I have never considered any firearm too valuable to fire. I have fired old Colts, Lugers, and Winchesters, and found them good. Of course, I did the safety check and used the proper ammunition. I have had a desire to explore the performance of the great guns of the past as long as I have been able to safely handle firearms.
A replica of the Colt 1849 .31 caliber handgun was the first black powder firearm I fired. While some of the great guns of the past are relatively common, they did not become classics unless they were produced in great numbers and saw much use. These guns are continually going up in price.
Recently, while working on a story on firearms of the future, the subject of the great guns of the past came up. It is surprising how many are still in production by the original maker. I took a hard look at some of the firearms that are still in production and available. I did not limit the choice to firearms made by the original maker but expanded the choices to clone guns. After all, the excellent Pietta and Uberti clones give many of us affordable glimpses into the past with high-quality firearms intended for as much use as the shooter may afford or stand up to.
Colt Cap and Ball Revolvers
Clone guns of the Colt 1848, 1851, and 1860 black powder revolvers are readily available. Quality varies widely. These revolvers give shooters a glimpse into the black powder era. A quality replica from Traditions is a joy to use and fire. Taylor’s and Company offers a modern adaption of the Colt 1860 with a birdshead grip and short barrel. While not authentic, there were period customized revolvers very similar to the Taylors gun.
Starr 1858 Revolver
This rugged and workmanlike selective, double-action revolver was among the wonders of its age. The Starr operating lever — not a trigger in the conventional sense — allowed the shooter to select an option for close- or long-range fire. The sights are much better than other revolvers.
A contemporary military trial reported good results at 125 yards. I carefully loaded the original with the same powder charge in each cylinder. With a carefully seated Hornady ball, I found I could make hits on a man-sized target at 100 yards (somewhere on the target).
The Starr was leagues ahead of period revolvers. The Starr did not prosper due to its higher price, although a single-action version enjoyed military orders. The modern Pietta replica is a beautiful handgun.
Smith and Wesson Schofield
No doubt about it, you either love the Schofield or hate it. The Smith and Wesson isn’t a fast-handling gun fighter’s gun like the Single Action Army. Its balance and heft make for good target accuracy. The piece features all at once ejection, spinning cases in the air as the barrel is tilted downward. The Smith and Wesson Schofield had its adherents including Dallas Stoudenmire. The modern Uberti is a well-made revolver with much to recommend.
Smith and Wesson Hand Ejector
The original I frame revolver featured a swing out cylinder — an innovation for the time — and a cylinder holding six .32 caliber cartridges. This double-action revolver quickly eclipsed the break top Smith and Wesson although some break tops were manufactured until 1935.
No, you cannot get an I frame. However, you can get its logical development. The I frame was eventually modified into a five-shot .38 Smith and Wesson, and (with some stretching of the frame) the J-frame .38 Special.
Today, the J-frame is available in .357 Magnum as well. The original Hand Ejector was a great shooter and a fine all around carry gun, save for the caliber. The modern revolvers are actually lighter with aluminum frames and fire a more potent cartridge.
Smith and Wesson Military & Police .38 Special
Originally chambered in .38 Long Colt, the Military and Police was quickly chambered for the .38 Smith and Wesson Special. This is the single most popular revolver of all time. It was manufactured in the millions and never. went out of production during the past 125 years.
A smooth double-action trigger good sights and a frame that fits most hands well are a recipe for success. The middle size K-frame revolver has birthed many great guns including the K-22, K-38, Combat Masterpiece and Combat Magnum. The Military & Police .38 Special is still available with a four-inch heavy barrel.
The Colt 1903 probably got into more real fights in two World Wars than all the other pocket guns of the era combined. A concealed-hammer pistol chambered in .32 ACP and as the 1908 .380 ACP, the pocket hammerless design was an accurate and reliable handgun. With a slide lock, safety grip safety, and flipping sear, the pistol is among the safest designs in history.
A favorite of plainclothesmen and outlaws alike, the 1903 was purchased in great numbers by foreign militaries as well. (Togo shot himself with a Colt 1903 but survived. Another Colt 1903 wiped out an entire Sheriff department — two men — in a much studied shooting.) Today, Colt has farmed out production to a reputable manufacturing company, and the Colt 1903 is available once more. The 1903 has always been a reliable handgun and more accurate than most any small pistol.
There are many 1911 handguns available. They range from barely serviceable to purely recreational to marvels of the gunmaker’s art. The original Colt Government Model 1911 has been available in stainless steel for decades. The piece is reliable, formidable in action, and hits hard.
The Colt GM is my favorite carry 1911 at present. I own several 1911 handguns including Les Baer and Wilson Combat. The Colt rides with me most often. If you want a GI-type 1911A1, there are cheap pistols available, but be warned. Many of the cheap examples don’t do justice to the WWII guns.
Not cheap but affordable, the Auto Ordnance 1911A1 is a serviceable handgun. I have found this handgun to be reliable, well made, and accurate. It has the small sights of the original and is authentic down to its plastic grips.
An authentic 1930s icon, the Walther PPK is available in .22 Long Rifle and .380 ACP. Original .32 ACP pistols are more difficult to find. The pistols are carried much and fired little. A stiff double-action first-shot trigger and problematic reliability did not lead to the pistols being put out of production — far from it. The PPK is a symbol of art deco, and the pistol as a fashionable accessory.
High Standard Double Nine
An affordable double-action, swing-out cylinder .22 that looks like a cowboy gun (down to a fake ejector rod), the Double Nine was a great all-around handgun. Out of production for decades, the revolver has been revived by Diamondback Firearms. The new gun will satisfy your nostalgia for a nine-shot plinking .22. However, there is much more to the Sidekick.
This handgun features interchangeable cylinders. Simply press a plunger and remove the cylinder. The you can quickly and easily install the other, allowing the use of both .22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum cylinders. A faultless upgrade to a classic revolver.
The ’92 fires pistol-caliber cartridges. Originally chambered in .32-20, .38-40, and .44-40, the ’92 is most popular today in .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. A caliber not originally offered in the ’92 is the .45 Colt.
This lever-action rifle has more ‘leverage’ than lever guns firing the .30-30 cartridge, resulting in a carbine that is quick into action and fast for accurate repeat shots. I would not feel out gunned with a quality lever-action rifle as a house gun. While Winchester/Miroku offers the rifle under the Winchester banner, a personal favorite is the Rossi 92. Every one of the rifles I use wear XS aperture sights. I use them often.
Winchester’s .30-30 is an American rifle that all of us should own at one time or the other, and many of us own several. The lever-action rifle in a flat-shooting .30 caliber was a sensation when introduced. The thutty-thurry or trienka-trienka is very much alive and kicking in Winchester’s modern version. It will do anything it would do before and remains an American icon.
Opinions vary on the Winchester 1895. Designed to allow a powerful bottleneck cartridge to be chambered in a lever-action rifle, the original was chambered in .30-40 Krag and later .30-06, as well as .405 Winchester. The heavy receiver and box magazine led to Elmer Keith remarking that the rifle resembled a pregnant possum that had been roasting in the sun. A dead one at that…
I like the ’95. This rifle is reliable and fires powerful cartridges leaving pistol-caliber carbines and the .30-30 WCF far behind. Leverage is adequate. If need be, you may take a rapid follow-up shot. The 1895 rifle will take game out to 200 yards in good hands.
My rifle features modern aperture sights. It is marked Browning, but it sure looks like a Winchester! I have a great affection for this rifle. Despite criticism of the rifle’s looks, I find it a beautiful rifle well worth its price. These are among my favorite old designs, that are still kicking. There are more, including the Pedersoli 1886 rifle and the 1860 Henry. Perhaps a few more. I want to hear yours as well.
So sorry for delay
US Armament makes the new 1903
In the long gun section, the 30-40 Krag rifle should be mentioned. They’re all 100+ years old, still available, very accurate, and just plain fun to shoot.
The Smith & Wesson Schofield is a variation of the S&W No. 3. The only No.3s that can be called a “Schofield” are those with a lever on the left side of the frame that is used to lift the top locking latch, thus allowing one handed opening while on horseback.
Now, as to old guns…
I have a Colt Police Positive with 4″ barrel that is stamped “U.S. Customs” on the backstrap with a rack number on the bottom of the grip. The serial number puts it at circa 1932 manufacture.
I also have a Smith & Wesson 1905, Second Change with a 6″ barrel and nickel finish that dates to 1912. This revolver has a butter smooth action and shoots as well as, if not better than, any revolver made in the last 20 years.
Good article! We really enjoy our M1 carbine. Light enough and low recoil, even my wee 5 foot wife enjoys shooting it-
Greetings Bob Campbell
Thanks for writing the article.
In your description of the Colt 1903/1908 pocket pistols you indicated, “Today, Colt has farmed out production to a reputable manufacturing company, and the Colt 1903 is available once more.”
Can you inform, which “reputable manufacturing company” are you referring to?
I want a nice Remington rolling block. Incidentally I recently bought a Marlin .30-30 with a 4 digit serial number.
That was a pretty good read, Bob. Only one I have that makes the list is my old Winchester 1894 in .30-30.
I also have a Rossi 92 and Uberti SAA, both in .357. Very well made and fun to shoot with easily available modern ammo. While both also handle 38 Special, the Rossi action prefers .357. The SAA is very accurate with a 2lb trigger, but makes you appreciate the handling of a more modern revolver.
I have a beautiful 1921 Colt Police Positive .38 small frame 95%. Small enough to fit in a pocket
The Colt 1903 I inherited was made just over 100 years ago and (unfortunately) has a worn barrel.
I also have an “1894” but it is a Marlin, not a Winchester. It is also a PCC and paired with a Ruger GP-100 in .357.
I have my Mom’s 32 S&W, that she bought for $28 at Maidens General Store, Meadow View Va in 1960. Thinking the 2 boxs of cartridges maybe worth More than the pistol (according to my Antique hunting wife)
Just a little tidbit. I inherited an original High standard double 9. It was my grandpas go to gun. But they came with easily interchangeable cylinders. Perhaps I misinterpreted your statement on the matter. But that’s not a modern upgrade just the sake of setting the record straight.
Thanks for reading!!
You have a piece of history!
Maybe try a different load?
A grand old revolver.
Thanks for reading
I have a Smith & Wesson 6 shot M&P revolver, serial #208882 in cal .32 W.C.F, It’s still working fine, but I think the barrel is pretty worn and the bullets must be tumbling because the paper target shows slashed holes rather the circular holes. .
I have a Smith & Wesson 6 shot revolver, serial #208882 in cal .32 W.C.F, It’s still working fine, but I think the barrel is pretty worn and the bullets must be tumbling because the paper target shows slashed holes rather the circular holes.
Thanks for reading!
We are really talking about old types that are still in production.
Perhaps I should have been more clear.
I disagree you say you can’t get an I Frame Hand Ejector anymore that’s simply not true.
I have 2 of them I bought at an online auction. They’re still out there and available.
They aren’t still being manufactured but they are still around.
Thanks Bob. A good topic and a good article!