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Double Action Revolvers of the Old West

Uploaded on Aug 12, 2011

In this video we'll look at three of the most popular double action revolvers on the western frontier; the Colt 1877, the Colt model 1878 and the Smith & Wesson Frontier Double Action Revolver.


The Colt M1877 was a double-action revolver manufactured by Colt's Patent Fire Arms from January 1877 to 1909 for a total of 166,849 revolvers. The Model 1877 was offered in three calibers, which lent them three unofficial names: the "Lightning", the "Thunderer", and the "Rainmaker". The principal difference between the models was the cartridge in which they were chambered: the "Lightning" being chambered in .38 Long Colt; the "Thunderer" in .41 Colt. Both models had a six-round ammunition capacity. An earlier model in .32 Colt known as the "Rainmaker" was offered in 1877.

The M1877 was designed by one of the inventors of the M1873 Colt Single Action Army, William Mason, as Colt's first attempt at manufacturing a double-action revolver. The M1877 was the first successful US-made double-action cartridge revolver.


The M1877's early double-action mechanism proved to be both intricate and delicate, and thus prone to breakage. The design had a reputation for failure and earned the nickname "the gunsmith's favorite". Because of the intricate design and difficulty of repair, gunsmiths to this day dislike working on them. Gun Digest referred to it as "the worst double-action trigger mechanism ever made". Typically, the trigger spring would fail and this would reduce the revolver to single-action fire only. Outwardly, the Model 1877 shows a striking resemblance to the Colt Single Action Army revolver, however it is scaled down slightly and much thinner in dimension. The standard finishes were blued, with a case-colored frame or nickel plating. The bird's head grips were of checkered rosewood on the early guns and hard rubber on the majority of later-production guns.


The Colt M1878 is a double-action revolver that was manufactured by Colt's Manufacturing Company from 1878 to 1907. It is often referred to as the "Frontier" or the "Double Action Army" revolver. A total of 51,210 Model 1878 revolvers were manufactured from 1878 to 1907, including 4,600 for the US Ordnance Department. These are known as the "Philippine" or "Alaskan" models.

The M1878 was designed by William Mason, Colt's factory manager and Charles Brinckerhoff Richards, Superintendent of Engineering. It was similar in design to the Colt Model 1877. The Model 1878 had a larger frame, and is therefore sometimes referred to as the "large frame" double-action revolver, while the Model 1877 is likewise referred to as the "small frame" double-action revolver. The Model 1878 was considered a more robust and reliable design than the Model 1877.


The design of the Model 1878 was based on the Model 1877, which in turn was based heavily on the design of the earlier Colt Single Action Army revolver. The double-action revolver is not dramatically different in design than the single-action revolver. A strut is added to connect the trigger movement to the hammer. The top of the trigger slips beyond the strut so that the hammer will stay in full cock if it is pulled back manually.

The Model 1878 had a larger frame than the Model 1877, which allowed it to fire larger and more powerful cartridges, such as the .45 Colt and .44-40 and used the same barrel, ejector parts, and a very similar cylinder to the Single Action Army revolver. At one time, the factory modified Model 1878 cylinders for use in single-action revolvers in an attempt to use up spare parts.

Smith & Wesson .44 Double Action First Model

Smith & Wesson .44 Double Action First Model

Smith & Wesson’s .44 Double Action First Model revolver seems to be one of that company’s more neglected designs. It tends to be overlooked as it came between the vaunted No. 3 SA and various Hand Ejector Models. The primary chambering was .44 Russian, of which 53,590 were made between 1881 and 1913. Some 15,340 “Frontier” models were also produced, as was a .38-40 Win. Those guns were numbered in individual ranges and are basically considered separate models. All frames were made prior to 1899. Some rare chamberings, such as .38 S&W, .38 Colt and .38-44 Gallery, may be encountered, but they are extremely rare. The First Models continued to be listed in catalogs for a number of years after their production ceased to clear out old stock.

Following the lines of smaller and slightly earlier S&W .32 and .38 top-breaks, the First Model DA incorporated an excellent self-cocking mechanism that was as good as many British and Continental designs. It was also head and shoulders above Colt’s more popular Model 1877 “Lightning” and Model 1878 “Frontier” models, a happenstance that must have been more than frustrating to the folks at Smith.

Smith & Wesson’s First Model DA incorporated the company’s familiar curved grip frame, flanked by either hard rubber or checkered walnut stock panels. The revolver was available in blue and nickel-plated finishes, and barrels were 4, 5, 6, 6½ and 8 inches (rare) in length, with 5 inches being the most common.

First Model DA .44s employed the usual S&W top-break ejection system. The revolver could be fired double- or single-action, though it had no safety position, and the hammer did not rebound after the trigger was released, resulting in a potentially dangerous setup if the gun were dropped.

Standard sights on the First Model DA .44 were similar to those on the No. 3, a rounded, fixed-blade front and miniscule notch rear, milled out of the fore-part of the frame latch. Some guns were fitted with target sights, but they are not the norm and bring premium prices when encountered.

Even though the .44 Double Action was not one of S&W’s most popular products, it still had a following. In fact, Texas gunfighter and all-around bad guy John Wesley Hardin was carrying a .44 S&W Frontier when he was killed in the Acme Saloon by Constable John Selman in El Paso in 1895. Ironically, when Selman was killed a year later by George Scarborough, also in El Paso, he was toting a .44 New Model.

The .44 Russian First Model DA shown here is in NRA Antique Excellent condition, mechanically perfect with about 85 percent of its original nickel-plated finish. In such condition, the revolver is worth a good, solid $1,200.

https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2013/4/23/smith-wesson-44-double-action-first-model/

Posted by George Freund on May 14, 2016 at 9:30 AM 3366 Views