Lot 187

Factory Lettered Colt Frontier Sheriff 45 Revolver

Estimate: $4,500 - $6,500

Bid Increments

Price Bid Increment
$0 $5
$50 $10
$100 $25
$500 $50
$1,000 $100
$2,000 $250
$5,000 $500
$10,000 $1,000
$25,000 $2,500
$100,000 $5,000
This is an exceedingly rare circa 1885 Colt Factory Lettered Colt 1878 Double Action Frontier “Sheriff” revolver chambered in .45 Colt with that scarce 4-inch barrel and blue finish, only 290 Model 1878’s were ever sent from the factory as being manufactured with a 4-inch barrel and blue finish and this being a truly fine high condition example with factory letter for documentation. One of if not the rarest Model 1878’s there are. As in the famed Colt Single Action model, the short-barreled ejector-less revolvers, often called “Sheriff’s Models”, were made in very limited numbers and often on a special-order basis only. Many, if not most, seen on the collector market today are simply standard models (standard barrel lengths were 4 ¾”, 5 ½”, or 7 ½”) that have had their barrels shortened and ejector housings removed. True factory-made Sheriff’s Models, like this fine example, are rare and can be confirmed with a Colt Factory Historical Letter listing all features of the subject revolver, along with shipping destination and date. This Model 1878, with serial number 13561, comes with such a letter, in which it is listed as a .45 Colt caliber with 4” barrel, blue finish, rubber stocks, and shipped to one of Colt's largest dealer/distributors, Hartley and Graham in New York City on April 16, 1885. Interestingly and importantly, it was a shipment of only 1 gun. Usually, shipments of Colt revolvers to Hartley and Graham consisted of 50 or 100, or even more, guns of the same type. Obviously, this was a very special ordered Colt. According to the detailed and exhaustively researched book, COLT’S DOUBLE ACTION REVOLVER MODEL OF 1878 by Don Wilkerson, only 290 Model 1878 .45 Colt caliber revolvers with blue finish were ever manufactured and shipped. This makes #13561 a true Colt rarity. Considering survival rates for this model, there cannot be very many like it extant. The Model 1878 was Colt’s first large bore, heavy frame double action model, in which a single pull of the trigger cocks the hammer, revolves the cylinder, and drops the hammer to fire the gun. It is a six-shot revolver that found favor on the frontier with shootists wanting a faster firing weapon than the single action handguns of the day, which required thumbing or cocking the hammer in a separate motion before pulling the trigger to fire a cartridge. A large number of lawmen, as well as outlaws, were known to have favored the Model 1878. Short barrel variations without ejector housings were rarely manufactured and sold but did offer a degree of concealment not found on longer barrel guns with ejector housings. This very early production example still retains some fine blue on the frame, in the cylinder flutes, and in the more protected areas. It is unaltered and displays fine mechanics in both single action and double action functioning. The barrel shows the correct two-line Colt address and the Colt motif checkered hard rubber grips (stocks) are excellent. The front sight has not been filed or altered (uncommon, as many were changed by shooters who wanted a lower front sight blade or no front sight at all). Even the bore on this example shows fine overall condition with sharp rifling throughout. This is a seldom offered chance to purchase a Colt with a total production of only 290 revolvers with these specifications. The most advanced Colt and museum collections rarely contain such an unusual Model 1878. Additionally, often these early frontier arms saw extensive hard use and often abuse, making this fine condition example stand out even more prominently. Original Colt factory letter and copies of pertinent portions of Wilkerson’s book are included.