Shooting Illustrated’s sister magazine, American Rifleman, has been in production since 1923. CPT Phillip B. Sharpe, U.S. Ordnance Department, is one of those whose impact on firearms knowledge and use is still as poignant today as it was when he was writing in the 1920s through the 1950s as a member of American Rifleman’s Technical staff. His “Complete Guide to Handloading” (1937) has gone through 20 editions and his seminal work, “The Rifle in America” (1938) is still considered a “must read” for any student of firearms history.
One of his greatest contributions to the firearm field was his collaboration with fellow authors Elmer Keith and Douglas B. Wesson, the grandson of Smith & Wesson co-founder Daniel B. Wesson, when they introduced the .357 Mag. cartridge to the shooting public in 1935. By taking the popular .38 Spl. cartridge and lengthening its case, adding more smokeless powder and chambering the round in what would become the stout Smith & Wesson N-frame, they created a sensation in the revolver world.
First marketed as the Registered Magnum, Smith & Wesson changed the designation to the Model 27 in 1957. GEN George S. Patton called his ivory-strocked Registered Magnum his “killing gun” and wore it in concert with his similarly gripped Colt .45 Single Action Army revolver. For the next 20 years, Smith & Wesson dominated the .357 Mag. market.
Smith & Wesson’s dominance in the .357 Mag. market changed forever in 1955, however, when Colt introduced its first revolver chambered in .357 Mag.: the Python. By all accounts this was also considered by Colt executives to be the finest revolver the company produced at the time. No expense was spared in the manufacturing process, from the revolver’s timing and lock-up to its Royal Blue finish, this would be the pinnacle of Colt’s manufacturing prowess and remains—to this day—one of the finest revolvers ever made, no matter the caliber.
Originally, it was introduced in Colt’s spectacular Royal Blue finish with a 6-inch-barrel length. Most folks will tell you that a vent rib on a gun barrel is for heat dispensation, so you can maintain accuracy without being thrown off by the wiggly mirage-like blurriness caused by excessive heat rising off the barrel. That all makes sense, but the designer of the Python, Al Gunther, stated that the vents were primarily there to reduce the weight of the gun. The gun originally had a hollow barrel lug to also reduce weight, but it still came in at 43 ounces. Eventually the barrel lugs were made solid to add weight to the gun at the barrel end.
Subsequently, the Python was offered in 2.5-, 3-, 4-, 6- and 8-inch barrel lengths, and some 8-inch Pythons came factory equipped with a hunting scope, making the Python the first revolver to be equipped—out of the box—ready for hunting. The incorporation of Colt Accro and Elliason rear sights allowed the gun to be zeroed for both windage and elevation. The oil-finished, checkered American walnut grips with the gold Colt medallion rounded out the presentation that came with a whopping $125 price tag—almost double the MSRP of Colt’s Trooper model.
Eventually the Python was offered in a nickel finish that evolved into a bright, mirror-like stainless steel finish that made the Python one of the most visually impressive firearms on the market. Between 1955, when it was introduced, and 1997 when production ceased for the first-generation Python, more than 750,000 were produced. It found an immediate home in the hands of law enforcement, where the ability to chamber both .357 Mag. and .38 Spl. cartridges gave it a clear advantage over the previously standard .38 Spl. then in common use. Hundreds, if not thousands, of them saw service in Vietnam as private-purchase sidearms for American military officers, and in the hands of hunters and competitive target shooters it had no peer.
Sadly, for many classic wheelguns, the advent of the semi-auto for police work starting in the 1980s knocked the wind out of the market for revolvers, and the Python (along with many other venerable Colt snake-gun series of revolvers) was discontinued. For years, Colt listed the Python in its catalog as “the world’s finest all-around revolver.” By the time the first generation run of Pythons ended, MSRP was $875. Collectors can expect a mint-condition, first-generation Python to go for between $3,500 and $10,000.
Some would say that popular culture is responsible for the raising of Colt’s revolver fortunes, just as the plethora of cowboy-related TV shows in the 1950s led to the re-introduction of the Single Action Army (which cost the same as a Python in 1955). The hit show “The Walking Dead” featured the star of the show, Andrew Lincoln, dispatching many a zombie with his stainless Python. Such was the demand for the stunning revolver that Colt introduced the 2nd generation Python in 2020 with a factory price tag of $1,500.
If you are as interested in the Colt Python as I am, then I suggest that you find Gurney Brown’s trio of books “The Seven Serpents, the History of Colt’s Snake Guns” (2015), “Colt’s Python, King of the Seven Serpents” (2015) and his newest, “Colt’s Double Action Revolvers, The Post-War Era” and jump head-first into them, as they are remarkable in their information content, layout and presentation. But, most of all, the full-color photography is stunning in its depth and clarity.