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Very Fine 7 1/2" Barreled Colt Model 1878 Double Action Frontier Revolver in .45 Colt

Very Fine 7 1/2" Barreled Colt Model 1878 Double Action Frontier Revolver in .45 Colt

  • Product Code: FHG-4C86
  • Availability: In 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 year before the 1878 was brought to market 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 William Mason designed 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 frame of the Lighting and 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, another William Mason innovation. 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 standard barrel length options were the same as the Single Action Army, with 4 ¾”, 5 ½” and 7 ½” being the primary offerings, but longer and shorter barrels (often without ejector rods) were available as well. Like most Colt revolvers of the era, the sights consisted of a frame notch and groove rear sight and a round blade front sight. 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.


This Colt Model 1878 Double Action Frontier Revolver is in about VERY FINE condition. The revolver is serial number 35898 and was manufactured in 1896. It has a 7 ½” barrel, is chambered in .45 Colt, has a blued finish, fire blued small parts, a color casehardened lanyard swivel and checkered hard rubber Rampant Colt motif grips. The revolver is 100% complete, correct, and original. The gun retains about 70%+ of its Colt factory blued finish, with the most notable area of finish loss being thinning and fading on the backstrap and gripstrap, as well as some mottled loss on the frame and thinned loss on the cylinder. The gun shows some silvered thinning and loss along most of the high edges and contact points. There are also some scattered surface finish scratches and nicks from carry, handling and use. The metal of the gun is almost entirely smooth with no real pitting to speak of. There is a moderate amount of scattered freckled oxidized roughness on the gun, most notably on the backstrap, gripstrap and the cylinder. Some erosive wear to the metal is also present around the bottom of the topstrap, the forcing cone and around the muzzle. The barrel also shows a moderate amount of scattered freckling of surface oxidation along its entire length. The top of the barrel is crisply marked in a single line and reads:




The left side of the barrel of the revolver is clearly marked in a single line: .45 COLT. The mark is applied with a roll die, and is not in an acid etched panel, as would be appropriate for the earlier production Model 1878 revolvers. Colt started using the roll die mark instead of the acid etched mark during the 1880s. The classic Rampant Colt logo is stuck on the lower left side of the frame, forward of the grip junction, a mark that started to appear in 1890. The bottom of the bird’s head grip frame is clearly marked with the serial number 35/898 in two lines.  The loading gate is assembly numbered 437 and the matching assembly number is found on the frame under the grips. Like the Single Action Army, these assembly number do 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. As is correct for these guns with blued finishes, the sides of the hammer are polished bright with the top and back of the hammer are fire blued, as is the firing pin. The bright hammer sides show moderate amounts of freckled oxidized discoloration. The screws all some of their fire blued finish, with some retaining most of the finish and others fading and dulling to a purplish or bluish gray tone. Most of the screw heads show some minor slot wear, with only a couple showing more than very minor 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. The bore shows some lightly scattered oxidation and frosting in the grooves along with some lightly scattered minor pitting. The two-piece, Rampant Colt hard rubber grips are in about VERY GOOD condition. They are solid and free from any breaks or repairs. They show the typical color fading that is expected from Colt hard rubber grips as they age, and now have a rich dark brown color, instead of their factory new black color. The Rampant Colt logos remain fairly crisp and clear, and the checkering shows some light to moderate wear, along with some light handling marks. The right panels show some minute areas of tiny chipped loss on the lower edge. Although the grips are not pencil or scratch numbered to the gun, there is no doubt in my mind that they are original to the revolver as their fit is perfect and the wear is commensurate with the condition of the gun. Both grips each have one or two names lightly scratched into the interior, but the markings are not legible. I apologize for the glare in the photos of the gun, as it was very difficult to eliminate glare and reflections due to the large amounts of bright blue finish on the gun.


Overall, this is a really lovely condition example of Colt’s groundbreaking, large frame double action “Frontier” revolver. The .45 Colt chambering was relatively popular in this revolver with some 17,177 being produced in .45 Colt out of 51,210 Model 1878s produced, roughly 33% of Model 1878 production. Of the .45 Colt Revolvers, the most popular variants were 7 ½” barreled blued guns (5,155 produced) and 7 ½” barreled nickel guns (4,028 produced). These production numbers indicate that 7 ½” blued .45 Colt Model 1878 Revolvers only represent 10% of all Model 1878 production. This is the gun that is father of all of Colt’s large frame double action revolvers and is a great piece of history from the end of the era of the old west and the turn of the 20th century. This very nice condition revolver will be a lovely addition to your collection and is one I am sure you will be proud to own and display.

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Tags: Very, Fine, 7 1/2", Barreled, Colt, Model, 1878, Double, Action, Frontier, Revolver, in, .45, Colt