Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Sunday Smith #14: Model 27-2, 1964
With handgun users demanding more and more powerful loadings in the interwar years, Smith & Wesson's .38/44 models were just a stopgap. Not four years after their introduction, Smith dropped a bombshell that shook the whole handgun market and is still with us today: The Magnum. The Most Powerful Handgun In The World.
The .38 Special loading still clung to an antiquated measurement left over from the days of the old "heeled" type bullets, and the new cartridge used the actual diameter of the bullet as its nomenclature: .357 Magnum (guaranteeing the confusion of generations of handgun novices to come as it is patiently explained to them that .38's can be fired in .357's, but not vice versa.) Smith lengthened the .38 case slightly to prevent the new barn-burners, capable of launching 158gr bullets at 1400 feet per second, from being chambered in smaller-framed .38 Special firearms; the new cartridge was developed from the start to take advantage of the strength of the large .44-scaled "N-frame". The splash caused by the new round is hard to overstate; like the .44 Magnum and .500 Magnum that followed, it quickly entered the popular consciousness, from tales of Col. Douglas B. Wesson taking all kinds of game with it all 'round the world (including many things that probably shouldn't be shot at with a .357) to Dick Tracy and his men surrounding a villain's hideout in the Sunday comics and announcing "You'd better come out! We've got Magnums!"
The guns themselves were almost all built to order originally, and featured levels of fit and finish seldom seen on guns today. Rumor has it that a worker at the Springfield factory had to work for many years on the regular finishing line before he was given a shot at polishing Smith's new flagship guns. The high-polish blue is such that, when parked next to other Smiths in dim light, the lesser guns appear almost gray by comparison.
Magnum production was stopped for the war effort, with only about 7,000 being made before '41, but was resumed after the war as a regular catalogue item. It was still Smith's flagship gun, however, and still boasted that extra premium fit and finish. Somewhere around 1950, the lockwork was switched to the new short-throw hammer, and in 1957, the Magnum followed the rest of the Smith revolver line and became the "Model 27". In 1960 the threading on the ejector rod was changed to left-hand thread and the "-1" suffix was appended to the model number, followed by a change to the cylinder stop and deletion of the fourth (trigger guard) screw in 1961 that resulted in the Model 27-2.
These are among the most sought-after and collectible Smith & Wesson wheelguns, with prices on prewar Registered Magnums reaching the nosebleed four-figure range, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see the $10k prewar RM become a not-uncommon occurrence for particularly fine examples in the near future. Postwar/pre-model-number guns are being sucked up in their wake turbulence, with $800-$1000 prices being not unheard of for nice ones. A late-'50s/early-'60s Model 27 will run anywhere from ~$400 for a tired shooter to $800+ for a primo example. The above gun, a very likely unfired 3.5" 27-2 dating to 1964, was acquired for about $550 back in '03, and would likely bring half again that price at auction today.
Still, for a gun that is a legitimate contender for the Finest Revolver Ever crown, it's worth it.