My Heavy Duty 38/44s


August 28, 2010, 04:21 PM
In the Fall of 1999 I was wandering around a gun show in Denver when I spotted this HD on a dealer's table. I love the old S&Ws with 5" barrels and had hoped to find a 5" HD one day but this 4" version was the first HD I had ever seen in person (that was for sale). Showing a lot of holster wear I thought that it would be a fun shooter if the price didn't exceed $300. More than that and I would have to pass. I turned over the price tag hanging from the trigger guard. Wish I could have seen my face as I read the $195 price.

I began whistling softly, trying to act casual. Some joker standing behind me was peering over my shoulder, and out of the corner of my eye I saw his eyebrows go up when I revealed the asking price.

"Any mechanical issues you know of?" I asked the dealer. "Nope," he said. "I got a couple guns cheap at an estate sale and I priced 'em to move fast."

Well, this one was moving fast, let me tell you. It was moving right into my shoulder bag as I hauled out my money clip and started peeling off bills. The joker looked quite disappointed that I hadn't set the gun back down on the table. I learned my lesson the hard way many years ago with a 22 Diamondback priced at $275: As long as you're thinking about buying, don't let the gun out of your grasp. You set it down to talk it over with the seller and someone else may grab and yell "I'll take it!"

I lettered the gun (I quit doing this when the price went to $50) and it was shipped in 1960 to a dealer near Dallas. Given the amount of holster wear I am guessing some young cop bought this for duty wear. The serial is from 1956 so it remained in inventory for 4 years before finally being sold. After the Combat Magnum came out in 1956 the HDs were hard to move. This was probably $30 cheaper than the Magnum and to a patrolman right out of the academy in 1960 that was a lot of savings.

Of course it shoots great. With 158 lead bullets at 850 FPS the sights are dead on at 50 feet. I used it in my one and only "combat pistol match" a few years ago and took the top spot in the revolver class with it.

Maybe 2 years ago I was cruising the aisles of a local gun show when I spotted this nickel plated HD. The seller had the letter with it and it was originally in blue and was shipped in 1940 to the Ft. Smith AR Police Department (I live in Little Rock). The gun had the optional "Humpback Hammer" but the tip had been broken off. This is not unusual with these as they can snap when dropped. I have another one in the same condition. It also wore post-war stocks. I recalled that 4" HDs made before the war were rare as most were in 5" length. I asked the price and he replied, "$400." Even allowing for inflation this was not as good a deal as was my previous HD acquisition, but I bagged it, anyway. Didn't even try to dicker. Must have been late in the day and I was tired.

I sent a photo to an experienced 38/44 collector who said maybe 90 4" HDs were made before WW II. He allowed as how it was likely worth $1,000 - $1,200 even though poorly refinished. To me it's another good shooter.

So now I have 2 of these. Both 4" examples. Still looking for that 5" model.

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August 28, 2010, 04:33 PM
Even though you've posted these before, I don't get tired of looking at them. That very late Heavy Duty is particularly interesting as there weren't too many made.

August 28, 2010, 04:40 PM
SWEET and I never lay one back down unless I can't get the deal I want.

August 28, 2010, 04:46 PM
If that isn't a beautiful story, I don't know what is.

What nice wheelguns!

keyboard commando
August 28, 2010, 06:17 PM
Big old goodins.:D

August 28, 2010, 06:27 PM
Great looking pair of heavy duties. I wish I could do as well. In California those kind of deals are rare. I have found some but few and far in between.

Thanks for sharing,

Dave T
August 29, 2010, 12:58 PM
Riding SP's coattails, I'll show you guys my two:

The blue one is a 5" from 1938. I paid too much for it, particularly with the wrong stocks. The 4" nickel is from 1953 and I got it for less than it's worth. Averages out in the long run...until the next one suckers me in. (LOL)


August 29, 2010, 02:14 PM
Great pics! Love that nickel and ivory! I've been wanting a nice 38/44 for a while. Got a great deal on a 6" but want a 4" so I ended up trading it away for a tuned 629MG. Got a 4" for cheap hoping that it wouldn't be too rough for reworking but it would've cost more to fix it than it would cost to buy a nice one. Still on the lookout.

August 29, 2010, 08:08 PM

As always you have excellent taste in vintage revolvers, as well as an interesting story or two to go with them.

Dave T

Two nice looking 38/44's you got there; I too am quite partial to the nickel model.

Thank you both for sharing.

August 30, 2010, 05:34 AM
Here's one found at a gun show a few years back...

August 30, 2010, 08:37 AM
The 6.5" version is not common.

August 30, 2010, 09:55 AM
I've read that this is a .38/44 HD that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt used, to target practise behind the White House??

August 30, 2010, 11:42 AM
I always enjoy your posts/pics, Senor Pig. :cool:

September 1, 2010, 01:52 PM
Thanks, SaxonPig. Nice post.

About three or four years ago I spent a few days thinking about the handguns I just had to have that I did not own already. It came down to only eight, four of which were S&Ws, all N-frames. Two of the four were simply guns I had in a different barrel length or finish. But of the other two, one was a .38/44, and it has to be 4".

I've since picked up three or so of the ones on the list, but not the 4" .38/44. Those are outstanding, "most own" guns in my book. Quite literally!

Blue Brick
September 1, 2010, 05:47 PM
Very Nice.

Jim Watson
September 1, 2010, 05:56 PM
I had a crack at a HD to go with my Outdoorsman M23 a few years ago.
When I told the guy I was interested in the one he had offered he said:
"OK, as soon as it comes back from being reblued."
Sure enough, buffed to death and the sideplate a brilliant plum.
I declined.

September 1, 2010, 07:02 PM
Actually model marked as a Model 23?

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