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The temptations.

As the price of Colt single-action revolvers and Winchester rifles go through the roof, fakes are showing up at every tuna. Up until now most antique guns have been purchased at gun show and auctions where the buyer has the opportunity to examine the piece and carefully examine the markings, Today, millions of expensive collector and historical guns are purchased on Internet auction sites and all you have is the sellers word the firearm is as described, If you discover you have been defrauded, usually the auction site will defend you legally and make great efforts to retrieve your money. But you must do your homework in the beginning.

If you discover you have been sold a fake you will immediately want to attack the seller with hostile words to vent your anger and frustration. It's possible the seller himself was conned, as well as the fellow before him. All parties involved could have lacked the sophisticated knowledge to detect subtle mis-marks and changes to the original gun, so please don't bring grief down on another soul unless you are certain he sold you a product with the intent to deceive.

Defining the word fake is difficult, but for our purpose, let's identify a fake as something created for the sole purpose of defrauding an unsuspecting buyer. Let's also focus mainly on Colt single actions since they are the most faked firearm of them all. Exchanging a 7 1/2" bulged barrel on an old Colt with a new 4 3/4'' factory barrel is not a fake because there is no "intent" to defraud. A letter from Colt will quickly verify the original configuration of the piece.

The first rule of the sophisticated collector is to always pay the price, usually $200 and up, to obtain a factory letter stating the exact original configuration of the revolver and to whom it was originally shipped. Even if you purchase a Colt with a factory letter as part of the price, you should always pay for another just to make sure the first one is an original Colt factory one--and not a fake. I had a gun in my shop awhile back that was not only a fake, but the letter attached to the sale was also a fake.

With today's wonderful computers and copy machines, forging a letter is child's play for men who work in the sewer. These letters are very easy to detect, but you have to have the knowledge to see the ever-present flaws.


There is a troubling aspect to defining fakes and many have pondered this facet at collectors meetings. An example is a man brings a family heirloom to me, let's say an 1860 Colt, and wants it restored to near original condition. He wants original lettering remarked in order to preserve this piece of family history, and has documentation proving the revolver originally belonged to a famous Texas Ranger who used it to fight Indians and thieves. It's the man's right to have the gun restored and preserved so family members can carry on the tradition and memories of their famous Texan.

As years go by and members of the family die without rightful heirs and the restored firearm is sold unceremoniously in an estate sale, the old Colt has now been innocently "laundered" and enters the collectors market. It looks original and is sold as "all original" since it has original marks and finish and has actually aged in the hands of the family to the point where it has gained that beautiful patina on the blued parts and brass handle. Is the gun a fake? I would not consider it as such because honest, unknowledgeable collectors have passed it on believing it to be in original condition. It will only be discovered after it gains a value around $2,500 to $5,000 and a sharp collector notices the restoration work. Those four digit monetary points are where serious money begins to take a closer look before handing over hard cash. This is the time when fakes begin to be screened out of the market.

But they still exist, and will continue to move through the minor collector marketplace. Fakes and other items are not like counterfeit money where they are removed from the market and destroyed. They just keep on defrauding.


I can continue to illustrate scores of examples of how guns enter the market innocently or as outright forgeries, but I will only call your attention to one more example. This has to do with modern engravers duplicating a famous Colt engravers pattern and leaving their artwork unsigned. It's a sore point with me an engraver is not proud enough of his work to sign it.

A factory letter can verify if the gun left the factory engraved, but if it was returned for engraving there might not be a record. All of you engravers out there who duplicate factory engraving or a style all your own, please, sign your name or place your mark somewhere in the engraving so the gun will not be passed on as original factory engraving. You must do this whether your customer wants it or not--and especially if he does not want it. Stamp it hard under the grip if necessary or incorporate it unobtrusively into the engraving.

Protect Yourself

How do you protect yourself from unscrupulous men whose only reason to exist is to cheat you out of your money and the pleasure of your hobby? There is no solid solution except to gather knowledge from as many sources as possible. Start buying books on old Colts, or on whatever firearm tweaks your fancy. I have close to 1,500 gun, hunting and historical books collected over the last 50 years, and they are worth their weight in gold to me when doing research.

Join a respected gun club in your area and go to their shows. If you do not have one in your state you can join one of the oldest and most respected collectors clubs, the Texas Gun Collectors Association, for $40 a year and receive a quarterly, a very well done color magazine. In the magazine are ads, lists, and articles written by the most respected gun collectors in the world. Don't let the name Texas distract you. Membership in the TGCA resides in every state, and many countries in Europe.

Attend high-quality shows such as those put on by the Texas Gun Collectors, and talk with some of the knowledgeable, friendly collectors. Tell them you are new to collecting and need help to augment your information on how to spot fakes. These shows are attended by collectors of modest means, and ones who are worth billions. You will find them all very friendly and willing to help you in any way.

I once sat down with a man at his display table and chatted about his magnificent display of near mint cased first generation Colts, some previously owned by famous gunfighters, cowboys and frontiersmen. Only after I had left and returned the next day did l learn this man was one of America's richest men as listed in Forbes magazine. You just never know, but he talked with me as if I were his best friend.

Another fine organization which you should join is the Colt Collectors Association. They operate in conjunction with and in the same sophisticated world as the Texas Gun Collectors, but they only operate in the world of the Colt. The CCA also publishes a fine color magazine with articles written by the worlds most prominent, knowledgeable collectors.

Original Guns

Spend lots of time studying the known original guns in your area of interest. Always with permission, cock the hammer and look at the pattern or tool marks and memorize their size and direction. Do the same by removing the cylinder and looking at the tool mark patterns on the face of the recoil shield and cylinder. There are also inspector's marks, serial number typefaces and special stamps identifying the piece with a definite date in time. Rifling styles and twist rates are also key verification points.

Educated knowledge is an indispensable thing if you are collecting items with big price tags. Educate yourself as to proper serial numbers, style and spacing of lettering, machine tool marks, barrel rifling, finishes, checkering and engraving, and all of the little things composing the character of a firearm. Most of all, when you buy a firearm sight unseen, identify the seller in every way possible with every contact point he possesses using references. You could be helping his state's attorney general track him down at a future date.

If you would like more excellent information on fakes, an article written by Jim Supica and published in a Blue Book Of Gun Values is an excellent source. You will find this superb writing at, and click on "fakes."
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Author:Hamilton, Alex
Publication:American Handgunner
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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