THE COLT DOUBLE-ACTION 1878
A year after having issued its first double-action revolver and probably encouraged by the very satisfying sales, the Colt Company came out with a new model, this time designed for military use.
The newcomer is a big, somewhat clumsy and inelegant revolver, which was available in various calibres and different barrel lengths. However, the vast majority are found in the .45 Long Colt and 44-40 WCF calibres.
The one presented here bears the mention "Colt Frontier Six-Shooter". That marking always identifies the revolver as a "Frontier" variant, which is always in the 44-40 WCF calibre.
Basically, the lock mechanism is that of the Lightning 1877, with some minor improvements such as a removable cover plate on the left side of the frame, which allows better access to the inner mechanism. However, its old loading procedure through a loading gate on a fix cylinder makes it still obsolete compared to other maker's products.
The cylinder has 6 chambers and long flutes. There are no locking notches at all, since the locking is effected on the ratchet. The ratchet teeth
have a somewhat special design that engages a notch cut in the pawl body.
During the production, about 200 of these cylinders would be adapted for use in the SAA 1873.
Integral birdshead grips are standard; most revolvers have a swivel ring on the butt and chequered hard rubber grips with a rampant colt logo.
The detachable trigger guard is affixed to the frame by two single screws at both ends.
This revolver did not encounter the same success as its predecessor. Army approval did not come forth very quickly, because trials had proven it was liable to accidental discharges and the mainspring was too weak, causing misfires.
Therefore, not more than 51.000 were made between 1878 and 1905. Arms sold prior to 1902 all went to the civilian trade. It looks however that the Colt Company first expected much better sales, for all the frames were already made and ready to assemble prior to 1898.
In 1902, Colt received a Government order for about 5.000 DA revolvers though. The guns were to include a 6" barrel and would all be chambered for the .45 calibre. They feature a trigger that is twice as long as normal, which demanded a very large trigger guard. All are found in the 43000 to 48000 serial #ranges.
There is much speculation about the 1902 model, which was called either "Philippines Model" or "Alaskan Model".
The first and most logical was to think that the longer trigger and the large guard had been specially designed for use with thick gloves or mitains in very cold areas in the northern US.
According to other sources however, the army had decided to issue the 5000 revolvers to the troops active in the Philippines. However, Col.Stodter, veteran of the Philippines campaign, claimed he had never seen one of the DA in .45 calibre in the Philippines. When the .38 bullet was found too weak as a man-stopper, the service arms were replaced by good old SAA 1873 revolvers.
Some think that the use of a longer trigger was an idea of the Colt Company. Since the army had asked for a much stronger main spring,
the company engineers had decided to use a longer trigger in order to keep it smooth or allow for shooting with two fingers. Of course, a longer trigger called for a much larger guard.
No records were found about possible use of this model in the Philippines or in Alaska, but the first idea seems to be the most logical.
Production was discontinued in 1909 and the 1878 DA was the replaced by the much better New Service revolver with swing-out cylinder.
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