Sunday, July 08, 2007
Sunday Smith #6: .44 Hand Ejector Second Model, 1921
Smith & Wesson followed up the release of the .32 Hand Ejector in 1896 with a larger-framed .38 Hand Ejector in 1899 and a diminutive .22 Hand Ejector in 1902. The top-break .44 Double Action Frontier, however, was forced to soldier on as the only big-bore entry in Smith's catalog until 1907, when it was joined by the .44 Hand Ejector, also known as the New Century. To go with the new gun, S&W created a new chambering: .44 Smith & Wesson Special, which was derived from the old .44 Russian cartridge, but featured a lengthened case to prevent it from being used in any older black powder top-breaks.
The new big bore Hand Ejector contained a couple of traits that distinguished it from its smaller siblings. The cylinder crane featured a third locking point, in addition to the one at the rear of the cylinder and at the front of the ejector rod, causing the guns to sometimes be referred to as "Triple Locks". The most visually distinctive feature was the shroud under the barrel that protected the ejector rod from damage. These revolvers were assembled and finished with great care, and are considered by some to be among the finest revolvers ever made by anyone.
Even in the good old days, however, Smith was never averse to a bit of cost cutting. When it was realized that both the third locking lug and the ejector rod shroud (the latter being an especially tricky and time consuming addition to the barrel machining process) could be abandoned without any real effect on the gun's performance, Smith did so, introducing the newer and more spartan version as the .44 Hand Ejector 2nd Model in 1915. The newer design remained in Smith's lineup until 1940, when it was dropped due to the demands of turning out wartime M&P's.
Standard barrel length on the .44 Hand Ejector 2nd Model was 6.5", although both 4" and 5" barrels could be had as well. The vast majority were chambered for .44 Special; out of over 17,000 manufactured, only about 1,300 were chambered in .44-40 or .45 Colt, and these will bring a substantial premium today. The guns were available in both blued and nickel finishes, and with fixed or target sights. Checked walnut stocks were standard, and most had a lanyard loop on the butt, a popular feature for a large holster gun in that time. Production was halted for 1918 and 1919 due to the war effort, and resumed towards the end of 1920.
The above example, a nickel 6.5" .44 Hand Ejector 2nd Model, sports period mother of pearl stocks, and the serial number indicates that it was the 472nd revolver built after Smith resumed production in 1920. Pre-WWII .44 Hand Ejector prices are high and climbing higher, but the 2nd Models are fairly affordable when compared to their Triple Lock predecessors. The pictured revolver, a tired shooter in fair-to-good condition with some timing issues that needed correcting, set me back some $325 in '06. A Triple Lock in similar shape would probably fetch at least five bills. If my .44 H.E. 2nd Model was in, say, 85-90% condition, you'd probably be looking at $900 or more in today's hothouse market, while equally nice Triple Locks regularly fetch $2,500 or more. As with most old Smith & Wessons, though, they are going nowhere but up in price because, much like real estate, they aren't making any more.