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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
It's only nomenclature...cannot be much more...

Certainly, with regards to Smith & Wesson and Merwin & Hulbert antique revolvers ( I also collect these), a .44 or .45 calibre revolver is more desirable than a .38 calibre revolver, but this is comparing a "true" .40+ calibre revolver with a "true" .38 calibre revolver, more or less...

But the .38-40 is a .38 calibre in name only. Bullet diameter is .401. It is suggested that 40 grains FFg can be loaded in a case, meaning that .40-40 would be a more appropriate name. Indeed, I believe the original load was 40 grains FFg behind a 180 grain bullet. In my experience, I can get 38 grains in a case, leading me to originally, and erroneously, conclude the nomenclature was reversed, and it should have been named .40-38. I now know that earlier cases were ballooned in the base and this likely accounted for the 2 grain difference.

Indeed, the .44-40 contains a .429 diameter bullet, which means that a more appropriate name for this cartridge would be .42-40 or .43-40. The difference in bullet diameters is only .028". The .45 Colt round contains a .456 diameter bullet, which places the .44-40 smack dab in the middle between the two rounds with regards to bullet diameter (.456 less .429 = .027).

So, why isn't the .38-40 right up there with the .44-40 and .45 Colt relative to desirability in the Colt Single Action Army revolver? It is a true .40+ round? Do you think this stigma would exist today if this round had always been known as .40-40 (or .40-38)? And especially so, if .44-40 was known as a .42-40 or .43-40?
 

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1940s Hollywood and Saturday morning matinees created a mistaken assumption in young boys that "only a .44 is what real cowboys carried!" Those boys grew older and as men started buying guns, and continued the myth. But most of those are getting old, and if you ask a 20something which caliber is more desirable you'll get an ambivalent "huh? I don't know.."
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
First time I've ever heard "stigma" used in reference to the .38-40, but I'm too old to know everything. :D
I use stigma with regards to valuation. A .44-40 or .45 Colt always brings more money than a comparable .38-40, and usually sells more quickly, too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
1940s Hollywood and Saturday morning matinees created a mistaken assumption in young boys that "only a .44 is what real cowboys carried!" Those boys grew older and as men started buying guns, and continued the myth.
Then why is the .44-40 not more desirable than the .45 Colt? I think they are equally desirable, correct me if I am wrong. Also, if you want a desirable Colt from "the" era, the most desirable ones are .45 Colt--e.g., Cavalry and Artillery models. The former being more desirable, although these having been issued to state militias; the latter less desirable, but still desirable, due to shortened barrels and mis-matched parts. Nonetheless, these component parts were the true Indian Wars guns, although no longer in their Cavalry configuration as would have been the case during the Indian Wars.
 

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I am going to speculate and by useing a modern example give my idea of an answer for this. Being and old shooter I remember a lot about how the modern cartridge 40 s&w came around. For decades the battle was between the 45 acp and the 9mm but after a 9mm failure in an FBI shootout the search was on for a better round and platform for cops. Bear with me now.

A lot of tests and everything from jello junkies to morgue monsters studied ballistics of what worked and what didnt. The FBI started with a quick fix and went to the 10 mm but it recoiled too much in the high bore axis guns for them. So the 40 S&W was developed to take the place of the 10mm. Now what was the popular thinking about all this at the time? The cartridge battle was on and the 40 s&w was called the 40 short and weak. The 40 has pretty close to the same ballistics as the 38 40.

So what I am trying to say is in the days of old the 45 was king and lesser guns were looked down on. I bet there were a lot of reasons like stopping power and ammo availability, plus the old timers were clickish when it came to guns and calibers. 45 was military.

Anyway that's my best guess.

Jim
 

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I have read that both the 38-40 and the 44-40 were thought to have a tendency bind the firing pin on a revolver. Not enhancing reliability for a handgun.

Regards,

Tam 3
 

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You need to go back to the inception of the 44-40, and the name that was given to the SA that was chambered for it: "COLT FRONTIER SIX SHOOTER". That bit of marketing genius was an in your face phrase that lives to this day. While the 38-40 is a better cartridge in many ways, the "stigma" that the 44 was used on the "frontier" got the job done appealed. Even though the 45 outsold both calibers, I believe that, just like today, people LIKE seeing that phrase on the barrel, and like the flatter trajectory and compatibility with the Winchesters. If they would have called the 38, "COLT'S FRONTIER 38", maybe things would be different. There were other 44's chambered, the 44 rimfire and 44 Colt, 44 Russian and 44 German that did not achieve popularity because they lacked the above factors.

JP
 

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One wonders why Winchester just didn’t name the 38-40 just 40 WCF? Maybe to many 40 caliber Winchester rounds already. Maybe some thought the 44 WCF was too much and using the 38 designation had a selling point. All speculation right now. When I starting going to gun shows and auctions in the late 70’s early 80’s, 44-40 brought a big difference in value with a Winchester or Colt, which appears that has narrowed today. No doubt the influx of 40 caliber bullets and molds because of 40 S&W has helped.
 

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I used to suspect that the .44-40 and .38-40, being able use the same ammunition in either rifle or revolver, would have been more popular with ranchers and homesteaders. For those who used a revolver as a weapon, soldiers, lawmen and such, .45 colt seemed to be the choice. But having been to the Badlands and on some old homesteads, I was surprised by the number of .25-20 and .32-20 rifles that seem to still be around. Ran into more than one old timer who told me about hunting deer on purpose with a .32-20. Makes me wonder. I do agree though, putting Frontier Six Shooter was marketing genius and likely any hardware store had a Winchester or Marlin to pair with it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
You need to go back to the inception of the 44-40, and the name that was given to the SA that was chambered for it: "COLT FRONTIER SIX SHOOTER". That bit of marketing genius was an in your face phrase that lives to this day. While the 38-40 is a better cartridge in many ways, the "stigma" that the 44 was used on the "frontier" got the job done appealed. Even though the 45 outsold both calibers, I believe that, just like today, people LIKE seeing that phrase on the barrel, and like the flatter trajectory and compatibility with the Winchesters. If they would have called the 38, "COLT'S FRONTIER 38", maybe things would be different. There were other 44's chambered, the 44 rimfire and 44 Colt, 44 Russian and 44 German that did not achieve popularity because they lacked the above factors.

JP
I never thought of that! "Colt Frontier Six Shooter" speaks volumes! Seems like that would enable the .44-40 Colt Single Action Army revolver to be more popular with civilians than even the .45 Colt.
 

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Historically, the .45 Colt was primarily a military caliber...not that it wasn't also popular with civilians. The .44-40 was popular due to so many lever-action rifles being available in that caliber so it made sense to also have a handgun in .44-40 for easy interchangeability. Firearms were very expensive products and common ammunition made a lot of sense. Other calibers were interchangeable between rifle/carbine and handgun as well but as in any other product, there had to be some products more popular than others.

If there were rifles and carbines made in .45 Colt back then it might have been more popular than it was and the .44-40 less so.
 

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The designation of the .44-40 and .38-40 cartridges was originally .44 Winchester Center Fire (.44 W.C.F.) and .38 W.C.F. The idea of calling the .38 W.C.F. a .38 was instigated by Winchester who wanted to promote that caliber as a "small game rifle" and the .44 as a deer rifle.

As to cartridge designations, it is all up to the man on the drawing board, engineering department, or sales department. Used very loosely, like "ethics" is among politicians.

Bob Wright
 

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I have always wondered what could have been if someone back in the 1960s had decided to chamber the I frame Colts in 38-40. Ballistically a twin of the .40 S&W, it could have been a popular revolver. S&W tried the very same with the .41 Magnum, which was a dismal failure. I think a revamped 38-40 (.40 Police?) in the Python would have been successful. A step up from the 38 Special, but without the flash, blast, noise, and recoil of the 357 Magnum. What could have been!
 

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Once upon a time in a world that no longer exists, my parents had some business at the court house in Wellsboro, PA. Me and my younger brother were permitted the run of the town while mom and dad did a deed transfer. One place I went that occupied my time was a hardware store known for their selection of guns, both new and used. On the rack was a Winchester 1873 sporting rifle in almost new condition. I ask if I could see it, the man at the counter handed it to me simply saying, "Don't drop it." knowing I didn't have money to buy it anyway. Half round, half octagonal barrel, shotgun butstock, pistol grip, checkered forearm and grip, half magazine, and color case remaining on the receiver, .44WCF. As I drooled over the rifle he mentioned, "That's the cowboy cartridge it's chambered in. We have a revolver that takes the same ammunition." That term, "cowboy cartridge" always stuck with me and I always associated it with the .44WCF.


Interesting topic, and one I wish I could climb into the family time machine and gather information as to what great grand-dad chose for his fire arms from the dawn of the cartridge era. Grand-dad was born in 1883, in time to have smokeless guns of his own when he came of age at the turn of the century. His Winchesters were all smokeless, a .25-20 M-1892 saddle carbine, a .30WCF M1894 Rifle, and later, a .30 Gov't 06 M1895 rifle. The only revolver he ever bought was a .45 Colt New Service with a 7.5" barrel around 1904. As a bear trapper he recognized the need for the best and most powerful revolver of it's day. A gut feeling tells me he had some experience with the .44WCF in a rifle, (there were some .44 WCF cartridges in the old house, but no rifle I ever remember of) so grand-dad would have had some experience with the .44WCF, probably in a rifle as a young fellow. He used a rifle to dispatch the bear, carrying the big Colt as life insurance in case something went wrong. He knew penetration was what got the bear dead and ignored both the .38 WCF and the .44 WCF as his "insurance" gun.

Back to topic, the .44 WCF has always been known as "The Cowboy Cartridge" leaving the .38 WCF reporting in as an also ran in our modern eyes. It was Winchester and Colt's marketing that gave the aura of the .44WCF as the gun that won the west, or as the cowboy caliber if you will. In reality, there was a bunch of Colt's, Winchesters, and other makes in the hands of working men and women all over the country taking game for the pot, dispatching varmints, and guarding life and property chambered in .38WCF.
 

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I wish the guy who just sold me a Single Action Army in .38-40 had known he wasn't supposed to charge as much as he did, LOL. Oh well, it's in very good shape... I hesitated a bit about the .38-40, and this is going to be my first real Colt. I had molds in .45 Colt from reloading for a Pietta replica, so switching meant a new mold and dies... Yet, I didn't think of the .38 WCF as a lesser cartridge. 180gr at 900+fps is a lot of oomph. I just wish it was more popular so brass would be cheaper and easier to find. I imagine it works great in a rifle with its flatter trajectory.Gil.
 

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The 44WCF, 38 WCF, and 32 WCF were born and baptized in the name of Winchester, not Colt. Colt just used the name already given. Given the opportunity, Colt would have named them like they did 44 Colt ,41LC, 45 Colt, 38 LC 38 SC, etc. Not just an American problem, the 30 Luger and 30 Mauser are really .32's.
 
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