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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:

View attachment 826272 View attachment 826273 View attachment 826274 View attachment 826275
MY VERY FIRST STATEMENT: "This feels like an un-winnable argument that goes on forever".
Like so many similar topics, this one will rage on without end. No one's mind can ever be changed -- they are locked in stone.
 

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First why all the mystery?

Second if Colt proofed a gun for smokeless regardless of when it was made is in not safe for smokeless?

The Brits will reproof a gun for smokeless and it is forever more safe for smokeless. No steel was changed no improvements made just reproofed.

Everyone likes to say they are not safe for smokeless but where is this documented from Colt?

The 45 Caliber guns are an exception due to their paper thin cylinder walls. I don't even like firing the smokeless guns that are over a hundred years old.

Colt and Winchester both proofed older guns for smokeless. Does their reproofing mean nothing?

I think that without some kind of real factual documentation this subject is all opinion. We all have one.
 

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There IS a difference in these LF cylinders, but I will leave that to your wonderment.
There is a difference. A few in fact. None make the cylinders any stronger. Put up or.......you've heard that saying.

I think that without some kind of real factual documentation this subject is all opinion.
Spot on Mike.
 

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I am sure there is some nefarious individuals out there collecting guns from 1914-1916, machining long flute cylinders for them and then antiquing the new cylinder to match the guns. Millions to be made in one small mind.
 

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Discussion Starter · #28 ·
First why all the mystery?

Second if Colt proofed a gun for smokeless regardless of when it was made is in not safe for smokeless?

The Brits will reproof a gun for smokeless and it is forever more safe for smokeless. No steel was changed no improvements made just reproofed.

Everyone likes to say they are not safe for smokeless but where is this documented from Colt?

The 45 Caliber guns are an exception due to their paper thin cylinder walls. I don't even like firing the smokeless guns that are over a hundred years old.

Colt and Winchester both proofed older guns for smokeless. Does their reproofing mean nothing?

I think that without some kind of real factual documentation this subject is all opinion. We all have one.
Just as with the 1960 to 1964 Chevy Corvair, just because a manufacturer believes a product is safe doesn’t necessarily mean it is:

 

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Discussion Starter · #29 ·
MY VERY FIRST STATEMENT: "This feels like an un-winnable argument that goes on forever".
Like so many similar topics, this one will rage on without end. No one's mind can ever be changed -- they are locked in stone.
Yes, this is purely conjecture and this thread was created to raise an awareness of this and to remain cautious. Folks have raced down the road at over 100 mph without wearing seatbelts and experienced no collision and are here to tell us about the thrill. Others, are not.
 

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uhm, didn' Colt sell firearms to the gov't? Weren't there contracts (1902) that are documented or could be researched? Within those contracts they may have definitions on what the agreement may have been. "provide 4,600 model 1878 supplied with strengthened mainsprings and extended triggers" along with cylinders to meet new smokeless propellant gov't rounds - just a thought.
 

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There is a difference. A few in fact. None make the cylinders any stronger. Put up or.......you've heard that saying.



Spot on Mike.
I can identify M1878 DA cylinders that have lock slots added by a clever machinist. There is something they always miss, even after re-shaping the ratchet.

AGAIN, I won't post everything here. Call them "trade secrets", if that feels better.
 

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I'm curious if anyone knows when Black Powder ammunition was phased out by cartridge manufacturers? Would it have been widely available by 1915, which seems to be the period when Colt was selling Long Flute SAAs? Would a purchaser of a Long Flute SAA have chosen to use BP ammunition in their new gun? It would seem that by 1915, in the midst of WWI, that the new owners of these new revolvers would have been inclined to load whatever ammunition was available. Or has every Long Flute SAA been pampered, using ammunition that was obsolete by 10 years before these revolvers were even created? In the intervening years between 1915 and whenever these guns were retired to the collectors closet, it seems like they would have all blown up if they were inclined to do so, the first time someone loaded them with smokeless ammunition.
 

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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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Discussion Starter · #36 ·
My thoughts are that the black powder vs smokeless and the concept of earlier Model 1878 cylinders being used in a later revolver manufactured during the smokeless era is something that might not have been considered during the 1913 to 1915 era but makes complete sense now. So, if someone uses 1906 as the cutoff of black vs smokeless powder, they should be wary of the Long Flute Model being an exception.

And, firing smokeless powder in a Long Flute Model probably isn’t going to lead to catastrophic failure, just like firing smokeless powder in an 1890s production Colt Single Action Army revolver probably won’t lead to catastrophic failure if one round is fired. Or several. Or an indefinite number of rounds. But it might…

Now a circa 1883 or before Single Action Army revolver with a wrought iron (vs steel) frame is a much more risky proposition.
 

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My thoughts are that the black powder vs smokeless and the concept of earlier Model 1878 cylinders being used in a later revolver manufactured during the smokeless era is something that might not have been considered during the 1913 to 1915 era but makes complete sense now. So, if someone uses 1906 as the cutoff of black vs smokeless powder, they should be wary of the Long Flute Model being an exception.

And, firing smokeless powder in a Long Flute Model probably isn’t going to lead to catastrophic failure, just like firing smokeless powder in an 1890s production Colt Single Action Army revolver probably won’t lead to catastrophic failure if one round is fired. Or several. Or an indefinite number of rounds. But it might…

Now a circa 1883 or before Single Action Army revolver with a wrought iron (vs steel) frame is a much more risky proposition.
So, are we now on the verge of giving the "all clear" to firing Long Flute SAAs with whatever standard ammunition fits in the chambers? Recognizing, of course, that no one on this site bears any responsibility for anything that might occur as a consequence of anyone acting on information contained in any posts in this thread. Also, recognizing that I (I won't speak for anyone else) really know nothing about this subject and am, in no way, attempting to pass myself off as an expert and that anyone who acts in reliance upon anything I have said or written is nuts and, so, shouldn't blame me.
 

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are we now on the verge of giving the "all clear" to firing Long Flute SAAs with whatever standard ammunition fits in the chambers?
Your gun, do as you like. An educated decision, when made on what is actually known about the manufacture of these guns, might make one ponder on the rational of shooting smokeless in a 45 Colt LF. Personally, I'd still have some concern on the 44-40 and 38-40 versions as well.

That is not a concern for the more typical, vintage Colt collector, who isn't planning to ever shoot their guns. My impression is a good many owners in these conversations simply don't shoot, they just want to talk about the nuances of Colt ownership. I get that, right up to the point the conversation turns to nonsense.

I took mrcvs' original post as a well meaning, public service announcement, attempting to help LF owners understand the LF guns better. The post was a little confusing for me so I tried to break it down some and point out that it is really the 45 Colt cylinders that would be my first concern, with 44-40 and 38-40 to follow. If you never shoot them (mrcvs does shoot his guns) it should be of no concern to you.

I also shoot mine. I value the history of my own guns. Shooting them and discussing the nuances of manufacturing are both equal parts of my own enjoyment in collecting old Colts. I'd like to keep them all in one piece;) Hopefully the more I learn about these guns the better they will be for the next generation of ownership.

My 1892 Colt in 45.
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Discussion Starter · #40 ·
Your gun, do as you like. An educated decision, when made on what is actually known about the manufacture of these guns, might make one ponder on the rational of shooting smokeless in a 45 Colt LF. Personally, I'd still have some concern on the 44-40 and 38-40 versions as well.

That is not a concern for the more typical, vintage Colt collector, who isn't planning to ever shoot their guns. My impression is a good many owners in these conversations simply don't shoot, they just want to talk about the nuances of Colt ownership. I get that, right up to the point the conversation turns to nonsense.

I took mrcvs' original post as a well meaning, public service announcement, attempting to help LF owners understand the LF guns better. The post was a little confusing for me so I tried to break it down some and point out that it is really the 45 Colt cylinders that would be my first concern, with 44-40 and 38-40 to follow. If you never shoot them (mrcvs does shoot his guns) it should be of no concern to you.

I also shoot mine. I value the history of my own guns. Shooting them and discussing the nuances of manufacturing are both equal parts of my own enjoyment in collecting old Colts. I'd like to keep them all in one piece;) Hopefully the more I learn about these guns the better they will be for the next generation of ownership.

My 1892 Colt in 45.
View attachment 827077
Correct. This is an educated conclusion I came to after studying these Single Action Army revolvers for several decades now.

It’s certainly your revolver and you can do what you want to with it. But I consider that anything prior to 1906 or so should be considered black powder only, except these Long Flute Models, although being 1913 to 1915 production, should be treated and handled like a pre circa 1906 Single Action Army revolver. And, just like with a 1900 production Single Action Army revolver, you could probably fire a box of light smokeless rounds and nothing detrimental will happen. But, maybe not.

So, why risk it? Besides, black powder rounds are fun to reload for (easier than smokeless rounds) and it’s fun to shoot. If 50 rounds or less, there shouldn’t be a problem with excessive fouling, especially if a filler is used.

Yes, I will fire nearly anything in my collection, with black powder (with the exception of a 1909 production Bisley Model which is soundly within the smokeless powder era). No detrimental effects, but I don’t fire anny given revolver often. (This is with regards to Colt Single Action Army revolvers—I will fire smokeless loads in a few Smith & Wesson .44 Special revolvers I own).
 
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