Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Open Top

When cartridges came out, back in the early 1860s and started to get wide acceptance, Colt found themselves with an abundance of handguns that could be easily converted to cartridge use.  Unfortunately for Colt, a fellow named Rollin White had a patent on the bored-through revolver cylinder that made cartridge use easy in a revolver.

White defended his patent through the civil war, and Colt continued to produce revolvers for the US armed forces, percussion cap and ball revolvers.  A number of companies including Smith and Wesson, paid White a royalty for producing revolvers that would accept cartridges. White's patent expired on April 3, 1869.  Until then, Colt had never produced a revolver that would infringe on White's patent, but they were ready.

Two engineers working for Colt at the time, Charles Richards and William Mason, had designed a conversion that would allow cap-and-ball revolvers to use cartridges.  This is called the Richards-Mason conversion and several thousand revolvers of all stripes were converted to use cartridges.  In 1872, the Army adopted the .45 Colt cartridge as a standard for handgun use, and in 1973, Colt introduced the Model P, or the Model 1873, also called the Peacemaker.

I tell you all of this to get the history straight in my head, and to try to demonstrate how fast the firearms industry was moving at that time.  Cartridge conversions were fairly short-lived, although I'm sure that lots of fellows who had an old cap-and-ball revolver continued to buy conversion kits for several years thereafter.

Uberti is producing a conversion revolver in several varieties.  I managed to look closely at one yesterday at the club shoot.  Ricochet Rick, a fellow shooter, picked one up a week ago and I briefly got an opportunity to handle it.    Of course, these are allowed under CFDA rules and we call the Open Tops.  Rick says that his is a Navy conversion in .45 Colt, and it looks like this:

I must admit that I was quite taken with the little revolver.  It seemed much lighter in my hands than the other long-guns I've handled.  The little gun felt almost svelte.  Certainly lighter than my Turnbull Vaquero, and seemingly lighter than other Colt clones I've handled.

It's an interesting gun, from an interesting time period, and it's something I'll be thinking about in the near future.

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