Sunday, May 13, 2007
Sunday Smith #1: .32 Double Action 3rd Model, 1883
Smith & Wesson is, if not the oldest surviving American gunmaker, the only American arms company who has continued to fill the same market niche since their inception. In an era when Colt dominated the military contract market, S&W purchased a patent from Rollin White and began turning out a line of tiny revolvers chambered for the then-new .22 rimfire cartridge. Despite occasional military interest, Smith & Wesson has been turning out revolvers and pistols mostly for the civilian and law-enforcement market since 1857, the date of introduction of the Model One. (Before this, they made lever-operated pistols based on the Volcanic pattern.)
Smith & Wesson collecting is still a wide-open and fertile field. With tens of millions of revolvers and pistols made to hundreds of patterns over the last 150+ years, it's easy to start a modest collection. Rarer models may have started commanding high prices, but even a pristine Triple Lock or Registered Magnum is a bargain when compared to a cherry first generation Colt Peacemaker. Hence, the Sunday Smith series; a more-or-less chronological walk through my S&W collection, with a dab of history and pricing data to boot.
The first gun featured, and the oldest Smith currently in my collection, is a .32 Double Action 3rd Model, dating from approximately 1882 or '83. The gun is chambered in .32 S&W, one of the oldest centerfire cartridges still extant, and sports a 3.5" barrel and a nickel finish. These were intended as pocket pistols in an age when most gentleman thought nothing of having a handgun in their coat pocket, and many ladies felt likewise. The tiny size of the gun is shown by the 1937 penny included for scale. These small-frame top-breaks are still cheap to acquire in average condition. As one can guess from the shells showing in the cylinder, this one is still a safe shooter, and I paid under $200 for it from a private seller at a gun show in April of 2006.