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Help Identifying old S&W 38 revolver

Discussion in 'Firearms Research' started by Meredith, May 22, 2009.

  1. Meredith

    Meredith New Member

    My mystery revolver was my grandfather's. He died in 1940. My father gave the gun to me 25 years ago and had no information about the history of the gun.

    The serial number, on the base of the butt and the end of the thing that holds the bullets is 141820 or 1418?0. On the left side of the barrel I find 38 S & W C?G. There is a S&W trade mark on the right side behind the trigger.

    When I open the gun (as if to load) I have measured the length from the barrel to the end of the bullet holder as 6 1/4 inches. I believe you would say the gun is blue. A magnet sticks to the gun. There is no safety, and the sights are not adjustable.

    By my description you can probably tell that I am a woman who knows very little about guns.

    I would appreciate any information about the age of the gun, and would it be something I should try to sell or should it be trashed.

    Thanks for any information and advice.
  2. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Well-Known Member

    Welcome to The High Road, and yes - we'll try to help. :)

    But some additional information is needed. First of all, when you open the cylinder, do you swing it out to the left, or do you lift a latch at the top of the barrel and then swing the barrel downward?

    The "bullet holder" you mentioned is called a "cylinder." To determine the right length you need to measure the barrel from the front of the cylinder to the barrel's front end.

    Are the handles made of wood (most likely walnut), what appears to be black plastic, or something else?

    Does this revolver have a hammer that you can cock with your thumb, or is it enclosed inside the gun?

    .38 C?T stands for .38 Ctg, which means .38 Cartridge, and this denotes what kind of .38 ammunition to use in it.

    With this information we can go forward and try to decide what you have.
  3. Meredith

    Meredith New Member

    Thanks for the prompt response. Here are my answers.
    1. Lift a latch and swing the barrel downward.
    2. 5" from front of cylinder to front of barrel
    3. I think something else is the answer. It is NOT wood. Not certain when "plastic" came into use. There is a very tiny diamond shaped pattern background on the handles, and on the back of the handle the metal piece has a similar design. There is a screw head in the middle of the right side of the handle, regular straight slot, not philips.
    4 It is cocked internally.
    I do appreciate your help.
  4. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Well-Known Member

    You're doing very well... :cool:

    I believe you have a Smith & Wesson .38 Safety Hammerless, 4th Model. This variant of the .38 Safety Model was made between 1898 and 1907, within a serial number range running from 116,003 to approximately 220,000. It was very popular at the time, as they made some 104,000 of them in 9 years.

    The 5-shot cylinder was chambered to use .38 S&W cartridges, which are still available but sometimes difficult to find. As your revolver is well over 100 years old I suggest that you consider retiring it.

    Standard barrel lengths were 3 ½, 4, 5 and 6 inches. Cataloged finishes were full blue or nickel plate with a blued trigger guard. The triggers were color casehardened, which gave them an oil-slick look, but by now those colors may have faded. The stocks were made using an early, black celluloid, plastic-like material called gutta-percha.

    You mentioned that the revolver didn’t have a safety, but in fact it has a unique one. There is a metal bar in the back of the handle (the checkered part) that must be squeezed inward before the trigger can be pulled. This, and the enclosed hammer made them perfectly safe to carry in a pocket or purse, as it couldn’t fire even if it was dropped. In addition S&W pointed out that a small child couldn’t fire the gun because they lacked the hand strength and girth to both squeeze the lever inward and pull the trigger at the same time.

    You might be interested to know that besides your Grandfather, two U.S. Presidents owned similar guns. One was Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, and the other being his cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt. ;)

    Value depends on its condition; particularly how much original finish remains. They generally run in the $300 to $400 range. Exceptional pieces go for as much as $500

    Given this gun's history within your family, I suggest that you get it "lettered." To do so you will need a snapshot of the gun, a full description including the serial number on the butt, and a check in the amount of $50.00 made out to Smith & Wesson. In exchange the company's historian, Roy G. Jinks, will research the original records (which are not computerized by the way) and send you a letter containing the details of what he finds.

    This comprehensive document will contain an overview of the model’s history, followed by the details of your particular gun. This usually includes the caliber, barrel length, finish, and the exact date it was shipped from the factory, and to what distributor or dealer. If there are any special features they will be listed too. This information is often invaluable to both you and future generations.

    Additional information on a historical letter will be found at the Smith & Wesson company website at:

  5. Meredith

    Meredith New Member

    Thank you VERY much Old Fuff! I am most appreciative and will take a photo and send that, the serial number and a check to Roy G. Jinks right away. The safety is an interesting design.

    I had thought that maybe that piece of metal was somehow loose. S&W is correct that a child would not have the strenght or handsize to pull the trigger. Don't worry, I am certainly not going to try to use the pistol. My hand strength isn't what it used to be thanks to some arthritis in my right hand.

    As a young woman I used to do some target work and was much better with a rifle than a pistol because I could not hold my arm steady with the weight and be very accurate. (That was years before I saw all the TV shows where people used two hands on the pistol) This gun isn't heavy, but it does take some strength to pull the trigger, even after some WD-40.

    Great to know that the Roosevelts felt that it was a good pistol. I think that it really is a very pretty little gun. Just the thing to tuck into my purse when I head off for shopping. :rolleyes:
    Thanks to you I know a great deal more than I did, and even just figured out what makes the barrel turn after each shot.
    Last edited: May 23, 2009
  6. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    Take care with those gutta percha (aka "hard rubber") grips. They were flexible when new, but turn very brittle with age and break easily.

  7. Meredith

    Meredith New Member

    Jim - thanks for the warning. I guess like my aging body, they don't age all that well. Meredith
  8. Avenger

    Avenger Well-Known Member

    By the way, just as an FYI, WD40 is NOT what you want to lubricate moving parts of a gun with, or anything else for that matter. The best thing to do is to buy a cleaning kit (almost any sporting goods store or Walmart will have a decent "universal" kit in the 10-15 dollar range). Just follow the instructions in the kit or google "cleaning a revolver" for how to go about it.

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