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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is my first post here, as I am fairly new to the idea of forums. I bought an old colt revolver a couple of years ago and have been trying to figure out exactly what it is. The grip frame is stamped U.S. ARMY MODEL 1903 and No. 2400## as seen in the second photo. There are proof marking of KSM and JFH located on the left side and the KSM is also stamped on the cylinder. The left side of the barrel says COLT. D.A. 38. Patents on the top of the barrel are: Aug 5, 1884, Nov 6, 88, and Mar 5, 95. I would like to know as much about this gun as possible. Here's some pictures, if anyone need more just tell me what you need and I will get them.




Also, the cylinder does not rotate unless I point the barrel to the ground. I took the side plate off and found what I beleive to be the spring on the hand broken which would keep the hand from engaging the cylinder. Here's a pic of the broken piece, does anyone know where I may be able to find a replacement?



Thanks for any help,
Bill
 

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You have a Model 1903 "New Army & Navy" revolver.
This started off as the Model 1889 "New Navy".

The 1889 was the world's first double action, swing-out cylinder revolver.
This was the direct ancestor of every Colt revolver that followed up until the Colt Python.

These were made in a variety of models, each featuring slight improvements as Colt felt their way into the new design.
Models included the 1889, 1892, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1901, and the final version, the 1903.
Production of the various models ran from 1889 to 1907.

These models were available in a variety of now obsolete calibers including the .38 Short and Long Colt, and the .41 Short and Long Colt.
Many of these early revolvers have chambers that are bored straight through, and will often chamber the .38 Special and even the .357 Magnum.
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should one of these low pressure revolvers EVER be fired with ANY modern .38 Special ammo, and certainly not the .357.
Even light load .38 Special is too much for these early revolvers.

Due to the age, unavailable ammunition, and the delicate and quite complicated action, it's recommended that these antiques NOT be fired.

Finishes were bright blue, and bright nickel, with barrels of 3", 4 1/2", and 6".

Grips were walnut or hard black (Gutta Percha) rubber with molded-in checkering and Colt marks.

Most models were commercial versions, but the US Army and Navy did buy these.
It was these early Colt DA revolvers in .38 Colt Long that failed to stop Islamic Moro fighters in the Philippines in the 1890's, and this led to the development and adoption of the Colt 1911 .45 Automatic.

Values on these are based on their collector's historical value.
One in 80% condition would bring "about" $900??, with a US issue model bring a little more.

As to your particular revolver:
Number 2400## was made in 1904.
The numbers that year started at 225800, and ended at 249999.

"KSM" is the inspection mark of Kelley S. Morse a US military inspector who did inspections from 1893 to 1915.
The only "JFH" I could find was an inspector of M1 rifles in the 1950's.
It's possible the revolver was arsenal rebuilt, and an earlier "JFH" was the inspector.

So, you have an interesting piece of American history. It's the world's first modern design DA swing-out cylinder revolver which almost every brand of revolver that followed more or less copied, and it's a piece of military history involving radical Islamic religious fanatics, and an underpowered pistol that failed to reliably stop them.

This of course, has connections to today's war, and valid lessons to be remembered.

As for parts, unfortunately, parts of any kind are almost impossible to find, especially items like the weak hand spring.
You can try Gun Parts Corporation:
http://www.e-gunparts.com/
But it's going to be VERY unlikely they have any.
Your best (and probably ONLY) bet is to have a new spring made.
Years ago, I was called on to make a spring for one of these early revolvers, and I made it from a piece of clock mainspring.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Wow, thanks for all the info. I have shot this gun, about one box of 50 38 specials, glad it didn't blow up then. Is it possible to reload for 38 short to make this an occasional shooter?

The spring just broke recently when I was showing the gun to a friend. I figured I would have to make, or have made a new one. Didn't think of a clock spring, I may have to accidentally drop my old kitchen clock.

I am thinking of sending it to Colt for a refinish and getting it lettered. I would not have it refininshed if it was in really good shape, but there is quite a bit of rust speckling and some places where it looks like the previous owner tried to scrape off rust with something hard. Do you have any experience with their work on reblues?

Thanks Again,
Bill
 

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I'd strongly advise against refinishing it. It actually is in better than average condition for these types of revolvers and you'd send the value and collectability plummeting in the process. They led a hard life and they are a little piece of history so enjoy it for what it is.

I made a hand spring once for an 1860 Army Colt and it wasn't that hard to do. A gunsmith should be able to handle it. It took a lot of fiddling and tuning to get it to work but it worked in the end.

Nice pistol. Enjoy it.
 

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How about if it was JEH? That could be Jay E. Hoffer, Maj., US Colt 38 revolvers, Gatling guns 1903. /forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif

Besides, JFH is me and I didn't do it. /forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif
 

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[ QUOTE ]
I'd strongly advise against refinishing it.

[/ QUOTE ]

Ditto.

It doesn't look all that bad for a 102 year old gun!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
[ QUOTE ]
How about if it was JEH? That could be Jay E. Hoffer, Maj., US Colt 38 revolvers, Gatling guns 1903. /forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif

Besides, JFH is me and I didn't do it. /forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif

[/ QUOTE ]

Your right, I checked it out and it is JEH, the bottom line is very faint, looks like they used an F stamp and then added the bottom line with another stamp.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Just thought I would post a a few more pics to show the areas of concern that lead me to want to get it refinished:


This one looks like the gun may have been dropped a few times on the site as it has two very distinct grooves in it. I could probably stone them out myself.


This one just looks like there was some deeper rust and someone tried to scrap it out with something sharp like a screwdriver or nail.


Same thing with this one.

Not to mention there is a lot of pitting a rust spots under the grips. I think I may just take them off and store them in the safe next to the gun.

Bill
 

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You might could touch up the offensive spots with cold blue or possibly some type of plumb brown. You could also consult with someone like Turnbull to see what he offers in the way of localized touch-up. Of course, it is your gun so you are free to do what you want. Personally, I wouldn't want to lose all that character.

Good photos by the way.
 

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First, I doubt Colt would refinish one of these. Both because they no longer work on older guns, and second because of the risks of breaking something for which parts no longer exist.

Second, what you have is a fairly valuable historic collectible revolver.
A refinish would destroy it's value, and reduce it's monetary worth drastically.

I wouldn't even apply any cold blue since cold blues cannot match the original bluing, and usually leave a discolored area around the spot in the original blue.
So, while cold blue will color worn spots, the cold blue is NOT durable and will turn brown and come off fairly soon.
Since cold blues do "stain" the surrounding original blue, applying it to an antique actually degrades the finish, not helps it.
That too will will negatively affect the value.
An expert will look at an antique that's had cold blue applied and will immediately down-grade the value.

In other words LEAVE IT ALONE. It's a collectible NOT a shooter.

As for shooting it, I DO NOT recommend doing this.
Modern powders operate at higher pressures than the early powders these were made for.
Even light loads risk damaging the gun.
The action and parts in these models are delicate. Parts WILL break if these are used, and replacement parts are not available.
Right now you have a fairly rare working model. The spring can be replaced.
Break something else, and you then have a MUCH less valuable NON-working gun.

Bottom line: You have a valuable antique with a lot of history and monetary value. ANY changes, refinishing, cold bluing, improper "cleaning up" or changes of any sort will RUIN it's value.
This is an old and very delicate design of gun, made before anyone really knew how a swing-out cylinder gun should be made.
Shooting is risky for the gun AND you.
If you want a gun to shoot, buy a newer gun that won't destroy the value by being fired.

This is one of those guns that needs to be preserved and taken care of as a matter of historical value. It's just not something that should be fired anymore.

If you're unwilling to do that, or you just HAVE to shoot all your guns, sell it to someone who'll protect it and take care of it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Don't misunderstand me, I will never shoot it again. I have it in the safe with a couple of old Colt 1911's I got in the same transaction, all for $600. I was more asking if it's possible to load 38 Shorts more for knowledge than wanting to shoot it as the Lyman Pistol and Revolver Reloading book doesn't mention it. I shot this right after I got it, and since then it has only been removed from the safe to show or for periodic wipe down and inspection, same thing for the 1911s. As for the reblue, I guess I will leave it alone and just try to keep it from rusting any more. How about the letter from Colt, is it really worth it?
Thanks,
Bill
 

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For the hand spring, try www.coltparts.com. When you replace the sideplate, make sure the hand spring is in the recess in the sideplate, and the stud on the sideplate is (if I remember correctly /forums/images/graemlins/confused.gif) to the left of the spring. (If I'm wrong, and it's the other way, the action will be super stiff).

And one more vote for leaving the finish as-is.
 

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Welcome to the Forum Mtb1bkr!

Thanks for the great first post. I've got a soft spot for the old Army .38's like yours. They used to get no respect from the collectors and their values were nil. I'm glad to see them generate some interest of late.

I'd certainly leave your fine example of a Model 1903 alone. I always examine these old revolvers when I seen them at gun shows or in shops. Your revolver looks better than most I see these days. It give quite an attractive antique appearance in your detailed photographs.

I'd be happy to leave a revolver such as yours alone and proud to have it in my Colt menagerie.

As to shooting it, Dfariswheel is giving prudent advice. These old revolvers apparently have delicate lockwork. My Model 1901 is the only Colt product I've had to break while in use. The same spring broke on mine as is broken on yours. A good gunsmith fabricated another and I've been back in action ever since. I haven't taken Dfariswheel's good advice and "exercise" mine on occasion with carefully prepared handloads. It is capable of good accuracy with hollowbase wadcutters. I believe the Model 1903 is unique in that its bore diameter is .358. All the previous models have a bore diameter of .362-.363 and are problamatic to shoot with available component bullets saving for the HBWC mentioned.

The old Colt .38 Army models will shoot and have have an elegant feel about them fired single action with one hand. I have to agree that it is probably best to retire them though.
 

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mtb1bkr:

A Historical Letter from Colt will tell you about what's already listed above, but it would add to the historical value of the gun.
Among the detail would be when it was shipped, and WHO it was shipped to.
In this case it would be some US government facility.

Colt also offers a model "Identification" letter that addresses a specific MODEL of gun, and gives you a history of the type of gun.
This wouldn't give details on your specific gun, but would include details on it's general history and use.
 

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Bill:

You have been given some excellent advice by DFaris and Reddogge concerning the negative consequences of refinishing this revolver. Take the advice. Don't do it.

Here is some more advice. Skip the Colt letter, which will be expensive and offer little information. Take that money and buy Bob Best's excellent book on these revolvers entitled "A Study of Colt’s New Army and Navy Pattern Double Action Revolvers 1889—1908". It is far and away the best source of information on the subject. Bob is a member of this Forum and a frequent contributor. He has not jumped in here yet, so he must be unavailable. The book can be located at http://www.horstheld.com/0-Colt-double-action.htm .

Good luck.

Charlie Flick
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I just checked the coltparts.com site and they have the hand and spring assembly for the 1889 and 1992 model. Anyone know if that spring will fit the 1903 model. I know I could easily make the part but if this is the right part it would save me time and look better in the gun.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
[ QUOTE ]
I just checked the coltparts.com site and they have the hand and spring assembly for the 1889 and 1992 model. Anyone know if that spring will fit the 1903 model. I know I could easily make the part but if this is the right part it would save me time and look better in the gun.

[/ QUOTE ]

BTT
 

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Sorry, I don't know if the spring changed over the models, but I'll go out on a limb and say the part will fit your model.

You could just contact Coltparts and ask them.
 
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