What's your favorite top-break revolver?

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Dec 28, 2008
I've never owned one and would like to. How common is the 32 s&w round? Is the 32 sw the same as the 32 sw long?

Seems like 22 32 and 38 are still around and affordable. Anything special about the top break guns I should be aware of, good or bad.
Smith & Wesson introduced the top-break system in the United States in 1869, and it remained popular into the 1920's although Smith & Wesson (with one model), Iver Johnson and Harrington & Richardson continued on following up to and beyond World War Two. Those made after about 1910 forward, and especially .22 revolvers made after the war can be considered as possible shooters. Others should be considered to be collectables.

.32 S&W is the "short" version of the .32 S&W Long, although it isn't named as such. Any revolver chambered in .32 S&W Long can fire .32 S&W cartridges, but there is little reason to do so.

The above-named makers all made small pocket revolvers, chambered to use .32 S&W cartridges.

None of these guns are rare, as they literally made hundreds of thousands of them. Many find them interesting to collect because as collectable handguns they are often priced much lower then some others that now go for thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.

If your interested in a particular brand/model, consider Smith & Wesson's Safety Hammerless, made in two styles .38 S&W (medium frame) and .32 S&W (small frame). Both were 5-shot, inclosed hammer, pocket revolvers - although they came with barrel lengths up to 6 inches. Owners included everyone from western lawmen and outlaws to a U.S. President.
Thanks for the info Old Fuff it helped me a lot. Looks like H R 22 for shooting and maybe the Smith's for eye candy. I know they are older pistols but was looking for something I could shoot every now and then. Lord knows I don't want to buy something I can't get ammo for.
They are definitely eye candy! They are some of the best looking revolvers ever made.


My Safety Hammerless has an excellent bore and timing and I occasionally shoot it. As Fuff says, its probably not the best idea, but I can't resist. The other single action has a heavily pitted bore and is just a looker. The .32 S&W is an anemic little round but is entertaining if you've never had the opportunity. Ammunition is really expensive. If you do pick up an old top break and want to shoot it, make sure you find out when it was made, as smokeless powder shouldn't be used in the older blackpowder guns.
Generally speaking, but check the serial number to be sure, those S&W Safety Hammerless revolvers that have the "T" barrel length (as yours does) are safe to shoot with smokeless powder cartridges. Those that were made after the First World War are unquestionably so.

But there is still the question of ammunition availability and cost.

Those who go to the trouble will find there is a lot of history behind these little revolvers.

If being able to shoot one is an issue, consider the .38 size. These are chambered in .38 S&W, where both ammunition and reloading dies are much easier to find then .32 S&W. Also Iver Johnson (first choice) and Harrington & Richardson (second choice) made so-called "new models", from about 1910 to 1940 on their larger frame that were chambered in .32 S&W Long. Again, ammunition is easier to find as are reloading dies and components.

And the whole question of ammunition can be solved by buying a .22 made on one of the larger frames after the war. Here H&R is the better choice.

Recently I had an opportunity to examine a Smith & Wesson D.A. 38 (top-break with a conventional hammer). While it had considerable milage on it the cylinder wouldn't move - either fore nor aft, or rotationally when it was locked up. Absolutely zero movement in any direction. The sideplate was so well fitted that in place you couldn't see where the plate joined the frame. The stocks were serial numbered to the gun because they had been individually fitted to it. While the nickel plate was worn in places, the polish under it was pure perfection.

This little jewel of gun making had left the factory in 1884 or '85 when according to CNC machine fans the company was using cutting tools made out of chipped flint. :rolleyes: Yet what they make today can't come close to matching it.

Guns such as this, shooting aside, are worth owning simply because of what they represent. ;)
I imagine the old Schofield topbreaks should be high on the list... I want one pretty bad.
Old Fluff :

I've been toying with the ideal of a top break revolver for years . Where do I start looking for these old guns. I would think that it should be hands on and not by pictures on the web. I have a few gunshows coming up in my area I guess that would be a start. Just don't know about priceing of such old guns, if their collectable or cheap wore out guns.
It would pay to learn the serial number breaks and minor differences.
David Chicoine, who works on them, says the ones made after 1907-1909 upgrades are best for smokeless.
Every time I see one at a gun show now, I wish I'd bought a .455 Webley Mark VI back before the 1968 GCA, when they were less than $40 mail order,
I've been toying with the ideal of a top break revolver for years . Where do I start looking for these old guns. I would think that it should be hands on and not by pictures on the web. I have a few gunshows coming up in my area I guess that would be a start. Just don't know about priceing of such old guns, if their collectable or cheap wore out guns.

Here are my thoughts.

For pricing, check Gunbroker's auctions and sign in to get the completed ones. Generally, they are listed under all sorts of terms, so I search in the following manner:

Smith Wesson third model
Smith Wesson 3rd model
Smith Wesson safety hammerless
Smith Wesson .32
ect, ect.

Gunbroker has a few good ones pop up now and then, or you can scrounge the gunshows. The first thing that will strike you is how small these are. Many of these .32 guns are tiny. I see quite a few at gunshows where I am at, but many are hard used. .32s are much more common than the .38s it seems, and since they are more common and less of a shooter, they seem cheaper.

Like any revolver, you want to check out the lock up and play in the cylinder. The other crucial thing to be sure to check is the bore. Many of these old guns were shot with corrosive ammunition and not sufficiently cleaned and the bores and rifling are eaten away. Similarly, you can look at the face of the cylinder and if there is heavy flaking of the nickel there, you should definitely check the bore. On the pic I posted, the single action one has perfect nickel except for the front of the cylinder, and the bore is gone in that one. Just something to look at as you browse.

Before you buy, I would look at the going prices pretty hard and realize that if you find one with a box and stuff, that will bring a big premium. I would also get familiar with the model changes, so you can identify what you are looking at and know if it can be shot with modern ammo or not.

Don't get in a rush. I've seen real good ones go cheap, but I have also seen the same guns listed on gunbroker for years at ridiculous prices. Be patient and you won't regret it.
Webley MK VI in .455 is my favorite. Interestingly, replicas of Webley MK III's are currently manufactured in India in S&W long. I'd like to be able to get ahold of one, though the quality has been questioned.


Try out a Harrington-Richardson 999 .22 revolver. My Pop left me a near new one about 3 1/2 yrs ago, this thing is a dandy shooter! 6" barrel, really fits the hand nice, did I say it was a good shooter? LOL Take a look at 'em!
I will second 788 Ham- the H&R 999 Sportsman is a great little .22. Nine shots, break it open, nine cases eject, reload and shoot again. It is fun.
Gotta love the Sportsman!!
Here's a few.

3 1980 999 Sportsman. 1 6", 2 4"

1939 777 Ultra Sportsman

1955 999 Sportsman
My favorite I no longer have. I sold my New Model #3 S&W a few years back:banghead::banghead::banghead:, What was I thinking... It was 98% had a serialized 4 inch service and a 6.5 inch target barrel. Chambered in 44 Russian it was a super accurate and a lot of fun to shoot(BP cartridges).

Next up is my 1914 Perfected Model 99%.
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Played with the Uberti copy of the S&W Model 3 at the gun show today. I've put it on the list of things to buy if I win the Lotto.
Oh yes Snort,

The Schofield, I'd give both of my bottom molars for one of these, the engraving is nicely done, but I could be forced to take a "smooth" one! Maybe I can talk the Mrs. into a late Christmas gift............. hmmmm, will see what kind of mood she's in when she gets home from work tonite........ hmmmmm
Iver Johnson SuperShot Sealed Eight.

I don't own one, but I've fired one that belongs to a close friend. Neat, very well made old piece!
S&W New Model Number 3 would have to be my favorite in top breaks, followed very closely by the Webley MK.VI.
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A friend has a WG, I have a New Model No 3.
Seeing both, I prefer the Webley. But he won't trade.

For shooting, I think I'd just as soon have jamesjo's H&R Ultra Sportsman.
.22s are underrated these days.
I have owned a bunch of old top breaks, and now own 2...

an Iver Johnson Safety Hammer 4", and a H&R Hammerless...both are .38 S&W caliber.

On the .32 S&W- Remington makes the cartridge, it is now available online and at Cabela's if you live near one, but it's pretty hard to find otherwise and the price will astound you...The round itself is pretty weak, about the same as a standard load .25 ACP..The old .32 top breaks were marketed as competition for the "new" automatic pistol a more reliable alternative for a very small concealed defense pistol, and they sold millions till around WWII. The later models-usually after 1910 or so - with heavier frames designed for smokeless powder loads are still shooters depending on condition.

(The old black Powder guns may be fired with modern cartridges, but they will eventually shoot loose.)

They should run around $120 in good shape, but many online sell for more.
I have enjoyed shooting these old guns for several decades now.
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