Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Smith #44: .38 Military & Police Model of 1905 -4th Change, 1930

The late 19th Century was a time of great change in the small arms world. The U.S. Army, which had been using a solid-framed single-action .45 Colt revolver since 1873, adopted a new double-action sidearm in 1892. This revolver, also made by Colt, had a cylinder that swung out to the side for loading and chambered a smaller .38 caliber cartridge.

Within four years' time of the Army's changeover, Smith & Wesson had brought out their own line of revolvers with swing-out cylinders, albeit chambered in a lengthened .32 caliber cartridge, and they soon followed these up with an enlarged version. The target market of this bigger revolver was no secret: They were named the .38 Military & Police.

These early guns, easily distinguished from their later brethren by their lack of a locking lug under the barrel at the front of the ejector rod, were adopted in small trial-size batches by the Army and Navy in 1899. Although nobody realized it at the time, the heyday of the martial revolver in the US was drawing to a close, with the adoption of the first general issue self-loading martial sidearm in American service barely a decade in the future. That really didn't matter, however; the Smith .38 Military & Police was destined to be one of the most successful handgun designs ever manufactured.

They were chambered in a stretched .38 (which Smith called the ".38 S&W Special".) Although the new cartridge originated as a black powder design, it was loaded with smokeless powder shortly after its introduction and remains one of the most popular handgun cartridges to this day.

Noticeable changes were made to the gun in 1902, when a lug under the barrel with a locking detent for the ejector rod was added, and in 1905, when a screw was added to the frame in front of the trigger guard, bringing the number of externally visible screws in the frame to five. This is what has led to collectors referring to Smiths of this vintage as "five screw" guns.

Various small changes added up, and by 1915, the proper name for the current model was ".38 Military & Police Model of 1905, 4th Change". This iteration was immensely popular; between its inception and 1942, over three quarters of a million were made.

Available in barrel lengths of 2, 4, 5, or 6 inches, and with fixed or adjustable sights, a hobby could be made of collecting just this particular variant of the famous M&P alone. The above example, a fairly basic 5" model, dates to 1930. The photo does not do the condition of the revolver justice; the bluing is even and exhibits only minimal wear in the expected places, making it an honest 90-95% gun. It was purchased at a gun show in Knoxville, Tennessee in the summer of 2007 for $350. In today's market, in the condition it's in, it would probably bring $100 over that, maybe more. Excellent condition prewar Hand Ejectors remain solid investments.


Old NFO said...

Beautiful pistol and a nice write up too! thanks!

Home on the Range said...

A beautiful piece of history with the appropriate words to capture it. Thanks.

Dave Markowitz said...


If you ever run across one with the adjustable rear sight and McGivern bead front sight, snap it up. S&W made only a couple thousand in this configuration, during the mid-1920s. I got mine. ;)

Assrot said...

Nice gun. Glad to see you posting here again. I have the Colt 1892 in .38 Long Colt. Not exactly a powerhouse but I like it and it's a nice piece of history.


wv: comenad

Billll said...

I have one almost exactly like that. Mine has plain wood grips, and a lanyard ring under the handle. It came complete with a leather shoulder holster / bandoleer, and was carried by my father when he was bombed at Pearl Harbor.

No idea how old it might be.

Tam said...

Is your 5" M&P martially marked? 'Cause that'd be cool.

Somerled said...

I've been looking for one in .32-20. Then I've got a 5" .38 Spec. barrel in the parts box I've been tempted to replace a 2" barrel on a Model 10 with. I like retro--a lanyard ring would be a nice touch. Thanks for the fine post, Tam.

Tam said...

"I've been looking for one in .32-20."

Part of what convinced me to close the deal on this 'un was the thought of how nice a bookend it would make with my '21-vintage nickel 5" .32-20...