Old 32s

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Mar 27, 2008
Recently I have become interested in old-fashioned .32-caliber revolvers, especially top-breaks, especially in barrel lengths around 3". It's mostly an esthetic thing; I would use it for fun shooting and a little extra practice with double action. There are so many options I'm trying to refine my choice.

I know there are a lot of brands out there - S&W, Iver Johnson, H&R, Hopkins & Allen, and "US" (which I only heard of scanning gunbroker.com). Did I leave anyone out? Any manufacturer to seek out or avoid?

I gather that they can come in 32 S&W or 32 S&W Long, and that revolvers chambered for the latter also fire the former. One thing I don't know is how common the ammo is (loaded cartridges or components). Which one is easier to shoot these days? (I assume 32 Short and Long Colt are pretty much gone.)

Any reason to prefer a swing-out to a top-break? Does one of them "age better"? Do top-breaks usually/always auto-eject the brass?

I gather that any weapon of such advanced age needs a trip to the gunsmith for a check-up. Question is, is there any way to tell from an ad what sort of costs may be involved? Are buyers commonly spending $200 to make these guys work?
Better start out with one that works perfectly to start with.

Parts are very scarce, and gunsmiths who have even seen the insides of one even scarcer.

A more modern swing-out will have a vastly longer lifespan as a shooter then even the best (S&W) top-break.

Love the 32's, my favorite caliber. Below is a pic of my favorite .32 revolver in the safe. S&W Model 16 no dash. It's old but not real old, 50 years or so.

If you get one of the really old ones like a top or bottom break I'd be careful about putting modern high pressure ammunition through it. Maybe light handloads would be appropriate.

You can still find .32 S&W Longs around. I saw a box of fifty at Sportsman's Warehouse the other day for $35 or so. Not cheap, but if you get dies you can reload that brass many, many times. It's a really fun little round. Haven't seen the shorts except as black powder blanks. The .32 H&R Mags of course come from the .32 S&W family and the S&W and S&W long will both wirh in .32 H&R's or the new Ruger .327 mags. So you can use the same .32 S&W Longs in both your vintage iron in and in brand new revolvers, provided you're operating within the round's very low pressure SAAMI specs. If you need higher power rounds for the new iron that's what the H&R's and .327s are for.

The colt line is likely a handloading proposition. But handloading costs for all of these, assuming you can find brass, are about as low as you can get. It's easy to find bullets on sale, and the powder requirements are miniscule. They're well known rounds with a lot of load data published.

I agree that the "lemon squeezers" are a mixed bag. I've seen some nice S&W's but a lot of the off-brands have been worn out. I'd insist on a hand inspection prior to purchase if I were you. The swing outs have held together much better over the years. You can find old Smiths and the Police Positive Colts in the array of .32 chamberings. REmember though that Colt was allergic to putting "S&W" on any of their iron so they called the S&W Long the ".32 Colt New Police" LOL It makes things real confusing. But it does bring home the point that these were NOT seen as fun plinkers 100 years ago. In fact the .32 S&W Long was the new hotness for police of the period, and along with the .38 S&W it dominated US LEO handguns until the advent of the "really hot" .38 Special. The claim was the new fangled automobiles had doors the .32's and .38 S&W couldn't penetrate. I've always wanted to get a Model A or Model T door and see if there's any truth to this claim. They'll go through modern doors no problem, but the vintage autos were all steel.

Don't confuse any of the old .32's with the .32-20, which is a much higher pressure round of completely different design.
Thanks rcmodel ... I hadn't considered the angle that gunsmiths nowadays won't have too much experience with these.

That is a beautiful picture, rgs1975. I'm always surprised by how beefy S&W made even their small-caliber revolvers.

Cosmoline wrote: "Not cheap, but if you get dies you can reload that brass many, many times."

A good point, and as someone who's been on the brink of getting handloading gear for about five years, I often forget that some cartridge cases last longer than others. How hard is it to trim cases? I was thinking you could retire old 32 Magnum / 327 brass to a desk job, by cutting them down to 32 S&W/long length, but if that's a lot of extra equipment maybe it's not economical. Sometimes saving money costs a pretty penny. :)
I doubt you'd need to worry much about trimming with the .32 S&W family. Until you get up to the new Ruger round the pressures are really low. Even .32 H&R mag is only 22,000 PSI or so. A little Lee hand trimmer ought to suffice when the time comes.

Most of the manufacturers you posted are among the better quality makers that you'll find. Some, like Iver Johnson, made not only their own branded revolvers, but sold to gun jobbers and dealers a lower quality line as well. The U.S. brand was one such line, as was the Secret Service Special revolvers. H&R sold guns under the Aetna label, and Hopkins and Allen had over 100 different brand names in production over the years. Many of these were inexpensive single action .22s and .32s. These were eventually discontinued in favor of the top-break, and later, the swing-out cylinder revolvers, which offered more potent ammunition for the stronger frame design, along with double action firing mechanisms.
I've got a 5-shot top-break .32 that was my father's police service revolver from the days when he was an LEO in New England. It's marked Iver Johnson's Arms & Cycle Works, Fitchburg, Mass. USA. It's in superb shape; I'd venture to say that it wasn't fired much at all. I'm certain that it would function well, though I'd never consider shooting it.
Here is a really old .32 for you.
I have an old Belgium Bulldog pistol chambered in British .320. While I don't think I will ever find ammo for it I think it is a nice conversation piece. The gun was made somewhere aroung 1880 as close as I can figure. I was a fun project restoring it.
Top-break pocket revolvers are an interesting collector's field because many makes and models can be obtained for modest prices. While those chambered for the S&W .32 Long cartridge will shoot the .32 S&W, it generally isn't the other way around because most .32 S&W revolvers were made on smaller frames, and shoot that cartridge exclusively.

From the point of shooting, S&W made the best revolvers by far. They came in larger frame/5-shot .38's (.38 S&W) and small frame .32's (.32 S&W). Iver Johnson were the next best, and they did make .32 Long on their .38 frame. The late production guns were good enough so that Uncle Sam bought some during World War Two.

The best shooters were Colt and S&W Hand Ejectors. Both were chambered in .32 S&W Long (aka "Colt New Police"). You will find a number of past threads on the S&W .32 1903 model hand ejectors on this forum, and a fewer number covering the Colt Police Positive (not Police Positive Special).

For further information on the Smith & Wesson top break and hand ejector .32 revolvers, go to: www.armchairgunshow.com
Sadly, it has been years since I have seen a decent break-top. Probably the best advice, if you want to try .32, is toget a recent 3" or 4" .32 H&RM Ruger SP101 - or a 4.6" Ruger SSM in .32 H&RM. That's what I did - after trying out a less expensive revolver that will actually very likely come with a fairly decent lanyard, holster, screwdriver, and cleaning rod - sometimes at <$100 delivered! Of course, I am talking about an 1895 Nagant revolver! It is made for a tapered round, but will fire .32 S&WL - and bulge & split the cases, too.

Back to the dropped Rugers I mentioned... they resurrected the 3" SP101 this year with a deeper bored chamber and re-stamped caliber - now .327 Magnum. It is literally a .32 S&WL with a deep chamber. You can shoot the S&WLs, H&RMs, and, if you can find them, the Federal .327 Magnums from it. Typically Ruger, both of my Ruger .32s came with QC issues, requiring some TLC to correct. Both are quite functional now - and reportedly, their QC is better, too. The new .327 Magnum 3" SP101 is $419 locally - and a decent buy, in today's new market.

The bad news... the rear sight is only adjustable for windage - you have to 'find a load' that meets the front sight's height. Mine has the slightly larger Hogues - great for a plinker. You might consider one as a 'shooter' - but, as you've seen from the quoted prices, ammo is dear. Reloading is a help, but reloading commercial lead is nearly as expensive as .38 Special, begging the question... why ? Well, the 800fps 115gr LRNFPs I launch don't drop metal plates - unless you hit them right! They are fun...


you could retire old 32 Magnum / 327 brass
It might be possible with .32 Mag cases, but the word is the .327 case gets way thicker just behind the base of the bullet.

If you trimmed them down and seated a bullet, the thick case would bulge so much they wouldn't fit in a gun.

I just bought a fifth model S&W top break in 38 s&w. bought it strictly for the OP's reasons, neat looking, fun.
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