Colt Official Police .38 Special
Colt Official Police in .38 Special. manufacture date of 1950. This revolver is in outstanding condition, with excellent bluing. For an almost 70 year old firearm there is very little wear. We’re not 100% but the grips are Colt marked and appear to be original with the gun. The timing and lockup on the revolver is correct and tight. The original box is included with the gun. 4″ barrel.
History of the Colt Official Police
Introduced to the firearms market in 1927, the Colt Official Police is a medium frame, double-action revolver with a six-round cylinder, primarily chambered for the .38 Special cartridge, and manufactured by the Colt’s Manufacturing Company. The intended specific target market for the Official Police was mainly law enforcement agencies and it became one of the best selling police firearms of all time, eventually in the 1950s coming to exemplify typical peace officer weaponry. The Official Police was also used by various U.S. and allied military forces during World War II.
Colt Official Police
Caliber: .38 Special
Barrel Length: 4″
Serial Number: 779282Add to Cart
Category: UsedSours: https://www.d4guns.com/product/colt-official-police-38-special/
Made for a time when cops and citizens carried a pistol in their pocket, this handgun served for decades before semiautos became more popularSTORY AND PHOTOS BY FRANK JARDIM
I’ve madea habit of perusing the CenturyArms.com website’s Surplus Corner to see what gun bargains they’ve turned up. Recently I found a deal that felt like a time warp back to the 1980s. They had a bunch of clean, well-kept, 1960s vintage, police turn-in Colt Police Positive .38 Special revolvers at really reasonable prices.
At a gun show, prices at that level get Colt collectors handing over their money as fast as they can. I bought one for the sheer pleasure of shooting this great-handling piece and it got me thinking about their long history.
The Colt Police Positive Special revolver is nearly forgotten today, except among collectors (and shooters over 70), but at one time – and really for a long time – it was a big deal. In its heyday, the .38 S&W Special cartridge, with its 158-grain bullet moving at 870 feet per second, was regarded as a very potent defensive load, and revolvers were the most popular handguns for lawmen and private citizens alike.
This was a pistol that gave S&W fits, as they never had a comparable product to challenge its niche as the smallest six-shot revolver chambered in .38 Special. If you didn’t mind a bigger .38 Special, the medium-framed, six-shot S&W Military & Police Revolver generally trumped Colt’s medium-framed, and slightly clunky, Official Police Revolver.
But if you wanted a six-shot that you could keep in your front pants pocket, the Colt’s Police Positive Special had no peer. Pocket carry was once very common, especially before the Second World War. In old photographs of city policemen, you’ll often note the absence of a visible weapon. They have one. It’s just in a pocket holster, rather than hanging from a gun belt.
Colt’s Police Positive Special revolver was chambered in .38 Special, .32-20 WCF and, later, .32 Colt New Police caliber. It was in continuous production with few changes for 68 years. It’s the older brother of the still famous Detective Special snubnose introduced in 1927. They share a common frame, named the D-frame after WWII. It was Colt’s most widely used frame and the basis for the Diamondback and Viper revolvers, as well as the snubnosed Agent, Cobra and Commando. According to the serial number data, over a million Police Positive Specials and Detective Specials were produced with virtually no significant changes until the 1970s, when larger grips and heavier barrels with integral ejector rod shields changed the character of the guns dramatically.
THOSE LAST D-FRAMEguns are outside the scope of this story. Our focus is on the Police Positive Special and what made it so special. In the 1908 Colt Catalog, the first year it was offered for sale, it was advertised as “The most compact and also the lightest revolver ever produced to take this powerful ammunition.
The most effective pocket and house arm on the market.” The emphasis on “compact,” “lightest” and “effective” were in the advertisement. These qualities translated to mass consumer appeal. That probably sounds crazy to younger shooters, reared in the present era dominated by semiauto handguns, but those were different times.
By the turn of the 20th century, the double-action, swing-out cylinder revolver had already emerged as the premier fighting handgun. The newly devised autoloading pistols were marvels to be sure, and some models were immensely popular (like the .32 ACP Model 1900 Browning), but the double-action revolver was perceived by many to have a major advantage over the autoloader.
This attitude persisted longest in law enforcement, finally losing favor in the 1980s. However, then as now, the revolver was reliable, regardless of variations in ammunition, and it was simple to use. Revolvers didn’t jam and if the hammer fell on a dud round, the shooter simply pulled the trigger again. There were no slides, or safeties or magazines to manipulate. The revolver was ready to go the moment a loaded cylinder was closed, and the firing drill was always the same: aim at the target and squeeze the trigger.
In the revolver market of the last century, Colt and Smith & Wesson were the major players, and fierce competitors. Each drove the other to continually improve their technology in a battle for military, police and civilian sales. The result was traditional revolver design (barrel on top firing from the top chamber of the cylinder) and manufacturing quality reached the peak of its refinement before the first decade of the 20th century had passed.
The caliber spectrum was topped by .45 Colt, but the majority of revolvers were chambered for various .38 and .32 cartridges. Future design modification would be driven by consumer demand for adjustable sights, lighter weight or ballistic improvements requiring stronger, heavier guns, but the physical forms and mechanisms took shape over 110 years ago.
By 1908, the Colt and S&W product lines were more alike than they were different. Both had a large, medium and small frame for their revolvers. Colt’s large-frame New Service was akin to S&W’s .44 Hand Ejector. Colt’s medium frame used on the Army Special (the Official Police after 1927) was comparable to the S&W Military & Police .38 Hand Ejector, the latter becoming the most successful revolver in the world. Colt’s small frame, which they adapted to the compact rounded-grip Pocket Positive and square-gripped Police Positive, was mirrored in S&W’s little .32 Hand Ejector frame. However, Colt had something that S&W didn’t.
IN 1907, INa move that showed astounding prescience, Colt brought out a new revolver based on a new frame. It was the Police Positive Special. The gun was basically a square-butt Police Positive with a stronger, ¼ inch longer frame and cylinder to accommodate what Colt saw as the new up-and-coming police cartridge, .38 S&W Special. It was also chambered in .32-20 WCF, a popular small game cartridge for Winchester rifles.
In 1900, the police and personal defense market was dominated by .32-caliber cartridges (.32 Short and Long Colt, .32 Colt New Police, .32 S&W and .32 S&W Long). Though they lacked stopping power, the revolvers chambered for them were small, had short cylinders and frames making them easily concealable, and were quite light to carry in the pocket. Actual pocket carry, rather than holster carry, is what these guns were intended for.
The recoil was mild, making them easier to shoot well too.
As the first decade of the new century progressed, the law enforcement caliber trend shifted to more powerful .38 cartridges, which included the .38 S&W, .38 Colt Police Positive/New Police (Colt’s shameless copy of the S&W cartridge), and S&W’s new .38 S&W Special, introduced in 1899 for their medium-framed Military & Police Hand Ejector.
The .38 S&W Special promised and delivered better terminal ballistics than any .38 before it. It was a lengthened .38 S&W, upcharged from 18 to 21.5 grains of powder, with its bullet weight increased from 150 to 158 grains. Compared to the short .38s, the .38 S&W Special had about 200 foot-pounds of energy compared to their 150 foot-pounds, and 755 fps to their 700 fps. There was really only one drawback with it.
None of the small-frame revolvers of the time could chamber it. If you wanted the stopping power of the .38 S&W Special, it came at the price of the extra size and weight of a medium-framed revolver. The .38 S&W and .38 Colt New Police rounds were quite stubby (about 1⅛ inches overall length), so they were a perfect fit in the short cylinders of the compact, small-framed Colt Police Positive and S&W’s Regulation Police revolver, though because of the S&W’s tiny cylinder, it could only hold five rounds to Colt’s six.
Colt’s frame sizes were just a little bit bigger than the S&W’s and that good fortune allowed the Police Positive the growing room to be adapted to .38 Special. The resulting Police Positive Special had the small size and easy carrying characteristics of a small-frame pistol but packed the punch of a medium-frame revolver. To put it in perspective, a 4-inch-barrel Police Positive Special weighed 22.3 ounces and was 8¼ inches long and 4⅜ inches high. The round-butt S&W Military & Police, their smallest .38 Special, weighed 28.7 ounces and was 9 inches long and 4⅞ inches high. The Colt had a smaller grip and a thinner, unsupported ejector rod, which contributed to its slim feel.
FROM THE PRACTICALstandpoint of size, weight and power, the Police Positive Special was already the perfect policeman’s gun, but Colt also had a safety advantage in their “Colt Positive Lock.” The action included an automatic acting metal bar that immovably blocked the forward movement of the hammer unless the trigger was pulled, making the revolver drop safe, a rare feature at the time. This safer action is where the “positive” in the model name was derived from.
DEAD FOOT ARMS
S&W’s double-action trigger pull was smoother than Colt’s, which by design stacked slightly at the end of the pull as the hand held the cylinder tightly against the bolt. Although I personally prefer the double-action trigger pull of S&W over Colt’s, after shooting both I’m convinced that any effect on practical accuracy is more imagined than real.
The Police Positive Special has small grips by today’s standards and usually gets criticized for them by modern shooters. I actually like them, and especially those on the pre-1928 Police Positive Specials, before they widened the space between the front grip frame and back of the trigger guard. The space fits my fingers perfectly and I can wrap my hand fully around the slim stocks for a firm hold. I have average-sized hands and I can see why those with bigger hands and thicker fingers might hate the grip ergonomics. Looking at it from the manufacturer’s perspective, big hands can handle small grips, but small hands can’t handle big grips.
A bigger grip also defeats the purpose of keeping the revolver as small as possible for concealment and ease of carry. The graceful minimalism of the Police Positive Special is something never seen today in revolver design, despite the availability of stronger materials and CNC machining.
The beauty of this little pistol is in its function. It has everything it needs and nothing it doesn’t. S&W criticized Colt’s unsupported ejector rods, but to me this has never rung true. The nature of Colt’s action design and clockwise rotating cylinder hold the cylinder more tightly in position while firing than a S&W does.
If bending an ejector rod was a significant problem, Colt probably would have supported theirs before 1976, when they were producing their fourth issue (a collector term) of the Police Positive Special. At that time, they renamed it simply Police Positive. It turned out to be the beginning of the end for this venerable design. Two years later, in 1978, production of that variant ceased.
The 1970s design changes were significant because the extra weight and bulk imparted by the barrel with integral ejector shroud and oversized grips ruined two of the gun’s key attributes – lightness and slimness. Perhaps it really didn’t matter by then because true pocket carry was, like Colt’s major role in the police revolver market, pretty much over.
The Police Positive Special’s D-frame survived a little longer in the revised snubnoses until 1986, and was briefly resurrected in the 1990s for a final run of snubnoses and a final, fifth issue of the Police Positive Special called the Police Positive MK V. It sported a new and even bulkier full underlug barrel and Packmeyer rubber grips.
The popular semiauto tide was flooding over revolvers by that time, so perhaps the MK V never really had a chance, but I wonder if the original slim and graceful Police Positive Specials might find a new market among women shooters. Women are the fastest growing demographic in the shooting sports these days. That was not the case during the entire production history of the Police Positive Special. It so happens, my wife laid claim to my new acquisition from Century Arms shortly after I got it and I don’t expect to see it again. I hope they are happy together.
Colt Official Police
The Colt Official Police is a medium frame, double-actionrevolver with a six-roundcylinder, primarily chambered for the .38 Specialcartridge, and manufactured by the Colt's Manufacturing Company. Released in 1908 as the Colt Army Special, the revolver was renamed the "Colt's Official Police" in 1927 in order to better market to law enforcement agencies. It became one of the best selling police firearms of all time, eventually in the 1950s coming to exemplify typical law enforcement officerweaponry. The Official Police was also used by various U.S. and allied military forces during World War II.
Development and history
As the 20th Century began, the older .32 caliber revolvers which had been standard-issue for the majority of American police departments began to be phased out in favor of the larger-bore .38 caliber. In 1908 Colt introduced a sleek and modernized revolver they dubbed the Army Special, which in the powerful (for the time) and popular .38 Special quickly became the issue service revolver of many departments. During the same period, revolvers began to fall out of favor with the U.S. Military, especially after the adoption on the U.S. Model of 1911semi-automatic pistol. As military sales of their revolvers dropped off, Colt searched for an alternative market and realized the popularity and strong sales of their product line with civilian law enforcement agencies could form their replacement market.
By 1927 the overwhelming sales of two popular models, the Army Special and Colt Police Positive, had assured Colt's dominance of the law enforcement firearms market. Colt's marketing strategy was further fine-tuned by making a few superficial alterations to the Army Special revolver and then renaming it as the “Official Police” model. The changes included adding checkering to the trigger, matting the topstrap of the frame and widening the rear sightgroove. Colt also upgraded the quality of the gun's finish from a dull blued finish to a highly polished blued surface. In 1930, Colt scored a marketing coup when they publicized that their Official Police model could easily handle the firing of heavily loaded .38 rounds intended for competitor Smith & Wesson's new large N-frame revolver, the .38-44, none of the comparable S&W revolvers could manage this feat. By 1933 the Colt sales catalog listed many law enforcement agencies as having adopted the OP as a sidearm, including the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kansas City, Compton and Signal Hill Police Departments and other police departments. In addition many state police organizations and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation chose the OP as their issue revolver. The U.S. Army also bought some of the revolvers, issuing them to military police and to federal agencies in need of a revolver for their armed agents, such as the Treasury Department, Coast Guard, and the Postal Inspection Service. Many Official Police revolvers were also bought by the police forces and militaries of various South American countries.
Between May 1940 and June 1941, 49,764 Official Police revolvers in .38 New Police or .38/200 caliber were purchased by the British Purchasing Commission and shipped to the United Kingdom for use by British and Commonwealth armed forces as a substitute standard sidearm. These revolvers bore British military acceptance markings and had a 5" barrel; the butt was fitted with a military-style lanyard ring. Most of these OP revolvers were assembled from commercial-grade parts made before 1942.
When the U.S. became involved in World War II, the U.S. government requested contracts to supply .38 revolvers required for arming security personnel charged with the security of government buildings, shipyards, and defense plant installations against sabotage or theft. Commencing in 1941, small quantities of the .38 Colt Official Police were procured directly from the Defense Supplies Corporation (DSC). When government purchasing officials objected to production delays of the OP, as well as the unit cost, Colt responded by simplifying the gun. Savings were achieved by eliminating all unnecessary exterior polishing operations, substituting a smooth-face trigger and hammer, and fitting the gun with simplified checkered wood grips with the Colt medallion; the latter was soon replaced by 'Coltwood' molded plastic grips. Instead of the normal bluing, the revolver was given a dull parkerized finish. Dubbed the Colt Commando, the weapon was primarily used to arm units of Military police, security guards at U.S. defense plant installations and shipyards, as well as limited clandestine issue to agencies involved in overseas espionage and military intelligence.
In mid-1942 the Springfield Ordnance District (SOD) was given control over procurement and distribution of the Commando, which transferred the revolvers to the end user. A few Commandos were shipped to the U.S. Maritime Commission and used as small arms equipment on U.S. merchant ships and ships provided to the Allies under Lend-Lease. Most Commando wartime production went to the Defense Supplies Corporation (DSC). for use by security and police forces, while approximately 1,800 Commandos were used by the U.S. Navy, with another 12,800 revolvers distributed to various military intelligence agencies. Control over procurement changed in 1944, after the DSC formally objected to being charged additional handling fees by the armed forces, and was then authorized to procure the Commando directly from Colt.
After the Allied victory, Colt resumed commercial production and returned to the prewar polished blued finish, but retained the plastic grips which they labeled “Coltwood” until 1954 when the checkered wooden grips were reintroduced. During the postwar period, Colt fell on difficult financial times and the company introduced few new models. At Smith & Wesson, both output and new model civilian and police sales improved, and the sales margin gap between the two corporations progressively tightened. Finally in the 1960s S&W took over the lead. A contributing factor to this change may have been Smith & Wesson's generally lower cost per unit, accompanied by a double-action trigger pull on their military & police model that was preferred by many agencies teaching the new combat-oriented double-action revolver training. Colt announced the discontinuation of the Official Police in 1969, stating that competitive production of the design was no longer economically feasible. With a total production of over 400,000 pistols, the Official Police ranks as one of the most successful handguns ever made.
The Official Police was machined of fine carbon steel, with bright royal Colt blued as well as nickel-plated finishes, and was offered in 4, 5 and 6 inches (100, 130 and 150 mm) barrels. Built on Colt's .41 or “E” frame, it was manufactured in a variety of chamberings including .22 LR, .32-20 (discontinued in 1942), .41 Long Colt (discontinued in 1938), and the most common and popular, the .38 Special. Colt's “Positive Lock” firing pin block safety is a standard feature of the revolver, preventing the firing pin from striking the primer unless the trigger was deliberately pulled. The pistol's sights consist of a blade front with a fixed ironopen rear sight, which is a simple V-notch shaped groove milled into the revolver's top strap. The top strap has a matte finish to reduce glare down the sight plane.
The Commando was a wartime variant of the Official Police, manufactured with either a two or four inch barrel, and incorporating several production economies including a non-gloss Parkerized finish. The Commando also lacked the usual metal checkering on the hammer, trigger, and cylinder latch, as well as the reflection-deadening treatment of the commercial version's top strap. In addition, plastic material replaced the wood grips of the civilian model. Approximately 48,611 Commando revolvers were purchased by the government during World War II. Of this total, approximately 12,800 Commando revolvers were issued to various intelligence services such as US Military intelligence and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Many of the latter were procured with the two-inch barrel, referred to as the “Junior Commando”. A few Commandos saw service overseas in the war zone. Regular production deliveries of two-inch "Junior Commando" revolvers began in March 1943, at approximately serial number 9,000. More than 12,000 of the two-inch Commandos encountered today are actually postwar conversions from four-inch models produced during the war.
A rare variant featuring a rounded grip, with barrel lengths of two and four inches. With a very limited production run of 2,500 units produced from 1955-1956, the Marshal became a true collectable.
The moniker “Official Police” was borrowed by one model in a new generation of revolvers Colt introduced in the late1960s, called the “MK III” series. MK III models consisted of simpler versions of several classic Colt revolvers with updated lockwork. The MK III product line was actually a different and original design based on a new “J” frame, which failed to attain commercial success and was cancelled after only three years.
- ^"Serial Number Data". Archived from the original on 2012-03-30. Retrieved 2020-08-14.
- ^ abcdefghijklmnopqrs“Colt's Official Police Revolver”Archived 2008-09-26 at the Wayback Machine, Shooting Times magazine Web site – Handgun Reviews. Accessed August 13, 2008.
- ^ abcdefghijklAyoob, Massad. “The Colt Official Police: 61 years of production, 99 years of service”, Guns magazine. BNET Web site – Find articles. Accessed August 13, 2008.
- ^ abc“Colt Official Police”Archived 2008-06-10 at the Wayback Machine, Bellum Web site. Accessed August 20, 2008.
- ^Pate, Charles, U.S. Handguns of World War II, Andrew Mowbray Publishing, ISBN 0-917218-75-2, ISBN 978-0-917218-75-0
- ^“Colt Commando”Archived 2008-04-30 at the Wayback Machine, Bellum Web site. Accessed August 21, 2008.
- ^Pate, Charles, The World War II Commando RevolverArchived 2011-01-26 at the Wayback Machine, Man At Arms Magazine, Mowbray Publishing (October 1997), retrieved 3 April 2011
- ^ abPate, Charles, The World War II Commando Revolver, Man At Arms Magazine, Mowbray Publishing (October 1997), retrieved 3 April 2011
- ^ abcde“The World War II Commando Revolver”Archived 2008-10-13 at the Wayback Machine, Man at Arms Web site. Accessed August 21, 2008.
- ^ ab“Colt mk. III revolvers: Trooper, Lawman, Official Police (USA)”Archived 2008-09-14 at the Wayback Machine, World.guns.ru Web site. Accessed August 21, 2008.
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