on in '64. (A gun much desired by serious S&W collectors nowadays.)

By '65, the USAF had transitioned to Smith M-15's...a far more useful piece, generally...and that's what I was issued after arriving in Vietnam. In my case, I left the gun with the squadron armorer in Bien Hoa, and used a Special Forces supplied 1911A1 while up-country in the bush. When my predecessor DEROS'd in April of '70, I inherited his Browning Hi-Power and the 'tanker' rig for carrying it...I used that for the remainder of my tour; carried that 100% of the time in the camp up on the Cambodian border, and while flying on patrol.

Somewhere in that time frame, S&W came out with the Model 39, auto-loader...really the first of the generally available autos here in the U.S. that I remember. There were a smattering of European guns around, Walthers, and the occasional Luger bring back, but that was about it...revolvers ruled, in the field & on cop gunbelts, though the '70's.

My experience was with customized 1911 on the ranges, & with some combat time as well. Never shot it in anger, but liked the gun (still do!). Now in my old age, the Browning was and continues to be the crème del la crème of auto's for feel and shoot-ability. I liked its capacity for combat use, but regarded the FMJ 9mm load as a distant 2nd to the .45's we were issued. Butt, truth be told, either was a comfort while crouched in a slit trench, listening to the faint tinkle of the cans strung out in our defensive wire.

Just some reminiscences....YMMv, Rod
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Last edited by rodfac; October 24, 2020 at 07:30 AM.
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Old October 24, 2020, 12:04 PM   #13
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Without getting into guns themselves we need to know what 50s & 60s were all about. We had thousands of WW2 and Korean Vets busy “building” families. The economy was generally good but people didn’t have a lot of disposable income yet. Middle 60s saw wages jump a good bit and average guy had some disposable income. This is also about the time that this generation started trading in the older stuff for the latest and greatest. That’s when handguns came into style. 22s at first then centerfires. Lots of guys had cf revolvers and military autos. Bring homes and heirlooms. They didn’t make a habit of shooting them, to expensive and most were not target quality. The average guy back then had a shotgun, a 22 rifle and that was it. No rifle deer season but some had a varmit gun.
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Old October 24, 2020, 12:46 PM   #14
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"...Python made it's debut..." Waaay more expensive than any other .357 revolver then too. Supposedly sold for $125.00 in 1955. That's a bit more than a 40 hour week's pay(very few people worked a 40 hour week in 1955) U.S. Federal minimum wage, Stateside, was $1 per hour. Average U.S. annual wage was $3400 before taxes.
"...revolvers were far more common..."Yep. Even then, most people carried, if it was legal where they were, what they saw cops carrying in movies and on TV. That was a revolver.
Types of auto-loaders were very decidedly limited. Milsurp 1911/A1's, probably some "bring back" Lugers and Walthers. Some pre-war stuff and not much else.
"...No rifle deer season..." Depending entirely on where you are. Same as now. Deer rifles were usually "sporterized" milsurps. Up here it was No. 1 and 4 Lee-Enfields that were sold by the pound in Surplus shops. Lotta 1903/A3's and K98's, Stateside.
"...disposable income..." More about the wages vs what those wages would buy. Gas wasn't $5 + a gallon and a loaf of bread wasn't $2 or $3. That's a where you are thing too.
If you look at minimum wage scales and average wages by the year, not a lot has changed. A commercial hunting rifle as opposed to a bubba'd milsurp is about the same vs one's weekly income.
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Old October 24, 2020, 12:57 PM   #15
Jim Watson
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Quote:
More about the wages vs what those wages would buy.
Right. Every time I see somebody wax poetic over an old advertisement, I realize they are not considering what Dad made at the time. And usually just Dad; a lot fewer women in the workplace in The Good Old Days.

In 1969 I was a fresh engineer, working at the agency I had co-opted with and so with some seniority, amazed to see $9600 on my paperwork.
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Old October 25, 2020, 06:12 AM   #16
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Growing up in ND in the 50’s and 60’s I can’t think of a single person who owned a handgun of any kind. Pretty much shotguns for upland and waterfowl, .22 RF for small varmints, and some a rifle for deer hunting. My older brother was the only one in my family who hunted deer, but he had to borrow a rifle to do it. For years he used my grandpa’s sporterized .303, then as a young adult finally bought his own Winchester 30-30.
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Old October 25, 2020, 09:45 PM   #17
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Quote:
In 1969 I was a fresh engineer, working at the agency I had co-opted with and so with some seniority, amazed to see $9600 on my paperwork.
Ah yes...1969...as a newly minted 2nd Lt with not a spec of tarnish on my pilot's wings, I was pulling down $440 per month while flying combat missions in Vietnam. That includes the $60 "Combat Pay"...two bucks a day to let 'em shoot at ya! Best Regards, Rod
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Old October 26, 2020, 03:52 AM   #18
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I'm a bit too young to remember, but my Grandfather (Chicago bus driver) had an Astra .22short with a cutout clip-on sunglasses case as a holster. (I assume he didn't have the best routes!) A bit later, my father qualified at the police academy with his Python.

I seem to recall several hundred thousand Colt 1903/1908s were made through WWII, so semi-auto wasn't unheard of, especially for pocket guns.
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Old October 26, 2020, 08:17 AM   #19
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Anecdote alert:
Quote:
Grandfather (Chicago bus driver) had an Astra .22short with a cutout clip-on sunglasses case as a holster. (I assume he didn't have the best routes!)
My Father was a Birmingham bus driver and carried a Colt Police Positive Special .32-20.

One year there were a lot of robberies of bus and taxi drivers. The Jefferson county sheriff had a public service announcement printed in the newspapers. It was a warning to would be robbers that a lot of drivers were armed and that stealing from them was hazardous. And, if that did not discourage the robbers, he was going to deputize and arm ALL the drivers. Things quietened down a lot.
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Old October 26, 2020, 10:40 AM   #20
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I was born in 1959, here is my recollection-

We had a Harrington and Richardson .22 7 shot revolver. Our neighbor had a pocket .25 semi auto, a small .32 Beretta. Sometimes we shot these in the basement, but nearly always shot our CO2 Daisy BB Gun or a nicer Sheridan .177 Sheridan pellet pistol. Firearms were kept stored in lightly oiled rags, way up and in back on the top shelf of the closet so kids could not get at them.

Quality- as a kid, I thought our H&R break top revolver from maybe the 40’s was very nice. In my later years I found a replacement and discovered that the break top design was flimsy, the lockup was terrible without a locking bolt, and the reason I had a replacement is that just like the original the metal was soft and could not stand up to the rigors of target shooting.

This was the time of “Saturday Night Specials”- pot metal pistols that were complete junk. We generally forget about the piles of cheap crap that was being sold in the 50’s and 60’s. Consensus among my dad and the neighbor were “I wouldn’t trust those thing not to blow up in your hand, save your money.” They were banned in the Gun Control Act of 1968.

The neighbor had bought a .45 LC derringer from the back of a magazine... no ffl stuff back then. He paid something like $5.00 for it. I found it in the toy box for the kids and as the babysitter was a bit perturbed. “It’s Stuart’s (3 yrs old) toy gun now, he can play with it all he wants. The thing is complete junk and where the heck can anyone get ammo for it? Even if they could, it’s most likely going to blow up in whatever idiot is fool enough to fire it.”

“Why did you buy it?”

“I was curious what you could get for $5.00” gas was about $0.30 a gallon back then, for reference.

Gun Culture: we were not wealthy but were comfortable. Guns were not personal items like toothbrushes, they were more like garden tools. When going hunting, the men would gather at my grandpa’s gun cabinet and take or share whatever was there. If there were not enough deer rifles, no problem. After one man got his deer, the next had his turn. This even applied to neighbors- if a neighbor needed a deer rifle, we let them borrow it. Community, better times I think. Pistols were for policemen or as a sort of game of darts... something to pull out when plinking as a novelty. I was considered a weirdo for hunting small game with that .22 revolver but what the heck, my dad had the Winchester pump rifle.

When I was a kid, every boy by about 6th grade had a pocket knife and carried it to school. It was a status symbol, used for cutting string and whittling sticks or opening bottles. (Bottles needed openers back then). You might have an Official Boy Scout knife, a Case, Buck or... or... a wide variety of Swiss Army Knives... from two blade with bottle opener-screw driver or models of increasing complexity until you had a cork screw, scissors, tooth pick, garden rake and telescope folded up in there. Any boy with the latter knife was simply far too wealthy to live in our town. The thought of using a knife as a weapon was simply not in the universe.

Likewise, the biggest fear about guns was that some fool or rowdy teenager might steal a gun from your house and hurt themselves or another with YOUR gun, and you would feel terrible that your inability to put it away in a safe spot (like way up on the top shelf in the back of the closet) lead to harm.

That was our house, our way, our neighborhood and family. Mileage may vary.
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Old October 26, 2020, 11:51 AM   #21
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While there were some junk guns imported in the 50s and 60s, there were quite a few that were very fine guns- Browning pocket autos, Astra, Bernardelli, Beretta, Star, etc. These were all very good guns. The cast zinc pistols came mostly AFTER the GCA'68 and were made here.
Even the cheapest Galesi .25s were all steel.
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Old October 26, 2020, 01:08 PM   #22
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Get a copy of the Shooter's Bible or Gun Digest annual for a year you are interested in. They're still around and not very expensive though you might have to do some searching.

They will list the majority of the common guns on the market and their retail prices. Not every model, but most. That will give you a pretty good idea of what "ordinary" people could have.
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Old October 26, 2020, 01:35 PM   #23
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Oldies but "Goodies"

Owned my first Sears shotgun at 12. By the time I was 16, I too had an Harrington and Richardson .22 7 shot revolver, High-Standard D-9, Steven .22LR rifle. Both calibers are Arisakas with over 200rnds of original Jap ammo WW-II bring-backs, by one of my uncles ...

Those were great days for a teenager. .....

Be Safe !!!
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Old October 26, 2020, 10:27 PM   #24
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As a run of the mill 1950's punk with a DA haircut and Lucky Strikes in the sleeve of my T-Shirt I can give you the basic set up for routine activities.

Stomper boots equipped with taps and a razor blade on each toe.
A big Monkey Paw zipper pull on my Schotts black leather rumble jacket.
A metal comb with the teeth points sharpened razor sharp.
A .22lr zip gun made out of some plumbing fixtures.

I shied away from anything that would net me a "fall" from a police pat down.
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Old October 27, 2020, 11:14 PM   #25
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I think cheap 22 pistols were more common than self defense cernterfire guns in the 60s for common guys along with their shotguns and rifles for hunting. People could trade guns freely so I don't think collecting many guns was as common.
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