The Colt 1902 Philippine Model revolver is a modified version of the Colt 1878 Double Action Army or Frontier model pistol. This was Colt’s first entry into the large-frame double action revolver market, following just after the 1877 small frame Lightning and Thunderer designs. It was a marginally successful gun for Colt, with a bit more than 51,000 sold over about 30 years. The guns were not particularly robust or reliable, compared to other options at the time.
The US Army had tested the Model 1878 in 1879, and rejected it – largely because of problems with light primer strikes. Many years later, experience in the Philippines would lead the government to seek .45 caliber revolvers for issue to the Philippine Constabulary. Colt seized this opportunity by fitting a stronger hammer spring to the 1878 revolver, and lengthening the trigger to give the shooter more leverage on the correspondingly heavier trigger. The trigger guard was also enlarged, as necessary to fit the lengthened trigger. This gave the gun a distinct look, which would become popularly known as the Alaskan Model, inferring use with gloves in cold weather. In reality, however, this design was to increase reliability with the aim of making a government sale.
The changes worked, too – the government purchased 4600 of the guns for use in the Philippines in 1902. While many assume that the .45 revolver acquired in response to the Moro fighters’ fighting spirit was the 1873 Single Action Army, it was actually the 1878/1902 (while some SAAs were put into service, this was done by individual officers, and not by government plan).