I suppose that a Colt single or double action with engraving by Colt's in house master Cuno Helfritch would have been pretty high on a lot of folk's lust worthy list.Add to that some fine carved grips in ivory or pearl and you'd have something pretty special and expensive.There were several other notable engravers at the time-L.D.Nimschke,s work was exceptional and Ulrich's was pretty fine too.From a purely practical standpoint of functionality it is pretty subjective.Colt and S&W by virtue of numbers sold followed by Remington cartridge pistols although many felt they weren't as nicely balanced in the hand as the Colt.I would have wanted a Smith & Wesson first but could have made a case for a later Merwin & Hulbert as they are very strong guns and they handle very well.My dad has a Nimschke engraved S&W in 44-40 that is a joy to handle and gaze upon.
In Texas, at least, the most common--& probably the most desired--sixgun was the Colt SAA in .45 Colt caliber. The Texas Rangers were issued SAAs, but they were military issue, sighted for the .45 Schofield round. That's because the Rangers were, at the time, both police officers & part of the state's militia. In 1880 or '81 Colt sent the Rangers 2 SAAs chambered for .44-40, since back in '78 the state bought 2 cases of '73 Winchesters, 1 of carbines & 1 of rifles, & offered them to the Rangers at state cost. Both cases sold out in a single day. Since the state didn't issue .44-40 ammo, the Rangers had been reloading the Winchester ammo for a couple of years. They tried the new sixshooters with some of the reloaded ammo. The primer backed out & locked up the weapon. The Rangers blamed the pistol, not the ammo, & for years you couldn't give a Texas lawman--or most Texans--a .44-40 sixgun. When I first put on a badge in 1960, I found a beautiful Colt Nes Service, factory nickel (rare), 4.5" bbl (rarer) with actual ivory grips with the gold-plated Colt medallion & carved with a bull's head w/ruby (probably garnet) eyes. The price was a very reasonable, for the time, $125. My boss, the county sheriff, told me not to buy it. It was a .44-40 &, as he said, "You need it, it'll lock up on you ever' time."