Colt Single Action Army: Why You Want 2nd & 3rd Gen
Written by Brian Beck
Colt Single Action Army Revolvers You Should Give a Second… or Maybe Third Look
See what I did there? That’s right, we’re going to be talking about Second and Third Generation Colt Single Action Army Revolvers. Before I lose too many of you by not even mentioning the ever-desirable first generation, hear me out. Even though I myself am not a serious collector of SAA’s, my position at RIAC gives me excellent access to all three generations of these classic revolvers, and recently I’ve experienced some beauties in preparing for our December Premiere Auction. They weren’t the first generation classics.
For most “serious” collectors of Colt Single Action Army Revolvers, their interest stops in 1941 with the end of the first generation. Why is this? Some might say it is more an interest in collecting antique firearms which would certainly include part of the first generation. However, if that is the only reason, then why are the prices of even non-antique first generations on the rise? Could it be that the quality of the first generation is just better than their younger counterparts? There are certainly rumors along these lines, but as far as fit and finish go, after having hundreds of SAA’s in my hands, I can’t say that I notice much of a difference, if any.
This gap in market value between the generations grows even wider when we start looking at embellished revolvers, say a Cuno Helfricht engraved first generation versus a third generation with class “D” engraving. And yes, of course I understand that Helfricht is one of Colt’s legendary engravers, often in consideration right up there with Nimschke whose style became that of the American West, but what would you say if I told you, that I have had second and third generation SAA’s in my hands over the past couple of weeks by contemporary engravers, or even unsigned, that are just as beautiful or even more so than a Helfricht? Yes, there will always be those collectors that are only interested in engraving if it was done at the factory. But I am here to tell you that I have held some truly amazing pieces of art in my hands over the past few weeks, and not all of them were created at the Colt factory.
Obviously, there are almost endless levels of embellishment that can be done to these revolvers, whether it’s just a set of nice hardwood grips all the way up to 100% coverage master engraving and a set of mammoth ivory grips. This all really comes down to personal taste, and here is where I have to say, that as a guy that usually doesn’t get excited about embellishments of any kind, some of these works of art were hard to ignore. These guns truly are the sorts of thing that you either buy, or have done personally, to pass on for generations. So without further ado, let’s have a look at some of these beautiful Colt revolvers.
Beautiful Right From the Factory:
See, I’m not against factory engraving – these are amazing! Just think about how nice this pair would look in your office in a nice custom hardwood display case laying on some nice dark blue velvet. Just look at that nitre blue!
It’d be very hard to believe that these two weren’t intended to be a pair, though the serial numbers aren’t consecutive, they were both manufactured in 1989. They both show fantastic Nimschke style floral scroll engraving that evokes the Old West feel, which is really what the Single Action Army is all about. Also, is there anyone who can’t love that nickel and nitre blue contrast? It’s such a simple touch that really adds so much style to these two revolvers. Oh and I almost forgot, bird’s head ivory grips! Need I say more?
Here’s another example of Colt factory engraving I don’t think will need much introduction as it’s signed and engraved by the legendary George Spring. Spring is one of the best known contemporary Colt engravers, and was one of the masters of his craft who helped establish the Colt Custom Shop in the 1970s for this kind of work. This revolver has class “B” engraving like the previous two revolvers and shows other similar features, such as the ivory bird’s head grips and nitre blue accents. Comparing these three can be an excellent example of what the signature of a master engraver can do for the value of an embellished gun you’re looking to buy or even one you’re looking to sell.
Colt Embellishment: Texas Style
Here we have a couple of single action army revolvers showing off probably one of the most unique styles of engraving out there. I can’t say that it really suits this Northern boy’s tastes but I’m certain they will have some of your out there ready to sell the ranch to pick up one of these beauties.
These two could almost make another pair, displaying that wonderful “cattle brand” style in beautiful gold plating. I mean really, what says “Texas is larger than life” like gold cattle brands? But I digress… If you’re well read on the subject of Colt engraving you might have been yelling “Cole Agee” through your computer screen at me, and that’s where you’d be wrong. Though these look almost identical to those by the pioneer of the cattle brand style of engraving, Cole Agee, they are actually by a student of his named Weldon Bledsoe. Bledsoe visited and learned from Agee shortly before his death in 1955, and as you can see, carried on this engraving tradition flawlessly. Both of these revolvers bear Bledsoe’s well hidden signature and really show off this master artisans talent. You don’t like gold you say? No problem there, if you pick up an affordable non-embellished 2nd or 3rd generation single action, there is a man by the name of David Wade Harris who is carrying on this classic style with the traditional methods, and you guessed it, he learned from Weldon Bledsoe.
A Step Away From the Factory
It’s time for the leap of faith now folks. We’re getting away from the legends and the factory engraving and sailing into uncharted waters. Don’t worry, I’ve picked out three revolvers here for you that are, simply put, works of art.
These two revolvers display a very interesting style that is without a doubt masterfully executed. The artisan behind them is Ron J. Collings, who did his apprenticeship in England, and has been engraving in Canada and the United States for the past 30-40 years. These two really caught my attention as the engraving is very obviously American in their style, but certainly show that finely executed English floral scroll creeping in. I honestly can’t believe we’ve made it this far and these are our first example of gold inlay, yet here we are. These two really do show some brilliantly tasteful gold inlay that doesn’t detract from the skillful engraving, yet really adds an eye-grabbing element to the revolver as a whole. As far as I know, Mr. Collings is still engraving, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be an easy man to track down, so you may want to grab up one of his works of art while you can.
Last but certainly not least, we have a bit of a culture clash that I just can’t look away from. This one really is the “British Invasion” Colt Single Action Army style.
This beautiful revolver is signed by L. Wright. It is almost entirely covered in finely executed English style floral scroll and gold inlay. Something about that distinctive style of engraving looks so wrong on such an American icon, yet it just looks so right. This is definitely one of the revolvers that really grabbed my attention as just a true work of art. It really is one of those that you need to experience in person to get the full effect. The intricate, tight scrollwork excellently highlights this master craftsman’s skill, and is truly a sight to behold. This revolver is one of those that could easily be passed down for generations and would just never go out of style.
Hopefully a couple of these have caught your attention and maybe convinced you to give a second look at the more modern Colts, that are sadly often put on the back-burner by Colt collectors. It seems that there could be a huge opportunity here for some collectors, especially those just starting their collections, to get into the market at a price point that is comfortable for them, and still get that legendary Colt quality and reputation that all Colt collectors are really after. This could be your opportunity to get a one of a kind heirloom to pass on to your grandchildren and beyond. At the very least there are many amongst these generations that should not be overlooked.
And another thing that’s great about these revolvers? They’ll all be available at our December Premier Auction, and most likely for a fraction of the cost of an embellished First Generation
You can order a 3 volume catalog set now for the December Auction.
Rock Island Auction
7819 42nd Street West
Rock Island, Illinois 61201