When the Herter’s mail order catalogue company was at the peak of its business period, they marketed a branded line of single action revolvers, based on the single action Colt “Army” revolver – as were most other modern handguns of the type. The Herter’s guns were made in Western Germany, by JP Sauer & Sohn, in .357 magnum, .44 magnum, and a propriatory cartridge – the .401 Herter’s Powermag. The .401 came before and probably influenced the .41 Remington magnum, but never acheived a lot of popularity. This is often blamed on the “looks” of the gun it was packaged in, which was heavier and less graceful in its lines than a Ruger. At the same time, the price of the Herter’s guns was considerably less than a Ruger, even though Ruger was pretty much a bargain in the handgun world. The quality of the Herter’s was not “cheap”, and it used German innovations and workmanship to good advantage.
I have gone over the Herter’s .44 magnum in other posts, as I have been restoring and updating one I traded for a couple of months ago. This has been so enjoyable that I noted in one of the posts I was looking another Herter’s to play around with. The first reply I got to my want-to-buy ad seeking Herter’s guns was a scam in which a bogus seller offered me a Herter’s .401 Powermag for $270, shipped. The gun in the pictures he emailed me looked pretty good, with a case color hardened cylinder frame – but it was some sort of Colt clone, with an obvious Colt front sight, no rear sight, and a Bisley hammer and grip. Even more telling was that the seller refused to send a picture of the barrel’s markings, which should have verified it was a Herter’s, and of what caliber. When I insisted as a condition of the transaction continuing, he sent a shot of the very end of a different barrel than the one in the previous pictures, stainless, and with the beginnings of the “lawyer warning” about reading the manual before operating the firearm, which was not done on 1960’s era guns! This person also was very reluctant to tell me where he was located, finally saying only, “Kansas” – yet his manner of speech suggested an internet thief from the far east! I suspect he pulled the photos off the ‘net, and did not actually have a handgun for sale!
After this disappointing experience, I was amazed when my next contact came from an actual Herter’s collector who lives in Santa Fe, Texas – about 30 miles from my home! This gentleman had a .357 Herter’s, a .44 magnum, and four .401 Powermags, and was willing to sell me one of the .401’s! He also had a large stash of brass and loaded ammo, but wanted to save this for his grandkids, so I ordered ammo from GAD Custom Cartridge, which had ammo loaded in original Herter’s cases – made by Norma – and also in cases formed from .30-30 brass. When I get this shipment in, I will be able to test fire the gun and chronograh loads. My seller also is a bullet caster, and has all the molds made for the .401, so I will likely have him mold some heavy hard cast for me to reload. Dies for “obsolete” cartridges like this can be pricey, but I am told 10mm dies will work for most steps of the process.
This revolver is in better shape than was my .44 mag Herters when I found it. The action is tighter, and except for a slight turn ring on the cylinder, the bluing is better, It wears the original black plastic grips which are in good shape and are going in my gun safe. For now the gun is wearing the white oak grips I first made for the .44, but I will likely make another set of purple heart grips and use magnets to hold them in place as I did with the .44. What really stands out on this revolver is the trigger pull, which seems to have come from the factory at a crisp LESS THAN TWO POUNDS of pull! This contrasts considerably with the 4 pound pull of my .44! I really don’t care for triggers set so light, and especially in a gun with the original Colt style “half cock” lockwork, where the hammer is best kept down on an empty cylinder, extra care should be taken to performing this process with a very light trigger. I once had the hammer on an Old Model Ruger .357 wearing oversized grips “get away” from me when letting it down on a LOADED cylinder, and an “accidental discharge” – which luckily caused no harm – resulted. Also, the fingers should be kept safely away from the trigger on this gun, until it is time – for sure – to actually pull the trigger!
At this point, I want to spend some time shooting this gun before making drastic changes, and the .401’s do have some collector value – but I might strip the bluing and rust brown the whole revolver. Another option is that Numrich Gun Parts has a brass grip frame listed that fits a large frame JP Sauer revolver that might well “bolt up” to this one.
Numrich also has some parts still in stock for Herter’s revolvers, including new cylinders in .357, .44, and .401 calibers. Some folks have had .357 cylinders bored to 10mm, resulting in a “conversion” gun with a cylinder in a modern – and desirable – caliber. .401 cylinders can also be modified to shoot .38/40 rounds, and both these conversions match up to the original .401 barrel. I recently saw a Ruger “Buckeye” conversion Blackhawk revolver with cylinders in .38/40 and 10mm (but NOT .401) offered for sale at $800, and that is a reasonable price for such a Ruger – yet the Herter’s can be made even more versatile for less of an investment.
As noted, there is some collector interest in the Herter’s revolvers, and it seems to be growing. For right now, the guns CAN be found, and prices are reasonable. They probably won’t fund your grandchild’s college education, but it would be hard to lose money – and there aren’t many investments other than firearms that can be used recreationally and regularly and also put food on the table and provide home and family defense!