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The Pre-Detective Special / 2" Police Positive Special

8180 Views 72 Replies 24 Participants Last post by  Spirit
Hi all. Some time ago I came into possession of a lovely and mysterious Colt revolver. I never got around to making a post about it, but I have slipped in a photo here and there you may have seen. We got to talking about these unique revolvers in the DS photo section, so I decided to finally make that post. It's been a while since we had a good thread about these curious revolvers, and there is a chance a few members here don't even know they exist, so I'd love to shed light on them. As well, if you have any information or photos of your own, feel free to share! I'd love to see and hear from everyone.

Some history:
For those that don't know, these are often referred to as a Pre-Detective Special, although more correctly they are a 2" Police Positive Special. They are properly the 'patriarch' of the snub-nose family, and one of the only guns Colt ever made that doesn't have a name or patent information anywhere on it.

So what exactly is a Pre-Detective Special? As the collector given nickname would suggest, it is the model that immediately preceded the Colt Detective Special. In 1926, the Detroit Police Department along with a few others wanted to arm their plainclothes detectives with a powerful, compact revolver, but no such thing was commercially available. There were short barreled revolvers, but nothing quite like what they were looking for. So, as Colt is famous for doing, they built a gun to fit the need. In reality, they took their already popular Police Positive Special revolver, produced a new 2" barrel, and began to fit the same gun frames with the shorter barrel.

Immediately the gun proved a huge success, not only with the police, but civilian market too. So much so that around mid year of 1927 (I believe May), Colt began to market this revolver as its own model, coining the famous name, the Colt Detective Special, after the men that used them.

Apart from being the forerunners of the snub nose family, what makes these early type Detective Specials particularly unique are their features. Other than just the name, they stand out from your average Detective Special. They were produced from 1926-1927 on special order before the Detective Special name came into use, so the barrels are simply hand-stamped ".38 Special" and they have no patent information on the reverse. Other details differing them from standard Detective Specials and an easy way to identify one is that they will often have smooth triggers, a smooth top strap, and a "skinny" 1-9/16" square butt. Interestingly, many also have a 'fouling cup' on the underside of the top strap where the barrel meets the frame. Also, because these were a special run of guns, Colt took a future serial number range and allocated them for these new short-barreled revolvers. They will almost always serial number to 1928 even though they are from 1926-1927. As always though, with Colt, nothing is definite, but these are the average and most common traits of a Pre-Detective.

Even with all of that said, there is still a fairly blurred line between what is officially considered a 2" Police Positive Special versus a Detective Special, due to the fact that Colt was never great at leaving exact records, and they never listed when they started producing the Detective Special as its own model compared to when they stopped producing 2" Police Positive Specials as factory special order items. There's a lot of overlap in production between the two, and speaking with Paul at Colt Archives, he shared with me that the official cutoff date they use is 10/21/1927. If it shipped after that date, it would be considered a Detective Special. However, after doing some digging, they also found a ton of matching factory orders that went with guns shipped before & after the date for Detective Specials. So, it's still a bit muddy and unclear, but the best way to identify one is if it has the features I listed above and whether or not it shipped before 10/21/1927.

As an example of how confusing it can get, officially mine is considered a Police Positive Special. It has all of the Pre-Detective features and was shipped 10/18/1927 (three days before the cutoff date), but it does NOT have a factory order associated to it, which is curious for a 2" Police Positive Special, as they were never standard production. In Paul's own words, "With the earlier thinner grip frame diameter, and .38 special marked barrel vs. detective special, I would be inclined to believe this is a pre-detective, that shipped after the detective special was introduced."

And finally, after that mouthful of history and information, below is my own personal Pre-Detective.

Unfortunately, the grips aren't the originals and the finish is a bit worn in places, but all else she's in great shape. Originally shipped to Indianapolis in 1927 as a first year Detective Special, she's definitely one of my favourite Colt revolvers. Being a huge fan of early Detective Specials and Indianapolis being my second home, I'd honestly consider it a holy grail gun for me!
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Good information. It is interesting that the "skinny grip frame" guns appear to have the same grip frame as the Police Positives and Banker's Specials, but of course those frames didn't have a large enough cylinder opening to accept a cylinder long enough for the .38 Special cartridge. Maybe Colt's had a small number of frame forgings produced with the smaller grip frame and larger cylinder window before deciding that the larger grip frame was a better idea with the harder recoiling .38 Special round ?
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