The Deputy is a 4 inch barreled Great Western single action with competition sights set on a full length rib. The Deputy was offered in .22, .38 Special, and .357.
Ruger introduced the Blackhawk in 1955 – the first mass production, modernized single action. Its hallmarks were adjustable sights and an action that was mechanically superior to the old Peacemaker. It was a smash. The Blackhawk’s success cemented Ruger’s permanence in the marketplace and its form dictated the quality and features its competitors would be compelled to match. There would be many Blackhawk inspired competitors over the years; Colt’s New Frontier, Jager’s Super Dakota, the Virginian Dragoon, US Arms Abilene, Magnum Research’s BFRs.
Great Western’s Deputy was probably the first to compete with Ruger in this market niche created by the Blackhawk. The earliest advertisements for the Deputy are from 1955, and subtly note ‘recent innovations with single actions.’
Great Western may have intended to generate a book of pre-orders to finance Deputy production, or its finances and planning were in typical disarray. Production was delayed for a time, and no Deputies were completed before 1957. Then finally it appears a small lot was completed at the Miner St. Shop before it closed. A few more were built at the Venice and North Hollywood shops over 1958, 59, and 60.
In addition to modern sights, original ads noted the Deputy was to have upgraded mechanics. This was to consist of a detent hammer cam that actuated a single tine cylinder bolt…much like a Ruger Blackhawk. This probably drew objections from Bill Ruger, who consistently warned imitators to not infringe on his patents. In any event, the mechanical features first advertised for the Deputies were not installed on those that actually got built. The Deputies are mechanically the same as Great Western’s other revolvers.
Though falling short of promises in those original ads, Deputies are found exquisite by almost all who encounter them. The rib and sights were inspired by the works of custom gunsmiths active over the 20’s to 50’s, those of the King Gun Works shop in Glendale, CA being prominent. The Deputy bears a striking resemblance to some King customs, and I have been moved to wonder if King was a collaborator on the project given its proximity and expertise. There is one Deputy that’s seen with a King logo on its rib, though this signature may just as easily refer to this gun’s engraving work.
A product as compelling as the Deputy could make a company’s fortune, as it did with the Blackhawk. Each Deputy did require extra machining time however, and these were labor hours Great Western could seldom expend given the company’s constantly tenuous financial position. Ultimately few Deputies were made, probably not more than 100.
Serial ranges: Found very sporadically within a range across approx 16975 – GW21000. 16978 is in the hands of a collector, and is probably within a few of the first Deputy. GW21008 is also known, and with such a high serial it figures it might be the last Deputy.
Calibers: Observed in .22, .38, .357 (Atomic and Magnum).
In their writings, Elmer Keith and John Taffin both hoped that a .44 Special Deputy might exist. It does seem that an advanced collector has a .44 Special Deputy, and that another has a .45 Colt Deputy.
Barrels: 4 inch barrel. Early catalog suggested 6 inch version would be offered. This version has never been seen / encountered in real life.
Finishes: Blue was standard. Blue version is associated with the best known catalog advertisements. Earlier catalogs suggested nickel as well, and a couple of these are known in reality. There are several factory blue / CCH Deputies in collections.
Grips: Two piece walnut was standard. Deputies with factory stag and ivory are known.
Overall production / scarcity: Extraordinarily scarce. In 1990’s correspondence from John McCormick, he stated that less than 100 Deputies were built (Dougan). A wholesale lot of 50 may have been fulfilled to Stoeger, with the remainder of orders coming from single individuals or dealers.
Variants \ Oddities:
- Rib design changed over the course of Deputy production. Early Deputies have a one piece rib. Later Deputies have a two piece rib.
- Due to the location of the rib on top of the barrel, Great Western’s typical rollmark can not appear there on a Deputy. About half the Deputies, probably the ones built at Miner St, display a ‘GREAT WESTERN, LOS ANGELES CAL’ stamp on the left side of the cylinder frame. The others will display the typical ‘GREAT WESTERN ARMS CO.’ rollmark between the ejector housing and rib on the right side of the barrel.
- 16978 is the lowest serial Deputy known now (a .22). There’s some potential a run of 50 consecutive Deputies starts at this serial or just before. This 50 is probably the Deputy lot order furnished to Great Western’s distributor Stoeger.
- 17011 is a .357 Deputy with several obvious factory blemishes and craftsmanship errors. It’s marked “factory second” inside the grip straps. Used, returned, or ‘second’ quality Deputies might have been sold in an overstock campaign by E&M at one point, but the contemporaneous ad that demonstrates this has not been located.
- 17022 is engraved ornately, ‘D’ coverage with gold embellishments, in a manner that can be characterized as Great Western’s factory style.
- In the age of internet searching now, information for the ‘Hawes LA Deputy’ is frequently confused for that of the Great Western Arms Deputy model. These are enormously different revolvers. The Hawes model was an inexpensive German import during the 1960’s. It is inferior and less desirable than the Great Western Deputy by every measure.
Some photos of the Deputy model’s unique sights.