Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Sunday Smith #48: .38 Double Action 2nd Model, 1882
By the mid-19th Century, the battle for the title of America's premier handgun manufacturer was pretty much down to two contestants: Colt and Smith & Wesson. Smith stole a march on Colt with their purchase of the Rollin White patent for bored-through cylinders and even before its expiration had introduced a second generation of cartridge revolvers using the new centerfire cartridges, and with a top-break mechanism that featured simultaneous ejection of spent cases.
In 1877, Colt returned fire, so to speak, by introducing a version of their solid-frame revolvers that had double-action lockwork. In other words, the trigger performed the double actions of cocking the hammer and firing the piece. Current Smiths were all single-action, requiring the user to cock the hammer with his thumb for every shot.
In 1880, S&W offered double action versions of their own small- and medium-frame revolvers in .32 and .38 caliber. While the large-frame .44s and .45s are more romantic and tend to feature prominently in the Hollywood dramatizations of the era, these littler revolvers were actually far more common and were the workhorses of the company's lineup. Over 300,000 .38 Double Actions of just the first three variants were made, as compared to about a quarter million large-frame top-breaks of all types, including those for foreign military contracts.
Pictured above is a .38 Double Action 2nd Model from approximately 1882. The 2nd Model is distinguished from the earlier 1st Model by its smaller sideplate, which made for a stronger frame than the large, straight-edged sideplate of the earlier version, which is much rarer, only being made in 1880. In 1884, production shifted to the 3rd Model, which eliminated the unusual “freeing groove” on the cylinder, made necessary by the earlier model's double set of cylinder stop bolts.
The pictured revolver is in the most common trim for a .38 DA, with a 3.25” barrel, black hard rubber stocks, and the nickel finish that was vastly more popular than blued steel for 19th Century American pocket guns. It was acquired at a gun show in Louisville for $100, which is a very fair price. A really nice example might fetch four bills, and one in like-new condition with the rarer mottled red stocks could bring as much as $800.