Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Sunday Smith #21: Model 15-4, 1980
From the debut of the K-frame .38 Hand Ejector as the ".38 Military & Police 1st Model" in 1899, Smith & Wesson offered variants equipped with adjustable (or "target") sights. It wasn't until after World War Two, however, that they introduced a K-frame .38 target pistol truly worthy of the name. That gun was the K-38 Masterpiece.
Special features abounded on the new revolver model. It made use of Smith's new short-throw hammer and the trigger featured an adjustment for overtravel (the amount of movement remaining in the trigger's throw after the sear breaks.) The barrel was topped by a flat, longitudinally serrated rib in order to provide a level non-glare sight plane. The grip frame also had longitudinal serrations on both the frontstrap and backstrap to improve grip.
It was originally offered in two barrel lengths, each with their own distinctive front sight. The 6" model, known as the "K-38 Target Masterpiece" had a squared Patridge-style front sight, whereas the 4" "K-38 Combat Masterpiece" had a sloped Baughman "quick draw" style ramp, to avoid snagging in the holster. The weapons proved immediately popular and were sales successes for the Massachusetts gunmaker.
With the shift to model numbers in 1957, the Target Masterpiece became the Model 14, while its shorter barreled cousin had its romantic moniker replaced by the dreary "Model 15" designation. New barrel lengths were added, with the Model 14 acquiring an 8 3/8" option, while the Model 15 had a 2" variant added to the lineup. Surprisingly, given its added cost over the ubiquitous Model 10, the Model 15 saw a fair amount of law enforcement sales, and was even adopted by the USAF for issue to security police.
The Model 15 remained a standard catalog item through 1999, when it was discontinued. Sales of blued guns had suffered next to their stainless counterparts, and the Model 15 suffered the double curse of being chambered in .38 Special. Many consumers felt that the adjustable sight Model 66, externally identical, offered the added bonus of being made of low-maintenance stainless steel and able to chamber the .357 Magnum cartridge as well. Traditionalists howled, however, and the Model 15 has since seen various resurrections in limited edition "Heritage Model"-type runs.
The Model 15-4 pictured above was manufactured in 1980 and, as best I can tell, it remained unfired until I acquired it in early 2003. The bluing in the barrel is still intact, there are no markings on the breechface, and the revolver barely has a drag ring, indicating it hasn't even been dry-fired much. It was picked up at a ridiculously cheap $125, and is worth better than three times that amount at auction in today's environment. As it sits, $400-$425 would not be an unreasonable selling price, and if it had the box & docs it would be worth even more.