February 6, 2020
By Brian Beck
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When first released in 1927 ,the Colt Detective Special was intended for pretty much exactly what the name implies: a small frame double action revolver in the considerably powerful .38 Special caliber that could be concealed by detectives, plain clothes police officers, or average citizens. When selling or buying the Detective Special it is important to be able to identify the four distinct “Issues” that collectors classify them in, much like the three generations of the Colt Single Action Army. Colt Detective Special Serial Numbers are key.
The easiest way of determine the gun's series is searching for your Colt Detective Special serial number (found on the frame, visible when the cylinder is open) through Colt’s website for free. This will give you a manufacture date that can be applied to the following Issues. For a deeper dive into the history of the Colt Detective Special check out our blog post covering it.
The start date of the First Issue of Colt Detective Specials is easy enough to pin down as it was 1927, when the revolver was first released. The end date of this Issue is a bit contentious among Detective Special collectors, but for our purposes we will use the date of 1946, which is in line with the latest issues of the Blue Book of Gun Values. This is the date where many changes were made to the design, which we will discuss in the next section. Some collectors point to 1933 as the end of the First Issue when the little snub nose with a square butt switched over to a rounded butt. First issue revolvers are quite desirable and would do very well in any of our auctions if you would like to consign one with Rock Island Auction Company.
The Second Issue for Colt Detective Specials began in 1947 and would eventually end up the largest of the four issues. During this Issue Colt began making some modifications to the sights, moving away from the “half-moon” front sight of the First Issue and to a new, wider, ramp type front sight. Other changes were made during this issue, including grooves on the hammer and trigger instead of checkering, a smooth cylinder latch instead of checkered, and an extended ejector rod. The Second Issue of Colt Detective Specials ended in 1972, but they are still widely available at almost any price point and condition level, browse our catalog and see for yourself.
The Third Issue of Colt Detective Special Revolvers began in 1973, and is often quite easy to pick out when compared to the first two Issues. The biggest change with this issue would be the addition of the ejector rod housing to the bottom of the barrel. Colt also changed the front sight yet again during this Issue, ditching the old short ramp of the last Issue. The Detective Specials of the Third Issue, and those after, were fitted with a long ramp front sight that slopes up for nearly the entire length of the barrel. The Third Issue revolvers are often quite desirable among collectors because they were the first Issue rated for .38 Special +P ammunition. The Third Issue and Detective Special as a model was discontinued in 1986.
As is often the case with large gun manufacturers, there are often plenty of extra parts laying around, even from discontinued models. Why wouldn’t they gather up all of these parts, assemble them into guns, and sell them to the public as an “extremely limited release while supplies last special edition”? Well that is exactly what Colt did in 1993. However, to their surprise, the limited issue sold extremely well. Due to high sales they decided to continue making the Colt Detective Special for two more years, before it was yet again discontinued in 1995. This issue is physically almost identical to the last issue, other than the Pachmayr rubber grips they were fitted with. The last two Issues are probably the most accessible of these revolvers for those looking for a shooter or a carry gun and can be found in our catalogs regularly.
This, of course, only covers the four original issues of the Colt Detective Special. The would eventually come the SF-VI (Stainless Frame) and the DS-II (Detective Special II). For collectors, there are also a variety of barrel, lengths, calibers, military models, embellished models, and finishes to find across the various issues. Combine this with their low cost of entry, fun factor, and ease of carrying concealed and you have one desirable little wheelgun.
The little snubnose revolver largely credited for starting it all, also gave rise to numerous other variants of small, concealable revolvers for Colt such as the Banker's Special, and the Commando Special. Its frame, when switched to aluminum, saw the birth of the Colt Cobra, which in turn evolved into the rare M13 Aircrewman, the Courier, the Agent, and the Viper. How's that for a family tree?
If you are looking to buy a Colt Detective Special or have one that you are interested in consigning please don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-238-8022 or visit our website https://www.rockislandauction.com/
Anyone thinking about dipping their toe into the world of firearms collecting should visit one of Rock Island Auction Company’s Sporting & Collector
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