Ruger Blackhawk .357 Cal. "Flattop"
 

by Bill Hamm

photography by Bill Hamm

December 19th, 2003

 

Ruger Blackhawk .357 Cal. "Flattop"

PRODUCED 1955  to  1962

GENERAL OVERVIEW

Ruger’s first center fire single action revolver, the new “Blackhawk” .357 Magnum, debuted in 1955, just two years after the successful introduction of the .22 caliber “Single-Six”.  The first advertisement was in the August 1955 American Rifleman magazine.  It shows $87.50 as the   introductory price for the “New Blackhawk”.

Bill Ruger had been right about American sportsmen wanting a  good single action rim fire revolver when he introduced the .22 caliber Single-Six. Bill also  figured that a good center fire was needed to fill a void at that time too.  He was right,  Ruger’s first center fire  revolver was an immediate success and was sought after by outdoorsmen and gun lovers alike!

The first guns had a 4-5/8” barrel with six-groove rifling, "flat-top" steel cylinder frame, fluted six shot cylinder, round "Colt style" loading gate, steel long throw offset ejector rod housing, and a small serrated ejector rod button like the Single-Six.  The integral rear sight was adjustable for both windage and elevation and marked “Micro”.  The front sight had a rather narrow ramp and serrations on both the ramp and the blade.  The  Blackhawk  had the same black anodized alloy grip frame (marked XR3) as the Single-Six.  The grip  frame  was  the same size as the old Colt Single Action Army.   The grips were black checkered hard rubber with Ruger’s trademark Black Eagle medallions  on a   silver  background.

The left side of the 3-screw cylinder frame was roll marked “RUGER .357 CAL. BLACKHAWK.  Of course in addition to the .357 Magnum cartridge, the .38 Special cartridge could be fired in the revolver, adding to its versatility.

Around November 1956 Bill Ruger made a change to improve the ejection of the .357 Magnum spent cartridges/brass from the Blackhawk’s chambers. The small, square, uncomfortable,  serrated ejector rod button held over from the Single-Six was replaced by a  larger concave style or “dimpled” button late 1956/early 1957.  The ejector button was changed again in late 1958/early 1959 to the large flat faced button  which is still used today. 

In 1959, 6-1/2” and 10” barrels were introduced.  Some variations of these two barrel lengths were made in low numbers and created some very scarce and rare collectible guns today.

Varnished walnut ($5.00), ivory ($16.50), and stag grips ($8.50) were also available from the factory.  Walnut grip panels became the standard in 1960. The ivory and stag grips were dropped from the company’s catalog when the grip frame was redesigned in 1963 (marked XR3-RED).  Of course, today the factory ivory grips are extremely rare and factory stag grips are very rare.  Both are highly sought after by collectors. 

Due to the “flat” design of the cylinder frame’s top strap, these guns became known as “Flattops”.  The later production “protected rear sight” models are normally called the “Old Model” or just the “Three-Screw” model.

There are several variations of this gun that are very rare indeed.  For instance, it is believed that only about 850 to 1,200 of these guns were produced with 10” barrels.  Of that number, it is thought by some that only about 50 were made with the later “eight groove” rifling barrel that was introduced in 1960.  Thus these 10” barrel “eight groove” guns are one of the rarest variation of any regular production old model Ruger revolver made. 

There were several minor changes that took place beginning in 1957.  Thicker triggers evolved, the small adjustment notch on the rear sight elevation screw was eliminated, the drilled-through base pin latch nuts were introduced, and the dimpled ejector button was replaced by the large flat faced button, to name most of  the changes.

Many of these .357 “Flattops” have  red, cherry, or plum colored cylinder frames, loading gates, triggers, and/or other parts.  Some have what looks like gold or red lighting streaks in the finish.  It is thought that this discoloration was due to the make-up of the molten metal used in the casting or molding process.  The metal apparently reacted with the bluing solution during the bluing process, resulting in these various colors or tints.  Some of these “discolored” guns are absolutely beautiful and highly desired by the serious collector.

The boxes were a two-piece yellow top with black bottom and white interior.  They were enclosed in a brown cardboard “book wrap” shipping carton.    The first boxes had a black end with “RUGER” written in yellow letters on top and four lines on the end that read “BLACKHAWK” in red letters and “357 MAGNUM REVOLVER, STURM RUGER & CO., INC., and SOUTHPORT, CONN.  U. S. A. “ in yellow letters.  A black Ruger Eagle inside a red wreath was on top of the box.  The first boxes for the 4-5/8” guns had no catalog number and no barrel length marking on the end label since the only guns being made were all the same 4-5/8” barrel length. 

When the boxes for the 6-1/2” and 10” barreled guns were introduced, they had their catalog numbers of BKH36 and BKH30, respectively, and barrel length added to the end label between the 2nd and 3rd lines.  After the inventory of the first non-catalog, non-barrel length boxes for the 4-5/8” guns were expended (probably in late 1960), the new boxes for the 4-5/8” barreled guns had a catalog number of BKH34 and the 4-5/8” barrel length on their end label like the other two barrel lengths.  I have pictured an example of all four boxes in this article.

While I will not cover them in detail in this article, there are several other very scarce or very to extremely rare interesting variations of the .357 “Flattop” that were made . . while a thousand or more of some of these variations were made, such as the "transition guns", some are limited to only one or two made like the engraved guns.  These variations include, but are not limited to, "transition guns", case hardened guns, inscribed guns, engraved guns, “A” prefixed serial numbered 10” guns (duplicate numbered?), plated guns, and “S” marked guns.  

I suggest that you read John Dougan’s “Know Your Ruger Single Actions, 1953 – 1963” and Chad Hiddleston’s Red Eagle News Exchange “Reference of Ruger Firearms, Volume 1”, and/or some of the other books on Ruger collecting listed on this site to get a much better understanding of all of these and other variations, serial number ranges, etc.

Around 42,000 of these fine single action .357 Blackhawk “Flattops” were  produced during its eight year life span of 1955 to 1962, when production ceased.

This gun was made by Bill Ruger to be a “working gun” and many saw extensive hard use and resulting heavy wear.    Today, mint specimens are getting harder and harder to find, thus the collectibility and value of this fine revolver continues to grow.

RUGER .357 Cal. BLACKHAWK “FLATTOP”

Some of the major types and variations

Type 1 - Standard “dull” polish finish, long throw offset ejector rod housing, narrow land cylinder base pin, small square serrated ejector rod button, serrated narrow front sight base and blade, 4-5/8 “ barrel.  About 6,000 made.

Type 1 “High Polish”- Same as above, but with the very rare “high polish” finish.  These guns usually have the larger concave or “dimpled” ejector rod button since they were all shipped about two years after they were made.   All that I have ever seen were shipped in September 1957.  Only about 100 or so believed to have been made.  There is some speculation as to why they were held and shipped late. . .  maybe they were intended to be presentation guns with a special high polish finish?  Or maybe they were just held to see if the gun’s blue discoloration problem (turning red, cherry, or plum colored) could be solved?   Since low numbered guns were normally given to gun writers, Bill Ruger’s friends, and other special folks it seems that either of these reasons could be true.

Type 1 “Ross” variety – named the “Ross” variety after collector Bill Ross who discovered this interesting variety.  These 800 guns were shipped in 1956 and have all the characteristics of the early Type 1 with the dull polish finish except they are completely out of serial number sequence.  The serial number range is 14684 – 15483 and would have normally fell in the 1958 range.  Some believe that these were numbered out of sequence to correct some sort of “duplicate” serial numbering error. . or as an attempt to confuse the competition regarding production numbers.

Type 2 – These guns had a wider non-serrated front sight base (horizontal serrations on the blade only), concave or “dimpled” ejector rod button, and a cylinder base pin with wider lands.  The minor “changes of 1957” began to occur during the Type 2’s production.  These included the use of thicker triggers, deletion of the adjustment notch on the rear sight elevation screw, and the use of “drilled through”  versus the “capped” cylinder base pin latch nuts.   It is believed that all of these guns had 4-5/8” barrels.  Around 8,500 made.

Type 3 – At the beginning of the Type 3 these guns maintained most of the same characteristics as the late Type 2s except they had a “straight slot” ejector rod housing.   However, fairly early in the Type 3 production several changes began to take place.  The dimpled ejector rod button was changed to the “flat faced” button in late 1958/early 1959.   This flat faced ejector rod button is still in use today.   Also in 1959 the 6-1/2” and 10” barrels were introduced. In 1960 varnished walnut grips became the standard grip panel.  About 10,000 – 11,000 Type 3s were made.

Type 4 - Introduced fairly early in 1960, the  major change was to “eight groove” rifling.  Other characteristics were the same as the last Type 3’s produced.  About 14,000 of these were made.

As you can see, there are many interesting and rare types and variations of the .357 Blackhawk “Flattops” to keep collectors searching for a long time. . .and even then you may never find them all!!!  I wish to each and everyone of you good “Flattop” hunting!!

Bill Hamm

Read more about Bill on the "About Us" page.

Got something to say about this article? Want to agree (or disagree) with it? Click the following link to go to the GUNBlast Feedback Page.

 

 

 

 

Click pictures for a larger version.

 

This is the first advertisement for the “New Blackhawk” in the August 1955 issue of the American Rifleman magazine.

 

 

 

Fine example a Blackhawk .357 Cal. “Flattop” Type 1.  This gun, # 885, is new in its original box with all the papers.  Note the pretty red colored frame.

 

 

 

Example of the “wavy” serrated narrow front sight base and blade found on the first type guns.  This is from # 885.

 

 

 

Example of the integral rear “Micro” sight used on the Flattops.  Pictured is # 885’s that has the early adjustment notch on the elevation screw head.  Made by Micro Sight Company in California.  Adjustable for both windage & elevation.

 

 

 

Example of Micro sight with the “plain head” adjustment screw, the notch was eliminated during the Type 3 production as part of the minor changes that began being made in 1957. 

 

 

Example of the steel long throw offset ejector rod housing, small square serrated ejector rod button, and narrow land cylinder base pin on the early guns.  This is from # 885.

 

 

Close-up view of the long throw ejector rod housing slot, narrow land cylinder base pin and capped base pin latch nut.

 

 

Close-up view of the first type small square serrated ejector rod button used on the first type .357 Flattops.  This is # 149’s button, note the six groove rifling clearly seen at the muzzle.

 

 

 

Left view of the cylinder frame roll mark and barrel address.  This happens to be a late Type 2 gun.

 

 

Example of the second type concave or “dimpled” ejector rod button introduced in late 1956/early 1957.  This is from # 11434, a Type 2 gun.

 

 

Example of the third type flat faced ejector rod button introduced in late 1958/early1959. 

 

 

Blackhawk .357 Magnum “Flattop” #22423 Type 3 with 6-1/2” barrel, standard or "dull polish" finish, black checkered hard rubber grips, and six groove barrel.  Fine mint condition gun with its  original box.

 

 

Nice example of rare 10” barrel six groove Type 3 .357 “Flattop”, # 23270,  with black hard rubber grips resting on a very rare BKH30 10” box. 

 

 

Extremely rare factory ivory grips that were available for $16.50.  View of right panel on the rare .357 “Flattop” 10” barrel 8-groove # 37357.

 

 

Rare factory stag grips that were available for $8.50.  View of both panels.

 

 

Fine example of extremely rare Type 4 eight groove 10’ barrel .357 Blackhawk, # 37357 sporting nice factory ivory grips.  Near mint condition, purchased from its original owner.

 

 

Picture of the adjustment notch/mark on the rear sight elevation screw on the early .357 Flattops.  This notch was eliminated when several of the minor changes of 1957 were put into place.

 

 

Example of a typical “discolored” frame that turned a nice purple color that has some light dullish splotches.  This is .357 “Flattop” # 86 which I believe is new and unfired since it left the factory.

 

 

 

Picture of # 69’s cylinder that also turned a shade of purple.

 

 

Box end label for the first 4-5/8” barrel .357 Magnum “Flattops”.  Since all the guns were the same model and barrel length, apparently the factory saw no need to put a catalog number or barrel length on the box.  Note serial number of gun in grease pencil on left end.

 

 

Example of a brown cardboard “bookwrap”shipping used for the Flattops.  This happens to be # 11434 and its properly numbered shipper.  Note: The shipper is wrapped in “heat shrink” for protection. 

 

 

Close–up view of the correct penciled serial number on # 11434’s shipper.

 

 

The two-line reddish/purple ink end stamp on # 11434’s shipper, “BKH3, BLACKHAWK .357”.

 

 

Example of the very early guns’ Single-Six instruction manual and the two-sided insert used for the .357 Blackhawks.  These are rare paper items.

 

 

Box end label for a 6-1/2” barrel Blackhawk .357 Magnum “Flattop”.  Note catalog no. BKH36 and 6-1/2” barrel length on the end label.

 

 

Box end label for a 10” barrel .357 Magnum “Flattop”.  Note catalog no. BKH30 and 10” barrel length on the end label.

 

 

The second type box end label for the 4-5/8” barrel .357 Magnum “Flattop” with catalog no. BKH34 and the 4-5/8” barrel length.  Put into use as the non-catalog boxes were expended, somewhere around the 31XXX to 33XXX range.  

 

 

Rare Type I “Transition” Blackhawk # 6678.  It has all the characteristics of the Type 1 guns except it has the concave or “dimpled” ejector rod button that are found on the Type 2 guns.

 

 

A picture of my great shooting field gun, # 17192, a Type 2 .357 “Flattop” with its old Lawrence holster on an old Eubanks basket weave belt.  Note how the black hard rubber grips have turned an interesting chocolate color with black streaks, almost a camouflage look.

 

 

Example of a standard “dull” polish Type 1.  Flattop # 885 is shown in its original box with its correct Single-Six instruction manual and the .357 Magnum single page supplement used for the early .357s until their own manuals were printed. 

 

 

Example of an extremely rare Type 1 .357 Flattop “High Polish” variation. This is # 86, manufactured October 1955 and shipped September 1957.  It has the correct second type “dimpled” ejector rod button used in September 1957.  Gun appears to be new.

 

 

Another extremely rare “High Polish” variation.  Only about 100 made.  This is # 69, manufactured October 1955 and shipped September 1957.  Both the frame and cylinder on this gun are different shades of reddish purple. 

 

 

This is one of the very rare “Ross” variations.  This .357 Blackhawk is # 14909 and was shipped in June 1956.  Following the normal serial number sequence, this gun  would have been shipped during 1958.

 

 

Example of the second type of front sight.  It has a wider non-serrated base with horizontal serrations on the blade.

 

 

View of a late Type 3’s Straight slot ejector rod housing, drill-through cylinder base pin latch nut, and wide land cylinder base pin.

 

 

Real nice minty Type 3 with 4-5/8” barrel # 25786.  It has later standard varnished walnut grips and dimpled ejector rod button.  Also note the thicker trigger versus “skinny” triggers on the earlier models.

 

 

Fine example of a Type 3 with 10” barrel # 23270.  It still has the  checkered hard black rubber grips but has the straight slot ejector rod housing.

 

 

Fine example of a BKH34 Type 4 with eight groove barrel, # 41082.  Fewer Type 4s were made with 4-5/8” barrels than the other individual Types 1, 2 or 3 in that barrel length and are quite scarce.

 

 

Nice late BKH36 Type 4 with the eight groove barrel.  Many more Type 4s were made in this barrel length than the Type 3s.

 

 

Very rare BKH30 Type 4 with the eight groove barrel, very few made.  This is # 37357 and sports original factory ivory grips.

 

 

Framed advertisement from the March 1957 issue of the American Rifleman magazine.  “Business for a Blackhawk”.

 

 

My field .357 Blackhawk, this fine old 44 year old gun will still “take care of business” if I can just do my part !!