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Old January 29, 2013, 11:07 PM   #1
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H&R 32cal top break question

I have a .32cal H&R top break revolver that was handed down that I’ve fired maybe 100 times. A local gunsmith looked at it and told me the gun was probably manufactured in the early 1950’s, sold for maybe $5.95 back then and had little value today. I recently did a little online research and found that the gun may be much older and may be unsafe firing modern smokeless powder cartridges. That is a very big concern.

The nickel plating is in very good condition and I would be very surprised if it is anywhere near as old as what research is revealing.

Is this a black powder only gun?

If so, my experience with local dealer’s gunsmith may be quickly going south.

Attached are two photos and the physical markings are as follows:

1. Markings on top of barrel:

First line:
Harrington & Richardson Arms Company Worcester, Mass. USA

Second line:
PAT. OCT.4.87. MAY 14 & AUG.6.89. APRIL 2.95. APRIL 7. 1895

No other markings on barrel.

2. Serial number stamped on bottom under left grip: 25197

3. Cylinder stamped with: 197


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Old January 30, 2013, 09:38 AM   #2
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That's a nice little pea-shooter you've got there. It could be as old as the patent date, or--- I'm thinking as late as the thirties. Someone around here should be able to clue you in at least to the date that they were discontinued, or even closer by the serial number.

Those little top breaks have been a hobby of mine, but I only have S&W's. Tons of them were produced by several manufacturers back at the turn of the century, and the first few decades of the 1900's. They did indeed start out during the black powder era, and most "experts" will tell you that you should shoot only BP loads in them. Another school of thought is that the pressures in the smokeless loads today have been kept down to accomidate these old revolvers.

I reload wimpy reloads for mine with smokeless powder, and shoot them quite a bit. If the top latch locks up good and tight, and there is no loosness in the hinge and frame when it is closed, it is indeed in good condition, and able to withstand at least limited fireing. Yours is in such nice condition that it may have been of later manufacture, and not have seen black powder use which left many of these pistols in a very corroded condition.

Here's a couple that I currently have and enjoy very much. jd
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Old January 30, 2013, 10:01 AM   #3
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Top Breaks

If in fact your revolver was made in the 1950's it should be fine with smokeless powder. If it is made before 1900 it is probably not. It looks to be in very good shape, could it have been refinished at some point? My 32 looks like yours, except the hammer and trigger and trigger guard are not nickel plated like yours. Plus, the nickel plate on the side of the barrel close to the cylinder is flaked off pretty bad, I think from shooting black powder in it years ago and not cleaned up well. Yours looks to be in very nice condition and where I live would probably bring between $125 and $175.

I am not sure that I would trust that gunsmith; I believe that a revolver manufactured in the 1950's would have the caiber rollmarked on the barrel. I know a lot of the older guns didn't, it was just assumed what the chambering was.

I have three; an H&R 32S&W (I don't have a pic), and two 38s.

Empire State Arms 38S&W

Iver Johnson Safety Automatic 38S&W
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Old January 30, 2013, 10:17 AM   #4
Magnum Wheel Man
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I too am a collector, & a shooter... but I don't have my book handy to run the serial... you do have the target grips ( which are later ) but those could have easily been switched out at any time, since they often broke, after they got brittle...

1st guess would be a smokeless gun, but someone really needs to run the serial to be sure...

I load about 3 levels of 32 S&W, ranging from soft lead roundballs & a pinch of powder ( to test for function ) to target loads with cast bullets, & hotter ( S&W only ) loads, as I actually carry an old top break spur trigger single action once in a while for nostalgia
In life you either make dust or eat dust...
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Old January 30, 2013, 05:37 PM   #5
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Thanks much for all your input and photos. I gotta admit those revolvers are a thing of beauty and starting to grow on me. Didn't pay that much attention when I was younger but these days they really catch my eye.

To my knowledge the H&R revolver in question has never been refinished since there are no collectors in our family, and it is not in pristine condition. Some small spots of corrosion don't show up in the photos. And the reason I took it to a gunsmith is because the lock up was getting loose causing it to misfire sometimes, I assumed because the spring loaded latch was wearing down. I was disappointed when I got it back since the gunsmith replaced the latch with a non plated one although he assured me it was tighter, had test fired it many times and would no longer misfire. Maybe so, so I let it go at that since it is just a glove box piece anyway, but needs to be reliable.

My Dad and Uncle and I had always fired S&W longs in this little gun and never gave it any thought. But since it was getting loose and misfiring I figured there had to be a good reason so I started doing a little research. Now I'm reluctant to fire it at all. I'm not a collector and don't want to keep anything around that may be dangerous so I'm going to offer it for sale somewhere.
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Old January 30, 2013, 10:34 PM   #6
Jim Watson
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The late Bill Goforth said that they started putting caliber markings on the barrel in 1905.
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Old January 30, 2013, 10:59 PM   #7
James K
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Posts: 24,160
That H&R was certainly not made in 1950, more like 1900. Whether it was made in the black powder era, I don't know, but there is a connection between shooting .32 Longs in it and the fact that it is now loose.

If it functions OK and you want to fire it now and then, it will probably work OK, but having worked on dozens of those old guns I would not trust any of them for serious use. They sold for under $5 (your gunsmith was right about that) and were never intended to stand up to a lot of use. Their old springs break without warning, they go out of time easily, and they are simply old. IMHO, it is time to give that old timer an honorable retirement and find a good used more modern gun for the glove box.

As for selling it, I am afraid you might not get much; they usually sell for under $100 and many gun shops won't touch them because they can't warrant them on a resale.

Jim K
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Old January 31, 2013, 11:16 PM   #8
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I think you have a black powder gun. A gun made in 1950 would certainly not have a latest patent date of 1895. It is my understanding that H&R guns for smokeless powder were marked "32 S&W Ctg" on the left side of the barrel. I have two such examples. Yours is not so marked. I would not fire it with smokeless ammo, although you have been able to get by with it because of the low pressure of factory loads.
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Old February 1, 2013, 11:57 PM   #9
test drive
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If its marked .32 S&W crt on bbl it is for smokeless. however even so if the lock up is loose............
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