Deciphering the Masterpiece
After WWII, Smith & Wesson introduced an improved .38 Special revolver, designed for target shooting. It was designated the K-38 Target Masterpiece. Very quickly, law enforcement, and particularly the FBI asked Smith & Wesson to shorten the barrel to four inches and mount a Baughman Quick Draw front sight in place of the Patridge sight. This new variation quickly took over the police shooting competitions of it's day, and became the favored carry gun of many officers. It was dubbed the Combat Masterpiece.
My old weathered K-38 Combat Masterpiece is pictured at left. This is an imminently shootable gun. I consider it to be my finest shooting wheelgun. The trigger is absolutely incredible. The K-38 designation is simply that of a pre-Model number K frame .38 Special Smith & Wesson. The K-38 Combat Masterpiece became the Model 15 in 1957. The stainless Model 67 was also known as a Combat Masterpiece. There was also a .22LR caliber Model 18, which was known as the K-22 Combat Masterpiece.
The features that make up a Combat Masterpiece include:
Four inch ribbed barrel
Micrometer adjustable rear sight
Baughman Quick Draw front sight
Serrated front and back strap
Short fast action
By contrast, the Smith & Wesson Target Masterpiece had a six or eight and 3/8 inch ribbed barrel coupled with an adjustable rear sight. Over the years, the front sight varied on the Target Masterpiece, but it was usually a Patridge type sight. Serrated front and back straps were standard on the Target Masterpiece. It was available in .22LR as the K-22 Target Masterpiece and later Model 17, and .38 Special to make up the K-38 Target Masterpiece and later Model 14. To make matters worse, there are also heavy lugged barrels on some Target Masterpieces, as well as a K-32 Target Masterpiece/Model 16. Pictured above is my Model 17-3 Target Masterpiece.
The Masterpieces of Smith & Wesson are not fancy. They do not have light rails nor mounts for red dot scopes. They are not trendy. They are classic. Many say that the Model 27 in all it's variations and lucious liquid blue finish is the pinnacle, the Mona Lisa, of Smith & Wesson revolvers. The checkered sight rail and jewel like blue of the Model 27 is indeed beautiful, baroque. There is, however an undeniable beauty in the simplicity of design, in the work of Mies van der Rohe and his contemporaries. Less is more. The Mona Lisa is not the only artistic masterpiece ever painted, and the Masterpieces of Smith & Wesson are indeed masterful renditions of purpose driven revolvers. They well deserve the title of Masterpiece.