Armi San Marco Colt SAA Percussion
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- Last updated: 23/03/2020
Back in the days before pistol shooting in the UK was decimated by the pointless handgun ban (people are still being shot with handguns), I enjoyed a little Western shooting using two revolvers, a lever action rifle and an old side-by-side hammer gun with 20-inch barrels. Like the majority of shooters in the British Western Shooting Society I opted for reproductions of the Colt Single Action Army revolver (those with money bought the real thing!) as my pistols of choice. In my case these were a pair of Armi San Marco revolvers with 4¾-inch barrels and chambered for the .44-40 cartridge. These were well made, good looking pistols and despite the stories of unreliability, mine ran reliably for over two years without any problems. Of the many handguns I owned before I, along with thousands of others, was deemed a threat to society, if I could have any two back again it would be a no-brainer – these two would be in my safe.
Armi San Marco also produced a line of reproduction percussion revolvers covering models from Colt and Remington but I only had experience of one, a .31 calibre Colt 1849 Pocket model which came in a case with accessories.
When the handgun ban came, many BWSS members simply gave up pistol shooting despite the fact that if you wanted a multi-shot revolver the only choice was a “Cowboy” gun. The bad press that black powder guns received – unreliable, dirty, etc. – was enough to put people off without even trying it. So, overnight the BWSS almost died. Almost, but not quite, and today it is still alive and kicking (bwss.co.uk).
When Uberti and Pietta introduced percussion models of the Colt SAA revolver it did little, if anything, to revive the interest of those who had given up. Even those re-enactors who held firearms certificates were not impressed with these new models and I suggest that the reason was that the cylinders were just like any other percussion revolver – with the gun at rest you could see the nipples in their cut-outs. And to make things worse there was no loading gate on the right side of the pistol.
Imagine my surprise then when, on a visit to Henry Krank’s in Pusey, I came across this little revolver from Armi San Marco that was manufactured back in 1999. My first thoughts were that it was a blank firer as there were no tell-tale signs of percussion ignition at first glance. But sure enough, this was a Section 1 percussion firearm and what’s more it is in .36 calibre! To my knowledge no other company has made a gun in this configuration. Tentative enquiries indicated that the price was more than I wanted to pay so it went back in the display case.
Many weeks later while chatting with Martin Haigh it came out that a number of guns were being sent for de-activation and low and behold the San Marco was among them. A little negotiation and this time the price was more acceptable so after some deliberation the gun came home with me.
The gun either had some bad timing issues or had been abused a little by a previous owner judging by the marks on the cylinder but the barrel and ejector tube blue is still very strong. It also has some nice case colours for a 20-year old gun. The trigger guard and backstrap, although black, have a different finish to the rest of the bluing and are obviously brass. Traditional blue finish does not adhere to brass the way it does to steel so a different “brass black” solution is used, resulting in a finish that does not look as deep as normal blue.
The wood grips look to have had the finish removed at some time but are still in very good condition. The firing pin is offset and has a little damage, so coupling this with the marks on the cylinder it is possible that this pistol may have been fanned sometime in its life, possibly resulting in a little over rotation of the cylinder from time to time. This is reinforced by some marks on the rear of the cylinder which should not be there.
What surprised me most is that the cylinder is cut to accept 209 shotgun primers, and obviously left the factory that way. This is a massive plus for the appearance of the gun as it allows for the use of a loading gate on the right of the frame, giving it the look of a breech-loader when at rest. If Armi San Marco could do this on a .36 calibre cylinder I cannot understand why Uberti and Pietta cannot make their .44 calibre muzzle loaders this way. From many conversations with re-enactors when the Uberti was introduced I know that this point cost them a number of sales, and possibly shooters reacted in the same way. However, it’s not too late if the guys at Uberti and Pietta are reading this! A nice little touch is the grooves cut adjacent to the primer pockets which allow the removal of stuck primers with a small screwdriver or such. A look in the cylinder from the front shows it is stepped, meaning that powder charges are going to be a bit smaller than a normal .36 calibre revolver.
At the time of writing initial testing by the guns new owner is ongoing to find a suitable load, so we may get to revisit this one in the not too distant future. If there is a moral to this story it must surely be to always check out the secondhand stock at your local gun shop. There are still some unusual items out there.