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Colt Model 1877 DA 38 "Lightning"

A couple of nights ago I was at Cabela's getting a refund for a gun I ordered and paid for but decided I didn't want (I found it cheaper elsewhere). After I got a credit on my credit card I decided to check out the Gun Library. They had several nice Colt handguns but one caught my eye. It was a Colt Model 1877 DA 38 commonly known as the Lightning. It was Colt's first production double action revolver design. Most of the Lightnings I have seen for sale are beat and worn - they are all at least 110 years old - but this one was in excellent condition with most of its original finish, and the price was surprisingly low. Check out the ones for sale on Gunbroker.com and you'll see what I mean.

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It was close to closing time so they had cut off gun sales because they wanted to be sure the background checks could be completed before the store closed (although this revolver is an antique and shouldn't need a background check) and in fact they started taking the guns out of the display cases to lock them up for the night, so I bought some ammo and left, but that Lightning stayed in my mind.

When I got home I checked out my Colt books. I discovered the one at Cabela's is one of the less common ejectorless models that didn't have the SAA style case ejector rod mounted on the barrel. It made it smaller, lighter, and more concealable. The cylinder pin has knurling and it served double duty as an ejector after it was removed. I also discovered

The M1877's early double-action mechanism proved to be both intricate and delicate, and thus prone to breakage. The design had a reputation for failure and earned the nickname "the gunsmith's favorite".
Gunsmiths have cursed the Lightning and Thunderer 1877 models as virtually unrepairable. Reassembly was a nightmare, and a collector who owns a broken specimen might best forget about ever having it repaired. One wonders how these [revolvers] could have been popular in the West, with continued exposure to rough weather, dust, dirt, and a general disregard for the tender handling the first double action Colts required.
I figured the one at Cabela's must be broken and that's why the price was so low. Maybe it broke early in its life and that's why it was in such good condition, because it was broken early and never used. Another one that was almost as nice sold last year for $1318 Colt Model 1877 Lightning Shopkeepers Special, Blue/Case 3 Da Double Action Revolver, Mfd 1890 Antique .38 Long Colt so the one at Cabela's had to be broken. Even so, there is one guy in the country who fixes them and I figured I would get it because of its excellent condition and low price and have it repaired if necessary. But I knew I had to act immediately.

I didn't have to be at work until 10:30AM the next day so I got to Cabela's before 9:30AM figuring I could get in and out before I had to go to work. So I went to the Gun Library and the Lightning was still there. There was only one guy working in the Gun Library and he was selling a gun to another customer. So I waited and waited and waited. Finally he left to escort the customer to the check-out counter. He came back but before I could say anything some other guy who had recently arrived stepped up to the salesman and starting talking him. He started shooting the breeze about selling one of his HK93s, and how he has a safe full of them, yak yak yak. Eventually the salesman told him to bring the gun in and he would take a look at it. So I finally got to talk to the lone salesman. I asked to look at the Lightning. I asked if it worked and he said it did. It had just come in yesterday. He let me try it and both the single action and double action worked fine and it had tight lockup. I told him I would take it. The salesman had me start filling out the electronic Form 4473 but then he realized it is an antique so he didn't think I would have to do a background check, but he would check first, so he disappeared into the back office. He eventually came back with some photocopies of pages from R.L. Wilson's The Book of Colt Firearms (one of the books I had consulted the night before), he checked the serial number (it is hard to read) and he confirmed it was an antique and I could stop filling out the 4473. Then he said someone else would complete the transaction.

So then I waited. And waited. And waited. I saw a young woman who worked there take The Book of Colt Firearms off of the bookshelf, look up the chapter on the Model 1877, then take it in the back room. After about 20 or 30 minutes I saw the salesman again and told him I had to be at work at 10:30, and I could have completed the background check by now. He said since they are an FFL they had to confirm the gun was an antique before they could sell it without a background check.

So I waited and waited and waited some more. Then the young woman came out, asked me for my phone number, and went back into the back office! By now it was 10:15 so I called my office and told them I was going to be late. After waiting another 25 minutes she finally came out and checked me out at 10:39AM. I had some Cabela points saved up so the final cost was $327.54 out the door.

It was a pain but it was worth it. It is the nicest Lightning I have seen in person. It is very clean and it was well cared for. I don't think it was shot much if it all after it left the factory. According to its serial number it was made in 1890 so it is 129 years old. It shoots black powder 38 Long Colt ammo and because of its condition and reputation for being fragile internally I'm not going to shoot it.

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Last edited:

Mikej

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What a great gun and story. Good for you.
 

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