A Nurse with a Gun

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Smith & Wesson Model 15

The Smith & Wesson Model 15 is one of my favorite all around revolvers. It's an exceptionally shootable revolver, precisely accurate with a rare trigger of exquisite smoothness. The Model 15 has a long and storied history, starting with the Model of 1899 and the Military and Police revolver. Target sights were an option on the Model of 1905, but were rarely ordered. Smith & Wesson Model 15-3 Combat Masterpiece, Smith & Wesson K-38 Combat Masterpiece, Smith & Wesson Model 15-9 HeritageOccasionally a man might have a gunsmith install adjustable sights.

After WWII, Smith & Wesson finally took notice of this trend, and eager to offer new products, they added a target sighted 38 Special K frame revolver to their line. It was a six inch model, made for target shooting. Smith & Wesson dubbed their new revolver the K-38 Target Masterpiece. The FBI and police departments around the country soon requested the same revolver with a four inch barrel and a Baughman Quick Draw front sight. Smith & Wesson was quick to honor this request, and the K-38 Combat Masterpiece was born. The K-38 Combat Masterpiece rocked the police shooting competitions. Many officers selected it as a duty gun. Whereas the old M&P had been a duty gun often pressed into target use, the K-38 Combat Masterpiece was a target gun suitable for duty use.

In 1957, all Smith & Wesson revolvers were given numerical model numbers. The K-38 Target Masterpiece became the Model 14, and the K-38 Combat Masterpiece became the Model 15. In 1999, the Model 14 was dropped. Subsequent six inch target sighted .38 caliber K framed revolvers were called Model 15's. Pictured at right are a Model 15-3 Combat Masterpiece from about 1974, a "two T" five screw Smith & Wesson K-38 Combat Masterpiece circa early 1950s, and a Smith & Wesson Model 15-9 from 2002.

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Anonymous Rabbit said...

Evil. You're eeeevil, I say.

I fired of an email to an acquaintance of mine who owns a pawn shop just a few minutes ago to ask if he still had a 4 inch S&W 66 (no dash) in inventory immediately after reading this post.

It's all your fault, Xavier. Yours alone.

Thanks for the reminder. My dad bought a K-38 Masterpiece right after I was born, at Cullen and Boren in Dallas. It was one of my favorite revolvers I've ever had a chance to use. I believe my brother owns it now. Maybe if I can get that 66 I'll be satisfied for a day or two.


3:53 PM  
Blogger Cliff_1911A1 said...


Xavier, well... now that I've wiped the drool off of my keyboard, I can attempt to type a reply of sorts... !!!

Great photo and the difference in the hammers and triggers on the 4" K-38 and the 4" Model 15-3 show distinctly.

Now, perhaps you can help me... and I've mentioned this one before, so you'll recall the particular Model 15-2... if it has a 2" "snubbie" barrel, is it also a "Combat Masterpiece"?

I've looked elsewhere for clarification, and have come away empty handed.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

It's my understanding that 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
Anti-backlash trigger

6:15 PM  
Blogger Cliff_1911A1 said...


I do appreciate the reply and info... that's kind of what I was thinking too.

No 4" barrel... no Combat Masterpiece!

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a Model 15-3 Combat Masterpiece formerly ownwed by my Dad. The best that I can figure is that it is from the early seventies. It is in about 80% condition. Any idea of what something like this would be worth?Thanks.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Wilky said...

I was issued the Model 15 in the L.A. County Sheriff's Department in the early '80's. We transitioned to the Beretta in the late '80's and given the option to buy our revolvers for a hundred bucks. I chose not to and regret the decision to this day. What a priceless artifact to pass on to my son who was born a year later. Who knew.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Wilky said...

I was issued the Model 15 in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in the early 1980's. We transitioned to the Beretta in the late '80's. We were given the option to purchase our revolvers for a hundred bucks. I chose not to and regret that decision to this day. It was a terrific gun.

2:16 PM  
Blogger kawasakifreak77 said...

I bought a well used K-38 combat masterpiece from a pawn shop a few months ago.... It's now my favorite sidearm by leaps & bounds. More accurate than I will most likely ever be & an incredible trigger.

According to the serial it is a '50 model. The only thing that confuses me is the fact that instead of having a thin four inch barrel with the ramp front sight (like every other combat masterpiece I've been able to find has), it has the thicker target like bull barrel & partridge front sight like a target masterpiece. This is a four in gun & no-one has been able to figure out whether I have some un-known factory option or some sort of hack job.

All the serial nubers match & if anything has been altered, it was done to the factory's hieght of wonderful fit & finish.

I can provide a picture if needed. Any help would be greatly appriciated. Thanks!

5:03 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

email me a pic at the address on this blog, and I'll be happy to give an opinion.

Roy Jinks, however, can tell you for certain.

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have acquired from my father 2 model 15s. Both were used by my grandfather (reserve cop) and both are 4 inchers. I am keeping one 4" but would love to have a 2" for CCW. Would it be worth my while to seek out a 2" barrel, ejector...
have a smithy assemble it. I was hoping someone could point me in the right direction in terms of sourcing these parts. Or is trading for an acutal 2" model my only option?

1:54 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

I think I would look for a 2 incher to buy, and keep my father's guns as they are.

the price of a barrel and ejector, plus getting the work done would be about the same as a two incher.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello there i just purchased a model 15-2 in excelent condition in the original box. I was wondering if anyone here would be able to tell me the year of manufacture from the serial number? K525449. My best guess is sometime in the mid sixties

8:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fully agree with the comments on the Model 15. The good news for those (educated) few seeking out these revolvers is while must people swarm over to the 'Glock/M&P/XD' section in a gun shop, you might find a lightly used security or police issue Model 15 completely ignored at the other end of the counter for $350. The accuracy, quality, fitting and workmanship are second to none and a steal in the current market.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous John D., Msgt, USAFR (ret.) said...

In February of 1969, the Air Force issued me a K-38 Combat Masterpiece. I fell in love with it, and never failed to score expert. I retired from the Air Force in 1989, and had long since turned in my badge and weapon in order to crosstrain to another job. About a year ago an old fellow disposed of a collection of Smith and Colt revolvers, and I happened to be at the gun shop. I casually mentioned that "... I betcha don't have a Model 15 in there..." To my surprise, there was indeed a brand new, never fired, 1974 manufactured K-38 Combat Masterpiece still in the original box. I bought it at once, and its in my gun safe. Its the only gun I own that will likely never be fired, and its my Vietnam tribute gun. You can only imagine the flood of memories that noble firearm brought back, and I believe it was worth every bit of the $450.00 I paid for it.

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello there! Hope everything is well. I bought a used S&W .38 cal model 15-3 about 6 years ago and being in the firing range for that long, my smith is still in good condition. For me, its the best!

If also someone could tell me the date of manufacture of my hand gun, i will be happy! Serial number is K922501.

Thanks a lot!

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Scott J said...

Old post but I'll echo Rabbit. You are a evil man for planting this temptation.

Bumped into a friend and former co-worker now retired at the gun show today.

He's coming to grips with having fewer years ahead than behind and not really having any heirs and looking to pare down a sizeable collection.

Mentioned a Model 15 and Model 27 that he might sell to me "real right".

My wife is gonna kill me.

3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I carried a model 15 on the Mexican border in the Customs Patrol. It was an excellent firearm. I had complete confidence in that weapon and always qualified expert. It was light, very handy and well balanced.Those were the days when S&W was king, I still own a S7W K-22 revolver and a model 19.

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Dr. P said...


Today I purchased a ~80% quality S&W 38 Special Model 15-2 for the princely sum of $250. Stopped by here while researching it. It's my first handgun (new legal citizen flexing those 2nd amendment rights and all) and had lots of fun shooting soda cans at 30yds. Thanks for all the info and insightful comments!

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

I have a 15-2 serial # k679***. Do you know when it was made?

2:29 PM  
Anonymous LVphoto said...

Hi, Just reading the post about the model 15. I also inherited a model 15-2 from my farther. It was bought new in the 60’s(serial # K680xxx). I don’t think he every fired more than 200 rounds through it. I’ve kept in in the safe all these years and only took it out to clean it occasionally. Bluing is like new. Any idea what’s it worth?

11:59 AM  

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