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Old August 19, 2012, 07:13 PM   #1
LenC
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Need S&W 38 Special Information

Hi All,

I just "inherited" an S&W 38 Special from my father-in-law who died in 1990. Mother-in-Law is moving closer to the daughters and the revolver was found stored away in the closet!

Here is what I know about it:

Smith & Wesson 38 Special – Markings

Barrel
  • Left Side: SMITH & WESSON
  • Top: SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. USA
    PATENTED FEB. 8.08 SEPT. 14.09 DEC. 29.14
  • Right Side: 38 S. & W. SPECIAL CTG

Frame
  • Left Side: Small Trade Mark
  • Right Side: MADE IN U.S.A.
  • There are no markings inside the frame that surrounds the cylinder.

Butt
  • 607645 (Serial Number)

Cylinder
  • Rear: 607645

Has Fray Mershon Inc. “Sure Grip” installed

History

As noted, father-in-law died in 1990. His father had been a police officer in Oakland, CA and the revolver may have been his service gun, or not!

Photos
Attached Images
File Type: jpg IMG_0180.jpg (240.8 KB, 118 views)
File Type: jpg IMG_0181.jpg (242.7 KB, 81 views)
File Type: jpg IMG_0177.jpg (232.7 KB, 72 views)
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Old August 19, 2012, 07:19 PM   #2
flycaster
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Hi, Len. Not a Smith expert, but I'd call it a Model 15.

Chuck
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Old August 19, 2012, 07:27 PM   #3
ScottRiqui
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It's a S&W "Military & Police". This is the gun that later became the Model 10, so you'll often hear them referred to a "pre-Model 10". I have the same gun in nickel, with the same markings, screw locations, half-moon front sight and patent dates. The serial number on mine is 472XXX, and I think it dates from the late 1920s or early 1930s, so yours is a little bit newer. Looks to be in great shape, and they're fun little shooters. I'd avoid +P ammo in it, at least on a regular basis.
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Old August 19, 2012, 09:46 PM   #4
Winchester_73
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Collectors call your gun a 1905 4th change, which is a type of M&P. Your gun is a pre war version. The M&P was renamed the model 10 in 1957. The gun probably dates to the late 1930s. The grips might actually be from an earlier gun. A gun in your SN range would have most likely had pre war small silver medallion service grips.

A very nice quality made gun regardless of who owned it. The grip adapter was an early attempt to provide a target grip feel to service grips.
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Old August 19, 2012, 09:49 PM   #5
Winchester_73
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Hi, Len. Not a Smith expert, but I'd call it a Model 15.
Since the gun is a 5 screw, it technically cannot be a model 15. There was however a 38 combat masterpiece which was 5 screw and later became the model 15, but this gun is not that either. The 38 CM came out after WWII. A 38 CM would have a square butt (like this gun), 4 in taper barrel (other lengths scarce), with magna grips (not service). A model 15 or pre model 15 (38 CM) would also have a baughman aka ramp front sight, not a half moon. The pre model 15 / model 15 could have been ordered with any combo of standard or target hammer/trigger.

EDIT - Yes Mr. Obvious aka Mr. Irwin, model 15s also had adjustable sights. I was thinking about all of the non obvious reasons other than the sights
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Old August 19, 2012, 09:58 PM   #6
Mike Irwin
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The biggest reason of all why it can't be a model 15?

It doesn't have adjustable rear sights.
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Old August 20, 2012, 01:02 AM   #7
LenC
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Some More Questions

Some questions:
  1. What kind of ammunition can it handle? Scott advises against +P. Is that a consensus?
  2. Do the grips appear to be appropriate for its vintage?
  3. I read about "bluing" here and there but this revolver is definitely black. Would that be the original finish?
  4. I am gathering that it is not a collector's item, so is refinishing a good or bad idea or just not worth the cost?

Len
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Old August 20, 2012, 04:51 AM   #8
Mike Irwin
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Smith & Wesson bluing has always been more black than blue. Just the nature of the process they use.

Do NOT fire +P ammunition in this gun. Absolutely not. It will cause greatly advanced wear.
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Old August 20, 2012, 07:12 AM   #9
Mike Irwin
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"Yes Mr. Obvious aka Mr. Irwin, model 15s also had adjustable sights. I was thinking about all of the non obvious reasons other than the sights."

List the obvious first.

The arcane will follow.
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Old August 20, 2012, 07:35 AM   #10
ScottRiqui
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Quote:
I am gathering that it is not a collector's item, so is refinishing a good or bad idea or just not worth the cost?
It's true that unless you have an M&P in a super-rare configuration or with some historical significance, a quality refinish will cost more than the market value of the gun. Yours looks to be in really good shape, though, with just a little bit of wear. If it were mine, I'd shoot the heck out of it as-is.
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Old August 20, 2012, 09:42 AM   #11
Winchester_73
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Quote:
Some questions:

What kind of ammunition can it handle? Scott advises against +P. Is that a consensus?
Do the grips appear to be appropriate for its vintage?
I read about "bluing" here and there but this revolver is definitely black. Would that be the original finish?
I am gathering that it is not a collector's item, so is refinishing a good or bad idea or just not worth the cost?
Regarding +P ammo, this gun was made AFTER the heat treating which IIRC happened in the 300XXX SN range. On top of that, the gun is a K frame which was designed around the 38 special. On the other hand, there is no advantage to shoot +P. Is it safe to do so on this SPECIFIC revolver? I would say yes. Would I do it? No I would not. I wouldn't because 38s are pleasant to shoot (38+ps aren't bad though) and because the gun is nice gun overall IMO.

Regarding the grips, I already answered you in post 4. IMO the gun should have pre war small silver medallion grips. The type on it were the previous type. It could be correct however. Your type was 20s and 30s and the type I am thinking of was 1930s. Your gun is 1930s vintage.

The revolver really and truthfully is not black in hue/shade. It really is blue. Its important to know the difference. Compare it to a NEW S&W, and you see the difference. To my eye, your gun is definitely original finish, and it has a blue sheen to it, depending on how you look at it / lighting, and what you are comparing it to, etc. Historically however, S&Ws blue is darker than say Colt's, but it was never black from the factory in those years. They were still doing the carbona bluing procedure which used cyanide. This was discontinued in the 1970s for safety reasons and since then, the blue has definitely been on the black(er) side. In the old days, they were blue like your gun. Its a matter of perspective and knowing what the modern bluing vs the old bluing looks like.

It is IMO a collector's item. Guns today are not made the same way. Its from a bygone era. Also compared to most, your gun is nice AND original. Its also in a handy barrel length. I would certainly buy this one over say a 1970s example so IMO it is something that a collector would rather have IE a collector's item. Its not mint NIB, nor is it rare (actually very common) but still correct and original. Any nice and original pre war S&W 5 screw is a desireable gun.

Refinishing is a bad idea for many reasons. The chief reason here is that this gun does not need it, at all. It is really nice as is, and already original. Secondly, a quality refinish will not add value to the gun, and to my eye, who knows these guns, I would know if it was redone and so would many other collectors. Also, the bluing type today is not the same, and so it cannot easily be duplicated. The gun is also not rare or valuable enough to justify a quality restoration. The only times when its ok to refinish are when perhaps you have little invested and the gun is in horrible shape, when the gun was already refinished once, or when its a rare one with condition problems. In the rare gun example, its debateable because many collectors pass over refinished guns because it will always have that stigma. You could of course want your favorite deer rifle to look better, but with these old guns, 98%+ of the time, refinishing is not worth it at all.

Quote:
Do NOT fire +P ammunition in this gun. Absolutely not. It will cause greatly advanced wear.
Mike, can you clarify what you mean? IMO it would be safe to do so because of the SN range, but shooting only standard 38s in it would be smarter given its nice original condition. Is your understanding of the heat treating different than mine?
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Old August 20, 2012, 10:05 AM   #12
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Quote:
Do NOT fire +P ammunition in this gun. Absolutely not. It will cause greatly advanced wear.

I agree on that. The metallurgy on older guns varies considerably, I don't know the date on this 38 Spl, but for a good period after WW1, Smith did not heat treat the cylinders. Even so, if it was heat treated, the metal and the heat treat were appropriate for standard pressure loads.

Smith built a heavy duty 38 for hot 38 Special loads. Don't remember, was it the 38/44?, this revolver is not one of those. The +P rounds don't appear until the 70's and not all later model Smiths were made to shoot +p.

Don’t shoot +P in these older revolvers.
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Old August 20, 2012, 10:05 AM   #13
ScottRiqui
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This is the warning directly from S&W:

"“Plus-P” ammunition should not be used in medium
(K frame) revolvers manufactured prior to 1958. Such
pre-1958 medium (K-frame) revolvers can be identified by
the absence of a model number stamped inside the yoke
cut of the frame. (i.e., the area of the frame exposed when
the cylinder is in the open position."


With that being said, my M&P has seen a limited amount of +P ammo over the years with no obvious ill effects, but there's really no point in using +P when I'm just punching paper with it, so I stick to fairy light handloads now.
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Old August 20, 2012, 10:34 AM   #14
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Quote:
I agree on that. The metallurgy on older guns varies considerably, I don't know the date on this 38 Spl, but for a good period after WW1, Smith did not heat treat the cylinders. Even so, if it was heat treated, the metal and the heat treat were appropriate for standard pressure loads.
IMO the metallurgy on a later 1930s gun would not vary widely (Thats when the OPs gun was made). By then, heat treating was done well. None of the hand ejectors were heat treated until about the 300XXX range, which would be early 1920s approx. While it is true about the gun being designed around 38 special standard loads, it is a robust design at the same time. There have been threads about it on the S&W forum. I wouldn't do it a lot, but I also don't think it would definitely wear out a pre war heat treated gun. In the end, its not the worth the risk but at the same time, IMO the risk is pretty minimal.

Quote:
Smith built a heavy duty 38 for hot 38 Special loads. Don't remember, was it the 38/44?, this revolver is not one of those. The +P rounds don't appear until the 70's and not all later model Smiths were made to shoot +p.
Yes the 38/44 HD aka Heavy Duty / pre model 20 (fixed sight) and the 38/44 Outdoorsman / pre model 23 (target sights). It was built on the N frame, like that of a 27, 28, 29 etc. This was the predecessor in concept to the mighty 357 S&W magnum of 1935. The OPs revolver is a K frame aka medium. Remember however that the K frame later was in 357 magnum and with basic maintenance, they work fine. The combat magnum (model 19/66 or 13/65) was changed a little by then, but it was still a K frame. I am just pointing out that the K frame in 38 cal is sturdy. Nothing more. If I had the OPs gun, I would not fire 38 + Ps but to say its "unsafe" isn't exactly the truth either.

The S&W warning probably more has to do with making it easy, and taking away possibility. I am not aware of any design change in 1958 other than the fact they were the model 10, that is significant. I could be wrong however. S&W would not most likely given a "safe" SN range for this issue because that raises questions. They can just say "if its not model marked, don't do it" which is simple to understand.
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Old August 20, 2012, 12:15 PM   #15
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"Mike, can you clarify what you mean? IMO it would be safe to do so because of the SN range, but shooting only standard 38s in it would be smarter given its nice original condition. Is your understanding of the heat treating different than mine?"

I'm not talking about the heat treating, although that could be a component of it. I've seen multiple cases where a steady diet of +P with one of these era guns shooting it loose in relatively short order.

Primarily the issue will be a dramatic increase in the amount of end shake with cylinder wobble also becoming an increasing issue, but at a much slower rate.

Will it happen with the first cylinderful?

No, probably not.

But, with every cylinderful after that, the effects of the over-pressure ammunition become cumulative.


In case you're wondering, yes, I know several people who have shot loose 1920s to 1940s guns using steady diets of +P ammunition.
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Old August 20, 2012, 12:23 PM   #16
Mike Irwin
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"IMO the metallurgy on a later 1930s gun would not vary widely"

I'm not 100% sure, but I THINK that Smith & Wesson began using molybdynum (sp?) steel in its revolvers either right before or right after World War II, probably after given the high priority that alloy got for armor plating.

That change alone would have done more to increase the cylinder strenght than the heat treating alone.
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Old August 20, 2012, 12:25 PM   #17
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Good info Mike. Thanks. I really like these old M&Ps. I guess any revolver guy has to...
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Old August 20, 2012, 02:00 PM   #18
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Steels back when your revolover was made was lesser quality. And alloy, this not as capable of handling increased pressures.
Do as I do with my model 36and shoot only 38 special ammo.
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Old August 20, 2012, 05:05 PM   #19
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A handsome, well crafted revolver. I wouldn't refinish it. I'd shoot it with standard pressure rounds (which are nothing to sneeze at) and enjoy it.
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Old August 20, 2012, 10:15 PM   #20
LenC
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Wow, So Much Useful Information

Thanks to all for the great feedback.

This will be a range revolver for me. I carry a Springfield XDM 9SC for self-defense, anyway. That and being in the process of retiring and moving to a more restricted spending mode, I expect I will be using the least expensive target ammo for the S&W!

I did hear from another person on another forum that they could confirm that a similar S&W .38 Special revolver just 200 S/Ns lower than my S/N was confirmed as having been shipped in June of 1929.

My father-in-law did gun smithing as a hobby, focusing mainly on long guns, so it is highly possible that the grips are not original. (There are no penciled in numbers on the back of the grips.)

As to the color, it really does look black to me in the sunlight - I took the pictures outdoors using natural light - but then, I can't sing and I can't dance so I will take your collective words for it!

Again, thanks for all the useful information.

Len
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Old August 22, 2012, 01:14 PM   #21
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I bought a S&W Model 10 in January of 84 as a new recruit in the NYPD...I think I was charged $86 for it...maybe. Seeing that grip attachment made we wonder...did S&W ship those with this attachment? I seem to remember using a screwdriver to take this annoyance(for me)off. I wouldn't have bought one. I eventually bought L-frame grips wooden grips for it. But it was awhile ago.

I own some guns, but I don't have the wealth of knowledge that exists here.

I do remember the box saying Bangor Puntha or something like that
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Old August 22, 2012, 01:26 PM   #22
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its blued. trust us. Bluing can appear black. but true black finishes are polycoat, ceracoat etc. Bluing is well just more pretty... =) use a bright light LED flashlight and the finish can show up slightly purplish or brown.

great gun you have there. I would love to find something like that. Shoot it and enjoy it!
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