Elmer Keith’s Revolver No. 5 Up For Auction At James D. Julia

One of the most historically significant items up for auction at James D. Julia this season is Elmer Keith’s famous Single Action Army revolver – the “Number 5”, about which was written in 1929 an article by Keith, titled “The Last Word”. “Number 5” represented what Keith felt was the idea revolver at the time; a .44 Special Single Action Army with features of a standard SAA, a Bisley, and some features invented for the pistol itself. As part of their series on this auction, ForgottenWeapons has created a video overview of the pistol, which will inform both history buffs and potential buyers alike:

Elmer Keith, of course, was one of the most significant gun writers of the 20th Century, and is directly responsible for the development of both the .357 and .44 Magnum rounds, as well as the “Keith-style” semi-wadcutters. In rifles, Keith’s work also lead to the modern .338 magnum rifle cartridge.

It seems strange today that Keith would try to create the ideal revolver using the Single Action Army – a pattern that had existed for well over half a century by that time, when theoretically better designs were available. However, considering the continued popularity of similarly aged guns today, including the hundred-year-old 1911 semiautomatic, it’s perhaps not that unusual. Certainly, if a maker advertised their quest to create the perfect handgun, and began with the 1911, I doubt anyone today would bat an eye.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • john huscio

    just reminds me i need another couple wheelguns….

  • Tom of Toms

    we should all hope a generous collector buys the entire estate and puts it back on display.

  • ColaBox

    This man helped develop the .357? Add him to the “people I want to have a beer with” list. That revolver is definantly a beaut. Never seen one with that grip design before. Not to mention the engravings and curved hammer.

    • FWIW: Ruger single-action owners can buy a replica of the No. 5 grip frame from Power Custom. Belt Mountain Enterprises also offers a replica of the No. 5 base pin for Ruger revolvers.

      • Giolli Joker

        Hamilton Bowen did a full replica, visible in the Gallery on his website.
        By the amount of work I guess it’s a 20k$ revolver.

      • Mickey R

        The Belt Mountain No. 5 base pins are very nice! I have one on my 1979 Blackhawk in .41 Rem Mag.

  • The .338 Lapua is roughly a beltless version of the .338/378 Keith-Thomson.

    Not long after the .338 Lapua was introduced, Ross Seyfried quickly wrote of the uncanny similarity of the new cartridge with his mentor’s .338-378 Keith-Thomson, albeit without the latter cartridge’s belt. It appears that Ross was closer to the truth than most imagine.

    The .338-378 KT was based upon a shortened .378 Weatherby case necked down for .338” projectiles. R.W. (Bob) Thomson reportedly wanted to use the full-length .378 Weatherby case, but Elmer Keith claimed responsibility for the idea of trimming the case. RCBS made the dies, Keith Francis made the reamers, and Bruce Hodgdon performed the earliest load development

    The earliest rifles chambered for the new cartridge were built by Champlin-Haskins Firearms. Keith, Thomson, Bill Jordan, and George Gelman were among the first recipients. Keith already had history with the company. Not long after Jerry D. Haskins had developed his new 3-lug magnum action, he had reportedly consulted Keith for his suggestions on the features for a custom rifle offering. In honor of his participation, Doug Champlin and Haskins named the top-grade version of their custom rifle, the “Keith-grade”.

    Haskins later parted ways with Champlin, and to the best of my knowledge, is the same Jerry Haskins who later started Research Armaments Inc. (AKA: Research Armaments Prototypes) RAI is probably best known for their .50 BMG rifle, the Model 500 “Long Range Stand Off Weapon”, marketed at varying points by Iver Johnson/AMAC and Daisy (!). A smaller caliber variant was introduced as the Model 300 “Convertible Long Range Rifle”. This was offered in 7.62x51mm NATO and a new 8.58x71mm wildcat, based on a shortened .416 Rigby case necked down for .338” projectiles. Both rifles and the 8.58x71mm wildcat were reportedly developed on behalf of the US Navy’s Special Warfare community.

    It is the 8.58x71mm which reportedly inspired Lapua and Malcolm Cooper of Accuracy International to create what we now know as the .338 Lapua.

  • Nicks87

    “Certainly, if a maker advertised their quest to create the perfect handgun, and began with the 1911, I doubt anyone today would bat an eye”.
    Really? It’s 2015. Plenty of people would bat an eye, at least anyone that isnt retarded. Most 1911s work just fine but the weapon has its flaws. With modern striker fired pistols being the baseline for reliabilty and durability I think that they would be the starting point for the perfect handgun. 100 years was a good run but it’s time to move away from nostalgia and on to the future.

    • I think you’re missing my point.

      • Miles

        No, he’s not missing your point.
        He’s doing his usual schtick of insulting anyone who he disagrees with.

  • Rod

    Is this the same #5 that has been sitting in the Elmer Keith Museum inside the Boise Cabelas? I’ll ride over there this week and see if it is gone.

  • Don Ward

    If it is 1929, using the Colt Single Action Army as a baseline isn’t as far-fetched as it might appear today. The main drawback of any handgun is getting it chambered in a caliber that is sufficient for the task of self-defense. Today, with the revolution of modern cartridge technology, that task is much easier. Not so 85 years ago.

    So you’d have to start with a weapon that could chamber a decent cartridge that was not only appropriate for self-defense but could take down cougars, brown bear or – if needs – a Rocky Mountain elk. The .44 Special is capable of this.

    The weapon does have significant drawbacks, the primary being how slow it is to reload via that cylinder gate and the need to keep a chamber empty for the hammer to rest on. But contrary to all the hype today with guys learning how to do tactical reloads with their 17-round striker fired wonders, five shots in a revolver is more than most Mark 1 civilians will ever need in a self-defense situation. Particularly when you’re an individual of Elmer Keith’s ability.

  • Sam W

    Yours… not mine.

  • Don Ward

    Also. We need a Revolver No. 5/Mambo No. 5 mash-up.

  • FrenchKiss

    I think the ruger bisley new vaquero looks very close to the Keith pistol.