Welcome to College Hill Arsenal
London Retailed Colt Model 1878 in .476 Eley

London Retailed Colt Model 1878 in .476 Eley

  • Product Code: FHG-GB52-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $3,795.00

The Colt Frontier Model of 1878 represented a major departure in design philosophy from that firmly established by Sam Colt when he started the Colt Patent Firearms Company. The “Frontier” was the first large frame, large caliber, double-action handgun to be produced by Colt, and was a hybrid between their incredibly successful Model 1873 Single Action Army and the Model 1877 Double Action Revolver, better known by its nicknames as “Lightning”, “Thunderer” or “Rainmaker” depending upon caliber. The Model 1877 had been introduced the previous year and had met with a moderate amount of success initially. During his lifetime, Samuel Colt had repeatedly argued that double action revolvers were difficult to shoot due to their heavy trigger pulls and were unsafe when compared to single action models. However, less than 20 years after his death, the company that he created dove headfirst into the double action revolver market, and never looked back. The Model 1877 revolver was a mid-sized, double action revolver chambered in either .38 Colt (Lighting), .41 Colt (Thunderer) or very rarely in .32 Colt (Rainmaker). The model was the Colt company’s first foray into the production of a double action mechanism and was met with mixed reviews upon release. For the average customer on the American frontier, the guns lacked two important features that both revolved around ammunition. They were not chambered in a major, “man-stopping” caliber like .45 Colt, .44-40, or .38-40 and they did not allow the interchangeable use of ammunition between the revolver and a rifle, like the .44-40 and .38-40 did. Colt addressed this in 1878 with the release of the Double Action Frontier Model of 1878. This revolver was a hybrid of the large frame Single Action Army revolver, combined with the lock work and birds head grip of the Lighting / Thunderer series. The guns were offered in a wide array of large and medium bore chamberings like the Single Action Army was, with the expected calibers of .45 Colt, .44 WCF and .38 WCF leading the pack in popularity. The Model 1878 was Colt’s first big bore double action revolver, but it still resembled the single action variants. It had a frame-mounted gate through which the gun was loaded and unloaded, just like a single action revolver. It would be six more years before Colt would revolutionize double-action revolvers with the swing-out cylinder design of the Model 1889 revolver. During its production run from 1883 through 1905, some 51,210 DA Frontier Models were produced by Colt. This was a far cry from nearly 358,000 Single Action Army revolvers produced during its original production life span from 1873 to 1940, but the Frontier paved the way for Colt to become the leading American manufacturer of double action revolvers from the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries.


Like most Colt revolvers of the time, the Double Action Frontier was available in a variety of finishes, barrel lengths and calibers. The standard finishes were blued or nickel-plated, with hard rubber grips. Engraving, special adornments and fancy grips were always available options. The barrel lengths were the same as the Single Action Army, with 4 ¾”, 5 ½” and 7 ½” being standard, but longer and shorter barrels (often without ejector rods) being available as well. The standard Frontier chamberings were Colt’s classic .45 Long Colt, and their less popular .41 Colt, as well the three popular Winchester Center Fire (WCF) calibers of the era; .32-20, .38-40 and .44-40. Special order calibers included .44 Russian, .44 German Government (11mm Reichsrevolver), 450, 455 and 476 Eley, .22 rimfire and .38 Colt. The revolver had a six shot, fluted cylinder, which was loaded and unloaded through a pivoting gate that was located on the right side of the frame. The cartridges were removed via a manual, spring-loaded ejector rod, mounted along the lower right side of the barrel, like that on the Single Action Army. An oval shaped, swiveling lanyard loop was mounted on the butt of the bird’s head grip of most of the Frontier revolvers. Although the Frontier never achieved the level of success of the Single Action Army, a variety of western notables, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Pawnee Bill Lilly and Rowdy Joe Lowe all owned and used Colt Double Action Frontier revolvers.


One of the primary motivators for the production of the 1878 Revolver was the desire to get further penetration into the English handgun market. To this end Colt offered the 1878 in three British calibers, .450 Boxer, .455 Enfield and .476 Eley. In many ways the calibers are interchangeable in British handguns which tended to have Alexander Henry rifling and were far more forgiving if they were fired with bullets that were slightly oversized than the American rifled bores were. The Colt agent in London was Baron Frederick von Oppen, who did a good job representing Colt and selling the revolvers. Von Oppen also understood the market in a way that the Americans in Hartford did not. He was responsible for getting the London sold guns roll marked with both the Hartford and London addresses, which made the guns more attractive to their British buyers. The Americans had discovered early that for all practical purposes a .45 Colt revolver could be used with any of the British ammunition, .450, .455 or .476. The .454 bore size and .45 Colt chamber would accept all three cartridges. However, there were issues with this theory and over time von Oppen managed to get Colt to increase the bore diameters, particularly of the .476 revolvers to .471 and then reduce it to .460. Due to the larger rim size of the British cartridges, particularly the .455 and .476, while they would chamber in a .45 Colt cylinder, they could not be loaded in adjacent chambers. Much like the .45 S& Schofield did not always chamber in adjacent chambers of a Single Action Army. Additionally, the shorter British cartridges tended to have their bullets “walk” out of the cases under recoil. Thus a .45 Colt chamber was potentially dangerous if the bullet walked out significantly. To this end von Oppen insisted that the cylinder chambers be properly fit for the intended ammunition, which resulted in a shoulder in the chamber at the appropriate length. However, despite these issues with using .45 Colt chambers and barrels on the English export guns, Colt often sent guns built with those parts to von Oppen which meant that he was regularly sending parts of guns back to Hartford to be exchanged for the correct ones and in order to fill orders in a timely manner was often forced to exchange parts between guns to get the correct cylinders and barrel lengths that the customers wanted. As a result of von Oppen’s gunsmithing, the assembly numbers of English Model 1878 revolvers often do not match.


This Colt Model 1878 Double Action Frontier Revolver is in about VERY FINE condition. The revolver is serial number 9335 and was manufactured in late 1882. The gun was one of the Hartford guns sent to England for sale and is so market on the barrel. As a result of being sold through the London Agency, the revolver is marked with London commercial proof marks under the barrel and at the rear edge of the cylinder between each chamber. The gun has a 5 ½” barrel, is chambered in .476 Eley, has a blued finish and hard rubber grips. The revolver is 100% complete, correct, and original and shows the mixed assembly numbers typical of von Oppen’s guns; particularly in the early days of the revolvers being offered for sale in England. The gun retains about 80%+ of its Colt factory blued finish, with most of the finish loss the result of flaking, fading, and thinning. The largest amount of bright blue remains on the barrel and right side of the frame with the largest single area of loss on the left side of the frame where it looks like someone tried to clean some surface corrosion and ended up removing finish and causing some flaking. The blue remains mostly bright and vibrant but does show scattered scuffs and surface finish scratches. The areas of the frame and barrel that have worn and thinned have a mostly plum brown patina, with some of the high edges of the frame, ejector rod housing and muzzle showing a silvery gray patina. The cylinder shows less blue than the frame and barrel with most of the bright blue being found in the flutes. The areas of the cylinder where the finish has worn have the of the same plum brown patina with the silvery gray patina at the high edges that is found elsewhere on the gun. The metal of the gun is almost entirely smooth with no real pitting to speak of. There is some scattered pinpricking and minor roughness on the cylinder, primarily on its face and around the chambers. Similar erosive wear is present around the bottom of the topstrap, the forcing cone and around the muzzle as well. The barrel also shows scattered freckles of surface oxidation along its entire length. The top of the barrel is crisply marked in a single line as well and reads:




The left side of the triggerguard web is clearly marked in a single line: .476 CAL. The bottom of the bird’s head grip is clearly marked with the serial number 9335 in a single line. The rear face of the cylinder is marked with the three numbers, 942, which is from another gun and is not uncommon for London sold 1878s, as von Oppen often exchanged parts of guns on hand to make up what the customer wanted.  The loading gate is assembly numbered 520. Like the Single Action Army, this assembly number does not relate to the serial number of the gun. The gun is mechanically excellent and functions exactly as it should. Both the double action and single action modes work crisply and the revolver times and indexes perfectly. Both the screws and most of the other small parts all retain at least some strong traces of their bright fire-blued finish, with some nice niter blue on the back of the hammer and on the trigger. The screw heads are relatively crisp and generally show only minor slot wear. The loading gate operates as it should, and the ejector rod functions smoothly and correctly. The original lanyard loop is present in the butt of the revolver and swivels and pivots appropriately. The bore of the revolver rates about FINE. It is mostly bright and shiny with very crisp rifling. Only some lightly scattered minor oxidation, some pinpricking and mild frosting in the grooves is noted. The two-piece, Rampant Colt hard rubber grips are in about VERY GOOD condition overall. As is so often the case, one of the panels shows a chip and some loss, with a 1” piece missing from the rear edge of the left grip, near the bottom. They show the typical color fading that is expected from Colt hard rubber grips as they age, and now have a dark chocolate brown color, instead of their factory new black color. The Rampant Colt logos remain crisp and clear, and the checkering shows only minor wear and light handling marks. 


Overall, this is a very nice and solid condition example of Colt’s groundbreaking, large frame double action “frontier” revolver. The .476 caliber London sold guns total 2,458 out of all 1878 production with 1,682 being 5 ½” blued guns. Including all of the English caliber guns, a total of 6,580 were produced, which was only about 13% of all 1878 production. 5 ½” .476 guns only account for about 3% of all production, on par for .38-40 revolver in the United States. As such, these are fairly scarce revolvers! This is the gun that is father of all of Colt’s large frame double action revolvers and is a great piece of old west history and of Colt firearms sold in Great Britain. The gun is in very nice condition and is extremely attractive. The gun is 100% complete, correct, and original, retains some nice blue and is fine mechanical condition. This would be a great addition to any display of Colt revolvers or firearms and is a gun you will be glad to have in your collection.


Write a review

Please login or register to review

Tags: London, Retailed, Colt, Model, 1878, in, .476, Eley