Colt 1877 Lightning Etched Panel 2 1/2″ DA .38 Cal Revolver, 1880 Antique

SOLD FOR: $4091

LSB#: 230914JB007

Make: Colt

Model: 1877 “Lightning”

Serial Number: 23417

Year of Manufacture: Colt’s serial lookup indicates production in 1880 ( The included letter indicates the revolver shipped April 9, 1881.

Caliber: .38 Colt

Action Type: Double and Single Action Side Gate Loaded Revolver

Barrel Length: 2 1/2”

Sights/Optics: The front sight is a blade fixed to the barrel. The rear sight is a v-notch integral to the topstrap.

Stock Configuration and Condition: The grips are two-piece smooth pearl panels. The left panel has a surface loss at the top-front. Ecah has a few tiny chips and a couple of thin cracks around the edges. There is some discoloration from age and handling. Overall, the grips are in Very Good-plus condition as Antique.

Type of Finish: Nickel

Finish Originality: Original

Bore Condition: The bore is semi-bright with sharp rifling. There is some scattered light erosion and pitting in the bore. In this writer’s opinion, the bore rates 5 or 6 out of 10.

Most antique firearms have bores that will show erosion. This is not only due to age but to the use of black powder. When fired, black powder reacts corrosively. NRA Antique Firearm Conditions Standards are quite lenient for bores. In some cases, the NRA standards disregarded the bore’s condition for collectors’ firearms.

Overall Condition: This revolver retains about 75% of its metal finish. Most of the balance is finish loss on the outside of the cylinder. There is some other scattered finish loss. There is handling wear on the face of the trigger and the top of the hammer spur. Some areas of finish loss have surface oxidation. There are scattered minor nicks, scuffs and scratches. The action shows operational wear. The screw heads range from sharp to tool marked with serviceable slots. The markings are clear. Overall, this revolver rates in Fine-Excellent condition as Antique.

Mechanics: The action functions correctly. The cylinder locks up with minor play when the trigger is depressed. The double action trigger is fairly smooth. The single action trigger is crisp. We did not fire this revolver. As with all used firearms, thorough cleaning may be necessary to meet your maintenance standards.

Box, Paperwork, and Accessories: This revolver comes with a Colt Archives letter and a copy of the Winter 2013 edition of The Rampant Colt, “Collecting the Model 1877 Double Action”. The letter indicates that this revolver shipped April 9, 1881 to Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Company in Chicago, Illinois as a 2 1/2″ .38 Caliber with Nickel finish and Pearl grips as one of four guns of the same type in the shipment.

Our Assessment: The Colt M1877 was a double action revolver manufactured by Colt’s Patent Fire Arms from January 1877 to 1909 for a total of 166,849 revolvers. The Model 1877 was offered in three calibers, which lent them three unofficial names: the “Lightning”, the “Thunderer”, and the “Rainmaker”. The principal difference between the models was the cartridge in which they were chambered: the “Lightning” being chambered in .38 Short Colt; the “Thunderer” in .41 Long Colt. The M1877 was designed by one of the inventors of the M1873 Colt Single Action Army, William Mason, as Colt’s first attempt at manufacturing a double-action revolver and was also the first successful US-made double-action cartridge revolver. Neither “Lightning” nor “Thunderer” were Colt designations, nor used by the factory in any reference materials. Both terms were coined by Benjamin Kittredge, one of Colt’s major distributors, who was also responsible for the term “Peacemaker” for the Single Action Army. As their first double action, the new Colt revolvers saw interest from a variety of users, some famous and others notorious. Billy the Kid had a Lightning on him when he fatefully met his end at the hand of Pat Garrett.

This is a nice example of an earlier Lightning. It has a shorter, 2 1/2″ barrel which did not allow the mounting of an ejector rod, frequently marketed as “Shopkeeper” or “Storekeeper” configuration. Its barrel also has the enigmatic (as well as frequently worn away) etched-panel caliber marking. Perhaps its most desirable features are its factory nickel finish and pearl grips, with the great majority of production receiving two-piece checkered hard rubber grips and a blued finish. In all, this would make a fine addition to Colt collections as an example of the early 1877. Please see our photos and good luck!

Please forgive any typos, I was educated in California. -Bud

Colt 1877 Lightning Etched Panel 2 1/2" DA .38 Cal Revolver, 1880 Antique
Colt 1877 Lightning Etched Panel 2 1/2″ DA .38 Cal Revolver, 1880 Antique