Monday, April 30, 2012

Colt D.A. 38 U.S. Army Model of 1901

Taking a break from working on watches and onto another passion; firearms. I came across a Colt D.A. 38 U.S. Army Model of 1901 and decided to pick it up as it is an interesting firearm if anything. The model 1901 is one of the refinement model changes of a Colt Model 1892 double action revolver, colloquially known as New Army & Navy DA Revolver. The New Army shares roots to the Single Action Army (SAA) and is also the last Colt revolver issued to the US armed forces before the iconic 1911.

Here an exploded view of a SAA

Reading up on the firearm, mine was produced 1902 and has seen the armory at least three times. The grips are the original smooth walnut grip and the inspector stamp of RAC faded, but can be made out

RAC were the initials of the civilian government employed sub-inspector at Colt, whose name is Rinaldo A. Carr between 1890 to 1903. Speaking of initials, two others can be found on one side of the frame

L.E.B. were the initials that belonged to a one Leroy E. Briggs who was an Army Captain that inspected revolvers rebuilt and refurbished at Remington's Bridgeport plant between 1898 to 1917 and the other set of letters, J.T.T belonged to none other than US Army Captain John Taliaferro Thompson who will go on to invent the Thompson Machine Gun, A.K.A Tommy Gun in 1919. The 'K' on the cylinder release is a Colt manufacturing stamp.

The stamp on the frame on the butt of the gun shows the model and serial

The side of the frame and barrel stamps showing the caliber and the 'other' model name

Next set of photos are the inspector stamps and serials in various locations, you can see a change in numbers which indicates that a part was upgraded at the armory and it is coded for the new replacement part.

Another roll mark is the patent date atop the barrel near the frame;

It is time to remove the grips in order to remove the side plate and inspect the action of the firearm. When I removed the grips, I came across something that I have only read about. It was a known practice that soldiers would sometimes carve something no the inside of the grip, typically a name. Here we see inscriptions on both sides, one with what appears to be 'S R Graham C.F.K. 36' and the other grip, 'Kingfisher Oklahoma'. I can only surmise that C.F.K is Cambrai Fritsch Kaserne, where work began in 1936 and completed in 1938. There was a north and south kasemes (Kaseme is a borrowed word from German which translates to 'barracks') and the 33rd Infantry and Artillery occupied the Freiherr von Fritsch Kaserne in the north and the 3rd Battalion in Cambrai Kaserne in the south. This would put the firearm, likely the last time it was service in Darmstadt, Germany (well, a city within a federal state of Germany), what a cool find.

The side plate opens to reveal the action to find it packed with grease, likely at the final armory trip for long term storage. The inside of the plate also shows a serial number matching to the original;

I get to cleaning out the grease packing and the action immediately improves so I continued cleaning until it is back to good operating order; and after all of this time the action is till like ball bearings on glass. I use spent .38 spl cases as snap caps to test the action, hammer energy and what not and everything seems to be a-ok. Time for a range trip!


  1. That's awesome, where did you manage to make that find?

  2. I hav the sam gun...what is the value of a peice like this

    1. Hey ghostwinder227;

      depending on the shape of the pistol, it typically goes for between $350 to $700. on rare occasion where the pistol has pedigree (which is to say documentation to support it having been in the hands of important persons and/or conflicts, there is a historical value added to the intrinsic value).

      Have you taken off the grips yet? it was common practice for service men in those days to carve name, rank, and home town/state on the inside of the grip.

  3. Nice writeup. I also own one of these and was researching it when I found this page. Have you found anyway to research the pedigree on these pistols? I know about the Colt letter, was considering that. I just pulled the grips off and was not as luck as some, there is no inscription in mine.

    1. Thanks very much dogsled41; I've contacted Colt for research on the serial and they do keep really good records, but what they can tell you is date of manufacture, shipping destination, etc. Once I took the grips off and found the engraving on mine, I began searching on the web and narrow down where it could have come from. I also had the fortunate luck of buying it as an estate item and was able to reach out to the family of the man that took this gun into combat. From there I tried contacting the Army and they have suggested reaching out to various veteran organizations from that era and continue following up with those organizations and try to get as much information as possible.

      If you know anyone in the service, the Army supply chain and armory both keep pretty good records and my hopes next is to be able to ask the last armory that the pistol likely went through and find out it's service history by serial.

    2. thanks for the feedback, I'll pursue the military record option. Just curious really where this old pistol has been. :)

    3. Certainly dogsled41, let me know what you find, very curious to see where yours has traveled to!

  4. Great information Ken. I have one that has been in the family for years, unfortunately nobody remembers who it might have belonged to. Based on the serial # mine was built in 1901. They use the obsolete .38 long round, which I managed to obtain a couple boxes of. I have found mine surprisingly accurate, despite the inside of the barrel being pretty pitted. Unfortunately, nothing inside the grips on mine; it is a bit unusual though, it has a left handed holster.

    1. They all were issued with cross-draw holsters. The holster was worn on the right side.

      Remember, in 1901 the Calvary was still active and a soldier was to be able to hold his sword and reins in his right hand and shoot with his left.