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I was in my favorite gun shop today and the owner steered me to the used handgun cabinet and inside was a Colt Army Special .38 Spl. in excellent condition inside and out. The serial number is 491392. Being the shop owner is a friend, he knocked some off the price and let me put it in the back on an informal "layaway." I don't know much about the Army Special, but assume it is the predecessor of the Official Police line. The finish and grips are in fantastic shape, the bore bright and it seems to have seen little use. Looking for information from you collectors and what kind of price would be fair for it? I don't feel like I'm paying too much given its condition.
 

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I have an Army Special with a serial number 489XXX made in 1922. Yours is the same vintage. I only paid $150 for mine, but it has had a hard life. It is nickel plated, but it left the factory blued. The plating job almost obscured all of the markings. The only reason I bought it was that despite its appearance, it locked up tight, it was a .32-20, and I just had to have a gun in that caliber. I went to the expense of having Colt letter it, thinking I might be able to trace its life and write an article about it, and hoping it had originally been sold to the Shanghai Police Department. Alas, it was sold to a store in New Orleans that no longer exists, and when I went back to the gun shop to ask if they could put me in touch with the former owner they refused, so the gun's life is a mystery. Even the gun's title is ironic, because no army ever bought it.

In my research excursion I learned that 1920's and 30's jazz musicians' girl friends often carried .32 caliber revolvers because they were easy to keep in their handbags. As a result, some musicians used a brass-backed guitar with the thought that if the girlfriend shot at them, it would stop a .32 bullet. There's even a song called "The .32-20 Blues" recorded by Robert Parker in Texas in 1934.
 

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I have one of these I acquired from a friend a few months ago. It is not nearly as nice as yours. Mine was a Houston Police gun (engraved on backstrap) and one of the last (1927). I have yet to shoot it. You can tell based on the bangs and nicks on the right grip and discoloration of the blue (due to sweat?) it was carried in an open holster for a right-handed person. As ugly as it is on the outside, the cylinder and barrel are perfect and it is like new mechanically. I am going to the range for the first time in months next Tuesday and was planning to shoot it. I hope you enjoy yours. Let me know how it shoots. Jim

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I have an Army Special with a serial number 489XXX made in 1922. Yours is the same vintage. I only paid $150 for mine, but it has had a hard life. It is nickel plated, but it left the factory blued. The plating job almost obscured all of the markings. The only reason I bought it was that despite its appearance, it locked up tight, it was a .32-20, and I just had to have a gun in that caliber. I went to the expense of having Colt letter it, thinking I might be able to trace its life and write an article about it, and hoping it had originally been sold to the Shanghai Police Department. Alas, it was sold to a store in New Orleans that no longer exists, and when I went back to the gun shop to ask if they could put me in touch with the former owner they refused, so the gun's life is a mystery. Even the gun's title is ironic, because no army ever bought it.

In my research excursion I learned that 1920's and 30's jazz musicians' girl friends often carried .32 caliber revolvers because they were easy to keep in their handbags. As a result, some musicians used a brass-backed guitar with the thought that if the girlfriend shot at them, it would stop a .32 bullet. There's even a song called "The .32-20 Blues" recorded by Robert Parker in Texas in 1934.
1) The Colt Army Special was meant to take the place of the "New Army" model in the Colt line-up. It was chambered for the .38 Special, rather than the .38 Colt of the New Army, found to be ineffective in the Moro uprisings in the Phillipines. By 1926-ish, it was obvious that the Army was not going to be buying any more revolvers as their main handgun (they only bought the M1917s as fill-ins when need far outstripped supply of M1911s in WWI), so Colt, at the time they made some small changes to the AS, renamed it as the "Official Police", hoping for large scale orders from PDs, rather than the Army.

2) "32-20 Blues"- Robert JOHNSON. .32-20 was fairly powerful for a .32. In Johnson's song, he says:

"If she gets unruly, and thinks she don't want do
Take my 32-20, and cut her half in two
She got a thirty-eight special, but I believe it's 'most too light
She got a thirty-eight special, but I believe it's 'most too light"

He apparently considers the 32-20 more powerful than the .38 Special. And I don't think a brass plate would stop a .32-20.

3) Shanghai PD never used .32-20, AFAIK. Three-eighty British (equivalent to our.38 S&W Long/.38 New Police, but with a 200 grain bulet), I believe.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks for all the replies. I may be paying a bit much for this six-gun, but it's in such good shape, it was hard to turn down. The .380 British or .38/200 was actually based on the .38 S&W cartridge. They substituted a 200 gr. lead bullet for the 145-146 gr. bullet used in US loads. Supposedly it would tumble when it hit eh adversary causing more damage. By WWII they decided against the 200 gr. lead bullet in favor of a 173 gr. FMJ bullet and this was their service load plus that of Commonwealth countries for a number of years. It was also used in Scandinavia and I have a box of rounds with this 173 gr. FMJ bullet that was made in Norway. Somme US cartridge makers also loaded a 200 gr. blunt-nosed lead bullet in .38 S&W and .38 Special and called it the Super Police.
 

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...In my research excursion I learned that 1920's and 30's jazz musicians' girl friends often carried .32 caliber revolvers because they were easy to keep in their handbags. As a result, some musicians used a brass-backed guitar with the thought that if the girlfriend shot at them, it would stop a .32 bullet. There's even a song called "The .32-20 Blues" recorded by Robert Parker in Texas in 1934.
Why would a 32 be considered easier to keep in a handbag than a 38? Actually, I would think the 38 should be lighter (even though the guns are the same size) and therefore easier to carry.
 

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I was in my favorite gun shop today and the owner steered me to the used handgun cabinet and inside was a Colt Army Special .38 Spl. in excellent condition inside and out. The serial number is 491392. Being the shop owner is a friend, he knocked some off the price and let me put it in the back on an informal "layaway." I don't know much about the Army Special, but assume it is the predecessor of the Official Police line. The finish and grips are in fantastic shape, the bore bright and it seems to have seen little use. Looking for information from you collectors and what kind of price would be fair for it? I don't feel like I'm paying too much given its condition.
As a collector of the Army Special this is my feeling. Your gun looks to be a 4" and these will bring a bit of a premium over the longer barrel. The condition looks to be on the top end and therefore I would put the value in the $700-$800 range.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Thanks Colt Guy, I fell much better now! I have her over half paid-off, pretty soon we'll be headed to the range for a workout...
 

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I might have been OK on this 5" for $550, if it had the original stocks. When I bought it I was just getting into Colts and didn't realize it had the wrong wood stocks on it. I put these replacement stocks on to keep overall cost down and get it looking right for 1921. It does have a pristine bore and cylinders. I figure it will catch up one day...maybe soon.

Jim.
 

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I might have been OK on this 5" for $550, if it had the original stocks. When I bought it I was just getting into Colts and didn't realize it had the wrong wood stocks on it. I put these replacement stocks on to keep overall cost down and get it looking right for 1921. It does have a pristine bore and cylinders. I figure it will catch up one day...maybe soon.Jim.
It's a very nice looking Army Special.
 

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Speaking of Army Specials, here's one you don't see often. A nickel AS in .41 LC..
41 Colt Army Special : Revolvers at GunBroker.com

Looks re-finished to me...side plate 'line' too 'big'...everything somehow a little too 'liquidy' looking.

Wrong Stocks of course ( as others have observed ).

Too bad...

If it were an honest Factory Nickel and not messed with, I'd have gone after it.


Is the Seller offering these crappy images, in the hopes no one realizes it is a re-finish? ( Till it is too late, and they are looking at it at their Kitchen Table, feeling depressed? )
 

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I might have been OK on this 5" for $550, if it had the original stocks. When I bought it I was just getting into Colts and didn't realize it had the wrong wood stocks on it. I put these replacement stocks on to keep overall cost down and get it looking right for 1921. It does have a pristine bore and cylinders. I figure it will catch up one day...maybe soon.

Jim.

That's a lovely old Army Special there Jim..!


I would not worry about the price paid, it is close-enough to 'reasonable' to sit fine with me.

You have very nice old Colt, and, you can always parlay the later Walnut Stocks to someone who needs them, and, buy a nice Box of Vintage Ammo or a period Holster or something, to go with the Colt!
 
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