Blondie’s Gun

by Fred Ray on October 22, 2010 · 1 comment

Last year I posted about Clint Eastwood’s weapons in the Spaghetti Western The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. In it I pegged Eastwood’s sidearm as an 1858 Remington cartridge conversion, but according to an article in the new issue of American Rifleman by Angus McClellan, it was an 1851 Colt Navy Conversion in .38 rimfire caliber.

Could “Blondie” have had such a gun in 1862, the ostensible date of the movie, when everyone else was using cap and ball? Surprisingly, according to McClellan, it was possible—just. Smith & Wesson held a patent on the “bored-through” cylinder, which was necessary for cartridge use, which did not expire until 1869. However, an individual gunsmith could have made the conversion to a bored-through cylinder and have added a loading gate and ejector rod, and modified the hammer to set off a rimfire cartridge. And there were a small number of “outlaw” manufacturers who openly violated the S&W patents. But what about the ammunition? As it turns out there were a couple of New England manufacturers who were actually producing .38 caliber rimfire cartridges in 1862.

So—if Blondie had somehow gotten a modified gun and managed to import the ammo from far-off New England to New Mexico, he could have had the gun that Sergio Leone showed him with in 1862. However, it’s sort of like really, really, unlikely. I mean, a bounty hunter whose life literally depended on his gun having to use ammo imported from New England when cap and ball ammo was so plentiful?

As an aside Eli Wallach’s character Tuco would have had a cartridge gun also. How do we know? Remember the bathtub scene when he shoots a would-be assassin with a gun he’s holding underwater (“If you want to talk, talk. If you want to shoot, shoot.”)? That just would not have been possible with a cap and ball revolver.

If you like this sort of thing there are a couple of modern reproductions of the cartridge conversions. Uberti makes repros of the 1851 Navy and several other models, and Cimarron Arms makes a special “Man With No Name” model, a “replica of the 1851 Conversion used in the 1960’s Spaghetti Westerns.” For a few dollars more you can get one with the rattlesnake grip just like Clint’s. All these guns are chambered for modern smokeless cartridges like the .38 Special, making them a good choice for those who want a gun with the look and feel of an old cap & ball piece without the hassles of black powder.

On a related note there are now a lot of 1871/84 Mausers for sale that had been refurbished and then used in the 2003 Tom Cruise flick The Last Samurai (follow the link for a clip of the battle). The 1871 Mauser was a transitional weapon: a bolt action, single shot 11mm (.43 cal.) black powder rifle that was adopted by the Germans after the Franco-Prussian War to replace the aging Dreyse Needle Gun. It was Mauser’s first rifle. In 1884 it was modified to take a tubular magazine under the barrel, making it a repeater. The 71/84 was the last of a breed, soon replaced by the box magazine, small caliber, smokeless powder rifles still used today.

UPDATE: James Rummel has a nostalgic look at the Danish-designed .30-40 Krag, the US Army’s first box magazine, smokeless powder service rifle. It replaced the black powder .45-70 and was the Army’s first repeater since the Spencer. As he points out the Krag (and the ’03 Springfield, which replaced it) had a magazine cutoff that transformed it into a single shot weapon. This was because the emphasis was still on volley fire as it had been since the Civil War.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

James R. Rummel October 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Thank you kindly for the link, Fred!

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