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.


Steve said...

Can't tell from the picture, Tam. Is that what is often affectionately referred to as a lemon-squeezer?

Carteach said...

Nice..... and easy to see where Iver Johnson got their ideas from.

Tam said...

"Is that what is often affectionately referred to as a lemon-squeezer?"

No, this is a Lemon-Squeezer. :)

Anonymous said...

I do like a top break revolver for some reason, a Webley being the favorite.

Anyone know why they fell out of favor?

Tam said...

Harder to engineer a lockup strong enough to resist really stout cartridges without getting worn and coming unlatched.

The solid-frame hand ejector design is very nearly as quick to operate and much stronger.

Anonymous said...

I once inherited a late model .38 DA with a 6-inch barrel, from my grandmother. During the WW2, her first husband was working in occupied Europe on some kind of secret-squirrels op.. Sounds like he was something of a live-fast-die-young playboy before the war; owned a boat and a 'plane and was missing one leg from a motorbike accident. He was the sort of character you'd think only ever existed in fiction, the way my grandmother spoke about him. Anyway, when it looked like the Germans were all set to invade England, he gave her this pearl-handled S&W to defend herself with, whilst he was away. Back in the days when pretty-much anything that went 'bang' was being snaffled-up by the British government, this was no small thing to get hold of, either. I wonder, did he ever use it in occupied Norway? Did he ever parachute into France with it under his coat? I wish I knew.

Well, my grandmother never had to use it, thankfully, and towards the end of the war, her husband sadly died in a mid-air collision. She later married my grandfather and the Smith went into an old suitcase, where it stayed for nearly fifty years. I inherited it in the early '90s along with an ancient .22 Martini rifle that some relation had used in a home-defense regiment during WW1.

Course, shortly after the Dunblane Massacre happened, the government decided that anyone who owned guns was obviously pure evil and likely to start killing people at the drop of a hat. Dad made me hand them both in, rather than risk getting caught with them and copping some jail-time. So the Smith and the Martini were destroyed by the sniveling, shrieking, hysterical ninnies and all that history was lost.

I can't look at a picture of a break-top S&W and not feel sad now. Where the hell did it all go wrong?