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.

13 comments:

Jay G said...

$125???

That sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the floor...

Nice S&W Tam. Very nice...

Johnny Virgil said...

Who made your AR-15? Is that a bushmaster?

Tam said...

"Who made your AR-15?"

Actually, I made that one. It's a Mega lower with a DPMS parts kit and a DPMS upper. I was tickled to find out how easy it was to put one together (I can hardly change a tire.) So much so that I built two more. :)

Sam said...

Ah, memories. I carried an M15 for few years in the Air Farce. When the M9 replaced it, I was back to carrying an M16.

The only difference (that I can remember, it was 20 years ago) between your picture and what I carried, was USAF issue was packerized.

And the load? 18 rounds (count 'em) of 130 grain hard ball. Twelve of those rounds were in dump pouches. Speed loaders were not allowed. "Not issue."

Those 130 grainers kicked pretty good [sic], at least with issue stocks. After market stocks not allowed. "Not issue."

Sam said...

Ach! That's parkerized, not packerized. Though Farve did have a good game . . .

Xavier said...

Beautiful gun Tam!

Much to nice for an old wear 'em down shoot 'em out type like me!

Damn that's a beautiful gun.....

Why do I feel like a sailor at a cotillion?

Tam said...

It's okay to own both shooters and lookers, you know. :)

Dave Markowitz said...

$125?!? Holy cr*!!

Anonymous said...

My first police issue gun was a Model 15 Combat Masterpiece. I couldn't hit with it. I moved upwards and onwards, and 10 years later, got a Model 15 of my own due to feeling nostalgic. I still couldn't hit with it.
Then I met John Linebaugh, and he basically taught me how to shoot my own gun. Today I regularly hit water bottles at 100 yards with it using - wadcutters! It's now my favorite fun gun.

John said...

My dad was in the Air Force OSI and issued the K38 Combat Masterpiece in the late forties. He carried in a shoulder holster under a civilian suit. When I was four years old, I used to ask when he was drinking his morning coffee, "You got your gun, Dad?" He would lift his coat and show me. "Is it loaded?" He nodded and smiled. I bought a Model 15-4 in the mid seventies to protect my young family and today, it sits beside me in my top desk drawer. It's loaded with the hot 38 rounds and serves me will. Thank God I've never had to use it. One of my favorites. Enjoyed your article. John

F. Allen Norman said...

I have a "pre-15" K-38 Combat Masterpiece made in 1950, in pristine condition with the original box and tools. Some appraisers quoted me a $450-500 value, but as I was walking thru the gun show where i bought it, guys were offering me $1100-1500 for it. You can see it by going to YouTube and searching for the title "Smith and Wesson K-38 Combat Masterpiece: The Prince of Revolvers".

Tam said...

That's what comes of non-specialists thinking with their Blue Books. ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Sam: I served in Panama with the 24th SPS from 1972-73 and then at Andrews. I not only had and was allowed speedloaders, but also custom rosewood grips and a Bucheimer "Federal Man" holster, courtesy of special Base Directives wangled by the Chiefs of Police at both bases. We were not, however, allowed to use grips with finger-notches and we were not allowed to carry P-24 (side-handle) batons; but we could carry straight nylon batons, and most of us did.