Help Identifying a Smith & Wesson .38 Special Snub Nose


June 9, 2013, 10:38 PM
I have a S&W 38 Special snub nose 6 shot revolver. From another post I think it might be a Chief's Special flat latch (pre model 36) made between 1953 and 1955. Serial numbers are 18753 under the barrel and 70905 on the receiver with the letter E just above and to the left. There are no other markings I can find unless someone can tell me where to look.

As you can see in the photos there is some holster wear and very light rust on some of the screws. The barrel bright with no pitting. This was owned by a NYC Court Officer and carried during his off duty hours. About the only time he shot it was at the range for annual qualification.

Any info on what this is and a general idea on value would help.

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June 9, 2013, 10:41 PM
If you remove the rubber grip there should be a serial number on the butt of the gun. I would agree that is is likely a Pre-model 36 flat latch based on what I see in the pictures.

Jim Watson
June 9, 2013, 10:49 PM
You want to count the chambers again?
With the cylinder stop notches between the chambers, it sure looks like a five shooter to me.

You have what I think is a "Baby Chief", that is an early Chief's Special .38 with some old style features, like the top sideplate screw and cylinder stop screw; five screws in all, the other visible with the grips off. The flat cylinder latch and small round trigger guard are characteristic of the variation.

Agree it is out of the early 1950s before model numbers were assigned. It is so early that a collector wouldn't even call it a pre-36.

I won't guess a value, but it would be more if it had the original walnut grips instead of Pachmayr rubber replacements.

Jim K
June 9, 2013, 11:11 PM
I think that is the .38 Terrier, post WWII version or Pre-Model 32, not the Chiefs Special (pre-Model 36). The latter has a longer cylinder, where the Terrier is chambered for the .38 S&W, not the .38 Special.


Jim Watson
June 9, 2013, 11:36 PM
Cylinder fills the window as a .38 S&W does not, and I have to assume the OP read the barrel marking correctly. Although not all do.

Ron James
June 9, 2013, 11:42 PM
But the .38 Terrier ( both the pre and post models ) and the pre " Baby Chief " ( I think ) have half moon or half round front sights. If 5 shot, 38 Spl. it could be a " pre " 37, some of the earlier models had a small round trigger guard. If it is indeed a 6 shot, well, don't have a foggiest ideal. A serial number would help.

Jim Watson
June 10, 2013, 12:07 AM
I found a discussion of the Baby Chief on the S&W board.
Seems there was a late edition Baby Chief with ramp sight.

Ron James
June 10, 2013, 12:34 AM
Well, it would help if I did my home work first, Yes there was a ramp sight " baby " with a small ring trigger guard.

June 10, 2013, 12:35 AM
Baby Chiefs can come with one of three different sights. The rounded half moon sights on the earlier models. Next came the smooth ramp sight. Last was the serrated ramp sight. As is typical with S&W, there's some overlap from the different time periods.

June 10, 2013, 01:20 PM
It is indeed a 5 shot, my mistake. It has a serrated ramped front sight with 5 screws and the serial number on the butt matches the serial number on the barrel, 18752. It is a S&W .38 cal Special as stamped on the right hand side of the barrel.

So is it a Chief's Special or a Baby Chief? Do not think it is Terrier as, based on a reply here, it is a 38 Special.

Any guess on value would help. Previous poster said he paid $100 for a Chief's Special, rough on the outside but action, lock up and timing were perfect. At $100 most replies here said it was a steal. This one also has great action, tight lock up and perfect timing but I consider the exterior worn but not rough. I know one persons 90% is another persons rust bucket. Just need to know if I have a $100, $200 or $300 gun.

June 10, 2013, 01:29 PM
You have a .38 Chiefs Special from 1952.
The Baby Chiefs Special designation is a collectors nickname for the early guns which used an I frame grip frame and trigger guard. Yours has the I frame trigger guard, I can't tell if it has the I frame grip frame or the later J frame.

On value, if it has an I frame? Then it may be a $400 - $500 gun to a S&W collector with a hole to fill in his collection. Lack of original grips will detract from its value. Otherwise its probably a $250 to $300 shooter.

June 10, 2013, 03:41 PM
Thanks Radagast. Took the grips off. Hopefully there photos will show if it has the I or J grip frame.

Steve C
June 10, 2013, 05:16 PM
The flat latch was used up to 1968. I have a '68 guns annual that shows the chief special sporting a flat latch. Here's an article on the Chief Special

June 10, 2013, 08:20 PM
I'm not smart enough to be able to tell you if its I frame length or not, if no one else can pick it then the way to find out is to try a pair of factory J frame timber grips. If they protrude under the frame then its an I frame. If a flush fit then a J frame.

June 10, 2013, 09:06 PM
I just got rid of an I frame and they were 6 shot in .32.

I have never heard of the I frame in .38 and that sure as heck looks like a round butt 'J' frame flat latch to me.

btw = make SURE it says "38 SPECIAL" and not .38 CTG

It could be the .38 S&W round and not the .38 Special = HUGE difference and I have seen and shot them both.

June 10, 2013, 11:33 PM
Yours is an early .38 Chief's Special, also known as the "Baby Chief". It has the shorter I frame, as all Baby Chief's do.

The key to identifying a Baby Chief, besides the shorter I grip frame is the trigger guard. Baby Chiefs have a rounded trigger guard. When the grip frame was extended sometime in 1953, the trigger guard was also elongated, giving us the J frame we know today. Compare yours to a newer J frame and look at the trigger guard and difference will be obvious.

As far as a timeline, you have the Baby Chief manufactured from 1951-1953. Then you have the J frame we know today, or the Pre-Model 36 manufactured 1953-1957. At that point the model number designations began, and the model 36 began it's long life.

Technically all the Chief Specials from 1951-1957 without model numbers are known as Pre-Model 36s. The Baby Chief is a subset of these, and confuses the heck out of people.

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