A Nurse with a Gun

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Police Positive Pocket Pistol

I enjoy guns with a history. One day, while in a hole in the wall pawn shop near Arcadia Louisiana, I spied what I thought was an early Detective Special. It looked rather lonely in it's fake stag Franzanite grips, so I asked to see it. What was handed to me was even more interesting.

I was handed a First Generation Colt Police Positive. As serial number 1529XX, it came out of the Colt factory late in 1923. Click to enlargeAll the numbers matched, and it locked up with the famed Colt tightness. It was chambered in .38 S&W. What was interesting was the barrel. It had been cut down to two inches and had the original sight silver soldered back on. As I held the gun, I felt the history flow out of it. I felt more history in this gun than any sock drawer special collector gun I have held. The gun was altered and as such, it had no real collector's value. I'm more interested in the history of concealed carry than the history of firearms manufacture though. The pawnbroker and I dickered a bit and finally agreed on a price.

To me, this gun had value.

Because of the quality of the work, and the use of the original sight, I made the leap of faith that the attenuation of the barrel occurred early in this Colt's life. At one time somebody needed effective concealed protection, or perhaps an officer of the law made detective and transitioned to plain clothes. Either way, the gun needed wasn't available from the factory or in the township, or perhaps money was scarce. The owner of this revolver decided to take matters into his own hands and delivered the gun to a skilled gunsmith. The revolver was delivered back to the owner as an effective carry weapon. I am drawing this conclusion based on the availability of weapons and the economic reality of the time, but I believe the barrel was cut down either before or during the Great Depression. Because of the remaining blue finish, I believe this gun was stored for several decades before it came into my possession. An interesting aside is that it fits perfectly into my J frame pocket holsters.

I was at first confused that on a weapon such as this, the hammer had not been bobbed. I later learned from one of my patients that in the 1920's there were many people who had learned to shoot with the Colt SAA. Cocking a hammer on a draw was commonplace. On this gun, the carrier's thumb would likely have rested on the hammer while the gun was still pocketed, effectively shrouding it on the draw stroke, and cocking the weapon while it was drawn. The unbobbed hammer supported my conclusion of when the barrel was cut down.

I've shot the revolver a few times, but the cost of .38 S&W is rather prohibitive. I'd rather buy .45 ACP. Still, the old cut down Police Positive is one of my favorite beater guns from days gone by, a real concealed carry belly gun that must have an interesting story behind it.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Bob said...

Do you reload, Xavier? Just curious. I'm not a reloader myself, but with the large collection of guns you apparently have, it would definitely save you some money.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

I didn't even know this model was made in .38 S&W...my Webley is in the same caliber.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

The new 135 grain Speer Gold Dots could probably be handloaded into .38 S&W cases, but it's about 3-4 thou too small to be optimal. Pluss no load data.

Actually I just checked 5 manuals, only one had ANY data for the .38 S&W. The Lyman manual did include data for a 158 grain bullet though, so if you could get some dead soft .158 grain LSWC (sized to .360) you would be set.

10:32 PM  
Anonymous AR said...

or you could thumb some .36 lead balls in 38 spcl cases.. If I remember correctly their length is abt the same as a 38SW oal. I've been planning the same thing for some old 41 Long Colt ctg's I found somewhere.

You could just shoot wax slugs, too. No powder needed. Just prime, and stick the case mouths about 1/2 inch or a little less into a block of parafin, . They are amazingly accurate at short distances, easy cleanup, and a coffee can with rags in the bottom makes an okay backstop. Good fun, and you don't have to worry about wearing out the barrel! de...AR

2:59 AM  
Blogger Crucis said...

I came across another "rarity" at a gun show last month. I'd been looking for a S&W M13 3" for some time as a carry/car pistol.

Instead, I found what was reported to be a Lew Horton M13-2, blue, round butt with a 2 1/2" barrel. Supposedly, S&W never made a 2 1/2" for this model, but there it was. The seller claimed to be the original owner, said it was a Lew Horton conversion, but had lost the original box and paperwork to validate his claim. In either case, it was a find and the price was right.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Thomas F, said...

The wife inherited a .38 detective special in the original box from her father/stepmother, had the original (1930's?) receipt, still kicking myselfe about loosing the receipt.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Thomas F said...

Took down the DS and it is a second gen not first (poor memory) still wish I could find the bill of sale though.....

1:39 PM  
Blogger TheBronze said...

That's a sweet piece!

I noticed the rube re-engraving of the "Police Positive" on the bbl.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Will said...

There's nothing like holding history in your hand.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

The barrel engraving is original. It was cut down right after the "T" in Colt.

10:42 PM  
Anonymous TxShooter said...

Another possibility for the unbobbed hammer: holsters from that period invariably had an open triggerguard and a distinct lack of detail molding. A snapover safety strap was almost a given for positive retention...that, or a thong. Both of which required an intact hammer to function, unless the strap passed over the triggerguard.

1:54 AM  
Blogger Matt G said...

As it happens, .38 S&W is a rather inexpensive and easy cartridge to reload. Obviously you would never want to hot-rod it in the least. Having loaded some for that light caliber, I've grown to have some fondness for it, despite its shortcomings.

I'll take that back-- it's not that the round has many shortcomings-- it's just that it suffers in comparison with the .38 Special. Looking at the ballistics of the .38 cartridges of the time when the .38 Special round was introduced, one begins to see why the Special was just that-- a rather significant improvement over the other .38s of the time.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Matt G said...

AR: use hollow-based soft lead .386 caliber bullets (conical or HBWC) with your .41 Long Colt, and they'll slug out the true caliber of that ".41". Good with Bullseye, reportedly. Roundballs aren't going to slug out correctly.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Ed Harris said...

Pre-war Colts were mild steel and not heat treated, so you have to be careful with reloads. The .38 S&W uses a .360 bullet vs. .358 for the .38 Special. Jacketed bullets won;'t get enough vcelocity to expand at all. Best to handload for the .38 S&W is to use 148-gr. HOLLOWBASE wadcutters and seat the bullets out, crimping in the top lubricating groove so that about 1/4" of the bullet is outside the case. A charge of 3.5 grs. of Unique or 2.7 grs. of Bullseye is a full-charge load. The wadcutter is more effective than factory LRN.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Ed Harris said...

Pre-war Colts were mild steel and not heat treated, so you have to be careful with reloads. The .38 S&W uses a .360 bullet vs. .358 for the .38 Special. Jacketed bullets won't get enough velocity to expand at all. Best to handload for the .38 S&W is to use 148-gr. HOLLOWBASE wadcutters and seat the bullets out, crimping in the top lubricating groove so that about 1/4" of the bullet is outside the case. A charge of 3.5 grs. of Unique or 2.7 grs. of Bullseye is a full-charge load. The wadcutter is more effective than factory LRN.

8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a very similar gun from my father's estate. I am not sure where he acquired it, but he told me the story of how it saved his life in occupied Japan at the end of WWII. He was backed into an alleyway by a group of Japanese men, several of them wearing old Japanese Army coats with the buttons replaced to make them no longer uniform coats. They were carrying things to beat him with. (Our soldiers were not supposed to be carrying their arms with them, so the men expected to have a safe victim.) My dad pulled the concealed Colt Police Positive, with the cut down 2" barrel, and they let him leave unharmed.

Like yours, a sight was soldered onto the front of the short barrel. Unlike yours, mine no longer has that sight. I had guessed that it was removed because it draws faster and easier without the front sight attached, but it might also have come off from wear or abuse. Besides, what's the point of a sight on a belly gun? It still has a groove in the top of gun that can be used.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i also have a first issue from 1919 in .38 spc the barrel was also cut down but mine is double action only smoothest trigger ever in a double action

11:52 PM  

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