Need info on.38 Secret Service Special w/ pictures


February 17, 2013, 08:46 AM
Hey, I love history and my husband just bought me a Secret Service Special .38 to display. We're not interested in shooting this gun because of the information we've learned about it. But as a writer and history buff I'm trying to find some information about it and keep hitting brick walls. The gun has a 6 digit serial number on the butt and also under the hand guard. It has no patent date. On the top of the barrel it says 'for 38 SMITH & WESSON CTGS'. The front sight is a half moon. Can anyone help me with who made this and the year? Is it possible to find out who bought the gun originally or what state it originated in? What I do know is: These were made for Fred Biffer, Chicago, Ill. by Iver-Johnson and Meriden and also some Spanish gun company. Thanks for any information you can give me!

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February 17, 2013, 11:51 AM
The cross-reference I use says:
Secret Service Special: Trade name used by the Rohde-Spencer Company of Chicago on inexpensive pocket revolvers.

Regardless, it is a cheap Saturday Night Special of the late 1800's - early 1900's.

There is no possible way to find out who bought the gun originally or what state it originated in.

No serial records were kept back then, and all the firearms & hardware companies who might have made or sold it are out of business.


Jim K
February 17, 2013, 04:51 PM
Goforth's book says the Secret Service Special was made for Fred Biffar Co. of Chicago by at least five manufacturers: Iver Johnson (U.S. Revolver Co.), Hopkins & Allen, Meriden, Harrington & Richardson, and a Spanish company. That gun seems to have the same basic setup as the Hopkins & Allen, and was probably made by that company.

In spite of the name, the guns had no connection with the U.S. Secret Service. They are of intrest to collectors of inexpensive revolvers of that period, but generally only if in very good condition. Value would be around $100-150.


February 17, 2013, 05:01 PM
There are a couple of different possibilities for this one, which is complicated by the fact that "Secret Service Special" was used by 5 or 6 different makes/manufacturers, including Howard Arms, Hopkins and Allen, Iver Johnson, Meriden Arms, and Guisasola Hermanos. Most of these manufacturers actually built them FOR Howard Arms, but they also used grips with an "SSS" logo moulded into the top circle. Can you see any proof marks on the rear of the cylinder when you open it up? If so, this would almost certainly be a Guisasola Hermanos example.

Jim K
February 17, 2013, 08:33 PM
I don't see Howard Arms on my lists; any more info on them?

I did find Rohde-Spencer, a mail-order company, but they seem not to be manufacturers; could be they were retailers.

Just an example of the dearth of information on all those inexpensive revolvers.


February 18, 2013, 10:17 AM
Howard Arms was the company set up by Biffar in Chicago to retail his merchandise, but he would contract with a number of other companies to actually produce his guns for him; he bought shoitguns from Crescent, and revolvers from Iver Johnson, H&R, and others.

February 18, 2013, 02:21 PM
Wow! Ya'll made my day! Even if I still don't know who made this one it is interesting information. Thanks to all of you who have responded.

Okay, so I opened the gun up and nothing on the back of the cylinder (I'm guessing you mean that cylinder where the bullets go). But I did find what I am guessing is a parts/lot number on the underneath lip of the piece that the back sight is on. It's only 4 digits, 1844. Does that help at all?

February 18, 2013, 04:11 PM
That number under the top latch should match up to the serial number, or to an assembly number somewhere on the frame (used to make sure that pieces that were hand-fitted to go together stayed together). Since the Spanish would have proofed a revolver by Guisasola Hermanos, that means you can eliminate them as a possibility, and this one would have been made by one of the US manufacturers who used that name.

February 18, 2013, 08:24 PM
Yep it sure does match. On further inspection I could see that there was a 7 stamped over the 8 and so it does match the last 4 of the serial. Okay so I don't have a Spanish model. That's more than I knew before. Thanks!

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