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Why the 3 barrel sizes for 1873 Colts?


Nimble Fingers SASS# 25439

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Thought this might be a fun history lesson, at least for me!  
hiw did Colt come up with the 3 “standard” barrel sizes?  
I know that the Calvary model was 7.5”, the Artillery was 5.25”, and 4.75”came from where?  Did someone at Colt decide these 3 sizes and the Army adopt 2 of them?  
never saw this come up before but if it did before, still think it is interesting enough to bring it up again. Thanks in advance for the lesson. 

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7 1/2” the Cavalry model was the first, 4 3/4 was next the civilian model and I read that Colt took a bunch of 7 1/2”s  and cut them down to 5 1/2 and called them the Artillery model.

You could order guns back then in any length you wanted from all that I’ve read.

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First of all, Calvary is a hill outside of Jerusalem.

Second, when the Army wanted new pistols, they specified a 7-1/2" barrel.   If you look at the previous sidearms, the 1860, Dragoon, Walker, and the Remington 58, (as we know it today) that seems to be what the Army wanted for a pistol barrel length; long.

When there was need for .45's during the Spanish American War and Philippine Insurrection, (although, some sources only mention this need in conjunction with the latter and not the former) they took the old Colts out of storage and refurbished them to be reissued.  Part of this refurbish was putting new 5-1/2" barrels on them.  Somewhere along the line, the original 7-1/2" barrels began to be called the CAVALRY model, and the 5-1/2" ones got called the Artillery model.   Neither designation was official, or indicative of who actually used them.   Both barrel lengths were for general issue as needed.  The 4-3/4" model got called the Civilian model since it was never adopted by the military.  All three lengths were available on the commercial market, and the 5-1/2" one was by far and away the best seller in the first generation.  The Sheriff's model usually had a shorter barrel, but longer ones are not unknown.  The Sheriff's model specifically refers to ones with no ejector, not the short barrel.

The origin of the Buntline Special is more obscure.  In modern parlance, 10+ inches is what it takes to make an official "Buntline."   But it is disputed as to how accurate Ned Buntline's story is.  

Then as now, custom barrel lengths have always been available.

More specific details, I do not know.

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I suspect, the barrel length was determined by "Customer Demand."  The first major customer was the Army, who specified 7 1/2 inch barrels.  The other lengths were generated by keeping track of customer requests and making what happened to be selling the best.

 

PLUS ONE for Phantom.  Quite a few available barrel lengths and trying to "Second Guess" a guy that's been dead over a hundred years is silly indeed.  Just My take. 

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On 10/19/2023 at 5:32 PM, Phantom, SASS #54973 said:

There were more than 3 barrel lengths...can't look into the minds of dead people.

 

Phantom

Ah Phantom!  Long time, no “fencing” with you with sabers!  OF COURSE there were more lengths!  But these seemed to be the standard lengths and I was wondering how Colt came up with them. 

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On 10/19/2023 at 6:37 PM, Rye Miles #13621 said:

7 1/2” the Cavalry model was the first, 4 3/4 was next the civilian model and I read that Colt took a bunch of 7 1/2”s  and cut them down to 5 1/2 and called them the Artillery model.

You could order guns back then in any length you wanted from all that I’ve read.

Thank you sir, think this is what I was looking for!

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On 10/19/2023 at 7:30 PM, H. K. Uriah, SASS #74619 said:

First of all, Calvary is a hill outside of Jerusalem.

Second, when the Army wanted new pistols, they specified a 7-1/2" barrel.   If you look at the previous sidearms, the 1860, Dragoon, Walker, and the Remington 58, (as we know it today) that seems to be what the Army wanted for a pistol barrel length; long.

When there was need for .45's during the Spanish American War and Philippine Insurrection, (although, some sources only mention this need in conjunction with the latter and not the former) they took the old Colts out of storage and refurbished them to be reissued.  Part of this refurbish was putting new 5-1/2" barrels on them.  Somewhere along the line, the original 7-1/2" barrels began to be called the CAVALRY model, and the 5-1/2" ones got called the Artillery model.   Neither designation was official, or indicative of who actually used them.   Both barrel lengths were for general issue as needed.  The 4-3/4" model got called the Civilian model since it was never adopted by the military.  All three lengths were available on the commercial market, and the 5-1/2" one was by far and away the best seller in the first generation.  The Sheriff's model usually had a shorter barrel, but longer ones are not unknown.  The Sheriff's model specifically refers to ones with no ejector, not the short barrel.

The origin of the Buntline Special is more obscure.  In modern parlance, 10+ inches is what it takes to make an official "Buntline."   But it is disputed as to how accurate Ned Buntline's story is.  

Then as now, custom barrel lengths have always been available.

More specific details, I do not know.

Second time I have been schooled on the spelling. 
Ok that explains the origins.

My apologies to you and to my great, great Uncle who was a member of the Ohio 1st Volunteer Cavalry unit during the Civil War, and not a hill outside Jerusalem. 

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37 minutes ago, Nimble Fingers SASS# 25439 said:

Ah Phantom!  Long time, no “fencing” with you with sabers!  OF COURSE there were more lengths!  But these seemed to be the standard lengths and I was wondering how Colt came up with them. 

I have a rare photo of the meeting that the marketing folks at COLT had to determine the barrel lengths. 

 

Shows 4 guys throwing a dart at a board.

 

Phantom

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Yes, many barrel lengths available yet only one "proper" length. 7 1/2 inches. :P

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Reason for the 4-3/4" barrel.... short as you could make the barrel using the "stock/common" ejector rod housing.

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5 hours ago, Earl Brasse, SASS #3562 said:

Reason for the 4-3/4" barrel.... short as you could make the barrel using the "stock/common" ejector rod housing.

 

A few years ago, someone posted something here on the wire about how a famous Old West personage, I think it was Buffalo Bill, ordered a customized SAA from the factory, and among other things, requested that the barrel be no longer than they ejector housing.

I know it's vague, but that's all I remember from an awhile ago post.  :)

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4 hours ago, H. K. Uriah, SASS #74619 said:

 

A few years ago, someone posted something here on the wire about how a famous Old West personage, I think it was Buffalo Bill, ordered a customized SAA from the factory, and among other things, requested that the barrel be no longer than they ejector housing.

I know it's vague, but that's all I remember from an awhile ago post.  :)

 
As Bullet said above, it was Bat Masterson who wrote the letter.

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On 10/21/2023 at 2:44 PM, Sixgun Seamus said:

Yes, many barrel lengths available yet only one "proper" length. 7 1/2 inches. :P

This may well be true but this old Grunts shoulders being totaled can no longer reliably hold 7.5 inchers 1 handed. I did get the proper length barrels when I started SASS.  Last year picked up a pair of 5.5s there is a big difference.

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Weren't there models of various barrel lengths with names like:

Sheriffs model

Shopkeeper model

Gamblers model

 

Just a thought.

BUT...... agree with Phantom.   Who really knows about those short barrel lengths.

 

..........Widder

 

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8 hours ago, Widder, SASS #59054 said:

Weren't there models of various barrel lengths with names like:

Sheriffs model

Shopkeeper model

Gamblers model

 

 

 

There were indeed, and still are, various barrel lengths that have specific names associated with them.

To whit...

SheriffBuntline.thumb.jpg.1dca95f3fa102b36d296cc7f611ec55f.jpg

 

The top, with a 12" barrel is called a "Buntline" or a "Buntline Special."  I believe, officially, anything over 10" is called a Buntline, which would mean that anything greater than 7.5" but shorter than 10" would just be a custom length long barrel.   I have also seen an 18" Buntline.

 

The bottom two are "Sheriff's Model" pistols.  The "defining" characteristic of a Sheriff's model is not the barrel length, but the lack of an ejector.  I have seen pictures of Sheriff's with everything from 2" to 7-1/2" barrels.  I have also seen 3" SAA's with the ejector that not called Sheriff's models.

The Shopkeeper's model seems to be a specific type of Sheriff's.  Not sure how Colt defined it, but I have seen pistols so labeled.  (Well, one.)

I am not familiar with the term "Gambler's Model."

Pairing the two nickel pistols in the above pic is a lot of fun.  It's not expected.

Some day, I will pair the two Sheriff's.  :) 

 


As an aside, while other lengths do exist, the vast majority of Buntlines I have seen pictures of, or actually laid eyes on, have 12" barrels.   By the same token, most, but not all, Sheriff's seem to have 3" barrels.   So, should we think of the "standard" barrel lengths as 3", 4-3/4", 5-1/2", 7-1/2" and 12"?

 

Even if it's just to be silly?

 

Edited by H. K. Uriah, SASS #74619
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