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Something You Don't See Every Day, the Triple Lock

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Driftwood Johnson, Jul 17, 2017 at 7:55 PM.

  1. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Howdy

    Smith and Wesson introduced their first revolver with a cylinder that swung out to the side in 1896. It was known as the 32 Hand Ejector First Model Double Action Revolver, chambered for the then brand new 32 S&W Long cartridge. The frame size of this six shot 32 caliber revolver eventually came to be known as the I frame. This one is a bit finish challenged, it left the factory in 1898.

    32HE%201st%20Model%2003_zpse8iiptp6.jpg




    In 1899 S&W followed up with a larger model chambered for the then brand new 38 Special Cartridge. This nickel plated 38 Military and Police First Model (Model of 1899), left the factory in 1899. This was the first K frame revolver, the iconic size for 38 caliber S&W revolvers for well over 100 years. The Model of 1899 was distinctive because it lacked a locking lug under the barrel for the front of the extractor rod.

    Model%201899%20Nickel%2004_zpshmojhkjf.jpg




    In 1902 a locking lug was added under the barrel. By 1905 internal changes had been made to the 38 M&P, and the mechanism is basically unchanged today, still in production as the Model 10. This 38 M&P Target Model left the factory in 1917. It has the standard under barrel lug for latching the front of the extractor rod.

    MP%20target%2001_zpszvedd98o.jpg





    In 1907 Smith and Wesson produced the first large frame Hand Ejector. The frame size was designated as N. A new cartridge was developed for this new revolver, basically a lengthened version of the old 44 Russian cartridge. The model was designated 44 Hand Ejector First Model. It was also known as the New Century. The new cartridge was called 44 Smith and Wesson Special. Today it is usually simply known as the 44 Special.

    S&W did something new with this model. Up until this time, the Hand Ejectors had latched the cylinders at the rear, and at the front of the extractor rod with the lug under the barrel. S&W decided to add a 3rd latch to the new 44 caliber Hand Ejector. In addition to latching the cylinder at the rear and at the front of the extractor rod, a third latch was added to the yoke and barrel to securely latch the cylinder there too. So this model soon gained the nickname Triple Lock.

    This Triple Lock is a very early one. It left the factory in 1907. The Serial Number is under 200. It is very finish challenged, there is almost no blue left on it at all, except for in the cylinder flutes and a few protected spots on the frame. The rest of the gun is weathered to a 'battleship gray' patina. The stocks, which are original to the gun, have a fair amount of wear on them too. I stumbled across this old Triple Lock recently, and because of the condition I was able to grab it for a terrific price. Mechanically, it functions perfectly.

    Triple%20Lock%2001_zps5ilw6ied.jpg

    Triple%20Lock%2002_zpseasdkgzq.jpg




    The caliber marking on this one is unusual. Instead of the normal 44 S&W SPECIAL CTG marking, this one simply says 44 S&W CTG. I have heard a couple of explanations for this. One source tells me that a 44 S&W SPECIAL CTG die had not been made up yet, and the very early Triple Locks were shipped this way. Another source tells me this one may have originally been chambered for 44 Russian, there were a few chambered for that cartridge, and may have later had its chambers lengthened. There is a stamp on the left side of the grip frame indicating that this revolver was sent back to the factory in July of 1917 and some sort of work was done to it at that time. I am betting the first story is correct, there simply was not a 44 Special marking die yet. The only way I will know for sure it to letter the gun, which I may or may not do. The gun does chamber modern 44 Special ammunition, I fired a box of mild reloads through it recently, and it performed like a champ.

    Triple%20Lock%20Caliber%20Marking_zpsrpcdt5z2.jpg




    The Triple Lock was the first S&W revolver to have a shroud for the extractor rod. The shroud was there to house the mechanism for the third latch. In this photo, the arrow at the right points to a spring plunger mounted in the shroud. This plunger pops into a hole in a hardened insert screwed into the cylinder yoke. The middle arrow points to another spring plunger that engages the front of the extractor rod. The two pins are what keeps the assembly in place. I have not taken the pins out, nor do I intend to, so I do not know if the plungers are all one piece or if they are built up from more than one piece. The arrow on the left is pointing to a 'button' at the front of the plunger mechanism.

    Triple%20Lock%20Mechanism%2002%20SN%20ALTERED%20with%20arrows_zpszdyjquua.jpg



    This photo shows the hardened insert mounted in the cylinder yoke. There is a small screw on the backside holding it in place. When the cylinder is closed, the lower plunger in the shroud rides up the ramp in the insert. This pushes the plunger back. Since the two plungers are attached to each other, the upper plunger is pushed back too. As the lower plunger clears the hole it pops in the hole in the insert, and both plungers pop forward. The upper plunger engages a spring loaded rod in the front of the extractor rod. This in turn pops another plunger at the rear of the cylinder back to latch the rear of the cylinder to the frame.

    Hardened%20Cylinder%20Insert%2002_zpspqbjdhae.jpg




    Here is another view of the hardened insert screwed into the yoke.

    Hardened%20Cylinder%20Insert%20enhanced_zpspygr7rpj.jpg



    This nickel plated Triple Lock left the factory in 1915.

    triplelocknickel05_zps00475b76.jpg


    triplelocknickel06_zpse0f82140.jpg




    Here is a view of the third lock mechanism. There is a cut out in the frame to clear the hardened insert when the cylinder is closed. Slightly out of focus, the insert can be seen protruding from the side of the yoke.

    Note this Triple Lock has the standard 44 S&W SPECIAL CTG caliber marking.

    Plunger%2003_zpsjabidl3e.jpg




    Here is a view of the hardened insert on the yoke.

    Yoke%20Insert%2001_zps48ycuhwm.jpg




    This view shows how the hardened insert snugs up in the cut out of the frame when the cylinder is closed.

    triple%20lock%20nickel%20third%20latch%20with%20arrow_zpslorbvmax.jpg





    Nobody really knows why S&W chose to incorporate the third latch for the Triple Lock. It is redundant and totally unnecessary. I have heard it said they did it just to show they could. The catalog price of the Triple Lock in 1908 was $21. Sales were slow, the factory only produced about 2200 Triple Locks per year. Production of the Triple Lock ceased in 1915.

    At that time S&W introduced the 44 Hand Ejector Second Model. The third latch was omitted in this model, never to be produced again. The catalog price of the 44 Hand Ejector 2nd Model was $19, the difference largely due to the reduced machining required when the third latch was omitted. Some military sales of Triple Locks had gone to England, and it was felt that the hollow area of the shroud where the ejector rod sat was a magnet for mud.

    44handejectornumber202_zps4b43d341.jpg




    Here is a view of the front latch of the 44 HE 2nd Model. Similar in operation to the latch on the 38 M&P. In 1926 S&W produced the 44 HE 3rd Model, with a shroud around the extractor rod, but still no third latch.

    But that is another story.

    44handejectornumberbarrelmarking_zpsb4022892.jpg
     
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  2. SteadyD

    SteadyD Member

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    Great post and great pics. Thanks for sharing!
     
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  3. chicharrones
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    chicharrones needs more ammo

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    Another great history lesson, Driftwood. :cool:
     
  4. jamesjames

    jamesjames Member

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    A venerable revolver and design. Thrilling to see the evolution of design features. I wonder if anyone considers the new S&W model 69 as a nod to the triple lock. The model 69 has an additional ball detent in the front of the cylinder crane to provide extra support and stability for this feisty 44 magnum-chucking L-frame.
     
  5. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Well, I don't. A spring loaded ball detent is a far cry form the deep engagement of the lower plunger of the Triple Lock. It is probably not evident from these photos but the lower plunger is slightly tapered, so it fits into the hole in the insert like a glove. With a ball detent the only thing preventing the ball from sliding out of the detent is spring pressure forward. With the 3rd Latch of the Triple Lock, the plunger is mechanically locked in position.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2017 at 9:20 PM
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  6. Gordon

    Gordon Member

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    Mine is a .455, it has action issues which I have not found a place to have resolved yet, I asked here with no response for a suggestion , The grips came with the gun. I have since found on Ebay a properset of vintage grips but they are not pretty .
    P1030505_zps03514e7a.jpg
     
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  7. Gordon

    Gordon Member

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    Thank you for your great illustration and history, you filled in blanks for me. My gun is not refinished and has a good bore. The problem lies in the inability to unlock it with latch and the action freezes up. I have not attempted to monkey with it, I want someone who knows these things. I would love to shoot .455 in it, I shoot it in a couple Webleys.
     
  8. il.bill
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    il.bill Member

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    Thanks for a very informative post, Driftwood. I always appreciate it when you share your wisdom, especially accompanied by such wonderful detailed pictures for illustration.
     
  9. RPRNY

    RPRNY Member

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    Great pics and education. Congratulations on your triple locks!
     
  10. Slamfire

    Slamfire Member

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    Great post, triple locks are so rare, never been able to handle one to see how the mechanism was put together.
     
  11. bannockburn

    bannockburn Member

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    Driftwood

    Another outstanding tutorial along with the usual excellent complement of photos! Thanks for taking the time to enlighten us as to the various design aspects of revolvers. It's greatly appreciated.
     
  12. farm23

    farm23 Member

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    Thanks for the history lesson. Back in the 50's my first carry was a Triple Lock when I was a deputy in a small Georgia town. Wish I still had it.
     
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  13. FN in MT

    FN in MT Member

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    If Photobucket was still working....I have a 3rd model, five inch, in .44 Special. As close as I have come to a Triple Lock. LOL.
    Great post!
     
  14. bannockburn

    bannockburn Member

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    FN in MT

    Do what I did and switch your photos over to imgur.com. It's free, easy to do, and works better and faster than Photobucket ever did (and with none of those annoying ads popping up everywhere too). For those photos that I didn't have on my laptop (mostly from my cell phone), I went back into my Photobucket account, sent them to one of my email accounts, then downloaded them over to my imgur album.
     
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  15. murf

    murf Member

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    thank you for the education driftwood johnson.

    murf
     
  16. Cooldill

    Cooldill Member

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    The apple of Elmer's eye! BEAUT!!!! :D
     
  17. C5rider

    C5rider Member

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    GREAT post Driftwood! Thank you for taking the time to post this. Just curious, and a ball-park figure would be fine, but what is a "Good Deal" on one of these interesting firearms? S&W revolvers can be all over the place, from my humble experience.
     
  18. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    I assume you are only asking about Triple Locks, not all the other guns in my photos.

    This one is really primo, in addition to being a Target Model, so it went really, really high.

    https://www.rockislandauction.com/detail/59/1733/smith-wesson-44-hand-ejector

    These two are more like the prices I have been seeing for Triple Locks.

    Notice that like all old guns, condition has a great deal to do with the value.

    https://www.rockislandauction.com/d...on-first-model-44-hand-ejector-triple-lock-da

    https://www.rockislandauction.com/d...el-44-hand-ejector-triple-lock-revolver?text=


    Because that old blue Triple Lock of mine was so finish challenged, I got it for less than $700. I jumped all over it and made sure it went home with me. By the way, although the outside of the gun is finish challenged, the bore and chambers look like they just left the factory yesterday, and everything functions perfectly. So that's why I was all over it. I have never seen a Triple Lock go that low in price. The serious collectors are usually looking for one in better condition, so the competition was not bad. I was thrilled to get it for under $700.

    The nickel plated one cost quite a bit more, but not as much as any of the links I have posted.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2017 at 11:20 PM
  19. Sistema1927

    Sistema1927 Member

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    Thanks for such an informative post.
     
  20. Monac

    Monac Member

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    Thanks for such an excellent post, Driftwood Johnson. I was especially interested to see the tiny plunger in the crane and the dimple in the frame that S&W put in to provide a detent to hold the cylinder open during reloading. I would have sworn on a stock of Bibles that the plunger was in the frame and the dimple was in the crane, based on having owned a 455 Triple Lock 30 years ago, but I see it is the reverse, and that that is the only way it could be, owning to the thinness of the frame at that point. Yet another lesson to be less sure of ancient memories!
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2017 at 2:24 AM
  21. C5rider

    C5rider Member

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    Thank you for the additional information Driftwood. I can see why you jumped on that one.

    How much of a premium do you think the first one enjoyed due to being a target model? It has a LOT going for it (condition, target model, barrel length, etc.) But like stickers on a hot rod, you can't add up each one and get exponentially more hp. Something has to account.
    (I know there are very trustworthy auction houses and dealers, but I'm always leery when EVERY option is "rare".) Drives my wife nuts. LOL!

    Thank you again for your time.
     
  22. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Howdy

    Here is another shot of the plunger protruding from the yoke of my nickeled Triple Lock. It makes the yoke a little bit resistant to closing when the yoke is opened all the way. Although the Triple Lock was the first Hand Ejector to incorporate this feature, several other N frame models had it too. I don't know exactly when the plunger was discontinued, but the 2nd Model 44 HE pictured earlier, which left the factory in 1921, should have one. The detent in the frame is there, as is the hole in the yoke. However it was very easy to lose these parts. The plunger was under spring pressure, and if you didn't know it was there, it often shot out when the cylinder was removed, and the owner may have been completely unaware of its existence in the first place. Little confession here, the yoke plunger is missing from my bargain Triple Lock too. I knew that up front, it was mentioned in the catalog. That IS NOT why it was so inexpensive.

    I have a 455 HE 2nd Model that does have the plunger, don't remember exactly when that one was made. And a Model 1917 from 1918 has the plunger too.

    The plunger can be a tricky little devil to get back in, you have to compress it with something just as the yoke enters the frame. If you slip, it's gone, hiding in the most inaccessible place in the shop, probably under a bench somewhere.

    Yoke%20Plunger_zps9cdnsbxi.jpg




    Whenever S&W decided to do away with the little plunger, it was no big deal. It doesn't do much, just offers a little bit of resistance to the cylinder closing. Playing around a little bit, I can turn the gun upside down and the plunger prevents the cylinder from swinging closed. Some of the time. Doing away with it was no big deal, and meant a couple less parts and to less machining operations.
     
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  23. Jim NE

    Jim NE Member

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    Great guns, pics and history, Driftwood.

    Beautiful gun and pics, Gordon.

    Some very pretty pictures in this thread. ;)
     
  24. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Well.....

    First off I have another little confession to make.

    I actually have three Triple Locks.

    This one is a Target Model with a 7 1/2" barrel. It shipped in 1908.

    However it has been refinished, and the refinish job is not all that great. Some edges have been over polished and rounded over.

    triplelock03_zps8bd6cc58.jpg




    That is particularly noticeable when you look at it from this side. Even in this view it is plain that the edges of the side plate were polished aggressively and rounded over. The joint should be almost invisible.

    triplelock04_zps5fe2750f.jpg



    Compare that to the side plate of my 'finish challenged, bargain basement' Triple Lock. Worn as it is, the edge of the side plate is almost invisible, just as it should be.

    Side%20Plate%20Close%20Up_zpspcg1xlxk.jpg




    The same with my nickel plated Triple Lock. There are scratches on the finish, but the seam around the side plate is almost invisible.

    SIde%20Plate%20Close%20Up_zpsrudafl1g.jpg




    The Target Model is the first Triple Lock I acquired. A few years later I found the nickel plated one, and just a couple of months ago I found the worn one. I always tell myself that if I had found the nickel plated one first I wouldn't have looked at the Target Model twice. I always prefer an old gun with honest wear on it, rather than a refinished old gun, particularly a poorly refinished old gun.

    Also, I have been thinking that I paid too much for the Target Model, considering its condition.

    But your question sent me to the latest edition of the Standard Catalog of Smith and Wesson, by Supica and Nahas. Here is what they list as values for Triple Locks:

    As New in the Box - $12,000
    Excellent Plus $7,500
    Excellent $5,000
    Very Good $2,500
    Good $1,500
    Fair $950

    Clearly these figures have to be taken with a grain of salt. The true value of anything can only be determined by how much somebody is willing to pay for it on any given day. Everything else is just a rough guide line.

    But here is what Supica and Nahas have to say about the Triple Lock Target Model:

    "Target Models are worth around three times the standard model. Target Models are scarce."

    Hmmmmmmmm......even though it is refinished, maybe I didn't pay too much for it after all.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2017 at 5:06 PM
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  25. C5rider

    C5rider Member

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    A LOT of great information in that post. Again, thank you for your time!

    Had me thinking that the first auction that you posted did VERY well, ringing the bell on that offering indeed! Then, finishing off with the quote about Target Models brought it all into view.

    Great read.
     

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