Why is the Colt Python So Popular?
By Joel Kolander
Around Rock Island Auction Company, collector firearms are a way of life. Whether it’s guns from the Old West, Class III machine guns, or the firearms used in any number of wars and conflicts, they tend to enjoy a perpetual popularity. Their place in history is significant if not downright important, and people will always be fascinated by that. It’s rare then that a genre of collector firearms or a particular model would enjoy a sudden upswing in popularity. New historic events, by their very nature, don’t happen frequently. So when a firearm or class of collector firearms experiences a rapid rise in popularity, collectors take notice. Enter the Colt Python.
Of course, saying that the Colt Python is experiencing a “rapid upswing” as a collector firearm is a bit of an understatement. It’s been more of a rocket ship for these trusty wheelguns. We covered some of their growth back in October 2013 in an article entitled, “Stocks, Bonds, or Barrels?” In that story was the table below, which showed the steady increase of the gun in recent years.
Those figures were obtained from sale averages achieved by Rock Island Auction Company and they are a direct representation of what the market will support (because it did). Finding the upward trend is not difficult. What’s more astonishing is what happened in 2014. Our December 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction contained a good selection of Colt snake guns and our auction hall absolutely came alive when it was time for them to cross the auction block. We wrote about it in a post-auction article which described the events as,
“The end of Saturday was quite a surprise to everyone in attendance. As Colt “Snake Guns” began to cross the block, the auction hall began to buzz. Every phone line was filled and online bidders began to make their presence felt as numerous collectors scrambled to own one of the popular revolvers. Bids couldn’t be taken quickly enough as the values soared and jaws dropped while the numbers reached previously unheard of heights. A feeding frenzy had begun. An R. L. Wilson special order Colt Python in lot 1789, with a high estimate of $4,500, would see a sale price of $11,500. Another Python, this time a scarce, inscribed, three-inch barrel Combat Python with its original box in lot 1792, would go even higher and sell for $12,650. These numbers were not rare! Numerous Pythons, Anacondas, Cobras, and Diamondbacks would exceed the $5,000 mark and many surpassed the $10,000 mark. It could indicate an extremely interesting trend for those who seek or collect these revolvers.”
If we included 2014 on the table shown here, it would have an average sale price of $3,805.88, and that even includes an adjustment for a cased set of “Snake Eyes” Pythons to be counted as two separate guns. So what gives? Why has the Python, a revolver that’s been around since 1955, all of a sudden seeing some pretty explosive growth in the last three years? Let’s take a look shall we?
The issue of high quality has not been an issue for the Colt Python. If anything, there is the rumor that later quality Pythons fell away a bit from their initial high quality. That said, there certainly wasn’t any revamping of the Python that would’ve increased its quality and therefore popularity among collectors. In fact, when it was introduced in 1955 it was done as a premium revolver, designed to compete with the finest double actions available. It succeeded. A number of its design aspects such as its balance, weight, smooth trigger, and small tolerances gave the gun a refined feel, high accuracy, and reliability that few have matched. Colt Historian R.L. Wilson has a well-cited quote, calling the Python the “Rolls-Royce of Colt revolvers” and the well-known British author and firearms expert Ian V. Hogg called it the “best revolver in the world.” High praise from reliable sources indeed, but the superior quality is hardly a recent development and cannot account for the surge in prices and popularity.
To put it simply, the Colt Python just looks like a big, powerful, classic revolver. It’s fat, simple grip, beefy snout, and swing out out cylinder make it baddest man in the room that never has to tell anyone for them to know. There’s no over-sized, unmanageable caliber. No ostentatious advertising campaigns. Just a simple, well-made revolver that’s not a design fad. Well, OK. Maybe there used to be some pretty gaudy ads, but it’s safe to say that those were before their meteoric rise as collector firearms.
Practicality – Collector Firearms
It’s difficult to argue against the practicality of a well-made gun. After all, if a firearm isn’t well made and in turn doesn’t perform reliably, how truly practical can it be? Not only is the Colt Python built to do what it does very well, but it has been proven to be a practical tool in the hands of many police officers. The Python was a fine option for law enforcement officers before the shift to semi-automatics began to grip the land. In any case, the time the Python spent in service gave it a “field test” that many firearms do not receive. If it had performed poorly in the field, that would not escape its history.
Also attesting to the practicality of the gun is its choice of caliber. In its standard configuration of .357 Magnum, the gun packs plenty of power for nearly any law enforcement group, some fun range time, or even defending one’s castle. The caliber has been around since 1934, is a standard cartridge for most stores to carry, has excellent power, and shows no sign of going anywhere.
Granted, a portion of the Python’s rise in price and popularity is the same rise enjoyed by nearly every other type of firearm. Talk of legislation against firearms drove sales like none other. People want to make sure they have the guns they want in their possession should the worst occur. Part of the Python’s price may have risen due to this, but if this were the sole cause we would similar rises across the majority of firearms and not this particular model. It was easy to see a rise in price of “black rifles” and AR platform semi-automatic rifles because those were in the most danger of having legislation passed against them. Modern sport rifles were unquestionably targeted the hardest (despite handguns being the weapon of choice for criminals, but that’s another story). Meanwhile this solid wheelgun received almost NO attention from the media or anti-gun groups because it’s not a semi-automatic, its price doesn’t make it attractive to criminals and it is therefore unlikely to be used in crimes (high profile or otherwise), and it only carries six rounds, a temporarily acceptable number for anti-gunners. The Colt Python would not have been on anyone’s radar for anything other than being a handgun, so while it may have enjoyed a small bump from potential legislation, it’s nothing that would push it anywhere close to its current prices. Besides, modern sport rifles have already seen their bubble burst. If Pythons were riding that same bubble, they would have fallen right along side them.
Maybe here is where we start to get to the meat of things. First of all, let me say that I’m well aware that the use of Colt Pythons in TV and movies extends back decades. While popular trivia may let us know that the Colt Python was the sidearm of choice for Hutch on 1970s TV show “Starsky & Hutch,” it is not well known that its use can be traced back as far as 1969 according to the Internet Movie Firearms Database. The gun’s classic, tough looks allow to be an “every pistol” in a number of TV shows and movies – always looking the part for some lawman in the 60s, 70s, and even 80s. That said, why wasn’t the Python more popular than this before now if it was featured so frequently?
1. Movies Several factors could be at play, any of which would require more research to confirm or refute. The first is that more people go to the movies today than ever before. Modern box office numbers are untouchable even when counting for inflation. More people watching means more people see these guns being used and possibly falling in love with this big, sturdy-looking revolver. This is likely the weakest of the hypotheses.
2. Streaming TV could also be a factor. For example, the Colt Python is featured prominently in the current television series “The Walking Dead.” Wielded by lead character Sheriff Rick Grimes, the gun is being seen by record numbers of people who tune in to see this wildly popular show. The show initially airs on AMC, a premium cable network. However, previous seasons of the show are also available on streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Instant video for a comparatively modest price, as low as $7.99 for a single month. Enjoying the current popularity wave of zombie culture, the success of Walking Dead, and widespread availability of both means the Python is being seen almost weekly by record numbers of people. You can’t buy that kind of advertising.
3. Video games. I know, I know… video games get blamed for everything from bad grades, to obesity, to any number of crimes, both the benign and the violent. However, the popularity of video games is not something to be overlooked. Most notable of video games sparking an interest in firearms is the Call of Duty series. Stretching back all the way to 2003, the COD series of games has featured real life weapons in nearly every single title. Since its inception COD has over $10 BILLION in sales, each one teaching a player the appearance and gross characteristics of say, an M1 Garand, an MP5, a G36C, a BAR, a P90, a G11, a Type 99, and even what different shoulder launchers look like. Many are quick to poo-poo the knowledge of COD players, which if based solely on gameplay would be admittedly thin, but would be hard pressed to find a more effective tool for teaching rudimentary knowledge (appearance, action type, caliber) and spurring enthusiasm.
The Colt Python has been featured in video games where it is mostly listed as a “.357 Magnum” or “revolver,” but the appearance in unmistakable. The video game Call of Duty: Black Ops, the seventh of the series, featured the Python by name (without mentioning Colt). It sold a total 5.6 million units in the U.S & U.K. in the first 24 hours. That’s $360 million in sales in 1 day, and $650 million in 5 days worldwide! Even the acclaimed American Sniper movie released last week “only” landed a record $105 million opening-week box office. Granted, video games are more expensive than movie tickets, but the numbers are still staggering. Plus, while someone might only see a movie once in the theater, players are literally dumping days of time into these video games, playing them over and over again. That’s a lot of eyeballs learning that the Python, typically programmed in games to be more powerful than its semi-automatic counterparts, is for lack of better term, one mean mother.
So with its popular appearances, and more media than ever being available to more people than ever, does that all translate into more sales? Do those sales help diminish the supply and raise the price? After all, how many kids playing these video games can legally buy a Python, let alone afford one? That is true, and a large portion of those playing the video games will be under the legal age to purchase a handgun, However, there are still millions playing that can buy a handgun. Many of the children who grew up playing video games are now adults or young adults that play video games and those adults have adult sized pocketbooks.
However, what all these mediums and popularity accomplish is to introduce a powerful, glamorized, and beautiful gun to an extremely large group of novices. Even a small number of purchases by this newly enthusiastic group would have a large effect on the hundreds of thousands of Colt Pythons available. This in turn, has a snowball effect. Collectors see the supply of Pythons getting slimmer. It’s harder to find a Python for anyone that wants one. Better snap one up before they’re gone, right? Now collectors are buying Pythons too, further depleting the available supply and also contributing to increased prices. Casual gun buyers also find out how desirable they are and look for good deals on Pythons, further driving demand and price and it just keeps going. Pretty soon, folks that can’t get Pythons turn to Anacondas, Cobras, Vipers, Diamondbacks, and other Colt “snake guns.” Can’t get a snake gun or afford one? There are some attractive, fat-gripped Smith & Wesson revolvers that just might do the trick! The popularity and demand for the Python is truly astounding, not only does it affect its own price and availability, but also guns similar to it.
What Does It All Mean?
But who cares right? Why should we care about the price of a single model of revolver enjoying a bit of a renaissance? Well, for folks who want one, it can be somewhat important, but for collectors and folks using firearms as their retirement fund, the ramifications can be even more important. Even if you have no desire to own one, you may stumble across one at an excellent price and stand the opportunity to make some profit, but you have to know the opportunity exists in the first place. That would potentially be a pretty quick turnaround for some profit, but the other two groups mentioned have some larger questions in mind. For example:
- Is this another bubble like we just saw happen to the AR platform rifles? If so, casual purchasers, as well as collectors and investors, could probably stand to wait for the price to come down if they still want one.
- Is this the ground floor? How many years can Pythons experience consistent growth? If your experience tells you they’re not slowing down anytime soon, this would be a great time to invest in multiple Pythons.
- Will they plateau? Instead of falling as in a bubble or rising over decades like Colt percussion revolvers or antique Winchester lever actions, could the guns simply be adjusting to a new market value where they will eventually stabilize?
There are all sorts of possibilities of what could happen to Pythons, snake guns, and the revolver market in general. No one can say for certain what the end result will be, but two things are certain. It’s going to be a heck of a ride to find out, and I still want one in my collection.