Colt D.A. 38 Revolver

Discussion in 'The Ask the Pros & What's It Worth? Forum' started by JRHAWN, Feb 28, 2011.

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    JRHAWN New Member

    Feb 28, 2011
    I have a 38 revolver with Colt. D.A. 38 on the side of the barrel. Top of the barrel says COLT'S PT F A MFG CO. HARTFORD CT. U.S.A. PATENTED AUG.5,1884 NOV.6,88 MAR.5,95. The inside frame, yoke, and latch say 88. Also inside frame has and A over a N by the 88. A 5 around the trigger guard. 238 over 286 on the butt. With black composite grips with Colt name at the top of the grips. Any idea on worth? Also, can anyone positively tell me what caliber ammunition for the gun? Have been told diffferently by a few people.
  2. BillM

    BillM Active Member

    Jan 16, 2010
    Amity Orygun
    Well--I don't know enough about old Colts to give you a model number.
    Value? You are going to have to post some pictures.

    However, I may be able to shed some light on the caliber. It's 38 long
    colt. NOT 38 Special, although many of the old Colt's will chamber 38
    special just fine. DON'T do it---38 Special is a higher pressure cartridge,
    you will at the least accelerate the wear and may explosively dis-assemble
    that old gun!

    You can make long colt brass from 38 special, and load it down so you
    can shoot the gun.

  3. Jim K

    Jim K New Member

    Dec 6, 2009
    The correct cartridge is the .38 Long Colt, which I understand is now available once again, after being off the market for many years. Some of those revolvers had no shoulders in the chambers and will accept .38 Special and even .357 Magnum, but neither is recommended. .38 Long Colt cases can be made by trimming the .38 Special case by 1/10"; in guns that will accept .38 Special, light loads can be used, but no +P or +P+.

    Value depends on condition, so good pictures will be needed to make any realistic evaluation.

  4. Jim K

    Jim K New Member

    Dec 6, 2009
    The Army Model 1903 and commercial Colt serial numbers 200xxx and up, were made to accept the .38 Special cartridge as well as the .38 Long Colt service cartridge, and Colt said so in their ads. The groove diameter of the barrel was changed to .358 at the same time. They did not change the marking on the barrel, though. I don't recommend firing factory .38 Special in those guns, though, because of their age and usually poor condition, and because of the higher pressure loads available in .38 Special, which should NOT be fired in any of the older guns.

    Last edited: Feb 28, 2011

    JRHAWN New Member

    Feb 28, 2011
    Some people are telling me that the long will not work. Only a .38 short colt.

    JRHAWN New Member

    Feb 28, 2011
    Also, I think it is safe to shoot. However, there is a little wear on the drum notches. So the holes on the front of the drum don't look like they are perfectly in line with the barrel if you turn the drum a bit. Safe to shoot?
  7. Jim K

    Jim K New Member

    Dec 6, 2009
    No, it was made originally for the .38 Long Colt, a cartridge with the same case diameter as the .38 Special but with a shorter case (1.03") than the .38 Special (1.16"). It was the U.S. service cartridge from 1892 to 1909, and early S&W M&P models were marked ".38 S&W Special and U.S. Service Ctg's". Later, Colt decided to modify their guns to accept the .38 Special, but the .38 Special had been developed by S&W and there was no way in Hades Colt was going to put that caliber on their guns, so they just left the "D.A. 38" as it was.

    Any gun chambered for the .38 Long Colt or .38 Special will fire .38 Short Colt (if you can find some).

    It would be no surprise if the gun is out of time, but if the chambers line up with the barrel in normal operation (no "turning" the cylinder by hand), it should be safe.

    Those guns are very fragile and prone to spring breakage, which is why I can never recommend one as a using firearm. Worse, there are very few gunsmiths who will even work on them (including Colt) as no parts are available and no one will pay for handmade parts. In brief, I suggest the gun be considered a collectible and not fired.

  8. i have the same gun but mine is much older. if it says D.A. 38 then it is the colt new navy double action revolver of caliber 38(not 357). if it has the bakelite (polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride) plastic grips it is surely the navy model as the army model had wood grips and was in 41 caliber. if all parts have the same serial number and depending on age and condition, it is worth anywhere from 700 to 1200. if it can be traced to an iconic person then it could be worth 10000 min. bit of history: theodore roosevelt had 2 of these that he took from the sunken USS maine. he carried one of them as his sidearm up san juan hill with the rough riders. many firearm critics would call this colts blunder. it was hastely created to compete with other double actions by other companies including smith and wesson. the trigger was very stiff and wore out the shooter. the ejector rod was exposed and fragile making it easily bent. the hammer was thin and dificult to pull back which many shooters of the time prefered to do. its biggest attribute over other guns was it was lightweight. dispite its flaws it was accepted by the military as a standard sidearm mainly because of the government contract with colt as well as springfield. it was used standard up until the philipine rebellion of 1899-1902 in which it was unable to stop the drugged up moros with its small caliber. as a result the military began reissuing 1873 single actions because of their greater power. the revolver was redesigned into the new service revolver caliber 45 and consiquently was responsible for the creation of the famous 1911
  9. dont worry about firing 38 special. the round wont hurt the gun. i fire the round all the time with this gun. it may have been a blunder but it is still a combat gun
  10. Bill DeShivs

    Bill DeShivs Well-Known Member

    Apr 7, 2006
    Regardless of what any one tells you!
  11. Jim K

    Jim K New Member

    Dec 6, 2009
    Above I recommended against firing .38 Special in any of that series, but I can't quite go with a flat "don't do it". When Colt removed the chamber shoulder it was with the specific intent that .38 Special could be used in them (so can .357 Magnum, but that cartridge had not been invented yet and definitely should NOT be used). I will reiterate that ONLY .38 Special standard loads, 158 gr round nose lead bullet, be used, not any of the +P or +P+ loads.

  12. Lanrezac

    Lanrezac Well-Known Member

    Sep 18, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI
    Shane, I did not think any Colt revolver of this period had Bakelite grips. Bakelite was not in commercial production until about 1910. It seems to have been used very little, if at all, for pistol grips - at least in the USA.

    The Colt grips were typically hard rubber, which was in very wide use for pistol grips here at that time. Even during WWI, when the Europeans could not spare rubber for pistol grips, they used pressed animal horn as a subsitute, not Bakelite.

    There was some investigation of the use of Bakelite for Colt 1911 grips during WWI, but I think it did not go forward. As I recall, the Army was leary of the formaldehyde content of Bakelite.
  13. Jim K

    Jim K New Member

    Dec 6, 2009
    "the army model had wood grips and was in 41 caliber"

    Sorry, the army and navy contract guns were all .38 caliber. The .41 was made for the civilian market.

  14. deadin

    deadin Well-Known Member

    May 16, 2006
    Here's an interesting Colt Army/Navy. According to a Colt expert this one is the 310th Civilian one made and hasn't been altered (upgraded) like most early ones were.

    Attached Files:

  15. saa

    saa New Member

    Jan 17, 2012
    Remember: metallurgy, cartridge design and components, and chamber pressures were all at opposite ends of the scale at that time in the development and manufacture of these guns.

    Jim’s recommendations above are not based on conservative hysteria of using today’s cartridges, but it bodes well to remember that just because it fits doesn’t make it a good candidate for being fired.

    I would highly recommend that you give weight to Jim and Bill’s experience and knowledge in considering which cartridges may be suitable to fire, or not.

    Shane: I would say your advice is a little too loose and fancy-free – for my taste and IMO. It’s like the speed limit: set it at 55 and most will do 60. Same here: the advice you give will be taken and then some. A bit more restraint and forethought may be appropriate when offering advice that will affect a wide range of firearm conditions. Again, just my opinion.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2012
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