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Colt .45 1881 SAA - Looking for more historical background

2098 Views 8 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  BikesAndGuns
On Saturday, I purchased a Colt .45 1881 SAA in excellent condition, with all 4 serial numbers matching (67xxx). My purchase included an authentication letter from Colt indicating it was shipped to J.P. Moores Sons in NY, NY on August 27, 1881 as part of a 15-gun shipment. The walnut stocks have been replaced with mother of pearl, and the barrel is 5-1/2" instead of 7-1/2". In doing some research, I found this: "In 1895-96, the Government returned 2000 SAA revolvers to Colt’s to be refurbished; 800 were issued to the New York Militia with the 7 ½” barrel and 1200 were altered to a barrel length of 5½". In 1898, 14 900 of the SAA revolvers were altered the same way by Springfield Armory. The original records of the War Department do refer to these revolvers with the shortened barrel as the “Altered Revolver”. The name “Artillery” is actually a misnomer, maybe because the Light Artillery happened to have the first units armed with the altered revolver." (Source: Sapp, Rick (2007). Standard Catalog of Colt Firearms. F+W Media, Inc,. ISBN 978-0-89689-534-8.)". This makes sense, as included in the authentication letter is this statement: "...the records do not provide information with regard to the barrel length of subject revolver or the type of stocks. However, this is usually an indication of a 7 1/2" barrel length and walnut stocks as these were considered standard issue for that time period."

I am curious as to the meaning of the "HN." stamped in the cylinder. If anyone knows what this is, I'd sure appreciate it if you could tell me. Also, any additional historical facts would be of great interest to me.



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'HN' = Henry Nettleton - an inspector of the Indian Wars era.

The weapons returned were Government property, and were so-marked with a 'US' on the frame - your frame would indicate a civilian revolver - perhaps fitted with a previously-inspected cylinder.

Yours has been refinished at some point - and fairly recently, by the looks of it - and maybe that's where the military cylinder came from.

The hammers on the originals were casehardened, too - just like the frames.

Information on the military refurbishment is of no use when talking about civilian production - those were two separate operations.
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HN is the US inspection mark for Henry Nettleton.
AS I see it this is NOT a military COLT SAA as it does not have the US marking to the left of those dates. Therefore all the stuff about cutting issue BBLS from 7 1/2" to 5 1/2" "Artillery" models would not apply at all.
The reference to Colt refurbishing SAA revolvers applies only to U.S. guns originally issued to Cavalry units. It does not apply to your revolver, which is a civilian or commercial Colt. A genuine Cavalry Colt would have the letters "U.S." stamped to the right of the patent date info on the left side of the frame. If yours was originally a Cavalry gun, in addition to the U.S., there would be inspector's initials stamped in various places on the gun. That being said, you have a cylinder from a Cavalry gun, as evidenced by Henry Nettleton's initials (as ordnance sub-inspector). Nettleton was the sub-inspector in 1878. You might look carefully on the side of the cylinder, to the rear of the flutes, and see if there is a four digit number there. That would be the last four numbers of the serial number of the gun from which the cylinder was taken.
Welcome to the Colt forum, still a very nice shooter.
As already mentioned it is not a U.S. issue firearm. J.P. Moore would not have received it if it was.
Thanks to all of you for all the great info!!
By the way, the gun was refurbished by Turnbull, or so I am told. I just sent them a message to see if they have any info on the cylinder.
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