View Full Version : Old S&W break top revolver questions

April 10, 2002, 03:50 PM
Well, Today was my Birthday. My brother gave me an old S&W 38 that has the lemon squeeze handle and it breaks down like a shotgun. It is hamerless and is still very tight despite some minor pitting and the checkering on the handles being worn smooth . The patent dates on the top of the barrel have Feb 77, Dec77,May80,Sept. 83, TWO, Aug84. Could someone give me the lowdown on this old snubby?I would like to know when they quit making them and if there were any problems with them. Would it be something I would want to shoot? Or just put it up? Whats it worth?--Thanks in advance, I will try posting some pics and if that don't work, I will put a link to some pics.

Jim Watson
April 10, 2002, 05:42 PM
You have a S&W Safety Hammerless Double Action .38 S&W. They very popular and were sold from 1887 til 1940! Nearly half a million .32s and .38s were made in five models which differed mostly in the top latch.

Not many probems, they were apparently a better gun than the exposed hammer S&W top-breaks as made from 1880 til 1911.

Of course they are an old design of old or very old manufacture. You are pretty much on your own to shoot it. But I shoot my even older .38 Single Action with factory .38 S&W ammo, and many Cowboy shooters do likewise.

Book value $200 and up, but not way up, depending on condition and exact model.

April 10, 2002, 06:14 PM
Shouldn't fit, but might in any particular gun, do NOT fire .38special ammo in it. .38S&W only.


April 10, 2002, 06:36 PM
Thanks for the info guys. You are right about the ammo Sam, I am sitting here with a brand new box of winchester winclean 38 special, And it won't fit all the way into the cylinder! Oh well, I don't need to shoot it anyway. I guess my wife can use the ammo for her Taurus UL. It would be great if these little S&W's were still being produced with modern materials. Thanks again for the info--

James K
April 10, 2002, 09:31 PM
It is a bit hard to tell from the pics, but I think that is the .38 Safety second model. If so, the serial number should be between about 5125 and 42483, probably in the lower part of that series, and the gun was made between 1887 and 1890.

The only drawback to shooting those guns is that they are old and fragile and parts are almost non-existent.

There are modern concealed hammer S&W revolvers with the grip safety, but they are of the much stronger swing-out cylinder type, not the old top break.


Mike Irwin
April 10, 2002, 10:22 PM
These guns are also known as the "New Departure" model, as the hammerless configuration was a totally new type of action for the company.

A friend of mine just bought a CHERRY .32 New Departure 3rd Model, nickled. It is SUCH a trip to shoot!

What's the serial number, and I should be able to nail the year of production down fairly well.

As for ammo, the proper ammo, .38 S&W, is still loaded. You might have to hunt around to find it, but it's out there.

Mike Irwin
April 11, 2002, 02:56 PM

Given the serial number that you sent me, 35XXX, I'd say your gun was made in either 1889 or 1890.

As Jim surmised, the serial number makes it a 2nd model.

This definitely puts them in the "black powder" category for ammo. Later guns were a little stronger, given the higher pressures generated by smokeless.

You can find parts for these guns, but some of the parts on the 2nd models are a little different, and as it's older, are harder to find.

If you do decide to shoot it, only shoot it with VERY light loads of smokeless powder, and quite frankly I don't think I'd shoot it at all.

April 11, 2002, 08:31 PM
Thanks Mike, I don't think I will shoot this one. I guess I'll just have to stick to my new Wilson CQB:D Bummer, Huh?!

James K
April 11, 2002, 11:56 PM
I definitely think I would stick to the CQB! But modern factory ammo for the .38 S&W is loaded to the same pressure level as the black powder loads, and should be perfectly OK for the old S&W and it won't damage the gun. The problem is that it probably won't damage anything else very much either, although the British used the .38/200 (of about the same power) as their military pistol load in WWII. (I guess the British, having a reputation for gentleness, didn't want to hurt anybody.)


February 25, 2008, 08:33 AM
I have an old S&W Squeeze handle .38 that looks alot like the one in the picture posted earlier. However it's nickle and the handles are pearl. The serial number I have is 181xxx do you know anything about it.

November 2, 2009, 08:38 PM
I have a S&W 38 revolver that is similar to the one in the picture that is posted here. I will post a new picture of mine. The serial number is 55015 and I was wondering how to find out information on this gun. It belonged to my grandfather and want to know about how much it is worth and when it was built.
I have nto fired it and it has not been fired in many many years.

November 2, 2009, 10:12 PM
I have a S&W 38 revolver that is similar to the one in the picture that is posted here. I will post a new picture of mine. The serial number is 55015 and I was wondering how to find out information on this gun. It belonged to my grandfather and want to know about how much it is worth and when it was built.
I have nto fired it and it has not been fired in many many years.
You have a .38 Double Action Perfected Model (last top break revolver introduced by S&W).
Serial numbers ran fron 1 in 1909 to 59400 in 1920. The book shows values from $275 in "fine" to $1100 in "as new"


November 11, 2009, 04:48 AM
CAn you tell me about what year this was made?
What book are you looking in to find the value?
is this something I can look at

November 16, 2009, 06:10 AM
djc295: The book is the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson by Supica & Nahas. Prices are expected prices in 2006 and current prices may vary by region and due to the time since publication. The book doesn't give serial numbers by year for those models. To find out the exact shipping date and where it was shipped to you would need to fork out $50 to have Roy Jinks at S&W look up the original shipping records.

James K
November 16, 2009, 09:26 PM
I don't vouch for all this, but FWIW:

In the days of break top revolvers, there seems to have been a lot of concern that in close quarters combat an enemy could grab the top latch and open the gun, thus unloading it and rendering it harmless. Gen. Schofield apparently was so concerned about "latch snatching" that he redesigned the latch and got S&W to make modified guns called the "Schofield Model". He also had enough influence with the Army to get them to adopt the gun for use alongside the Colt Model 1873, and to make a common cartridge.

Then S&W became concerned once again about those nefarious latch snatchers, this time sneaky bad guys who supposedly grabbed police revolvers. The result was the Perfected, which had both a top latch and the new type push release. The user had to operate both together to open the gun, thus frustrating that nasty latch grabber.

Some folks are under the impression that the Perfected was a prelude to the swing cylinder hand ejectors and that the lower latch was adapted from the Perfected. In fact, the Perfected did not come out until 1909, seven years after the Model 1902 HE, which was the first gun to use that push button.

It seems more likely that the Perfected was something of a last gasp attempt by S&W to give the top break a few more years of life, though ultimately some stayed in the line into the late 1930's. But not the Perfected; it lasted only until 1920, with some 59,400 made. It is a highly desireable collector's item today.


December 13, 2009, 12:45 PM
I have one too, I guess it's not as old. Serial # 154xxx. It's in good shape, only a little wear on the bottom of the trigger guard.

I inherited it and have never fired it myself. It does feel awkward to aim.


December 17, 2009, 07:58 AM
Depending on the caliber you have either a .32 Safety Hammerless 2nd Model manufactured between 1902 & 1909 or a .38 Safety Hammerless 4th Model manufactured between 1898 & 1907. Based on the side plate having a S&W logo, it should be the .38. The nickel finish appears to be aftermarket, the trigger guard and latch should be blued from the factory.

December 17, 2009, 12:35 PM
Smith and Wesson Revolvers.

Genuine Smith & Wesson Hammerless.
47118 Smith & Wesson's Hammerless Revolver, automatic ejector, 32 caliber center fire, 3 1/2 inch barrel, nickel plated.
Double action, self-cocking;
Weight 16 ounces, 5 shot. each ...........$11.50
By mail, extra..................................... .19

47120 38 caliber. 3 1/4 inch barrel, nickle plated, double action;
Weght 20 oz., 5 shot.................... $12.00
by mail, extra............................. 23c

December 17, 2009, 12:41 PM

Nickle or Blue

.32 calibre, 3 and 3 1/2 inch.............................$11.75
.38 " 4 " .................................. 12.75
.38 " 5 " .................................. 13.25
.38 " 6 " ................................. 13.75

December 17, 2009, 12:58 PM
Calibres .38, weight 18 1-2 ozs. Calibres 32, weight 14 1-2 ozs.

Absolute protection from accidental discharge insured.

The officers of the National Guard of the different States are rapidly equipping themselves with SMITH & WESSON .44 Cal Army Revolvers.

Also shown on full page add are pictures of targets shot by ,

Mr. F.E. Bennett Shooting 95 out of 100 at 50 yards

Chevalier Ira Pain, shooting 96 out of 100 at 50 yds

Mr. W. W. Bennett, also shooting 96

All shooting S&W Russian Model Revolvers.
Link to this match (http://www.pistol-shooting.us/target-s-hooting-page-34.html)

James K
December 19, 2009, 12:44 AM
I goofed above when I said the Model 1902 S&W was the first to use the push type cylinder latch. It was the Model 1899, the first of the long Military and Police line. What makes my error even worse is that I had a Model 1899 on the desk in front of me when I typed that!


December 22, 2010, 06:43 PM
New user and already bugging ya for info.
Forgive me.
I inherited an old gun and I am stumped.
It seems to be a S&W "top loader" 5 shot revolver.
The only numbers on it are on the trigger guard 24xxx (with no letters)
"US" is on the handle.
The gun is "blue" with patina and slight rust discoloration.

I have been looking everywhere and can only come close to the model.

Any help would be appreicated.

Jim Watson
December 22, 2010, 07:24 PM
A "US" on the grip is a strong indication that you have a US Revolver Co. .38 which is an Iver Johnson product. The serial number on the trigger guard is typical for that make.

A Smith & Wesson would have a S&W logo on the grip, for some reason.

Pictures would help somebody here tell for sure.

June 10, 2011, 02:39 PM
I have something similar. My S/N is: 1740XXX. Can anyone tell me about it. Thanks.

Actually I'm having second thoughts on that serial number since it's so hard to read. Now I'm thinking it is either 1748XXX or 1749XXX. Would it be possible to check all three of those?