RUGER “SUPER BLACKHAWK” .44 MAGNUM
1959 - 1973
by Bill Hamm
May 14th, 2007
This article is dedicated in memory of my
friend Lynn Laudise who helped educate me and found me a
lot of fine old Supers.
Ruger introduced their new “Super Blackhawk” .44 Magnum single-action revolver in September 1959 and shipping began in November 1959. This was just three short years after introducing their “Blackhawk” .44 Magnum “Flattop” single action revolver. The Super’s catalog number was S47 and the introductory retail price was $120. The Super became an immediate hit with shooters, hunters, and sportsmen. The Super Blackhawk today, with its New Model safety bar configuration that was introduced in 1974, continues to retain its popularity. Well over 600,000 of the new models have been sold to date.
The Super Blackhawk is marked on the left side of the cylinder frame.:
RUGER SUPER BLACKHAWK
.44 MAGNUM CAL.
The Super Blackhawk was the first revolver to be produced in Ruger’s new expanded facility in Southport, Connecticut. It was also the first Ruger revolver to have the trademark Eagle logo included in the barrel address versus on the cylinder frame like found on the earlier Single-Six .22 caliber rimfire revolver and Blackhawk .357 and .44 centerfire revolvers.
There were also several other changes or improvements in the Super Blackhawk that set it apart from Ruger’s original offering, the Blackhawk .44 Magnum “Flattop”.
First, one noticed a considerable weight difference in the two guns. The Super weighed in at 48 oz. versus 40 oz. for the Blackhawk .44 Flattop. This is attributed to the Super being fitted with a steel grip frame and other beefed up parts. Protective rear sight ribs, or Ruger patented integral sight ribs, were added to the Super’s cylinder frame to help stabilize and protect the MICRO marked rear sight when it was in its raised position. The Super’s steel grip frame was a longer “Dragoon” style with a square back trigger guard, where the Blackhawk utilized a smaller Colt style black anodized aluminum alloy grip frame, reference number XR3. Further, the Super featured a wide spur hammer, a wider serrated trigger, and an unfluted cylinder. It also had a standard 7-1/2” barrel versus the standard 6-1/2” barrel on the .44 Blackhawk.
Varnished walnut grip panels with a Ruger trademark black eagle on a silver medallion adorned the new Super. Many of the early guns had beautiful dark burled finely figured grip panels.
The Super’s extra mass and larger grip frame helped to tame the heavy recoil of the hot .44 Magnum cartridges. During the development period in 1958, Bill Ruger received and incorporated several refinements suggested by Elmer Keith and Herb Glass. Mr. Glass told me personally that he suggested the “Dragoon” style grip frame along with some other improvements. Elmer Keith also suggested that style grip frame. In Elmer Keith’s 2nd edition of his great book, Sixguns, published in 1961, he says that he recommended the old square-back second Dragoon grip with ample length of grip and room behind the guard. Keith also asked for a Bisley style wide hammer spur, wide grooved trigger, non-fluted cylinder, and larger ejector thumb-piece.
Bill Ruger sent Elmer Keith the first prototype Super Blackhawk to test. In Sixguns, Elmer said that it had many of his suggested improvements and that it accounted for four Elk with clean kills that fall. He had to return the prototype to Ruger for further research and development at the factory. Elmer then received another prototype that had a slight change in the length of the grip. He said that it felt even better than the first gun. Elmer said that it was the finest single-action sixgun that he had ever owned.
The early Super Blackhawks came with a beautiful varnished genuine mahogany wooden case that was shipped in a brown corrugated cardboard outer shipping carton, or bookwrap. The cardboard carton had an ink stamp on the end and/or side, which read “S47 SUPER BLACKHAWK”, and it had the gun’s serial number penciled on the side. The mahogany boxes themselves are not numbered to the gun. The mahogany boxes have a red cloth lined velveteen interior. The majority of the boxes have “GENUINE MAHOGANY” embossed into the wood on the bottom. The inside of the box bottom has a mahogany insert with a cutout in the shape of the gun with the barrel pointing to the right. This positions the gun with the serial number side up. A Ruger “Makers” label is pasted to the red material inside the box’s top. The boxes have two sliding brass latches on the front and two brass hinges in the rear. A few of the cases have latches and hinges that are nickel or chrome plated. About 4,200 of these first guns were shipped in these cloth lined mahogany cases.
The majority of the mahogany cased guns had the same finish as the Blackhawk .44 “Flattops”, a satin blue or Ruger acceptable finish. Collectors sometimes call this a “dull polish” finish. Ruger changed to a “Super Polished and Blued” finish in mid-1960. The Super Polished mahogany cased guns will be observed in the 3XXX to 6XXX range with some found up into the 8XXX range. These are fairly scarce when found in the mahogany cases. There are a few rare earlier exceptions to this range. This “Super Polished” finish would become the standard finish used through the remainder of Old Model Super production and is seen on New Models to this day. Some of the guns made in the late 1960s/early 1970s were so superbly polished that they were often mistaken for “refinished, reblued polished-out guns” !!
Mahogany boxed Supers came in two grip frame configurations. Most have what is known as the “standard size” while about 300 were fitted with a grip frame that is 1/10” longer. These longer frames are rare and are known as “long frames” in collector’s circles. The serial numbers of these guns are randomly mixed in the first two to three thousand guns. There is no way to validate their originality. The mahogany box interior cutout is 3/16” longer at the bottom of the grip frame area to accommodate these guns. The walnut grip panels for the long frames have a letter “C” embossed on the inside to set them apart from the standard profile. All that I have ever seen and examined have the “C” located below the screw hole and sometimes will appear to be upside down. Some are also very lightly stamped and can hardly be noticed unless you are really looking for it.
The majority of these mahogany boxed guns had the standard Super Blackhawk barrel address, which included the trademark Ruger Eagle logo. However, some had the earlier Blackhawk “Flattop” barrel address without the Eagle logo, thus these are “Eagle-less” Supers and create a different marking variation of interest for collectors. Combined, numbering approximately 300, the standard or dull polished long frame and the high polished standard frame “Eagle-less” mahogany boxed guns are regarded as rare.
The factory that made and furnished the mahogany cases burned in 1960 and was not rebuilt. Ruger replaced the wooden cases with a special designed white cardboard case with a hinged top. The price of the Super was dropped from $120 to $116 when the white cardboard box was introduced. The white cases had a white cardboard insert with a cutout for the gun similar to the mahogany cases. These cases had a slipcover also made of white cardboard that had the serial number of the gun penciled on the side. Both the white cardboard case and the slipcover had the red Ruger Eagle logo on top. These cases with slipcover were shipped in an outer brown corrugated cardboard shipping carton. It was also numbered to the gun in pencil on its side and had the “S47 SUPER BLACKHAWK” stamped in ink on it. Since the “White Boxes” were made of cardboard, many ended up being destroyed or just thrown away once they were torn, damaged, and/or dirty. Thus the “White Box” Supers are quite rare and sought after by collectors due to their rare packaging. The complete three-piece packaging for the White Box guns is almost unique and is seldom seen. It is estimated that around 6,000 white-boxed guns were shipped. These are normally found in the 5xxx to 10xxx range and are known as high as the 115XX range.
The white-boxed guns all had the super polished or high polish finish. Again, like the mahogany boxed guns, the majority had the eagle logo on the barrel. However, it is estimated that approximately 400 guns in the early 10xxx range were marked with the Blackhawk barrel address, without the trademark Eagle logo, making them a rare marking variation.
Also it is worth mentioning that, after the white cases were put into use, the factory retained a limited supply of mahogany cases that could be ordered as an accessory. I am not sure how many they had or how long they were available. I have seen some fairly high serial numbered guns in these boxes, and the original owners have said the guns came in them.
Next came the Supers in the black and red two-piece or telescope boxes with a brown corrugated cardboard outer shipping carton. This packaging begins to show up in early 1962, normally in the 10xxx range and beyond. Both the box and the outer shipping carton were numbered to the gun. This became the standard packaging for the remainder of the Old Model Super production.
Beginning June 1962 through August 1963 Ruger made several design changes and subtle part modifications that affected all of their single action revolvers. This is often referred to as “The Changes of 1962”. The changes made to the Super Blackhawk created three “Transition” variations for Super collectors to pursue.
One of the changes had to do with the size of the serial number character. Up until late 1963 all Ruger firearms had 1/16” size serial number characters. They were changed to a larger 3/32” size number after October 1963. Other “Changes of ‘62” included the phased in use of an aluminum alloy ejector rod housing versus the earlier steel housing and an unmarked aluminum alloy rear sight versus the earlier steel MICRO marked sight. During the transition to the larger size serial number and alloy parts, any combination of these parts could be found on the guns with the smaller 1/16” serial numbers since the guns are not necessarily assembled in sequence. No parts were wasted, thus combinations of steel/aluminum, aluminum/steel, or aluminum/aluminum parts on the 1/16” numbered guns resulted in three “Transition” models with some being very rare.
Another rare variation is the Super Blackhawk S47 with a factory installed 6-1/2” barrel. It is said that an employee mistakenly thought that he was cutting 6-1/2” .41 Magnum barrels and cut about six hundred .44 Magnum barrels before he realized it. These 6-1/2” Supers were shipped out to distributors. Many collectors refer to this variation as a “S46”. However, they will “factory letter” as a “S47 with a 6-1/2” barrel”. The standard Super Blackhawk, S47, 7-1/2” box was used to ship these guns. The 7-1/2” on the box end label was sometimes marked out with a black magic marker or a small sticker with 6-1/2” put over the number. A factory letter is a must to validate this rare barrel length.
Brass “Dragoon” style grip frames with the square back trigger guards for the Super Blackhawk were delivered to Ruger in the Spring of 1964. Supers with brass grip frames, model S47-B, were first offered for sale in the 1966 catalog. Non-prefix serial numbered Supers that will factory letter with a factory installed brass grip frame are very rare and highly sought after by collectors. These grip frames could also be ordered as an accessory for $20. They came with a Super Blackhawk wide serrated trigger to fit in the wide trigger slot found on the brass frames. These brass grip frames could be fitted not only to the Super Blackhawk but the earlier .357 and .44 Blackhawks and the Single-Six as well. The proper size Super Blackhawk grip panels could also be ordered at an additional cost.
These “Dragoon” style brass frames were later offered as an option on other Blackhawk models and the black powder Old Army. On one day only, in early 1968, just over 100 Supers were fitted with a brass grip frame and are found serial numbered in the 33XXX – 36XXX range. A small quantity of the 6-1/2” barreled guns are known to have been fitted with a brass frame. During the last months of 1972, as Old Model production was coming to an end, just over 1500 Super Blackhawks were fitted with brass grip frames. The brass frames were utilized to get rid of existing inventory; the frames would not fit the New Model guns and there would be no market for them later. They were installed on the Supers and, because there was no price differential, the shipping invoice did not indicate a brass grip frame. The bulk of these will not “factory letter” since there was no extra charge noted on the invoice.
Notwithstanding, a new 800 page book has been drafted and is scheduled to be published in 2007 specifically addressing the collecting of classic Ruger tools, pistols and revolvers and, among other things, will list the factory installed brass grip frame Super Blackhawk serial numbers. The book, entitled For WBR is being written by my friend John Dougan, President of the Ruger Collectors Association, collector, researcher and author of several other fine books on Ruger collecting. Through an exhaustive search through factory archives, John has identified the elusive and previously unknown factory installed brass framed Super Blackhawks. I am certainly looking forward to getting my hands on this new book of knowledge.
When the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed, each firearm produced by a company had to have its own unique serial number. Thus no longer could Ruger make a Single-Six .22 Caliber, a Blackhawk .357 Magnum, and a Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum with the same serial number. Ruger’s answer to this new law was to add a prefix to each serial number. The number “80” was chosen as the Super Blackhawk’s prefix. Beginning in 1969 all Supers had an “80” prefix added to their serial number. There were about 41,000 non-prefix Supers and about 65,000 “80” prefixed Supers made. As an example, the prefix serial number looks like “80-12345”.
There are about 800 or so “Duplicate” serial numbered guns known that have a “D” in front of the serial number. This means that another gun was made with the same number, and when the error was discovered a “D” was put on one of the duplicate numbered guns to make its serial number unique. It appears that all “D” Supers known are “80” prefix guns and they are certainly scarce guns.
About mid-1971 the black eagle grip medallions were changed to a flat silver Eagle. This medallion is sometimes called the “Squashed Chicken” by collectors.
There are over 25 different variations of the old three screw Super Blackhawk with several variations being very unique and extremely rare. For example, there were only three Supers made with a 10” barrel. A friend of mine owns one of the three and a picture of it is included with this article. There are only three or four “seconds” guns known that were either blemished in some way or more than likely used as NRA show guns, etc., then resold and marked with an “S”. Another friend of mine owns two of those and we’ll picture those as well. There were only two Supers that were factory engraved--one went to Elmer Keith and the other was kept in the factory collection.
There is one known factory lettered S47 with a 6-1/2” barrel and a brass frame. There is a Super known that is roll marked “Blackhawk .41 Magnum” and a few with the original “Blackhawk .44 Magnum” roll marked on the cylinder frame. There are two known 6-1/2” barrel “S” marked guns and one will be pictured here. There was at least one experimental Super chambered for the .256 Winchester magnum cartridge. There are other small and/or odd variations that prove for interesting discussions among collectors trying to capture ever one of them for their collections.
Major production of the Old Model Super Blackhawk ceased in February 1973. All total, about 106,460 Old Model Super Blackhawks in all aforementioned configurations were shipped from 1959 – 1973. The number alone testifies to it popularity.
The Ruger Super Blackhawk was my first true collector focus.
I have owned, shot and collected various Ruger handguns since I was a young man but my first true “hunt all the variations fever” came as a result of the many Super variations. They just drove me crazy, I really had fun and enjoyed the search and pursuit of these great revolvers!!
I certainly welcome any comments and any new information that may help us in our collecting of these fine guns.
As always, if you happen to have a nice old early Super tucked away, or any other Old Model for that matter, shoot me an e-mail - I just may take that old gun off your hands !!
Happy shooting and collecting !!