Colt Official Police 32-20

This is a discussion on Colt Official Police 32-20 within the General Firearm Discussion forums, part of the Related Topics category; Just inherited this old revolver along with 5 boxes of ammo for it. It is a Colt Official Police 32-20, 6" barrel, s/n 588xxx made ...

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Thread: Colt Official Police 32-20

  1. #1
    Member Array gschultz100's Avatar
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    Colt Official Police 32-20

    Just inherited this old revolver along with 5 boxes of ammo for it. It is a Colt Official Police 32-20, 6" barrel, s/n 588xxx made in 1934. It is in excellent condition, very rarely shot. The bore is perfect. Very tight action, everything snaps into place really nice. The grips are the original wood and are also in excellent condition.

    Funny thing about this pistol is that it has "Army Special" engraved on the barrel, but the s/n indicates that it was made in '34, years after they discountinued the Army Special, which actually makes it an OP. Wonder if that makes it any more rare?

    Anyone have any more info on this cool old pistola?



    Colt Official Police.jpg
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    Interesting maybe OD or bmcgilvray will see this and give us another lesson in Neat Ole' Guns.....

    and seeing how they seem to own one of everything made between 1880 and 1990 they might have an example
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    I'm betting on bmcgilvray showing one of his.

    'Looking forward to today's lesson.
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    Beautiful piece of history.
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    Of course I'm lurking about a thread about classic Colts. Throw in the grand .32-20 cartridge and I'm hooked!

    Way cool, gschultz100! A neato Colt Official Police .32-20 and with a 6-inch barrel!

    The Colt Official Police is nothing more than a renamed version of the Army Special. Colt improved the sights, especially the rear sight notch and channel on the Official Police, giving it a square notch and providing a slightly thicker front sight. This is the only external change other than the roll markings on the barrel. Frame, lock work, barrel lengths, and original chamberings remained the same, at least initially.

    The Official Police is by far most commonly found chambered for the .38 Special. The .38 Special Official Police revolvers far exceed production totals of Official Police revolvers in all the other chamberings combined. The Official Police could also be had in .22 Long Rifle, .32-20, .38/200, otherwise known as .38 S&W (produced for some small British contracts), and .41 Long Colt. None of the others are what a person would term a common revolver as is the .38 Special Official Police. The Official Police in .41 Long Colt is extremely rare, the .38/200 scarce, the .32-20 quite uncommon, and the .22 Long Rifle fairly uncommonly encountered. Both the .41 Long Colt and more especially the .32-20 were moderately popular in the earlier Colt Army Special. The .32-20 is pretty commonly encountered in Army Special revolvers, much more so than in the Official Police.

    Colt was big on using up spare parts or parts overruns through most of its heyday of revolver production. It's not uncommon to find various Colt models with two different model names, one on the barrel and another on the barrel. In the case of the Official Police, the model name only appears on the barrel so if an Army Special marked barrel was used to make up a revolver than it's original marking will still be present. And, that's what frequently happened in the early 1930s with .32-20 chambered Official Police. Colt simply made 'em up using spare Army Special .32-20 components: barrels and cylinders.

    Incidentally, I suspect that any .41 Long Colt revolvers were likely made up out of leftover Army Special .41 barrels and cylinders. I've never seen an Official Police .41 Long Colt, never seen one offered on an auction, never even seen a photo of one on Colt Forum though I've asked off and on for years for advanced Colt collectors to provide one. The .41 Official Police was supposedly only cataloged until about 1930 though one source states that it could be had up to 1938.

    I've been watching classic Colt revolvers on GunBroker and elsewhere for years and at least half of the .32-20 Official Police revolvers will be found to have Army Special marked barrels rather than Official Police markings. It's a totally proper and correct variation and the revolver is still considered an Official Police. Remember to observe the differences in rear sight and front sight. Also the serial number range can give an additional clue except in the early days of the Official Police when serial numbers overlap with Army Special revolvers. The Official Police continued the serial numbering sequence used for the Army Special, which in turn continued the serial number sequence first begun with the Colt New Army/New Navy revolvers. In the mid-late 1920s it was possible for late Army Special revolvers to be numbered considerably higher than the early Official Police revolvers then coming off the assembly line. This is just the thing to drive collectors and students of all things Colt right up the wall!

    The .32-20 cartridge was fairly popular until World War II though it seemed to begin to slip out of favor after about 1930. Both Colt and Smith & Wesson only assembled a few of their popular double-action models in .32-20 during the 1930s. World War II killed off high quality .32-20 Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers as the cartridge did not return to either company's catalogs after the war though both the Official Police and Military & Police returned to commercial production (primarily in .38 Special).

    The Official Police might just be the very best .32-20 double-action revolver out there. Its dimensions are slightly bigger than it's Smith & Wesson Military & Police competitor. The Colt's cylinder is a bit larger, hence there's more "meat" between the chambers. And the steel in those 1920s-1930s revolvers was fine quality Colt steel. One could "jazz up" the .32-20 through handloading in the Colt guns or in the Smith & Wesson guns that were produced after 1920 when Smith & Wesson introduced superior heat treat methods to their steel revolvers. I've managed to obtain .357 Magnum velocities using .32-20 jacketed bullets in a Smith & Wesson .32-20 made in the late 1920s. Of course the bullets are smaller diameter and weigh less than .357 Magnum bullets. Still, they are speedy and flat shooting (and loud).

    Ammunition makers used to provide "rifle only" .32-20 ammunition that gave a performance more like the .30 Carbine rather than the plodding 1300 fps speed that black powder .32-20 cartridge originally produced. These potent factory loads were not intended for really ancient Winchester and Marlin lever-actions of feeble design and primitive steels nor were they considered suitable for revolvers but intended for more modern rifles only. Folks were known to purchase these "high speed" .32-20 loads and shoot them in revolvers though. Some early .32-20 revolvers very likely came to grief over such treatment but the late Colt and Smith & Wesson guns apparently could, and did handle the excessive pressures. Sort of an unofficial way to obtain the equivalent of "+P" velocities today. The .32-20 revolver was fairly popular in Appalachia, down into Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri with lawmen and sportsmen both in the early decades of the 20th century. Pretty Boy Floyd was laid low with a .32-20, fired from a rifle in this instance. One just has to wonder if Robert Johnson was referring to the "high speed" .32-20 loading in his famous blues number.

    I have a really nice Smith & Wesson .32-20 revolver with a 4-inch barrel and have owned another good one in the past. I also have a wheezy old Colt New Navy in .32-20. I'd love to have a Colt Official Police or else a late vintage Army Special in .32-20, especially if it was sporting a 6-inch barrel. I'll probably get around to getting one some day. I'd enjoy handloading for it and experimenting with loads. The .32-20 won't take a back seat to the .327 Federal Magnum if one is careful and judicious in his handloading.

    The only other really strong .32-20 revolver out there will be one of the most costly ones. The pre-World War II, so-called "First Generation" Colt Single Action Army revolver was fairly popular in .32-20 chambering. Newly made Third Generation Colt Single Action Army revolvers can be ordered out of the Colt Custom Shop. Either would make great, authentic shooters but either will cost a pretty penny these days.


    Here are some links to other stuff I've stuck up in the past that touches on these topics.

    Cartridge Discussion: .32-20

    A New Old Colt In the Stable


    ".32-20 Blues" by Robert Johnson

    32-20 Blues [Remastered] ROBERT JOHNSON (1936) Delta Blues Guitar Legend - YouTube

    I sent for my baby, and she don't come
    I sent for my baby, man, and she don't come
    All the doctors in Hot Springs sure can't help her none
    And if she gets unruly, thinks she don't want do
    If she gets unruly, and thinks she don't want do
    Take my 32-20, and cut her half in two
    She got a thirty-eight special, but I believe it's most too light
    She got a thirty-eight special, but I believe it's most too light
    I got a 32-20, got to make the camps alright
    If I send for my baby, man, and she don't come
    If I send for my baby, man, and she don't come
    All the doctors in Hot Springs sure can't help her none
    I'm gonna shoot my pistol, gonna shoot my Gatlin' gun
    I'm gonna shoot my pistol, gonna shoot my Gatlin' gun
    You made me love you, now your man have come
    Aw baby, where you stay last night?
    Ah baby, where you stay last night?
    You got your hair all tangled, and you ain't talkin' right
    Got a thirty-eight special, boys, it do very well
    Got a thirty-eight special, boys, it do very well
    I Got a 32-20 now, and it's a burnin' --
    If I send for my baby, man and she don't come
    If I send for my baby, man and she don't come
    All the doctors in West Memphis sure can't help her none
    Hey hey baby, where you stay last night
    Hey hey baby, where you stayed last night
    You didn't come home until the sun was shinin' bright
    Ah boys, I just can't take my rest
    Ah boys, I just can't take my rest
    With this 32-20 layin' up and down my breast
    No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

  7. #6
    OD*
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    Another great history lesson, Bryan.
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    Wow, thanks for the great information bmcgilvray. I love learning about these old guns.
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    I wish people would post up older revolvers more often just for the history lesson that soon follows them from bmcgilvray. Man, would I enjoy just having one sunny afternoon, with a cold beverage, on the porch just to chat you up, good sir.
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