WHEN WAS MY COLT MADE?
WHAT COLT MODEL DO I HAVE?
A common first question for a Colt owner is "When was my Colt made". The second question is often "What Colt do I have"?
And therein lies a real can of worms.
Before you can determine when a Colt was made, you first have to determine WHAT Colt model you have.
This can be a most difficult question to answer.
First, identifying a Colt revolver can be frustrating because beginning in 1840 Colt always started each new model at serial number "1", and progressed upward until the model was discontinued, OR until the mid-1960's when the serial number system changed to meet Federal law.
Since all Colt's started off at number "1" it's possible to have a number of older Colt firearms all with the same serial number.
In 1968 the Gun Control of 1968 was passed. This law mandated that from then on all new firearms had to have a serial number and that number had to be unique.
To comply with the law, Colt began adding letters to the serial numbers as prefixes and suffixes to make each firearm have a unique number.
An added issue is Colt's often confusing serial number system. Colt often mixed several models in the same serial number ranges or split models out by caliber.
During the mid-1950's the serial number data is so mixed as to be almost incomprehensible.
As example you may have a model of revolver made in .22 and in .38 Special, with the .22 revolver serial numbers mixed with a different model Colt, and the .38 caliber version of that model in yet a different model range.
Even after Colt began using unique serial numbers in the 1960's, Colt often combined a number of models into one serial number range.
As example in the late 1960's Colt started combining all small "D" frame models like the Detective Special, Cobra, Agent, Diamondback, Viper, Police Positive Special, etc in the same serial number ranges.
Because of Colt's serial number systems it may not be possible to identify what model a Colt is based on just the number.
Since many of these guns used the exact same barrel except for the model name stamped on it, we have situations where an owner is convinced he has a rare, unknown model of aluminum frame Detective Special.
In fact, he doesn't. What he has is an aluminum frame Cobra someone installed a Detective Special barrel on.
When he attempts to determine when his Colt was made, it comes back as a totally different model than what is stamped on the barrel.
Since these guns shared the same serial number ranges, it can be quite confusing as to just what you have.
The problem with identifying a Colt is that Colt only stamped the model name on the barrel. Most Colt revolvers had the same thread size and it was often possible to install a barrel from a totally different model on a frame.
Since the frame had no identifying name and often shared serial numbers with a totally different model, identifying what Colt model you have can be almost impossible in some cases.
Years ago gun parts were terribly expensive and often almost impossible to obtain. A gun owner or even gunsmith couldn't just log on or call up a big parts house and order the parts he needed.
Since parts were so difficult to get, it was common for barrels from other models to be used as replacements. Most people were happy to get their gun repaired and since the barrel was entirely usable, most people didn't care that the gun was one model but the barrel was marked as something else.
When you have anomalous information and just aren’t sure what you have, then is when you need the experts and that's the experts on the Colt Forum.
In most cases they can help you identify exactly what model of Colt you have. Then you can proceed to determine when it was made.
This leads us to HOW to determine when your Colt was made.
There are several ways.
The first source is the Colt Firearms Company.
Colt now has a serial number look-up data base on their web site. You plug in the serial number and it will give you a list of guns it could be. Since the data base seems to be a work in progress, many newer models may not be listed.
Here is where problems may first appear when the data base doesn't list what you think your Colt is, or returns no information.
If that doesn't return valid data, you can call Colt during normal business hours and they will give you a production date over the phone.
Note that they won't give you any more information. For that you have to buy a Colt Archive Letter.
Also note that the people working the phones are rushed, may not be totally familiar with Colt models and have been known to give out incorrect information.
Another source of information online is Proofhouse.com.
This site has a data base that ends in 1979, so any Colt made after that won't be covered:
R.L. Wilson is the last outsider to have access to the Colt Archive, and he has Colt serial number listings in several books and booklets. His book "Colt: An American Legend" has all Colt serial numbers for all models from 1836 into 1986 along with magnificent color photos of every Colt firearm model made since 1836.
On his web site he sells "The Blue Book Pocket Guide For Colt Dates of Manufacture" that goes into 2008.
Last, you can ask for help on the Colt Forum where a good deal of data is available from the members.