Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Sunday Smith #29: Model 19-5, 1988.
When Smith & Wesson introduced the .357 Magnum cartridge in 1935, many viewed it as an ideal law enforcement round. The only problem was that the only revolver chambered for it was prohibitively expensive for most law enforcement agencies, being carefully fitted and finished and positioned as the "Cadillac" of the S&W line. After World War Two, S&W attempted to rectify this by introducing the "Highway Patrolman", later known as the Model 28, in 1954. This was essentially the same revolver as the .357 Magnum/Model 27, but with various cost cutting measures like a matte blue finish and elimination of the fine checkering along the sighting plane.
While this solved the cost issue, it didn't change the fact that the .357 cartridge was only available in a big N-frame revolver that weighed in at over two and a half pounds, which was quite a burden to lug on a duty belt already encumbered by handcuffs, nightstick, and all the other items on the ever-growing list of impedimentia considered necessary for police work. Behind the scenes, Border Patrol officer Bill Jordan had been pressing S&W to take advantage of advances in metallurgy and heat-treating of steel by releasing a .357 Magnum version of their midsize K-frame revolver. In 1955, they did just that, and thus was born the Combat Magnum, soon to be dubbed the Model 19 when the transition to model numbers was made in 1957.
Immediately a big hit, the Model 19 offered the more compact dimensions of the medium-frame combined with the hard-hitting .357 Magnum chambering and was used by any number of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, ranging from the Dayton, OH Police Department to the United States Secret Service. Initially offered with a 4" barrel and square-butt frame, variations with other barrel lengths soon became available. The most common were the 2.5" guns with round-butt frames and square-butt 6" guns, but 3" and 5" examples are known to exist. The revolvers went through the litany of engineering changes denoted by "dash numbers" after the model number, with the "-5" variation marking the abandonment of the pinned barrel and countersunk chambers in 1982. Production of the Model 19 Combat Magnum continued through November of 1999 when it was finally discontinued, its sales having slipped precipitously in comparison with its stainless offspring, the Model 66.
The revolver in the above photo, a 19-5 dating to 1988, is unusual for combining the 4" barrel length with a round-butt frame. This configuration first showed up in guns issued to the Office of Naval Intelligence in 1965, and those guns were marked "ONI" on the frame. A later run of 4" round-butt guns was done in 1988 for the U.S. State Department, and this revolver would appear to be from that batch, as its serial number bears the correct prefix. It was acquired from a friend in 2003 for about $325, and would bring probably over $425 in today's market, given the aftermarket Hogue monogrip and the lack of a factory box. Standard 4" Model 19's will run anywhere from not too much over $150 for a tired shooter to as much as five bills for a pristine early example with box & docs. Variations in barrel length, commemoratives, and odd Law Enforcement or foreign-contract guns can sometimes be worth substantial premiums, but research is in order before laying out the cash, as always.
As a purely side note, if I could only own one handgun, the above revolver would probably be it. Able to shoot anything from .38 snake shot to .357 loads appropriate for deer hunting, and small enough to be carried concealed in an inside-the-waistband holster, the 4" Model 19 is maybe as close to a "Do Anything" handgun as has ever been made.