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Long flute Single Action Army revolvers and their Model 1878 Cylinders

1584 Views 64 Replies 12 Participants Last post by  TrueGritFnG
This thread is being created with the question of are they safe to fire with smokeless powder or not?

The reason why this thread was created now is because of the revelation—yes, revelation—that perhaps all Colt Model 1878 revolvers were manufactured prior to 1899, or maybe even 1898, but shipped until 1905. A reputable poster to this forum suggested that all Colt 1878 revolvers were manufactured prior to 1899 or maybe even prior to 1898, meaning ALL Colt 1878 revolvers should be considered ANTIQUE. I cannot recall which thread this was in so I cannot recall if pre 1899 or pre 1898 was stated. Folks sometimes use the term pre 1898 to suggest a revolver is an antique, but they really mean pre 1899 as that is the cutoff as to whether or not a firearm is antique or not.

As I became more knowledgeable about Colt Single Action Army revolvers—and other early Colt revolvers, both percussion and metallic cartridge—I’m the one that stated emphatically for the first time that, in the context of a thread discussing the topic of “is my Colt Single Action Army safe to fire with smokeless powder or not?”, that ALL Long Flute Single Action Army revolvers should be fired ONLY with black powder! Others have since quoted this verbatim, but it’s not in the literature anywhere. I came to this conclusion after studying Colt revolvers for some time. The reason why I mention that is not to put a feather in my cap, but just to state where this idea originated, and after I am long and gone, if just one person heeds these words—mine, or paraphrased from someone else—and a Long Flute revolver and someone’s fingers, are spared from destruction, then a job well done!

And here’s the basis behind my thought process: It has been debated in various threads as to when a Colt Single Action Army revolver is safe to fire based on date of manufacture. Most, unarguably, agree that such revolvers manufactured prior to 1900 should not be fired with smokeless powder. Some use the date of 1905, which I agree with, which neatly corresponds to a date associated with the Colt Model 1878. I had always assumed 1905 was the date the last Colt Model 1878 revolver was manufactured, but this revelation suggests that’s only the date of last shipment.

Given that 1905 is generally, at the very least, been suggested as the last date of manufacture of the Model 1878 and that coincides with the date as to when I would, personally use black powder in a revolver—by 1905/06, smokeless powder is probably safe to use, although I generally fire only black powder in a 1909 Bisley I own these days. I’m any event, I created this hypothesis relative to Colt Long Flute revolvers with my personal comfort level in mind. HOWEVER, the exception to this is the basis for the sound statement that ALL Long Flute revolvers should be fired with black powder only, simply because one does not know for sure when the stockpile of Colt 1878 cylinders was manufactured, and as Colt squirreled away parts for a very long period of time, it cannot be proven that the cylinders used in Colt Long Flute Single Action Army revolvers were among the last manufactured, or date from a much earlier time frame. My guess is the latter.

But, with the claim that all Colt Model 1878 revolvers were manufactured prior to 1898/99, it then unquestionably supports my theory that smokeless powder should NEVER be used in a Long Flute revolver! (Of course the date of manufacture of a firearm is the date of manufacture of its frame, so it is possible, of course, that all frames of Colt 1878 revolvers were manufactured pre 1898/99 but component parts were manufactured/assembled up until 1905.

Additionally, a corollary to this is that ALL Colt Model 1878 revolvers should be fired with black powder only as the same theory applicable to the Colt Long Flute Model applies to the Colt Model 1878 revolver.

Is there any definitive proof in the literature that ALL Colt Model 1878 revolvers were manufactured prior to 1898/99, and, less importantly, do all components predate 1898/99?

Then, of course, if this is the case, how is the status of the Model 1878 revolver changed so that the ATF considers ALL Colt Model 1878 to be antiques? This is already the case with the number one competitor to Colt Model 1878s and the Single Action Army revolver: The Smith & Wesson New Model No 3 revolver. Dr Roy Jinks informed the ATF back in 1968 (presumably) that all New Model No 3 revolvers are pre 1899 and considered to be antiques, as all frames were forged prior to 1899 and are thus antiques.

This thread crosses multiple sections of the forum, but I think it is best suited to the Single Action Army section of the forum.

Now, some eye candy. I don’t have photographs available of my Long Flute Model but here’s a few photographs of a Model 1878 and a New Model No 3 revolver in my possession:

Wood Trigger Air gun Gas Door
Tableware Kitchen utensil Wood Cutlery Metal
Wood Air gun Trigger Shotgun Gun barrel
Brown Air gun Trigger Wood Gun barrel
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These are the things that could be researched and are not to my satisfaction, on the Transition from BP era guns:
1. How many Colt SAAs, Bisleys, 1878s, Long Flute SAAs and New services were built in the pre VP proofing days after Colt presumptively said their guns were Smokeless safe? I'd guess 10s of thousands.
2. How many never shot smokeless in the 130 years since, an era of extremely popular gun culture? I'd guess few if any.
3. Were Colt SAAs proof fired before they started using the VP stamp to verify that they were? I'd guess of course they did.
4. How often since 1900 to 2023 have SAAs been reported blown up, cracked frames, or otherwise damaged by shooting?
5. How many smokeless round were fired in the average SAA, Bisley, 1878, and New service made before 1906?
6. Has anyone ever tested (Rockwell, etc) and compared steel hardness from a 1901 vs a 1919 or 1940 SAA?

Numbers 2, 4 and 5 are harder to find out. But if you divided 1 by 4, the number damaged by the number made in this "Transition from BP" era, you'd have a percentage of risk. I suspect it is very low, like almost statistically insignificant. It's unrealistic to believe that 20,000 transitional colts were NOT made of the same steel as the VP marked ones, and that generations of owners did not shoot them with smokeless every time they took them out, for decades. Colt added the VP stamp to sooth worries and help sales. That doesn't mean they didn't proof test before that, or that they didn't certify SAAs for Smokeless before that. It was a given that you would shoot a SAA with current ammo in 1903. The Colt ephemera is not littered with warnings not to prior to VP. Sorry, but I'm an engineer and just think logically, not emotionally.
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Agree. It's like shooting an old Damascus shotgun or a 1820s flintlock, the older the weaker. By about 1900, the steels weren't weak.
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OK, I got tired of all the conjecture so spent a few minutes seeing when Colt started saying they guaranteed using Smokeless in ALL their arms. So far, I found 1906, I'll keep looking for earlier.

"All Colt Revolvers are guaranteed for use with factory loaded smokeless ammunition."

The Saturday Evening Post
Volume 179, Issue 2
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