Fine DFC Inspected Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army Cavalry Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-2287-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
There is probably no more iconic handgun silhouette in American history than that of the Colt Single Action Army. The Model 1873, known alternatively as the Model P, Peacemaker and by a variety of creative nicknames was the final result nearly a decade’s worth of effort by Colt to bring the next generation of handguns to the US military.
The success of repeating, self-contained metallic cartridge firearms during the American Civil War, such as the Spencer Rifle and Carbine as well as the Henry Rifle had clearly foreshadowed the end of the age of percussion firearms. Almost from the moment the Civil War ended, the US Ordnance Department began looking for the next generation of cartridge firearms. The development of a cartridge conversion system for the existing stock of single shot, muzzle-loading muskets by Springfield Master Armorer Erskine S. Allin solved the problem of cartridge longarms for the Army, and eventually led to the manufacture of the “Trapdoor” series of arms. However, the solution for the handgun problem was more complicated. Smith & Wesson owned the rights to Rollin White’s “bored through cylinder” patent, making the production of conventional metallic cartridge revolver impossible without coming to some sort of royalty payment arrangement with Smith & Wesson. The patent would not expire until April of 1869, so until that point most firearms companies had their hands tied. In 1868, in order to get into the game a little quicker, Remington agreed to pay royalties for the right to use the bored through cylinder patent in the alteration of percussion Remington handguns to metallic cartridge. Remington submitted several cartridge conversion revolver samples for the US military handgun trials in 1869. However, it was Smith & Wesson who received the first US military contract for a cartridge revolver design. In 1870, the US military ordered 1,000 Smith & Wesson Model No. 3 “1st Model” American Revolvers, chambered for the .44 S&W American cartridge. These guns with their top break design and automatic extraction would become the basis for the later M1875 “Schofield” revolver. Colt was not out of the running, however, and Springfield Arsenal altered about 1,200 existing Colt M1860 Army revolvers from percussion to .44 Colt via the Colt Richards Conversion system in early 1871. These proved satisfactory initially but were still not as strong as the Remington Army revolvers, whose frames included a top strap for additional strength. During this time, Colt was working on what they were referring to as their “strap pistol” in house. This revolver included all of the best features from the Richards and Richards-Mason conversion, the Model 1871-72 “Open Top” and some new features like a frame with a top strap and a newly designed loading gate. In late 1872 this new revolver was submitted for trials to the US Ordnance Department, chambered in the .44 S&W Russian Cartridge. Colt assumed that since the .44 Russian was a superior cartridge to the .44 S&W American, that the Ordnance Department would prefer that chambering, but in reality they intended to test the new Colt against the Smith & Wesson M1870, and since it was chambered for .44 S&W American, the Colt needed to be as well. After thorough testing by the US military, recommendations, and minor modifications and improvements, the new Colt Revolver was officially accepted for military service as the Colt Model 1873 Revolver. The Colt M1873 Revolver was a single action, 6-shot revolver with a 7 ½” barrel, chambered for the new .45 Colt cartridge. This new cartridge pushed a 250 grain, .454” diameter lead bullet at about 950 ft/s, with a muzzle energy of about 520 ft-lbs. The stopping power of this cartridge would become the gold standard of the 19th century and would be the benchmark for the .45 ACP cartridge, adopted in 1911, which was nearly the .45 Colt’s ballistic equivalent. The barrel of the revolver was rifled with 6 narrow grooves that made one turn in 16” with a left hand twist. The gun had a solid frame with a topstrap, a hinged loading gate on the right side for loading and unloaded cartridges and a spring tensioned ejector rod mounted on the lower right side of the barrel. The revolvers were blued, with color case hardened frames and hammers. The one-piece walnut grips were oil finished. A screw entering at an angle from the bottom front of the frame retained the cylinder arbor pin, and this feature would become known to collectors as the “black powder frame”. Even though these revolvers were manufactured with mostly interchangeable parts that would require little, if any, fitting to exchange between guns, they were inevitably serial numbered on all of their major components, just like Colt’s Civil War era brethren had been.
These 7 ½” barreled US martially marked Single Actions have acquired the collector term “Cavalry Model” to differentiate them from other variants of the Single Action Army that were manufactured. Colt accepted the first contract, for 8,000 revolvers, on July 23, 1873 and deliveries began on September 2 of that year and ran through March of 1874. Over the next sixteen years, some 37,060 Single Action Army revolvers would be purchased from Colt by the US military, with the final deliveries taking place in April of 1891. During this sixteen year period a number of small changes took place on the revolvers, mostly affecting the style, placement and content of various marks. Some very minor cosmetic changes occurred during the transition from the 1st contract to the 2nd contract, such as increasing the bevel at the front of the cylinder, beveling the ejector housing tip, and increasing the size of the cylinder stops. These changes, however, are only really relevant when discussing the earliest guns delivered by Colt, as these features were standard by the time the 2nd contract was accepted. A US military sub-inspector and an accepting officer from the US Ordnance Department would inspect all of these military guns. The sub-inspectors were civilian employees of Springfield Arsenal, but the receiving officer was a US Army officer assigned to the Ordnance Department. Over the years, collectors have classified the Colt Cavalry Models by the name of the sub-inspector, whose initials appear on most of the major components of the revolvers and in a cartouche on the right side of the grips; with the exception of the Ainsworth cartouche that appears on the left side of the grip. The first group of 8,000 revolvers are the most prized Cavalry Models and are known by their sub-inspector Orville W. Ainsworth. The guns from this first contract were inspected with small, single letter inspection marks, as they had been during the Civil War. This system was subsequently changed to the use of all three of the inspector’s initials to avoid confusion between Colt in-house inspection marks and military inspection marks. It was also confusing when an inspector with a last name that started with “C” (like A.P. Casey) used only one letter, as it could be confused for a condemnation mark, rather than an acceptance mark. In addition to requiring the use of a full set of sub-inspection initials, the old system of placing two cartouches on the guns returned, with the sub-inspector marking the right side of the grip and the accepting ordnance officer marking the left side. The year of acceptance was also added above the accepting officer’s cartouche on the left side. The early inspection marking system is typically found on revolvers under serial number 19,500 and the improved system was in full force by about serial number 30,000 (although there are some exceptions in the 47,000-50,500 range – See Graham, Kopec & Moore for more information). Other inspectors that are regularly used to identify Cavalry Single Action Revolvers are John T. Cleveland (c1876-1877, serial number range 30,693-35,569), Henry Nettleton (c1878, serial number ranges 36,798-39,703 & 47,056-51,083), David F. Clark (c1880-1886, serial number ranges 41,033-43,300 & 53,006-121,238) and Rinaldo A. Carr (c1889-1891 serial number range 130,438-140,361). I am indebted to A Study of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver by Graham, Kopec & Moore for the detailed information regarding the years and serial number ranges for the various sub-inspectors who viewed these Colt revolvers. In all, the Ordnance Department would procure some 37,060 Colt Single Action Army Cavalry revolvers between 1873 and 1891. In 1895, a process of refurbishing and upgrading the revolvers in service began which resulted in a series of guns that collectors have termed the “Artillery” Model revolvers. These previously issued and often well-used 7 ½” barreled cavalry revolvers were refurbished, refinished and often had their barrels shortened to 5 ½” in length. The first revolvers to be so transformed were 2,000 that were returned to Colt between 1895 and 1896 for the full restorative treatment and were returned good as new with 5 ½” barrels. It appears that most of these guns came back from Colt with their serial numbers matching. In 1898, some 14,900 of the guns were reconditioned at Springfield Arsenal, where they were reassembled without any effort to match components and serial numbers and were returned to the field with 5 ½” barrels as well. Between 1901 and 1902 2,600 guns were returned to Colt for refurbishing, but these guns were noted to have already been altered to 5 ½”. It is probable that these were revolvers that had seen service during the Spanish-American War, either in Cuba or the Philippines, where the harsh climate had taken its toll on their condition. The final group of guns to recondition and shortened to 5 ½” were another 2,600 that were sent to Colt in 1903. In all at least 19,500 Colt Single Action Army “Cavalry” revolvers were altered from 7 ½” barrels to 5 ½” barrels between 1895 and 1903, which is slightly more than half of the total acquisition of this model by the Ordnance Department. This explains why it is rather difficult to find original, unaltered “Cavalry” Model revolvers today. Even though the M1873 was officially replaced in 1892 by the Model 1892 double action revolver in .38 Long Colt, the anemic stopping power of this cartridge meant that the M1873 remained in limited use as a “substitute standard” handgun until the adoption of the Colt Model 1911 .45 ACP semi-automatic pistol. The success and popularity of the Colt Single Action Army is probably only eclipsed by the success of the Colt M1911. Slightly less than 358,000 Single Action Army revolvers, in all variants, were produced by Colt from 1872 through 1940, with production picking up again in 1955 with some 59,000+ produced before these “2nd Generation” guns went out of production in 1970. The Single Action Army remains a part of the Colt production line today and has been copied by many gunmakers around the world, a testament to the success of the design and its overall popularity. However, no modern incarnation of the classic Colt revolver is as historic or collectible as the original 7 ½” “Cavalry” M1873 Single Action Army, delivered to the Ordnance Department between 1873 and 1891.
Offered here is a FINE condition example of a US Military 7 ½” “Cavalry” Model 1873 Single Action Army Revolver, inspected by David F. Clark. Clark inspected a total of 13,000 Single Action Army revolvers from eight different government contracts during his eight-year tenure at Colt from 1880 to 1887. This gun is from the 4th contract that Clark inspected and was part of an order of 1,000 revolvers placed by the Ordnance Department on August 18, 1882, which were subsequently delivered over the next few months with the final deliveries taking place on November 11 of the same year. As the arsenal sub-inspector assigned to the Colt factory during this time, Clark inspected every contract revolver in detail. As a result, this revolver bears his sub-inspection initials, D.F.C., on nearly every major component, along with his inspection cartouche on the right side of the grip. The revolver is 100% complete, correct and authentic in all regards. The revolver is serial number 82080 and was produced and delivered to the US government during 1882. The complete, matching serial number 82080 appears on the triggerguard, frame, and bottom of the grip strap, with the abbreviated serial number 2080 (the last four digits) appearing on the side of the cylinder, on the barrel under the ejector housing (which must be removed to see it), and in the backstrap cut out of the grip. The loading gate is assembly numbered 481 and this number should not match the serial number of the gun. The bottom of the barrel, forward of the cylinder arbor pin is marked with the expected D.F.C. inspection mark and a P proof mark. The D.F.C. mark also appears on the bottom of the frame (above the serial number), on the side of the cylinder and on the bottom right side of the grip. The lower left side of the frame is marked with the correct 3-line patent date markings:
PAT. SEPT 19. 1871
“ JULY. 2. – 72.
“ JAN. 19. – 79.
and with the military ownership and inspection mark U.S. The barrel is marked with the 2nd type barrel address, found on revolvers with barrels 5 ½” long or longer, from about serial number 24,000 through the end of production in 1940. This block letter address reads in a single line:
COLT’S PT. F. A. Co HARTFORD CT. U.S.A.
The right side of the grip retains a fully legible David F. Clark cartouche, with the script letters DFC surrounded by an oval outline. The left side of the grip shows a clear, script JEG cartouche in a rectangular box with rounded edges, with the date 1882 over it. This is the acceptance cartouche of US Ordnance Department receiving officer Captain John E. Greer, who inspected Colt revolvers with Clark from 1882-1884. Greer replaced Lt. Charles C. Morrison who inspected the bulk of the guns previously inspected by Clark circa 1880-1882, with Morrison’s “CCM” final acceptance mark found on Clark sub-inspected guns in the serial number range of roughly 60,300 through 74,000. Greer took over from Morrison during the receipt of guns from the August 1882 contract, as both Morrison and Greer’s cartouches are found on guns from that contract. Greer would be the accepting officer for all of the guns delivered under the subsequent April 9, 1883 contract, which was for 2,000 revolvers. Greer’s acceptance mark is found on DFC sub-inspected Single Action Army revolvers in roughly the 81,900 through the 111,700 serial number range.
All of the markings on the gun remain crisp, clear and fully legible. The gun is in overall FINE condition and is an extremely crisp and very pleasing example of an original 7 ½” Cavalry Single Action Army Revolver with tremendous eye appeal. The gun retains somewhere between 10% and about 15% of its original blued finish, with the largest areas of original finish being on the ejector rod housing, along the barrel where the top of the housing and barrel meet, on the barrel under the housing, in the cylinder flutes and stop slots and on the triggerguard. There is some blue remaining in the cylinder chambers as well. The majority of the barrel is a mixture of thinning and faded streaky blue that has blended with a smooth plum brown patina that makes the gun appear to have even more finish when it is held in the hand and looked at under normal lighting. The stark white background and harsh photographic lights do not allow the gun to be quite as attractive and pleasing in the photos as it is in person. The gun has not been refinished at any point in time, and strong traces of the original “feathered” polish marks are present on either side of the front sight. The balance of the gun has a very attractive, untouched plum-brown patina that is mostly smooth, with some tiny freckled areas of lightly scattered surface oxidation. The frame is smooth and has a pleasing mottled brown and plum patina, with some strong flashes of vivid case coloring in the protected areas and recesses of the frame, particularly around the recoil shield and in the sighting groove of the topstrap. The frame, like the barrel, also retains about 10%-15% of the original color. The hammer retains about 80%+ of its vivid case coloring, most of which is found to the left side of the hammer, while the right side shows more loss of finish on the spur. The trigger retains some dull, faded traces of fire blue but has a mostly dulled brownish patina. The screws all retain at least strong traces of their soft niter blued finish, with some screws retaining some nice bright blue and others retaining only a pale blue patina, when compared to the balance of the gun. The screw heads are mostly in very nice and crisp condition with only the two backstrap and one gripstrap screw showing any significant slot wear and the balance showing only very minor wear. The original and correct bullseye ejector rod is in place on the revolver, along with the original front sight. The action of the revolver is EXCELLENT and the revolver functions crisply and correctly on all positions. The revolver times and locks up perfectly and remains exceptionally tight. The loading gate functions smoothly and locks tightly into place and the ejector rod operates smoothly as well. The bore of the revolver rates about FINE as well and remains mostly bright with some traces of blued finish on the interior. It retains very crisp rifling and shows only some even frosting in the grooves with some very lightly scattered oxidation and very light pitting along its length. The original, oil finished, one-piece walnut grip is in about FINE condition as well. As noted above the grip retains two very good inspection cartouches, as well as an inspection date on the sides and a clear and crisp sub-inspection mark on the bottom. The grip fits the frame perfectly and shows age, wear and patina that match the revolver perfectly. The grip is solid and free from any breaks, cracks or repairs. The grip is numbered to the gun with the last four digits 2080 in ink in the backstrap cut out. The grip shows the usual bumps, dings and minor marks from service and use, as would be expected from a late-19th century military revolver. There is some rounding and wear to the sharp edges at the flared bottoms of the grip, the result of holster carry over time. Amazingly the grip has escaped the usual chips at the leading and trailing edges and remains in very nice condition, matching the overall condition of the gun very well.
Overall this is an extremely crisp, well-marked, and very attractive example of a 7 ½” Colt Single Action Army US Cavalry Revolver. The gun is 100% complete, correct and original and somehow appears to have escaped the refurbishment, rebuilding and barrel shortening that so many marital Single Action Revolvers were subjected to during the twilight of their service life. Untouched, well-marked Cavalry Single Action Revolvers are very difficult to find these days, and when they are found they command strong premiums, and are often the late production guns from the Rinaldo A. Carr era. This is a great Indian Wars era gun, accepted by David F. Clark during the last quarter of 1882, and was in service for the last decade of serious Indian War service. Even though this gun was likely issued to a state militia, which allowed it to escape alteration to “Artillery” configuration, it was still in service during Apache Wars (c1880-1886), the Ghost Dance War (1890-91), the Pine Ridge Campaign (1890-91) and the Wounded Knee Massacre (December 29, 1890). Many martial single actions also saw use with volunteer regiments during the Spanish-American War. Rarely do you have the opportunity to acquire such a well-marked, complete and original US military Single Action Army in its original cavalry configuration. This is a gun that any serious collector would be proud to own and would be a fabulous addition to any collection of US cavalry revolvers from the Indian War era.