Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sunday Smith #1: .32 Double Action 3rd Model, 1883

Smith & Wesson is, if not the oldest surviving American gunmaker, the only American arms company who has continued to fill the same market niche since their inception. In an era when Colt dominated the military contract market, S&W purchased a patent from Rollin White and began turning out a line of tiny revolvers chambered for the then-new .22 rimfire cartridge. Despite occasional military interest, Smith & Wesson has been turning out revolvers and pistols mostly for the civilian and law-enforcement market since 1857, the date of introduction of the Model One. (Before this, they made lever-operated pistols based on the Volcanic pattern.)

Smith & Wesson collecting is still a wide-open and fertile field. With tens of millions of revolvers and pistols made to hundreds of patterns over the last 150+ years, it's easy to start a modest collection. Rarer models may have started commanding high prices, but even a pristine Triple Lock or Registered Magnum is a bargain when compared to a cherry first generation Colt Peacemaker. Hence, the Sunday Smith series; a more-or-less chronological walk through my S&W collection, with a dab of history and pricing data to boot.

The first gun featured, and the oldest Smith currently in my collection, is a .32 Double Action 3rd Model, dating from approximately 1882 or '83. The gun is chambered in .32 S&W, one of the oldest centerfire cartridges still extant, and sports a 3.5" barrel and a nickel finish. These were intended as pocket pistols in an age when most gentleman thought nothing of having a handgun in their coat pocket, and many ladies felt likewise. The tiny size of the gun is shown by the 1937 penny included for scale. These small-frame top-breaks are still cheap to acquire in average condition. As one can guess from the shells showing in the cylinder, this one is still a safe shooter, and I paid under $200 for it from a private seller at a gun show in April of 2006.


Matt G said...

My lieutenant has one, and just yesterday was asking me "what in the hell possessed 'em to nickel plate those guns?" We discussed the fact that it was the best way to prevent corrosion in a time when people commonly carried guns with them all the time. With metalurgy what it was at the time, .32 S&W Long was a relatively powerful cartridge for such a little repeating cartridge. With a top-break design and a double-action trigger, it was an amazingly fast shooter and reload. Some accounts have it that Doc Holiday had one in his belt at the OK Corral (though his main shooting was with a shotgun he'd borrowed from the local stage office.).

Assrot said...

Just saying hello and letting you know I lurk here quite often. I love this blog. I'm a gun collector myself. This is one of the most enjoyable blogs I read. It is definitely in my top 5. Keep on blogging sweetie.

Tam said...

"With metalurgy what it was at the time, .32 S&W Long was a relatively powerful cartridge for such a little repeating cartridge."

Ah, but this is in the truly pipsqueak .32 S&W. The .32 S&W Long didn't debut until the arrival of the Hand Ejector in 1896. :)

Anonymous said...

WOW! I found it! I got online and started looking for S&W handguns and here it is.
Sunday Smith #1 - 32 cal - double action 3rd Model 1883.
Where can I get more info? Mine has been in the family for over 50 years and is in poor condition. Serial 1004xx.

ABEHE3EP said...

How do you know the manufacture date of this piece. I recently obtained one and am trying to track down manufacture year (based on S/N 231XXX) but can find no references.

Tam said...

The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson: Third Edition is the current collector's bible with regards to serial numbers and so forth. It was written Jim Supica and Richard Nahas and is available from

For an individual revolver, a letter can be obtained from Smith & Wesson for a nominal fee, detailing date of manufacture, where the gun was originally shipped, and a bit of history on the model. Instructions can be obtained at S&W's website.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, I have one of these that belonged to my Great Great Grandfather. He was a cop back in the day and this was his back up piece. I last fired it back in 1984. It now resides in a shadow box on my wall.