When it comes to adding revolvers to my personal collection, like many other wheelgun aficionados, I tend to purchase a lot of old revolvers. Reason being, if you stumble across a specific make and model no longer in circulation, there is no guarantee that you will ever see one like it again. So, I venture to a lot of local gun shows perusing the aisles looking to unearth unlikely treasures less keen eyes may have overlooked. Sometimes though you do not want to be so full of yourself that you pervert reality in your mind to believe you have something you really do not. There are a lot of fakes and scam revolvers out there. People will put age-appropriate grips on a revolver (that are not original) to get a wheelgun to look like something else; to get an unsuspecting fool to pay them more money. In this week’s Wheelgun Wednesday, we will discuss a semi-collectible Colt DA 38 that was recently offered to me, but was not true-to-form.
Colt da 38 – recognizing alterations
Recently while managing my family’s gun shop in MN, The Guns And Gear Store, we had a customer bring in a Colt DA 38 revolver he wanted to sell. By simply looking at the revolver this gentleman brought in from a foot away on the gun counter it looked aged appropriately for a near 100-year-old wheelgun. I was immediately excited to see what we had here!
I cracked open my Blue Book to start identifying its vintage and have a baseline for what the value could be. The barrel length of 4-ish inches caught my eye the most because that is somewhat of an uncommon barrel length for a Colt double-action revolver. The Blue Book verified that a 4 ½” barrel (confirmed with a tape measure) is more rare and commands a premium for value. My heart sped up a bit like I was on a date with a supermodel (we might have something pretty valuable here I began to think). Then, just like dating an actual supermodel and walking the crazy/hot line like a tight-rope, the wheels started to come off.
The previous owner of this revolver (because the current owner denied everything I was about to point out) likely took a factory 6″ Colt DA 38 which is of moderate value and cut it down to its 4 ½” length and tried to make a more valuable fake. The reason a less-than-honest person would do this is because the 4 ½” version of a Colt DA 38 is worth significantly more than the 6″ version. This was verified because all of the manufacturer, model, proof markings, and patent dates are cut off and are essentially thread into the frame of the revolver when they should be prominently on top of the barrel and centered for all to see.
The front sight is discolored and it also appears to be filed and misshapen. It is not thin and uniform on all sides like it was produced at the factory. It looks like I made it which also means it looked really bad. To confirm my suspicions about the inauthentic barrel length, it appears the barrel was visibly clamped and exhibited plier marks going around the circumference of the middle of the barrel. It was if someone hand spun this barrel on using pliers after cutting it down.
The more I looked the revolver over it appeared to be in good condition for a 100-year old wheelgun, but the barrel and front sight were glaring reminders now that this revolver was a fake. As I talked to the gentleman who brought it in about all the ‘inaccuracies’ in this model I could see the enthusiasm drain out of him. He was not a guy off the street trying to trick someone for additional money; he potentially got tricked many years ago when he bought it. I was polite, but matter-of-fact about everything. If at the end of the day we did not come to an agreement for him selling his gun to my family’s shop I still wanted him to leave believing I informed him of unfortunate news and was not insulting him.
The longer we talked we finally got down to numbers. He hung his head thinking his $1,000 revolver was only worth $100. I told him that it definitely was not $1,000 – we both knew this – but it had more value than he might think. Not everyone is looking for immaculate examples of wheelguns. Some people simply love to blast soup cans off fence posts and shoot. This wheelgun had terrific timing yet and great rifling in the cut-down barrel. We eventually came to an agreement on money and both he and I are wiser for the experience. He thanked me, I thanked him, and at the end of the day, there were no hard feelings.
colt da 38 – what to do with a fake?
I personally was really interested in buying this Colt DA 38 for myself even with its patina and age. After seeing that it has been altered and it is not original, I will clean this revolver up to sell in our store and make all potential buyers aware that this is just a fun, timeless, classic shooter. As mentioned eariler, not all wheelguns need to be a financial investment we are going to cash in on 40 years down the road. Many should be owned and fired for the sheer fun of shooting.
At the end of the day, we want to remember that being right and knowing the most about some specific revolver is not the most important thing. Be nice to your fellow man, be informative, not insulting, and simply enjoy the shooting sports. The world is one bad societal event away from tipping into a zombie apocalypse. We at TFB hope all of you out there keep enjoying firearms and we will keep bringing you the news. As always, let us know all of your thoughts in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.