A Nurse with a Gun

Monday, September 03, 2007

A Model of 1905 4th Change Oddity

I learned a bit this morning. I had always considered this particular revolver to be Pre-Depression. A curious reader raised an incongruity in it's appearance. (Update: It's actually OK, it is pre-depression.)
Click to enlarge
According to the mushroom shaped ejector knob, this revolver would date prior to 1930.

According to the "Made In USA" mark on the frame, it would date post-1938 after May, 1922.

There is no indication that the gun was ever tampered with. Odd indeed, until one considers the .32WCF caliber.......Ah ha! This is a Model of 1905 4th Change in .32-20 also known as .32WCF. 78,983 of these revolvers were manufactured between 1915 and 1940, compared with 758,296 of the .38 Special version during the same time period. The .38 Special saw a production run roughly ten times as large as the .32WCF!

Thus, it is highly likely that a surplus of .32WCF barrels and cylinders were manufactured prior to 1930, when the chambering was presumed to be the hot item. The pre-1930 barrels had a notch cut to accommodate the mushroom ejector knob. Click to enlargeThus, the older style knob continued to be used on later .32WCF M&Ps long after it was discontinued on the .38 Special M&P.

The frame of the .32WCF M&P, however, was the same as the .38 Special version, with serial numbers contained within the same range. The "Made In USA" mark dates the frame with certainty after 1938 after May 1922. Thus, the revolver must have been produced post-1938 May 1922 (and there really isn't an issue). .32WCF production was discontinued with WWII, and this revolver has a six digit serial, 1087XX which places it late in the production run.

Thus, what I originally had determined to be a Pre-Depression era M&P, is indisputably not. A firearm is dated by it's frame, not it's ancillary bits, but this .32WCF Military & Police revolver is still correct. Apparently, stockpiled pre-depression .32WCF barrels and cylinders were used to produce .32WCF revolvers much later, using the later Military & Police frames. Because of it's scarcity compared to the .38 Special M&P, Supica's Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson lists this revolver at about $400 in it's present condition.

I purchased this Model of 1905 4th Change revolver at a gunshow a few years back. I had made the rounds, and saw nothing on the tables that I could not leave without. I was watching for walkers (private sellers) meandering about the crowds. Finally, I spotted a weathered old hayseed farmer in coveralls, complete with a battered straw hat. He was pulling what appeared to be a Smith & Wesson M&P from a canvas tote sack to show to a dealer. Like a leopard, I drew closer and overheard the farmer trying to sell the revolver for $200. The dealer counter offered $100. The sunburned old coot wasn't having any of it.

When the farmer walked away disgustedly, I approached him and asked to examine the gun. I had thought it was a .38 Special, and I was disappointed to find an unfamiliar caliber. I offered what I felt was a fair price, minus a bit due to the oddball caliber......$150. The farmer refused, and stuck the gun back in his tote sack. We went on our separate ways ambling about a rather boring show.

The farmer and I ran into each other again several hours later. I had done pretty well selling off a couple of pairs of stag grips and a Kart barrel for a 1911. I asked the old gentleman if he still had his revolver. He did. I asked to see it again. As I saw the hope emerge in his grizzled and wrinkled face, my haggling skills were dulled. With a twinkle in his eye, he removed the old faded blue revolver from his sack. He gave it to me with a wink and a yellow smile. I spontaneously decided to transfer my good fortune over to him. With a handshake and a smile, I gave him two crisp Franklins for the old Smith & Wesson. I'm glad I did. The karma has come back to me.

Epilogue: It appears I had some spurious information somewhere, so I went to the expert resource, the S&W Forum and Neal & Jinks. There, I found the "Made In USA" stamp actually appeared in May, 1922. Thus.......The oddity was not an oddity at all. There are 8 years of wiggle room. I've corrected the erroneous information I relayed. Thank you to my readers who set me on the straight and narrow.....

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Blogger Cliff_1911A1 said...

Wonderful story, Xavier.

Karma always comes back!

On a side note, I passed a couple of years ago (foolishly it might seem after reading your post) on a very similar but later S&W of the same .32 oddball caliber... and she was virtually mint.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Tam said...


The .38 Model of 1905 4th Change I just scored at the last show is a 5" gun with the mushroom knob, "Made In USA" on the frame, and S/N of 501XXX.

This S/N is awful low in the range to be late '30s production.

FWIW, Supica & Nahas seem to imply that all 4th Change .38's had the "Made In USA" mark...

11:24 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I've been a long time reader and thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. I finally have something to comment on so here goes:

I have a 5 screw pre-war M&P 1905 4th change Serial 4711XX that wears the far left grips (1917-1929 according to one of your early posts).

It also has the early mushroom style ejector knob (1902-1930), but has the S&W logo on the left side of the frame and "Made in U.S.A." on the right of the frame. I couldn't find too much information on the Made in USA rollmark, but are you sure it started in 1939? Everything I found about my serial # points to it being a ~1923 production year.

Thanks for all of the great information and stories!

11:39 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

I'm going by John Henwood's "America's Right Arm", and one of my Models of 1905 4th Changes that do not have the Made In USA stamp. 3690XX.

I'll recheck my sources this afternoon, perhaps it did occur earlier.

5:11 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Yep Tam, I had it bookmarked.......On page 36 of John Henwood's "America's Right Arm, The Smith & Wesson Military & Police Revolver", at the bottom of the page: "Starting circa 1939, and continuing until circa 1950, the frames of all guns were rollmarked at the right front "MADE IN USA".(Fig 6-8)

John Henwood is to the Model 10 what Clawson is to the 1911.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

My nickel Model of 1905 4th is within the serial number range of the Texas State Prison guns. this makes it a verifiable 1927-1930 gun........Guess what......Made In USA stamped on the lower right frame! Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm Serial 5446XX

Supica definitely infers that all Models of 1905 4th Change will be "Made In USA" stamped, yet I own one that is not, and that I know was not buffed out. That one is 3690XX.

I guess this is why folks say only Roy Jinks knows for certain!

5:30 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

FWIW, I posted the question over in the S&W Forum. Maybe the experts there can pin down the "Made In USA" date. Here's the link.

5:38 AM  
Blogger Tam said...

I'm probably going to get this M&P lettered, as it's an honest 95% pre-war gun.

I'm good and curious now.

7:21 AM  
Blogger Tam said...

I just went and looked at all my other pre-war H.E.'s, and the only other one with the "Made In USA" is my .38/44 Heavy Duty, which dates pretty conclusively to 1936.

7:28 AM  

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