Random thoughts on the old Colt Single Action Army.
by Ray Ordorica
What can one say about gunsmithing the Colt Single Action Army? Probably “Don’t do it!” would be appropriate these days. Early in the 20th century it was common for gunsmiths to mess with them, and a lot of them were messed with, not always to the benefit of the sixgun. Out of that era came the epitome of a customized Colt single action, Elmer Keith’s famous Number Five, a 5-1/2-inch .44 Special. It had a lowered hammer spur, altered back and top straps into something resembling – but not quite – a Bisley, a special positive-locking latch for the cylinder pin, custom sights, ivory stocks and full-coverage engraving. Lest anyone would suggest that Keith’s tampering with the gun destroyed its value, his Number Five sold recently at auction for $80,500.
Today, with the vast array of modern handguns available not everyone knows everything about the old Colt single actions. I recall seeing the statement in print not long ago by a supposed gun writer who had no idea what the spur on the hammer was for… you know, the firing pin?! Those wonderful Colt revolvers that sold at the beginning of the 20th century for around $15 apiece today bring at least 100 times that, and easily more than 200 times that if the gun in question is a decent one.
While genuine Colts are always costly, there have been many clones along the way, some good, some bad. Some decent ones are available today for only a few hundred dollars. They are more or less the same thing as real Colts, though many modern versions have opted for “safe” hammers with what a few of us used to call “flip-up hooky dookers” to effect firing. This is commonly a device that’s linked to the trigger, and interposes itself between the hammer and frame-mounted firing pin only when the trigger is pressed. This permits the safe loading of all six chambers.
Original Colts had…
Read more in the December 2019 issue.