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Harrington & Richardson Arms Company revolver

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by treebeard, Jan 13, 2007.

  1. treebeard

    treebeard Well-Known Member

    My dad had someone give him the above mentioned revolver. The markings on the top of the barrel say Harrington & Richardson Arms Company Worcester Mass. Right below that it then says USA PAT MAY 14:89 APR.2:95 APR.7:96. Then on the left side of the barrel it says PREMIER 32 S. & W. CTGE. It is in fantastic shape. The cylinders look clean and so does the barrel. I can post some pics if anyone is interested. I can't find a serial number anywhere. I would appreciate some help on this one if anyone knows anything. Thanks.

    I found the serial number on the bottom of the butt.
  2. XavierBreath

    XavierBreath Well-Known Member

    Posting a pic will help a lot. H&R put out a lot of firearms.

    It sounds as if you have a H&R topbreak .32S&W. These little revolvers do have a collector's following, but the prices have remained low with even the best examples
  3. treebeard

    treebeard Well-Known Member

    Here are pictures:



    Last edited: Jan 13, 2007
  4. Jim March

    Jim March Well-Known Member

    To me, nothing says "Oh God somebody's gonna blow their hand off" like an ancient top-break in a caliber chambered (historically) in both black powder and smokeless.


    Unless you REALLY know what you're doing, can inspect that thing correctly or have a gunsmith do it AND have a source for the type of ammo it's supposed to eat...put it unloaded and lightly oiled in a nice glass-front box that's nailed shut, and mount it on the wall.
  5. Tbu61

    Tbu61 Well-Known Member

    I've had about 6 of those little top breaks in different shades of condition.
    Actually got up the nerve to shoot a few of them, pretty scary stuff!
    Fortunately I didn't get hurt, but they shaved lead and weren't accurate at all.

    I have to agree that it would make a fine display item, locate a few old Ammo cartons and make a nice shadow box
  6. treebeard

    treebeard Well-Known Member

    I didn't plan on shooting it.:scrutiny: I was just hoping I could get some info on it. Thanks.
  7. ezypikns

    ezypikns Well-Known Member

    Here's mine in .38 S&W

    I actually did some research (with help from THR experts) and determined that my "H&R Safety Hammerless" was produced around 1927, after the advent of smokeless powder. I was still cautioned about shooting new ammo through it, so I did a little more research and found some handloading data for old top break revolvers, which I load myself and are really mild.
    I don't shoot it much but it's lot's of fun. If you reload, you might be able to do the same. There are some High Roader's who are experts on old top break revolvers. Ask "Old Fuff" in particular.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2007
  8. XavierBreath

    XavierBreath Well-Known Member

    You do indeed have a H&R topbreak, and one in pretty good condition too. I'm not certain which one it is, but in general I see similar condition H&R topbreaks hopefully priced at $150-175 at gunshows. I suspect they sell for around $125.

    I agree. Old fuff is certainly the expert here. I'd be interested in what he has to say.
  9. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Well-Known Member

    Smith & Wesson introduced their first top-break/double action pocket revolvers in 1880 (they’d made top-break/single action models previously). They proved to be very popular, and when patent protection ran out a number of competitors jumped in with their own versions. This situation was not unlike the one faced by Colt today, relative to clones and copies of their model 1873 Single Action Army and Government Model pistol.

    Without exception the copies of S&W products were not equal to the original, but they sold for less money, and therefore were well received in certain markets.

    One of these competitors was Harrington & Richardson. In their earliest revolvers the cylinder was not positively locked in line with the barrel, but depended on the hand to rotate the cylinder up against a one-sided notch to keep the chamber (somewhat) aligned with the bore. As these were made during the black-powder era, and aren’t the best of quality in any respect, I strongly suggest that they shouldn’t be fired. Put frankly, as shooters they aren’t worth the price of the ammunition. As collectables with a connection to our frontier past they are interesting.

    During the early 20th century, H&R redesigned their Premier (best) line of top-break revolvers to have a positive cylinder latch, the same way S&W had always had. They also upgraded materials so they would be safe with light smokeless powder loads found in cartridges such as .32 S&W, .32S&W Long and .38 S&W. They were manufactured up to about the beginning of World War Two, and some were bought by the O.S.S. (Eat your heart out, James Bond)… :neener:

    The revolver that is the subject of this thread is one of the later models, so it should be safe with current .32 S&W cartridges. But there is a difference between what is safe, and what is accurate – and again as shooters I question if they’re worth the price of ammunition.

    If one wants to actually shoot top-break pocket revolvers I would recommend they buy a genuine Smith & Wesson made during the latter 19th or early 20th century. Contrary to what some believe, they were put together with greater precision and workmanship then those being made today. Powerhouses they are not, but that makes them more pleasurable to shoot. ;)

    A recommended source will be found at: www.armchairgunshow.com
  10. treebeard

    treebeard Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the brief history lesson. :D I had not planned on firing it anyways. My Dad wanted to but I suggested he not do so. I plan on cleaning it for him though. Thanks again Old Fuff.:D
  11. Jim March

    Jim March Well-Known Member

  12. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

    Giving this one a bump back to the top... just had somebody give me one of these revolvers locally. They came across it cleaning out a relative's house. They are also elderly and hoping to find ammo for it to keep around the house.

    The revolver appears similar to the one described here and the ones pictured here:

    The differences are that it has no caliber marking on the left side of the barrel. It only says H&R on the top along with the list of patents. It is blued instead of nickel (about 50%). I was unable to find a serial number on it; but the cylinder and extractor are marked 433.

    The cylinder has a little play in it when cocked; but it does not rotate wile the revolver is cocked. Any suggestions on how to determine whether the revolver can be fired safely? I have zero revolver knowledge personally. There are people I can ask to look it over who are more knowledgable; but I would like to check all the obvious things that a novice could look at first.

    I also notice the cylinder looks deeper than a .32 S&W cylinder and is a five shot cylinder... could this be .38 Special? It looks a bit on the short side for that; but I don't have any .38 handy so I couldn't say.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2007
  13. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Well-Known Member

    Harrington & Richardson top-break pocket revolvers were based on two frames. The larger one was normally offered in .32 S&W Long (6 shot) or .38 S&W (5 shot). A smaller framed gun was either .32 S&W Short (5 shot) or .22 RF (7 shot).

    After about 1907 the small "Premier" model was made with positive cylinder stop notches. With the trigger forward and the hammer at rest, you couldn't rotate the cylinder in either direction. Older ones the cylinder stop notch only had one shoulder, and if he trigger was forward the cylinder could be rotated in a clockwise direction. The serial number is probably stamped on the frame at the bottom/left side of the frame, behind the grips.

    If it is chambered in .32 S&W, ammunition can be obtained, as it is still made by Winchester and maybe others. It (the revolver) doesn't have a positive safety, so the owner might want to load four, and rest the hammer on the last (unloaded) chamber.
  14. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

    OK, the cylinder can be rotated clockwise while the trigger is forward. I am guessing that feature alone combined with no positive safety probably makes it unsuitable for carry, though I imagine this would see use mostly as a pistol left in a drawer if it was safe to use.

    The person in question has a limited budget for self-defense so if this doesn't work out for them, they will probably go with no firearm at all. Right now I am trying to figure out if no firearm is still a better option than this one. We also don't have any ammunition for the revolver and there are no caliber markings visible.

    It is a five shot cylinder so it is either .38 S&W or .32 Short, I would guess .38 S&W looking at the chamber, which I imagine will be difficult to find factory ammo for. Any suggestions on that? Also thank you very much for your comments. They are definitely helpful.
  15. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Well-Known Member

    I am going to go with the premise that the revolver is one of H&R’s pre-1907 “Automatic Ejecting” models chambered in .38 S&W (5-shot). The alternative would be that it was the same gun chambered in .32 S&W Long (6-shot) - or a smaller model with a 5-shot cylinder in .32 S&W.

    Although new revolvers chambered in .38 S&W haven’t been offered since the mid-1950’s or so, Winchester – and I believe Remington – still carry it in their line-up, with a mild loading consisting of a 146-grain lead/round nose bullet going about 745 fps out of a 4” barrel. The reason is the huge number of people that still keep these old revolvers in bedside table drawers or whatever. The stuff costs about $25.00 for a 50-round box. For your friends that would be a lifetime supply. I have also noticed that you may sometimes see a broken box at a guns show selling for less depending on how many cartridges are left.

    I seriously doubt that a current .38 S&W load would blow up an H&R revolver unless the gun itself was seriously defective. The ammunition companies know who is using this stuff, and load it accordingly. However they put some lawyer-language on the box about using it only in later model revolvers, etc. That said, I suspect that it might shave lead, and accuracy would not be what’s expected from a better quality revolver.

    From a house protection angle, the gun in the hands of a potential victim presents a threat to anyone who breaks in, and bad guys – like the rest of us don’t want any extra holes in their bodies. The problem and greater risk would be an individual that was so drunk or stoned that they didn’t care or recognize the danger to themselves.

    I have no easy answer to this, but in my book something is better then nothing; and there are literally thousands – perhaps tens-of-thousands – of these century old revolvers still in service for that reason.

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