The High Standard Sentinel Revolver
by Ed Buffaloe
High Standard introduced their Sentinel revolver line in 1955, probably at the request of Sears Roebuck, which was a major customer and owned quite a bit of High Standard stock. Sears
wanted a low-cost kit gun or “tackle box” revolver to sell under their J.C. Higgins brand. It was sold by Sears as the J.C. Higgins Model 88. The J.C. Higgins guns were given distinctive grips, cylinder flutes,
and cylinder release pins. Private label versions of the Sentinel were also made for Western Auto and Armamex (Colonel Rex Applegate’s company in Mexico).
The Sentinel was a 9-shot .22 revolver. It was advertised to have an anodized aluminum frame, a high-tensile carbon steel barrel and
cylinder, single-stroke multiple ejection, a swing-out counterbored cylinder, a movable square-notched rear sight, a
non-slip scored trigger, a diamond-checkered grip (though they didn’t mention it was plastic), and target accuracy.
The innovative design was completed by Harry Sefried, High Standard’s young design engineer, in a mere six months.
Sefried wasn’t afraid to incorporate good ideas wherever he found them. The squared-off grip on the first model was
modified from the Colt New Model .36 Pocket Pistol of 1862, and one shooter was said to remark that it was “the first
decent grip on a revolver since the Civil War.” It remains to this day one of the most comfortable revolver grips I have
ever encountered. The simplified cylinder lock design was taken from Hugo Borchardt’s experimental revolver of 1876,
which he designed while working for Winchester and which was observed by Sefried during his own five years at Winchester. The gun, like the Broomhandle Mauser, is screwless but for the grip screw.
There is an integral thumb rest molded into the frame behind the cylinder housing on each side, making the gun feel quite
natural in the hand. The grip section and frame are die cast from aluminum. There is no cylinder thumb release to interrupt
the smooth frame or complicate manufacture and assembly. The gun can be broken down into four main component
groups: (1) the cylinder and crane, (2) the trigger-guard/grip, (3) the barrel and frame assembly, and (4) the hammer,
trigger, and other lockwork components. Everything is held together by the hammer pin, which runs through both the trigger-guard/grip and the main frame. Coil springs are used throughout.
Sefried designed a unique ratchet mechanism that utilizes nine holes drilled into the rear of the extractor, worked by a traditional pawl that extends from the frame. The holes give the pawl a positive interface,
providing flawless cylinder rotation and reducing the machining necessary on the frame and cylinder. The design also reduces wear to the ratchet mechanism that eventually causes problems with more
traditional designs. The nine-hole ratchet mechanism was abandoned in later-production Sentinels.
The Sentinel has an extended forcing cone that nearly eliminates lead shaving as the bullet enters the barrel. I hate it when a revolver spits hot lead out the side when I’m standing next to the shooter--it could
be a fatal distraction in a fire fight.
The Sentinel was originally available in a so-called blued finish (which was actually a selenium black). The nickel finish was
available in April of 1956. The early nickeled guns cost $5 or $6 more than the blued guns. The MSRP for the blued gun
in 1955 was $37.50. The Sentinel had a one-piece wrap-around plastic grip. Originally the blue guns had a brown grip and the nickel guns had a white grip, but that scheme was not retained throughout production.
A 1955 catalog says the gun was available with a 3 or a 5 inch barrel. A parts list circa 1957 or 1958 shows 3 inch, 4 inch, and 2-3/8 inch barrels were available. By 1956, a 6 inch barrel was also
available. The 3 inch barrel was dropped in 1964.
In 1957 a snub-nose model of the Sentinel was introduced, with a rounded butt on the grip. The early guns had a bobbed hammer, through about 1960, after which they featured a spur hammer. Color
finishes in gold, turquoise, and pink, known as Dura-Tone colors, were offered for the snub-barrel Sentinels. The Dura-Tone guns came in a deluxe presentation case and had white smooth grips.
In 1958 a line of western-style revolvers was spun off the Sentinel line, the first model of which was called the Double-Nine. It was sold
by Sears as the J.C. Higgins Ranger Model 90.
Sentinel Series Numbers
- R-100. The first Sentinel series was called the R-100.
- R-101. In mid-1956, the hammer and trigger mechanisms were slightly modified for the R-101 series.
- R-102. In 1961, for the R-102 series, a return spring was added to the ejector rod. On the earlier models, if you didn’t remember to manually retract the ejector into the cylinder
before closing you would put a nasty scratch on the left side of the frame.
- R-103. The R-103 series had slots milled into the ejector instead of drilled holes.
- R-104. In 1961 the R-104 Sentinel Imperial was issued with a full-sized grip frame, two-piece checkered walnut grips, a ramp front sight, and a target-style trigger. (The regular Sentinel was
still available with one-piece plastic grips and blade front sight, and it retained the old R-103 designation.)
- R-105. These guns were originally made for Sears, but were returned to High Standard when Sears dropped their handgun line in 1963, and were rebranded as High Standard guns (the
barrels and grips were replaced). They retain the distinctive cylinder flutes, cylinder pin, trigger guard, and one-piece grip design of the J.C. Higgins guns. As best I can tell, this is one of
the least common Sentinels.
- R-106. In April 1965 the Sentinel Deluxe appeared, with the R-106 series number. The ramp front sight was replaced with a blade, but the gun retained the checkered walnut grips of the
Imperial. The old Imperial continued in production.
- R-107. This was also a Sentinel Deluxe. I have been unable to determine the difference between the R-106 and R-107. Externally they appear to be identical, but the part numbers for
the frame, grip, trigger, and hammer were all changed..
- R-108. In 1967 the Snub-nose Sentinel was given a two-piece grip and the R-108 series designation.
- R-109. The Kit Gun was introduced and given the R-109 series designation. This was the first model with a fully adjustable rear sight.
- MK I and MK IV. In 1974 the series numbers were eliminated and the Sentinel MK I and MK IV were introduced. These guns had optional adjustable rear sights, wrap-around
walnut grips, and the first steel frames to appear in the Sentinel line. The MK I was chambered for the .22 long rifle, and the MK IV was chambered for the .22 Winchester magnum. The
MK I and MK IV were available with 2 inch, 3 inch, or 4 inch barrels. The Camp Gun was introduced in this same period. It was similar to the MK I and MK IV, but did not have the
barrel underlug which shrouded the ejector rod. The Camp Gun came with a standard 6 inch barrel and adjustable sights, and was available in either .22 long rifle or .22 magnum.
- Steel Sentinel. At some point the Mark I and Mark IV designations were dropped and the steel frame gun was sold as the “Sentinel” with interchangeable .22 LR and .22 magnum cylinders.
- MK II and MK III. These were rebranded Dan Wesson .357 Magnum revolvers. They were sold from mid-1973 through
February of 1975. There are persistent rumors that High Standard made the Dan Wesson pistols, but there is no evidence whatever to support them.