Collecting Antique .22 Caliber Revolvers

The Colt Open Top .22 Revolver. Photo Courtesy of Rock Island Auctions.

The Colt Open Top .22 Revolver. Photo Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company.

Condition and Cleaning

Be discriminating about the condition of any antique revolver you contemplate buying. There are several “musts.” All parts should be intact and the gun in good working order. While some nicks and age marks are to be expected, 80 percent or more of original finish, with the markings sharp, is required to qualify as excellent. In some cases a patina or thin coating of age over the finish is found. Do not attempt to remove this for you would destroy the character of antiquity.

A sanded or buffed gun, one newly plated or brilliantly brightened, will have lost value, often drastically. Leave ‘em alone!

Your first inclination on acquiring a revolver of 1880 may be to disassemble it. In a word, don’t. The integral parts have operated for almost a century without your probing screwdriver and only harm can result from your efforts.

Oil lightly if you wish, but leave the piece intact. If operation problems occur, try to find an “exploded” or isometric drawing of the model. Then, and only then, should disassembly be attempted—and make sure your screwdrivers really fit. The general rule in the care and repair of antique models is “the less done, the better.”

Before buying that first antique .22, you should know and comply with the gun laws of your particular city and state. In many cases, antique guns (those manufactured prior to 1898) are exempt from regulations applied to modern guns. It is best, however, to have whatever registration is required before doing any buying. Your collection might include a gun made in 1899 or later, or you might be called on to prove date of manufacture of a borderline piece.

With knowledge of values, or at least prices, you are ready to begin your search. Your local gun store may deal primarily in new or current model handguns with a stray antique offered only occasionally. Where then can you look?