Antique firearm question

Discussion in 'Curio & Relics Forum' started by symphy, Nov 12, 2009.

  1. symphy

    symphy New Member

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    I'm working on a novel in which my lead characters find a 100-year-old revolver and ammunition tucked in an old desk in a climate-controlled environment. I have some experience with modern handguns, but not with antiques. Preliminary research shows that century-old ammo can indeed be reliable, as long as it wasn't exposed to the elements for too long. Is there a particular brand and model that someone might recommend for reliability later on? i.e., since the life of one of the characters depends upon the successful and repeated firing of this weapon, I'd like a suggestion of something that wouldn't have horrible jamming or misfires under the circumstances.

    All help appreciated! :)
  2. jjmitchell60

    jjmitchell60 Active Member

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    True story, about 30 years ago a man here in my local community was tearing down an old log home. In a ubby hole in the fireplace he found an old hand made holster (made from a boot top, on a belt, with a CSA buckle on the belt, and in the holster was on of the old side hammer revolvers that is cap and ball (made in England I think) from the Civil waar. It was loaded with caps on it. He brought it to a buddy of mine wanting the revolver unloaaded. My buddy took it and fired it once, it went off fine so he emptied it that way. Now we are betting it had been in that cubby hole for at least 100 yewars and loaded with cap and ball as well as BP. It shoots fine to this day. So I would use any gun since the 1700s, yes have seen flinters that were made in the 1700s that were found loaded and still shot after 200 years when found.
  3. oscarmayer

    oscarmayer New Member

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    how about a colt single action army in 45 colt, or something along the lines of a 45acp designed by mr browning in 1904 , or how about the good ole 38 special designed in 1899 all these rounds are still around today even the 9mm 9x19 ,9mm parabellum , 9mm luger ( all the same round)was made in 1902, lots of choices
  4. Maximilian II

    Maximilian II New Member

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    I'll second the vote for the classic SAA, they're tough.
    If you're not 100% set on a revolver, there were the Luger and Broomhandle Mauser around back then as well as some more obscure early semiautos. Those might lend an air of tension, since some were not exactly the most reliable even when new! At least not by today's standard. Bergmann anyone?
    Back to revolvers again, how about the Gasser or Webley?
    Let me get to my reference books and I can come up with dozens!
  5. Helix_FR

    Helix_FR New Member

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    you could even go with the Browning 1910 or 1922. .32acp, those old boys keep popping up and still kicking it today.
  6. ski9393

    ski9393 New Member

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    Why not describe some sort of cap and ball colt or a six shooter, then leave it to the readers imagination. If I found a century plus old handgun in a desk, I would hope it to be a single action colt army (the classic six gun of the old west). I think they may have called it .38-40, that is a classic cowboy round, I still think the .45 long colt is cooler though.

    I put that in lamens terms because I don't know how familiar you are with old guns, not that I am an expert. If you look around you shouldn't have any problems finding pictures of antiques online to get some inspiration if you will. Good luck with your novel symphy
  7. 45Auto

    45Auto Active Member

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    The most reliable form of handgun would be a revolver. Even more so if the ammo is old. A Colt single action in .45 or .44-40 would be fine. For a small revolver, an Iver Johnson .38 would be a good choice. A British Bull-Dog in 44 Webley caliber was a popular revolver 100 years ago. UMC made .44 Webley ammo back then.

    UMC, US Cartridge Co. etc all made good ammo back then. I have fired ammo which was well over 100 years old and it worked fine. The primers were often made of copper back then.

    Note that back in the early 1900's revolver ammo was often loaded with semi-smokeless powder or black powder. When you fire an old round like that the noise is more of a big boom rather than the loud crack you would hear if you fired a round loaded with modern smokeless powders.
  8. pistolero57

    pistolero57 New Member

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    I collect antique cartridge revolvers. There are a few facts you should know. The first cartridge revolver was the Smith & Wesson Model One. It was introduced in 1857 in .22 short caliber. All brass cartridges were loaded with black powder (called "gunpowder" then) until at least 1895. Semiauto pistols were not practical until smokeless powder began to be used, around 1896. If we're talking exactly 100 years ago, that was 1909. So, you have to rule out every pistol made after 1909 including (especially) the Colt 1911 .45 auto. Nearly every pistol owned by ordinary people in 1909 were revolvers. The best brands were Smith & Wesson and Colt. But, due to their lower prices, the most popular brands were Harrington & Richardson, Iver Johnson, Hopkins & Allen, US Revolver, and a whole host of other cheap brands. To this very day the most common low priced antique revolvers on the market are Harrington & Richardson. My guess is that, if you were to sneak into a working man's house circa 1909 and open the nightstand drawer, you would find a Harrington & Richardson .32 S&W revolver. These sold for about $4 or $5 new back then. The .32 S&W, or .32 S&W Long, caliber was more popular than .38 S&W. Theodore Roosevelt even required the New York City Police Department's officers to carry revolvers chambered in .32 S&W Long when he was the Police Commissioner in 1895. So, small revolvers chambered in .32 S&W Long were "dime a dozen" around the last turn of the century. For a specific model how about a Harrington & Richardson Young America in .32 S&W Long? It's so small you can carry one in your pants pocket and it's not even noticeable. By the way, .32 revolvers had six-round cylinders and .38 revolvers usually had five-round cylinders back then.
  9. Jim K

    Jim K New Member

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    Right now I am looking at a Smith & Wesson Military & Police, Model 1899, .38 Special caliber, that was definitely around 100 years ago. The only external difference from the current Model 10 is that the ejector rod is not supported at the front end. I guarantee it will work the first time, every time if the ammo is OK.

    Of course, someone in 1909 would not have called it the Model 1899 (a collector's term); it would probably have been called a Smith & Wesson M&P revolver or Smith & Wesson Army revolver or S&W swing cylinder revolver.

    Of course, a gun found in 1909 could have been made at any time up to 1909, but why not make it a gun made close to that date, not something that hade been obsolete for decades?

    Jim
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2009
  10. wpage

    wpage Active Member

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    Out of respect for Samuel Colt and his invention of the revolver in Paterson NJ.
    Any early colt...
  11. pistolero57

    pistolero57 New Member

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    The choice of the weapon depends on the status of the character. If he was a man of means, then a Colt or a Smith & Wesson are the most likely choices. If he was a working man (including police officer), then a Harrington & Richardson, Iver Johnson, Forehand & Wadsworth, or Hopkins & Allen are much more likely. To see what types of revolvers were actually for sale just look in a reprint of a Sears catalog from around 1900. I recently downloaded the three pages of the 1897 Sear catalog's "Revolver Department" and saved those so I could see which revolvers were being sold by Sears and how much they were getting for them. The Sears catalog lists revolvers by all of the companies I mentioned. The Colt double-action revolvers solf for $10-$12. The Smith & Wesson revolvers sold for $10-$13. All the others sold for $3-$4. Keep in mind that gold sold for $20/ounce then too. So, $3 worth fo gold then is worth $169 today. $11 worth of gold then is worth $620 today. In gold terms revolver prices haven't changed much over the last 112 years. The vast majority of popular-priced revolvers made in the 1890s were chambered in .32 S&W or .38 S&W (not .38 Special.) Many were also chambered in .38 Long Colt (the US Army standard from 1892-1910.) A few were chambered in .44 S&W American, .44 S&W Russian, .44-40, and .45 Colt (big Colt Single Action models.) The British Webley revolvers were chambered .455 Webley. If you want to make this really intriguing go with a Mauser model C96 ("broomhandle Mauser") pistol. Those were produced from 1896 to 1937. Of course somebody had to be German or in Germany to get one.
  12. gdmoody

    gdmoody Moderator Supporting Member

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    Keep in mind also that the Colt 1911 has been around about 98 years. But I think that I would go with the Model 1986 Broom Handle Mauser.
  13. Jim K

    Jim K New Member

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    I have used a 40::1 ratio for current dollars vs 1900 era dollars, and it generally works out as you say, that gun costs have remained about the same in constant dollar terms. Example, a Colt SAA at $17 in that era would work out to $680 today, about the cost of a decent working gun from Ruger or S&W. (Colt gets more for the SAA because of the nostalgia factor - a USFA Rodeo has an MSRP of $625.)

    Jim

    Jim
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