“Mister Magnum” Elmer Keith’s Guns Up for Auction


The guns of one of America’s most renowned shooters and gun writers is now coming to auction. James D. Julia Auctioneers in Maine announced recently that a diverse array of firearms and accessories from the estate of Elmer Keith will be the featured component of its March 15-17 auction in Fairfield. Included in the items offered are several hunting rifles once owned by Keith, including the famed “Corbett Tiger Rifle,” as well as a number of specialized hunting and target shooting revolvers. The prize of the collection is Keith’s customized and engraved Colt Single Action Army “Number Five” in .44 Special, which was named simply “The Last Word in Sixguns.”

“The importance of the Elmer Keith Estate Collection cannot be overstated,” the auction house stated in a press release. “This truly represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to own a piece of firearms history.”

Up to his death in 1984, Elmer Keith was regarded as one of the country’s foremost pioneers on magnum revolvers. A skilled shooter and hunter, Keith is best known for his contributions to the development of the .357 and .44 Magnum cartridges.

“He liked big bullets with big powder charges,” wrote Julia Auctioneer’s rare firearms department head Wes Dillon. “This magnum mentality made Keith famous. His first contribution, the .357 Magnum, was the result of handloading the .38 [Special] cartridge well past the red line, taking full advantage of the greater frame and cylinder strength of the revolvers of the day. The longer cased .357 Magnum first became available in 1935 and quickly became a favorite among law enforcement and civilian users. The S&W ‘Registered Magnum’ was an overnight sensation.”

Keith was also an accomplished writer and his books are considered required reading for many enthusiasts interested in firearms history. Later in life, Keith set out to improve the design of the venerable Colt Single Action Army in his quest for the “ultimate” Sixgun, or what he called “The Last Word.” The result was a heavily modified Colt revolver chambered in .44 Special dubbed the Number Five, which required the talents of several notable gunsmiths to design and produce.

“The Number Five started like as a Colt Single Action Army chambered in .44 [Special], of course. From there, everything that could be tweaked was tweaked,” Dillon explained. “The top strap of the frame was welded up into a flattop target configuration, with an adjustable rear sight added. The front sight was changed on the 5 ½” barrel to a hi-visibility Patridge style. To eliminate the possibility of the base pin moving forward under recoil, an ingenious design was created that uses a swinging lever to retain the pin positively in its place. The head of the base pin is enlarged for an easy grasp to aid in removal. The hammer was modified with a Bisley-type target spur, and the trigger was curved and moved closer to the back of the trigger guard. The unique grip of the Number Five was created by marrying a modified Bisley backstrap to a Single Action Army trigger guard. Add contoured ivory grips and the resulting is probably the most comfortable-to-shoot revolver grip ever designed.”

It was the perfect sixgun for Keith, who was keen on using his revolvers for both hunting and target practice. You can see more of his collection here.

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