Monday, March 03, 2008
Sunday Smith #37: Model 696-1, 2000.
A little over a decade after the release of its beefed-up "L-frame" medium frame revolvers, Smith & Wesson capitalized on the fact that the slightly larger cylinder of the new guns would accommodate five .44 caliber holes with plenty of safety margin to spare. With Brazilian competitors Taurus and Rossi having both released five-shot medium frame .44 Special wheelguns, Smith countered with the Model 696, an all-stainless 3" round-butt big bore revolver almost guaranteed to find market share in an era when liberalized concealed carry laws were sweeping the nation.
Although heavy at only a fraction less than 36 ounces, the new revolver was fairly compact, yet its three-inch tube allowed for an ejector rod with a full-length stroke and enough sight radius to make the adjustable sights, with their red ramp up front and white-outlined rear blade, a useful addition. Only about a year after the introduction of the Model 696, the gun was redesigned to utilize S&W's new Metal Injection Molded lockwork, easily distinguished by the "flat nose" hammer lacking a hammer-mounted firing pin. The new model was assigned the "-1" suffix, signifying the first engineering change to the basic revolver. In 2001, the designation was changed again to the 696-2, with the addition of Smith & Wesson's controversial new key-operated integral safety lock. Only two years later, the 696 was dropped from the catalog.
In late 2004, the 696 became an online gun-collecting version of Dutch Tulip Mania. For some reason the gun became the object of wild speculation in internet forum and auction circles, with nice examples changing hands at $800 and more. Prices have since receded to more normal levels, leaving unwise speculators sitting on stacks of revolvers for which they'd paid too much, proving that it's important to know market trends before speculating in guns as investments, just like anything else.
The above revolver, shown wearing Hogue Bantam stocks, was picked up in Like-New-In-Box condition in early 2005 for $400, which was a good, if not earth-shaking deal. With factory grips and all the documentation and accoutrement, an LNIB 696 these days can expect to bring ~$600, with a premium for a "no dash" model with the hammer-mounted firing pin. For those who like the anvil-like reliability and solidity of a compact belt revolver made of steel, but prefer their bore size to start with the number "4", it's hard to imagine a better choice.