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Old February 2, 2012, 01:45 PM   #1
superpelly
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S&w model 20 38/44 Heavy Duty

I can get one for $329.00 About 60%, Don't know much about this model.


Serial number is 52XXX

Price right?
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Old February 2, 2012, 02:02 PM   #2
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Does the gun actually have a "MOD 20" stamped inside the yoke cut and an "S" prefix on the serial number?

If so, RUN BACK THERE, don't walk, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Model-numbered M20s are exceptionally rare guns; this is one of those firearms that gets the vaunted "Too rare to accurately estimate value" listing in the value guides.

This particular model is one of the few S&W revolvers that's far more rare in model-numbered form than "pre-model" form, and the more later-model features it has, the rarer it is. IIRC S&W did not formally drop the M20 from the catalog until the mid-60s, but production had basically stopped by this time; the gun is rare to the point of near nonexistence after about 1960.

Assuming it's a prewar .38/44 HD in solid "shooter grade" condition, $329 is still a very good price. (The serial number would be prewar without an "S" prefix.) These guns are very hot with collectors now, and it's becoming difficult to find one under $500, even with a refinish.

[Edit to add footnote] Be aware of two warnings regarding this model:
  • Prewar S&W revolvers used the so-called "long-action" lockwork with longer hammer travel and a slightly different trigger mechanism than the "short-action" lockwork used in postwar guns. It is difficult- albeit not impossible- to find parts for long-action N frames due to relatively low production numbers.
  • Prewar S&Ws tend to be made of relatively soft steel and .38/44s have a very massive cylinder. These factors can cause the cylinder stop notches to wear excessively if the gun is subjected to lots of double-action rapid fire. Consequently, some .38/44s exhibit alarmingly loose lockup- something to look out for if you intend to use the gun as a shooter, especially given the parts situation (see above). Also, this gun is a poor choice if you intend to do lots of DA rapid fire yourself.
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Last edited by carguychris; February 2, 2012 at 02:15 PM. Reason: Warning notes!
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Old February 2, 2012, 02:10 PM   #3
superpelly
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Ok, called the store where I have a hold on it, No 20 stamped. Theres is a stamp that says oklahoma Hwy Patrol. 9439?
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Old February 2, 2012, 02:11 PM   #4
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Instead of the usual range of values, SCSW simply says "Too rare to estimate value. Most specimens would probably sell in the low four figure range." Now, that's for an actual Model 20, which would be post-1957 when model numbering started.

However, the serial number you listed isn't correct for a Model 20, which would have an "S" prefix followed by 6 digits. It would be in the right range for the .38/44 Heavy Duty (Prewar) (or the Outdoorsman, which is the same gun with adjustable sights), either of which could be thought of as a pre Model 20, although that designation actually is used for the .38/44 HD Model of 1950, which would also have an "S" prefix followed by 5 or 6 digits.

Assuming the SN is correct and the gun actually is an original .38/44 Heavy Duty or Outdoorsman, 60% finish on a gun of that age would place it in the "Good" to "Very Good" range, assuming that it is in good working order. As such, if the gun has fixed sights it's probably worth at least a couple hundred dollars more than the price quoted, and if it's the adjustable sights Outdoorsman it's worth a few hundred more than that.

Edit: I see carguychris beat me to it, with substantially the same info. As he said, run do not walk back to the store and buy the gun. That number doesn't sound like the serial number, which would be found on the butt of the grip frame.
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Old February 2, 2012, 02:23 PM   #5
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Quote:
Theres is a stamp that says oklahoma Hwy Patrol. 9439?
Lots of .38/44s have similar stamps because most were sold to LE agencies. Consequently, unlike many other older revolvers, these marks don't seem to affect the value if they're period-correct.

Check my first post; I added some warning notes, and I just thought of another one!

A fair number of .38/44s can be found with the chambers lengthened to accept .357 Magnum cartridges. Your first instinct may be to exclaim "HOLY CARP, were they nuts?!?", but the conversion is usually (key word usually...) fairly safe because these guns were designed to accept a cartridge that ran close to .357Mag pressures anyway. That said, I wouldn't fire .357Mag in a converted .38/44 today, because it's a valuable collector's piece and the risk isn't worth it IMHO.

FWIW the conversion doesn't seem to affect values much unless the gun is in a high condition grade, and this one isn't.
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Old February 5, 2012, 01:48 PM   #6
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For $329, I would buy a pre-war 38/44 in almost any condition. It is worth more for the parts to me. If it is shootable it is even better.

If I were you, I would buy it quickly. If not, pm me and I will get it. I collect 38/44's.
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Old February 5, 2012, 02:57 PM   #7
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Man .... Oh what a what a find.....
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Old February 5, 2012, 03:10 PM   #8
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I passed on it I instead bought a 25-2 .45 ACP 6 1/2 99% with presentation box for 699.00
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Old February 5, 2012, 03:20 PM   #9
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38/44's are relatively uncommon because their popularity, and thus desirability and production numbers, waned quickly after the introduction of the .357 Magnum. As originally designed, the guns were meant to be used with a variant of the .38 Special round that, while producing much higher pressure and velocity, was dimensionally identical. While the ballistics were certainly there and the S&W N-Frame revolvers (as well as probably the .38 Special Colt New Service and Single Action Army) were more than capable of handling the pressures, many older and/or smaller .38 Special revolvers including the S&W M&P and Colt Police Positive Special were not yet. This prompted the development of the .357 Magnum and it's longer case to ensure that the new high-pressure ammo could not be fired in an older, smaller, weaker gun.

While S&W still cataloged the 38/44 revolvers (there were two the Heavy Duty/M20 and the Outdoorsman/M23) into the 1960's, the high-pressure ammo had long since been discontinued out of fear that it would be fired in an unsuitable revolver thus turning the 38/44's into nothing more than an exceptionally large and heavy .38 Special to anyone but a handloader. Because of this, the 38/44 wasn't particularly popular especially after newer lower-priced .357 Magnum revolvers like the S&W Highway Patrolman/M28 became available. Adding to the scarcity of 38/44's is the fact that many are no longer original as they were modified to fire other cartridges like .357 Magnum, .44 Special, or .45 Long Colt decades ago when they were relatively cheap and undesirable.
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Old February 5, 2012, 09:09 PM   #10
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Quote:
I passed on it
imho that was a mistake.
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Old February 5, 2012, 10:27 PM   #11
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"While S&W still cataloged the 38/44 revolvers (there were two the Heavy Duty/M20 and the Outdoorsman/M23) into the 1960's, the high-pressure ammo had long since been discontinued out of fear that it would be fired in an unsuitable revolver thus turning the 38/44's into nothing more than an exceptionally large and heavy .38 Special to anyone but a handloader."

Not so much.

Remington loaded .38-44 spec. ammunition into the late 1950s, possibly the early 1960s.

The primary reason the .38-44 faded as a cartridge was multi-fold:

1. The entire purpose for the cartridge, the lawlessness of the 1920s and 1930s, faded with World War II.

2. Only about 20,000 .38-44s were manufactured, meaning that ammunition sales were never going to be all that healthy.

3. .38-44 HD ammo was, comparatively, a lot more expensive than standard .38 Special ammo, so most people were inclined to go with that instead of the specialty ammo.
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Old February 6, 2012, 11:47 AM   #12
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Quote:
I passed on it I instead bought a 25-2 .45 ACP 6 1/2 99% with presentation box for 699.00
How come there aren't any gun shops like that around here? The .38/44 would have been a double steal - the 25-2 is just a steal. I have one that I absolutely love, but it's not 99%, there's no box, and I paid a bit more than $699 several years ago. Nice find, congratulations

Last edited by FlyFish; February 6, 2012 at 03:33 PM.
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Old February 6, 2012, 05:56 PM   #13
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Can you PM me the stores contact details?

I will go after it since you did not want it.
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Old February 6, 2012, 06:13 PM   #14
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Was in there today, its gone. Some MP's left, a model 1950 .45 acp is 500.00 still there. A model 57 41 mag 4 inch, P&R (S) serial number is still there 1,400$ A nice 44spl I think pinned 6 inch barrel. 450.00 Victory model 299.00 some others can't remember

Scheels store Eau Claire WI
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Old February 6, 2012, 10:33 PM   #15
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Quote:
Not so much.

Remington loaded .38-44 spec. ammunition into the late 1950s, possibly the early 1960s.
Interesting, I was under the impression that .38-44 ammunition was discontinued well before that due to concerns that it could be fired in older, weaker .38 Special guns.
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Old February 6, 2012, 10:53 PM   #16
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"Interesting, I was under the impression that .38-44 ammunition was discontinued well before that due to concerns that it could be fired in older, weaker .38 Special guns."

Apparently not, just as the ammo companies apparently were never particularly worried about the .38 Super possibly being loaded in a Model 1900 Colt.
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Old February 7, 2012, 07:16 AM   #17
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And, there are still tons of old S&W .38s out there, may from the pre-heat treated cylinder days, yet we still have .38 +P and .38 +P+ readily available.
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Old February 7, 2012, 08:39 AM   #18
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You made a mistake in passing on the 38/44. I picked up mine in a local pawn shop (mostly a gun shop really) a few years ago for $305.00 and they had 3 more. I went back later to work a deal on another and they were all gone. Mine is a 1954 vintage 4" blue with decent finish and superb lockup. I loaded some Keith recipe hard cast SWC's for it over the proper dosage of 2400 and got 1.5 inch groups about .5 inches above point of aim at 25 yards over a sandbag. Those loads a quite hot. I have 50 left and keep them in a separate well marked box. Standard .38's shoot quite well also but not as well as the hot stuff. It is a keeper and one of my favorite pistols.
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Old February 7, 2012, 09:05 AM   #19
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jhenry, congrats on finding a fine old Heavy Duty. I had the chance to play with one quite a bit when I was about 20, although that one was a five inch. Your experience with loads and such mimics mine. By current standards, anything under $400 is a good price for one in good condition.
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Old February 7, 2012, 11:37 AM   #20
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Value is subjective

What is it worth to you?
Think about it.
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Old January 20, 2013, 01:12 AM   #21
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A wee bump...

Quote:
What is it worth to you?
I can now tell you that a 1956 pre-Model 20 with great bore and traces-of-blueing finish is worth $550 to me, since that is what I paid at the gun show today!

There is only a bit of rust pitting and I am more and more happy I bought it. It has the wonderful S&W short action and just balances great.

I've been looking at, and haggling over, this exact gun with the guy for 2 or more years, finally got it. And don't nag about pictures. Harry C. said "A man's got to know his limitations." and mine include photography

OBTW, I was off the internet on Friday and knew nothing about the Gun Support day or whatever that some people organized. And was shocked by the overflowing parking lots and long lines at the Puyallup WA gunshow.

Bart Noir
5 extra points to those who can pronounce 'Puyallup'. My dear mother never could, but then, she was living in central and eastern Washington, a near and yet far land.
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Old January 23, 2013, 02:15 PM   #22
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Quote:
I passed on it I instead bought a 25-2 .45 ACP 6 1/2 99% with presentation box for 699.00
Unless you're a hard-core collector of Smith revolvers or planned on "flipping" the Model 20 to turn a profit, I think getting the Model 25-2 instead was a smart decision. The Model 25-2 is a superbly made target revolver that you'll always be glad you have. As longfellow commented, "What's it worth to you?"; and I would add, "Not necessarily what it's worth to someone else."
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Old January 24, 2013, 09:24 PM   #23
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For whatever its worth, Winchester Hi-Speed and Highway Master .38 Special were identical in performance to .38-44 Special ammunition. All would fall into the category of +P ammunition today.

A selling point for Colt "back in the day" was that all their steel framed .38s could handle "Hi-Speed or regular" ammunition.

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Old January 24, 2013, 09:53 PM   #24
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"For whatever its worth, Winchester Hi-Speed and Highway Master .38 Special were identical in performance to .38-44 Special ammunition."

Hi-Speed and Hi-way Master (both Remington terms) WERE .38-44 ammunition. Boxes are often marked as such.

Winchester did not use Hi-Speed, that was another Remington mark. Winchester used Super Speed.

The Peters version was Highway Patrol; Western's was the Super Police.
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