Exploring the Classics

Colt Single Action Army Revolver (SAA)

KEY INFORMATION

Although Turnbull Restoration works on all three generations of the Colt SAA, this article will concentrate on the first generation (1873–1941).

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Original Manufacturer: Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company

Model Designation: Single Action Army Revolver (also known as Model 1873, Peacemaker)

Firearm Type: Single Action Revolver

Designers: William Mason and Charles Brinckerhoff Richards

Years Produced: 1873 – 1941 (First Generation)

Most Prominent Chamberings: .45 Colt, .44 WCF (.44-40), .38 WCF (.38-40), .32 WCF (.32-20) and .41 Colt (often called .41 Long Colt). The Colt SAA would eventually be chambered for 36 different cartridges.

Key Features: First-generation examples were initially made with iron frames that were color case hardened to withstand the higher pressures, and employed a screw to retain the base pin latch up to serial number 164,100 (i.e., the switch-over from “black powder frames” to “smokeless frames’). Along with the bone charcoal case hardened frame and hammer, metal features included: charcoal blued backstrap, trigger guard, ejector housing and barrel; base pin, screws, and trigger were finished in nitre blue.

Restoration Notes: Look for desirable stampings on the one-piece walnut grips: “OWA”, for Orville Wood Ainsworth, Colt’s earliest ordnance sub-inspector; “HN”, for Henry Nettleton, the Springfield Armory’s principal sub-inspector. A defining feature of an early-production Model 1873 is the “pinched frame”, that is, the way that Colt fashioned the rear sighting groove. Less than 200 of these examples were made. All issued SAAs have “U.S.” stamped on the left side of the frame, with either two- or three-line patent dates.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • The development of the Model 1873 Single Action Army revolver can be credited, at least in part, to the United States Army’s rejection of Colt’s Model 1871-72 Open Top revolver.
  • Re-imagined with the inclusion of William Mason’s top strap design, and chambered for the new .45 Colt round (developed by Colt in partnership with the Union Metallic Cartridge Co), Colt re-submitted their revolver to the U.S. Army. The Army accepted, and thus production of the Single Action Army model 1873 began in 1873. It was also referred to as the “New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol”.
  • As Winchester released its Model 1873 lever action rifle in .44-40 around the same time, Colt answered demand for identically-chambered six-guns in 1877 with its Frontier Six-Shooter.
  • The moniker “smokeless frame” (i.e,. referring to a switch in frame design in 1896) actually has little to do with smokeless powder, as colt didn’t certify its SAAs for use with smokeless powder until until around serial number 180,000 (produced in 1898). This is mainly a collector’s term to differentiate between two different eras of thee SAA’s first-generation design.
  • The Bisley model was introduced in 1894 as a target pistol. The name Bisley came from the famous firing range in Bisley, England. The Colt Bisley can be distinguished by the longer grip, the wider hammer spur, and the wider trigger.