The history of men and women and machines is fascinating. The revolver may not be the most in demand at Cheaper than Dirt! but there are none more interesting. The first cartridge revolver in the United States was the little Smith and Wesson Number 1 in .22 Short. Colt was making thousands of cap-and-ball revolvers for the Union Army and Smith and Wesson sold its revolvers through private sale. Soldiers could tuck the little .22 into their shirts or jackets. Colts were the horse pistols, and the revolvers used by fast moving cavalry units.
By the time the War Between the States ended, Colt was caught in a technology gap. Unable to circumvent Smith’s Rollin White patent for a cartridge-firing revolver, Colt devised revolvers based on the Thuer conversion, in which the cylinder was loaded from the front. Later, the Richards conversion was used to convert existing cap and ball revolvers to cartridge use. But the little known 1872 Colt, known as the Open Top, was a purpose-designed cartridge revolver. Originally chambered for the .44 Rimfire cartridge (Henry rifle)—this revolver is an important design in single-action history.
Cimarron’s replica is chambered for the readily available .45 Colt cartridge. While this isn’t the revolver to load with heavy handloads or +P ammunition the .45 Colt is a powerful defense cartridge well suited to taking on predators as well. The Open Top is similar to the Single Action Army but more similar to the 1860 Army cap and ball revolver. The hand-filling grip frame is the famous 1860 Army type.
The Open Top is handled a little differently than the Single Action Army. The ejector rod is a more complicated affair. The ejector rod end must be lifted out of its slot in the ejector rod housing in order for the ejector rod to be pressed to the rear to remove spent cartridge cases from the cylinder. The cylinder is loaded one cartridge at a time with the hammer at half cock and the loading gate open. The same procedure is followed to eject spent cartridges. The procedure isn’t quite as handy as the Single Action Army design, but the Open Top’s charm is that it is different.
The Open Top’s trigger action is typical Cimarron with a clean break in the trigger action and a relatively light let off at 4.5 pounds. The sights of this revolver are typical of the 1871 period. There is a rear notch that is simply a wedge raised above the barrel. The front post is fairly visible. Each is period correct.
One wonders at the old requirement of hitting an Indian War Pony at 100 yards with the pistol and how these sights would apply. No wonder so many westerners practiced snap shooting and using only the front sight! These sights are true to the original and this means the revolver shoots high. The theory was that a revolver that shoots high could be used well at close range in fast shooting. On the other hand, a significant drop at longer range is more difficult to account for. The Open Top shoots to the point of aim beginning at 50 yards.
As might be expected, the original Open Top enjoyed a short service life. The improved solid frame Single Action Army, with its powerful .45 Colt cartridge in the modern center fire configuration was adopted by the Army. However, the Open Top was an important revolver that is attractive, elegant and easy shooting. The cartridge is a good one.
While I do not recommend the single-action revolver as a front line defensive handgun, it is surprising how often it comes up in my training classes, or in conversation at the gun shop, that folks rely on these handguns. If the gun is reliable and well made, and the shooter is familiar with the action, they could do worse. As for the cartridge let me borrow a few lines from the informative and exciting book, 21st Century Stopping Power from Paladin Press.
Regarding the .45 Colt Cartridge
The .45 Colt earned its reputation the hard way—through frontline use. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps, American lawmen, and the Royal Canadian Mounties have used the .45 Colt cartridge.
Of all standard pressure revolver cartridges the .45 Colt is among the most effective if not the most effective. The 255-grain conical bullet load will often tumble in ballistic media per my testing and produce a severe wound. In testing the Cimarron Open Top revolver, I fired a modest quantity of the Winchester 255-grain Cowboy load. Velocity was about 780 fps from the 7.5-inch barrel. Despite the small sights accuracy was good, with a singular 2.75-inch five-shot group at 25 yards, with the average about 3.25 inches. This handgun will shoot.
I also fired a few handloads using the Oregon Trail 250-grain hard cast bullet. Trail Boss is the preferred powder, and Starline Brass was used. At about 740 fps this load produced a 3-inch group. The Winchester PDX load is designed as a modest pressure defense load for all revolvers. I would avoid any load heavier than this standard; it simply isn’t safe in a 19th Century design. The PDX load exhibited heavier recoil but the plow-handled grip frame gave a comfortable hold. Accuracy was very good, at 2.9 inches for a five-shot group.
In firing the Open Top .45, we had a ball. Loading, unloading and handling this single-action revolver isn’t for everyone, but for interested shooters, the Cimarron Open Top is very appealing. It is about 10 times less expensive than obtaining an original. The modern Cimarron handgun is well made of good material with obvious attention to detail.
The .45 Colt cartridge uses a bullet with a frontal diameter of 1.6 inches. That is a lot of bullet. The .45 Colt operates at low pressure, less than 20,000 psi, but creates a lot of damage. This immortal cartridge is at the top of my list of the standard press revolver cartridges for use in cowboy guns.
Specifications and Features
Cimarron 1872 Open Top Single Action Revolver
Manufacturer: Cimarron Firearms Co. Inc.
- .45 Long Colt
- 7.5-inch Barrel
- 6 Rounds
- Fixed Sights
- Case Hardened Frame
- One-piece Walnut Grip
- Standard Blued Barrel
- Weight: 2.5 lbs
Are you a fan of the Open Top or another single-action revolver? Share you thoughts in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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