Unblinking Eye
The .32 Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector

The .32 Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector

by Ed Buffaloe


Preface

The goal of this article is to trace the evolution of the first truly modern revolver. I focus on the .32 Hand Ejector because it was the first Smith & Wesson to have a swing-out cylinder, even though after the First Model many innovations were actually driven by, and appeared first in, the larger (K frame) Smith & Wesson revolvers in .38 S&W Special or .32 Winchester.

The name “Hand Ejector” derives from the fact that earlier Smith & Wesson top-break revolvers featured what was referred to as “automatic” ejection when the gun was broken open, whereas the new swing-out cylinder required the ejector to be operated by hand.

Detailed information included in this article is largely based on the book Smith & Wesson, 1857-1945 by Robert J. Neal and Roy G. Jinks, with additional information taken from The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson by Jim Supica and Richard Nahas. I have also had generous assistance from several collectors from the Smith & Wesson Collectors Association.

Trademark-S4

Smith & Wesson Trademark
Designed by Gustave Young

I have added information on patents which is not readily available elsewhere, though I have not reproduced drawings from every patent, as the patents are available online from the U.S. Patent Office or from the German Patent and Trade Mark Office. I have provided patent numbers and descriptions so that readers can do research for themselves. The patents were applied to Hand Ejectors in all frame sizes and calibers so this article can serve as a resource for people who wish to look up patents that are listed only by date on older Smith & Wesson revolvers.

I have tried to offer information about the standard production versions of small (I Frame) Smith & Wesson .32 Hand Ejector revolvers but for every generality there are usually several exceptions. Early and late examples of any model (or change) may show differences from standard production guns due to the use of left-over parts or to changes that may have been introduced before patent inscriptions were updated.

I am not an expert on Smith & Wesson revolvers so please do not write to me asking questions about your gun. All questions should be addressed to the appropriate sub-forum of the Smith & Wesson Forum. However, I would be happy for people to send me photographs of their revolvers so I can learn more about unusual variations.*


Historical Context for the Hand Ejector

Revolver Locks

Most double action revolver locks of the late 19th century were based on the 1875 design by the Belgian Jean Warnant, as seen in the Swiss Army revolver of 1878 and also in the top-break Enfield and Webley revolvers after 1880. This design utilizes a V-shaped main spring, the upper arm of which tensions the hammer and the lower arm of which tensions a rebound lever which holds the firing pin away from the cartridge until the trigger is pulled.

In 1877, the Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company marketed a double action revolver with a uniquely complex lock designed by William Mason, but it proved to be a disastrous mistake. In his book Gunsmithing Guns of the Old West David Chicoine writes: “The internal mechanism Colt used in these [Model 1877 revolvers] is overly intricate, many of its critical components are as likely as not to break and these will often do so as frequently as the revolver’s action is operated, and that includes non-firing use.”

Colt’s did a redesign of Mason’s double action lockwork for its Double Action Army Model of 1878, making it more robust and reliable, but Chicoine notes (in his book Antique Firearms Assembly/ Disassembly) that the guns “...are well known for their very long trigger pull lengths and hard double action trigger pulls.”

Finally, in 1908 Colt’s adopted a variant of the Warnant lock, which they have used to this day with only minor modifications. These modern Colt revolvers have the hand in the left side of the frame to rotate the cylinder in a clockwise direction, and the sideplate covering the lockwork is also on the left side.

Webley Mark I Lockwork Compared w/ Colt Commando

Webley Mark I - c. 1890

Colt Commando - c. 1985

Well into the 20th century most revolver shooters preferred to manually cock the hammer and shoot in single-action mode, particularly with Colt revolvers—quite frankly because the Colt revolver typically had an awful double action trigger pull. I recently purchased a large frame Colt New Service revolver made in 1925 which has a fifteen pound double action trigger pull.

Swing-Out Cylinders and Double Action Mechanisms

As early as 1860, Daniel Moore patented a design for a revolver with a cylinder that swung out to the right for loading cartridges. At least three such revolvers are illustrated in Sawyer’s Firearms in American History, Volume Two: Revolvers.

In 1865, William Mason, while working for E. Remington & Sons, patented a design for a revolver cylinder (U.S. patent 51117) that swung out of the frame on a crane or yoke. Karr and Karr, in their book Remington Firearms, aver that a small number of these guns were made under the name Mason Patent Revolver but there are no surviving specimens to prove this.

In 1876, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, in conjunction with Stephen W. Wood, created several revolver prototypes with a swing-out cylinder which opened to the right and featured Wood’s patented ejector system. However, Winchester never manufactured a production revolver.

It was not until 1889, when William Mason was working for the Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, that Colt’s adopted Mason’s swing-out cylinder design for their Double Action Navy Model. The  mechanism which holds the cylinder in correct alignment was redesigned in 1892 and this same basic design has been in use by Colt’s ever since.

Daniel B. Wesson and his son Joseph H. Wesson had been working on various double action designs since before 1872 but the Wessons were perfectionists who had no intention of manufacturing a gun until it met their exacting standards. S&W’s first double action top-break model did not appear until 1880. But Colt’s Double Action Navy Model of 1889 put the onus on Smith & Wesson to come up with a competing design with a swing-out cylinder. The Wesson’s first gun with a swing-out cylinder did not appear until 1896.

Double Action Shooting

In examining the numerous patents filed by Daniel B. and Joseph H. Wesson, it seems to me the goal of their endeavours was to create a double action mechanism possessing a smoother, lighter trigger pull that could be operated with both speed and accuracy. But after all the Wesson’s hard work to create the modern double action revolver, the irony is that few people ever bothered to shoot revolvers in double action mode until people like John Henry Fitzgerald began to lighten the trigger pull on Colt revolvers in the 1920’s and people like Ed McGivern began to perform remarkable feats of speed and accuracy with Smith & Wesson double action revolvers in the 1930’s.

In 1950 Bob Nichols wrote: “Actually, the principle of double action shooting is the fundamental principle of all practical pistol shooting.... Superior to single cocking, the double action principle confers the twin advantages of (1) more positive gun control..., and (2) more positive trigger control. These are simple...factors; yet they are recognized today by only a few pistolmen.” In a further chapter, he says: “In accuracy double action fire, using the gun sights, the Colt double action revolver cannot compete against the best American double action revolver—the standard long action Smith & Wesson double action revolver.” However, even today, in the third decade of the twenty-first century, few people bother to master double action shooting with a revolver of any brand.


The Evolution of the Smith & Wesson .32 Hand Ejector

First Model .32 Hand Ejector - Model 1896

SW32HE-6539-L1-S1

First Model .32 Hand Ejector (Model 1896)

The First Model .32 Hand Ejector did not appear until 1896 though, according to Roy Jinks, in his book History of Smith & Wesson, the frame sizes for I and K (small and medium) frames were determined in 1894 and “[t]he tooling for this model was completed in 1895....”

The company name, address, and patent dates are recorded on the chamber walls of the cylinder, to be viewed from the left side of the gun. The cylinder inscription is in all-capital italic sans-serif characters, as follows:

SMITH
&
WESSON
SPRINGFIELD
MASS.
U.S.A.
PATENTED
JULY 1.84
APRIL 9.89
MARCH 27.94
MAY 29.94
MAY 21.95
JULY 16.95
 

Lockwork of Model 1896 .32 Hand Ejector

Lockwork of First Model .32 Hand Ejector

While the basic hammer, sear, and trigger remain quite similar to those of the Warnant design, unusually, for the time, the Wessons designed the gun to have its sideplate on the right, with the hand on the right side to turn the cylinder in a counterclockwise direction. This was done to free up the left side of the frame for a cylinder release mechanism which was patented but was not implemented in the Model 1896 Hand Ejector.

As in their earlier revolvers, the Wessons split the V-spring found in the Warnant design and used a long flat spring to tension the hammer. A shorter flat spring, pinned to the grip frame, tensions the rebound lever and the trigger. The rebound lever itself is relatively small and pivots on a pin staked to the frame; it actually consists of two levers with independent actions, one of which is slotted into the other. A projection on the upper side of the rebound lever engages with the bottom of the hammer and prevents the firing pin from resting on a cartridge until the trigger moves all the way to the rear.

Model 1896 .32 H.E. Cylinder Lock Mechanism
Model 1896 .32 H.E. Cylinder Lock Mechanism

Model 1896 .32 H.E. Cylinder Lock Mechanism

The spring-loaded center section of the top strap, with a lug on the bottom that locks the cylinder, is hinged to allow it to move up and down, and is operated by a projection on top of the firing pin as the hammer is cocked. The same mechanism had been used in the earliest Smith & Wesson revolvers beginning in 1858.
  • The cylinder stop mechanism was from an expired patent that Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson had filed in 1859 (U.S. patent 24666) and used in their early revolvers.
  • The earliest patent date referenced on the cylinder of the First Model .32 Hand Ejector appears to be for patents granted to William Trabue on 1 July 1884 (U.S. patents 301180, 301181, and 301182). They are for a swing-out revolver cylinder. I find no mention in the literature of S&W purchasing these patents, but find no other U.S. patent for a firearm that was issued on this date.
  • The second patent date referenced on the cylinder is 9 April 1889,
    Cylinder Notch Shim

    Cylinder Notch Shim
    Photograph courtesy of Gary Lowe

    when Daniel B. Wesson was granted U.S. patent 401087 for a method of reinforcing the wall of a cylinder notch with a hardened steel shim to prevent the notch from getting wallowed out over time by the cylinder locking bolt. This was necessary on early non-hardened cylinders.
  • The third patent referenced on the cylinder of the First Model .32 Hand Ejector was granted to Daniel Wesson on 27 March 1894 (U.S. patent 517152). It covers a mechanism which locks the trigger when the cylinder is rotated out of the frame.
  • The fourth patent referenced (U.S. patent 520468) was granted to Daniel Wesson on 29 May 1894. It covers a rebound mechanism that firmly locks the hammer in the rebound position. This rebound mechanism was not actually used, but the patent also covers a hand mechanism tensioned by a spring in the trigger, which was used in the Hand Ejector.
  • The fifth patent referenced on the cylinder (U.S. patent 539497) was granted to D.B. Wesson and J.H. Wesson on 21 May 1895. It covers “...a centrally located cylinder locking pin having a rearward movement into a recess in the recoil plate to lock the cylinder....” It also covers a release mechanism for opening the cylinder.
  • The sixth and final patent referenced on the Hand Ejector cylinder (U.S. patent 542744) was granted to D.B. Wesson on 16 July 1895. It covers the rebound mechanism (described above) which was utilized in the First Model .32 Hand Ejector. It also covers a flexible hand which was never manufactured. Except for this flexible hand, the patent drawing shows the First Model design as it was actually manufactured.
    U.S. Patent 565245 Patent Drawing

    U.S. Patent 565245 Patent Drawing

  • Before production began, on 9 November 1895, a patent was filed by Daniel B. and Joseph H. Wesson (U.S. patent 565245) for a cylinder pin that locks the cylinder at the rear, and a hand attached to the trigger and tensioned by a spring and lever inside the trigger. The front pull-knob is shown but is not claimed in the patent.

For unknown reasons, the Wessons decided not to use the left-mounted cylinder release mechanism they had patented in 1895 (U.S. patent 539497) and went with a pull-knob at the front of the cylinder pin.

The First Model .32 Hand Ejector has no means of locking the position of the cylinder at the front but there is a spring and plunger built into the base of the cylinder yoke, at the point where it rotates, and there are two detents in the frame for the plunger to rest in, one in the fully closed position, and one in the fully open position. The spring-loaded plunger in the cylinder yoke and the corresponding detent in the frame may help to stabilize the front of the closed cylinder.

The barrel has a narrow rib on top which supports a half-round front sight, pinned into a slot. The front target sight is a square-cut blade. The rear sight is a notch in the pivoting portion of the top strap, just over the pivot point, about 1.5 inches from the rear of the frame. The rear sight is near the middle of the top strap so it can be seen during double action firing when the rear portion of the top strap is pivoted upward. The rear target sight is adjustable for windage and elevation.

The grip frame is rounded, and rather small for large hands. The grip stocks are of checked hard rubber with the S&W monogram in a circle at the top. Target stocks are oversize square-butt, also made of checked hard rubber. For standard stocks, the serial number is stamped or inscribed on back of the right grip stock. This was done because the standard stocks were hand fitted, whereas it was not necessary for the oversize target stocks. The Smith & Wesson trademark logo is stamped on the side plate.

Sideplate comparison

SN 26 on left has straw colored hammer & trigger, and 3 sideplate screws. SN 6539 on right has 4 screws.

Neal & Jinks state: “Two types of extractor rod knobs were used on this model, one being a solid part of the rod and the other a separate piece screwed on the end of the rod. The side plate was held with either three or four screws, the fourth being located at the hammer cut.”

The very early guns had three-screw sideplates, and some had the hammer and trigger heat treated to a straw color. The straw colored hammer and trigger are quite scarce; most hammers and triggers are case hardened. The three-screw sideplates appear occasionally throughout the serial number range, but are much more scarce than the four-screw. I have not observed the solid extractor rod knobs, so I assume they are scarce, but most photographs do not show the end of the rod so it is hard to know for certain.

Two styles of hammer spur are found.
Hammer Spur Variations

Hammer Spur Variations - 1st Model .32 Hand Ejector

The original hammer had a spur that was rather sharply angled upward and extended up above the top of the frame. The second style hammer spur is shorter, less steeply angled, and does not extend above the top of the frame. Neal and Jinks state: “These [small spurs] appeared in the serial range 5500-6000.” The small spur hammers appear to be scattered throughout production, and are much more scarce than the original hammer. The original large spur gives more leverage, making it much easier to manually cock the gun. I speculate that the small spur was designed to be less likely to snag when the gun is carried in a pocket. The small spur was also less likely to block the sight picture for double action fire, but this gun has the rear sight set pretty high and the double action trigger pull is heavy.

The First Model .32 Hand Ejector was made from 1896 through 1903. It had its own serial number range which ran from 1 to 19,712. The BATF lists the First Model as an antique, since all the frames were made and stamped with serial numbers before 1899. The First Model is the most easily recognized of the .32 Hand Ejectors, distinguished by its hinged top strap, its full length barrel rib, and the inscription on the cylinder.

Second Model .32 Hand Ejector - Model 1903 - No Change

The Second Model .32 Hand Ejector represents a major redesign of the original revolver.
Lockwork of Second Model .32 Hand Ejector

Lockwork of Second Model .32 Hand Ejector
Photo courtesy Gary Lowe

The pivoting top strap segment is eliminated and the cylinder locking bolt (cylinder stop) is moved to the bottom of the frame where it is operated by a nose on the front of the trigger. The cylinder stop has an integral spring and plunger. The cylinder stop notches continue to be reinforced with hardened steel inserts. Both the hammer and trigger feature chafing pins to prevent scratching of the case hardened finish.

The rebound mechanism of the lockwork is redesigned, and utilizes a long flat combination spring and lever. This spring tensions the trigger and the hand. The hand has a tiny lever on its rear to tension it in the forward direction.

The rebound mechanism depends from the bottom of the hammer. Smith & Wesson refers to it as the rebound catch. A thumb operated cylinder release button is provided on the left side of the frame which locks the hammer when the cylinder is open. This cylinder release first appeared on the .38 Military & Police Model of 1899. A spring and plunger, mounted in a boss on the underside of the barrel, lock the cylinder pin at the front. The front cylinder pin lock first appeared on the Model 1902 M&P .38.

The barrel rib is eliminated, and the address and patent dates are moved from the cylinder flats to the top of the barrel. The front sight and sight boss are integral with the barrel, except in the case of target models which have pinned front sights.

The 3¼-inch barrel has its inscription on four lines in all-capital sans-serif characters, as follows:

SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A.
 PAT’D APR. 9.1889. MAR. 27.1894. MAY 21.1895.
  AUG.4.1896. DEC.22.1896. OCT.4.1898. OCT.8
1901. DEC.17.1901. SEPT.2.1902. JULY 7.1903

The six-inch length barrel inscription is on two lines in all-capital sans-serif characters, as follows:

SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A. PAT’D APR. 9.89. MAR. 27.94  MAY
 21.95. AUG.4.96. DEC.22.96. OCT.4.98. OCT.8.01. DEC.17.01. SEP.2.02 JUL.7.03

The 3¼-inch barrel has its inscription on four lines, and the 4¼-inch on three lines, but all contain the same information. The Model 1903 continues to have the same standard grip stocks as the Model 1896, with serial number on the back of the right stock. Square butt enlarged target grips were available in checked hard rubber. A large Smith & Wesson trademark logo is stamped on the sideplate.

  • On 20 January 1896 Joseph H. Wesson filed U.S. patent 565246, which was granted on 4 August 1896, for a means of attaching the cylinder pin to the cylinder and the yoke. The first use of this patent was for the .38 M&P First Model of 1899.
  • On 22 December 1896 D.B. & J.H. Wesson were granted U.S. patent 573736 for a combination cylinder release and hammer block mechanism that prevents movement of the hammer when the cylinder is open. The first use of this patent was for the .38 M&P First Model of 1899.
  • On 4 October 1898 D.B. & J.H. Wesson were granted U.S. patent 611826 for a cylinder locking bolt that is operated by a nose on the front of the trigger. The first use of this patent was for the .38 M&P First Model of 1899.
  • On 14 August 1900 J.H. Wesson was granted U.S. patent 655844 for a rebound mechanism and cylinder locking bolt (cylinder stop). In this patent, a long flat spring tensions the rebound mechanism. A lever on the right side of the trigger operates the cylinder locking bolt. While the production lockwork looks slightly different from the patent, the essential functioning is virtually identical to the patent description.
  • On 8 October 1901 D.B. Wesson was granted U.S. patent 684331 for a means of preventing the hammer from chafing on the inside of the frame. It consisted of two chafing pins set in the hammer and cut so that only the ends of the pin can touch the inside of the frame “...whereby the body of the hammer is held out of contact with the frame....” The first use of this patent was for the .38 M&P Second Model of 1902.
  • On 17 December 1901 J.H. Wesson was granted U.S. patent 289260 for a cylinder pin that locks at both ends. The first use of this patent was for the .38 M&P Second Model of 1902.
  • On 7 July 1903 Daniel B. Wesson was granted U.S. patent 733101 for an improvement to his earlier patent number 655844, affecting the rebound lever and the hand.

The innovations found in the above patents all appear, in one form or another, in the Second Model .32 Hand Ejector, No Change and First Change, which are the first production guns that are nearly identical, externally, to the modern Smith & Wesson revolver. The major difference remains the lockwork which will undergo further revision for several more years. The Second Model .32 Hand Ejector (No Change) was made from 1903 to 1904 and the serial number range extends from 1 to 19,425. The No Change is easily distinguished from later guns because it has no screw above the bow of the trigger guard, since the cylinder stop has an integral spring and plunger.

Second Model .32 Hand Ejector - Model 1903 - First Change

Smith & Wesson was in a time of nearly continuous innovation and made incremental changes to improve the Second Model .32 Hand Ejector for nearly two decades. The front target sight remains a square blade pinned into the front sight boss, and rear sights are the same as on the previous version, however non-target revolvers have an integral front sight forged as part of the barrel, like the late No Change guns.

The rebound catch was altered with the addition of a roller, and other minor changes were made to the hammer and trigger. The cylinder stop is altered to not only move up and down but also to reciprocate back and forth very slightly. This required that the notches in the cylinder that engage with the stop be cut slightly longer. The spring and plunger to tension the cylinder stop have been moved into the frame, held in place by a small screw above the bow of the trigger guard.

Neal & Jinks state that at “about serial number 48,000 the hammer nose rivet was changed from solid to hollow....” For the first time, extended square-butt checked walnut target grips were available, in addition to those in hard rubber. The Smith & Wesson trademark logo is moved to the left side of the frame and made smaller.

The left side of the barrel is marked as follows:

32 LONG CTG

The inscription on top of the 3¼-inch length barrel is on four lines in all-capital sans-serif characters, as follows:

SMITH&WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A.
PAT’D APR.9.1889, MAR. 27.1894
AUG.4.1896, DEC.22.1896, OCT.4,1898, OCT.81901
DEC.17,1901, SEPT.2,1902, JULY 7,1903

The .32 caliber Second Model .32 Hand Ejector First Change was made in 1904 and 1905, with serial numbers from 19,426 to 51,126. Externally, the First Change is seemingly identical to the No Change, but the the S&W trademark is on the left side, and there is a fifth screw above the bow of the trigger guard.

Second Model .32 Hand Ejector - Model 1903 - Second Change

SW32HE-90425-L-S

Second Model (Model 1903) .32 Hand Ejector - Second Change

The Second Model
Lockwork, Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector Second Change

2nd Model .32 Hand Ejector Second Change

.32 Hand Ejector Second Change is, in my opinion, the first fully modern .32 Smith & Wesson revolver because it incorporates the rebound slide that was designed by Joseph H. Wesson in 1905. For the first time, the hammer rebound mechanism and the trigger itself are both tensioned by a coil spring. Other minor changes were necessary in the frame, hammer, and trigger to accommodate the rebound slide. The chafing pins in the hammer and trigger are replaced with bushings, which serve the same purpose. Neal and Jinks state: “Near the end of production of this model the use of hardened steel shims in the cylinder stop notches was discontinued.” Grips and sights remain the same as the earlier version.

The left side of the barrel is marked as follows:

32 LONG CTG

According to Neal & Jinks, the early inscriptions are the same as the First Change, above. Possibly they had a number of barrels that were already stamped which they needed to use. The late inscription on top of the 3¼-inch length barrel is on four lines in all-capital sans-serif characters, as follows:

SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A.
PAT’D MAR. 27.1894. AUGUST. 4.1896
DECEMBER. 22.1896. OCTOBER. 8 1901
DECEMBER. 17,1901. FEBRUARY. 6.1906

Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector - Second Change - Late Inscription

Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector - Second Change - Late Inscription

Longer barrels will have inscriptions on two or three lines.

Several patents were dropped from the inscription, and the final patent for the rebound slide was added.

  • On 6 February 1906 Joseph H. Wesson was granted U.S. patent 811807 for “a hammer, a trigger, and a retracting device for the hammer consisting of a slidable wedge-block located between the under side of the hammer and the frame...” which we know today as the rebound slide. The rebound slide itself is hollow and holds a coil spring which works against a pin staked to the frame at the rear. This spring tensions the rebound slide which in turn tensions the trigger via a swiveling lever in the back of the trigger. The top of the rebound slide rises to a point at the front, where it engages with the base of the trigger. The early rebound slide had a lug or “key” on the back that ran in a groove cut in the frame.

Early Second Change revolvers have a rebound slide with no patent date, but the patent date was added to late Second Change revolvers.

The Second Model .32 Hand Ejector Second Change was made from 1906 to 1909, with serial numbers from 51,127 to 95,500. The Second Change is externally identical to late First Change guns and are generally recognized by serial number. However, if you remove the grips you will see only a single flat spring instead of the two springs found in earlier revolvers.

Second Model .32 Hand Ejector - Model 1903 - Third Change

The Third Change represents a series of internal upgrades to the lockwork. The design of the lever connecting the trigger to the rebound slide is altered, as are the engaging surfaces on top of the rebound slide and the bottom of the hammer. The patent date now appears on the side of the rebound slide. Neal & Jinks state: “The trigger and sear were also changed to obtain a greater double action throw.” No changes to the barrel inscription or other externals of the gun are apparent and so the Third Change can only be distinguished from the Second Change by serial number.

The Second Model .32 Hand Ejector Third Change was made in very limited quantities in 1909 and 1910, with serial numbers from 95, 501 to 96,125.

Second Model .32 Hand Ejector -
Lockwork of 2nd Mod. .32 Hand Ejector 4th Change

Lockwork of 2nd Mod. .32 Hand Ejector 4th Change
Photo courtesy Gary Lowe


Model 1903 - Fourth Change

The Fourth Change represents very minor changes to the hand and the cut on the inside of the sideplate. Neal & Jinks state: “The hand was changed to allow more time for the cylinder stop to latch when fired double action.” Again, there are no external changes.

The Second Model .32 Hand Ejector Fourth Change was made only in 1910, with serial numbers from 96,126 to 102,500.

Second Model .32 Hand Ejector -
Model 1903 - Fifth Change

The Fifth Change once again represents incremental changes to the functionality of the lockwork but these changes represent a major improvement in the double action trigger pull. Changes to the hammer and sear as described by Neal & Jinks don’t make much sense by themselves: “The hammer, trigger, and sear were redesigned to allow double action throw off the hammer point instead of the sear.” But greater clarity is obtained when one reads the 1909 patent (see below). The raised portion on top of the rebound slide is changed to allow a shorter rebound. The patent date is removed from the rebound slide. The positioning mechanism for the extractor star is changed to two pins on the front of the cylinder. Some guns have a small Smith & Wesson trademark logo on the left side and a few, apparently late, examples have a large logo on the sideplate on the right side, while some guns in this period have no logo whatever.

The left side of the barrel is marked as follows:

32 LONG CTG

The barrel inscription for the 4¼-inch barrel is on three lines in all-capital sans-serif characters, as follows:

SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A.
PAT’D MAR. 27.94. AUG.4,96.DEC.22.96
 OCT.8.01. DEC.17.01. FEB.6.06. SEPT.14.09

  • On 14 October 1908 Charles M. Stone filed U.S. patent 933797, which was granted 14 September 1909. This patent changes the shape of the rear portion of the trigger, giving it almost a bottle-opener profile, and also changes the foot of the hammer, such that the double action let-off does not occur at the double action sear tip but the hammer travel is taken up by a second projection at the rear of the trigger, beneath and forward of the sear. The patent reads: “...it is clear that the leverage between the trigger and the hammer is shortened when the projection engages the recess in the hammer, and the leverage on the hammer proportionately increased.” This lightens the double action trigger pull right at the end, when it would otherwise be steadily increasing, and also increases the throw distance of the hammer very slightly.
U.S. Patent 933797 - Patent Drawing

U.S. Patent 933797 - Patent Drawing

The Second Model .32 Hand Ejector Fifth Change was made from 1910 to 1917, with serial numbers that begin at 102,501 and run to approximately 263,000. Please write to me if you have a serial number in this range and can help make this last figure more accurate.*

Third Model .32 Hand Ejector (or Sixth Change) &
Regulation Police Model (Pre-War)

The Third Model .32 Hand Ejector represents a redesign of the interior of the gun, adding a hammer block in the side plate, though there are no exterior changes. McHenry and Roper called this gun the Model 1903 Sixth Change, and referred to the Regulation Police Model as the Third Model Hand Ejector, whereas Neal & Jinks lump them both together as the Third Model. There are good arguments for both ways of defining the category. The nomenclature is designed to help collectors know which gun they have, but there are inevitable grey areas.

In McHenry & Roper’s defense, the gun is clearly the next step in the evolution of the Model 1903 and so Sixth Change is a naturally obvious designation. The patent for the side plate hammer block was filed two years before the patent for the stepped grip frame (see below). In Neal & Jinks’ defense, the Smith & Wesson catalog continued to list the guns separately at least until 1922, with the .32 Hand Ejector parts list showing a side plate with no hammer block and the .32 Regulation Police specifically referencing the hammer block which was also shown in the parts list. The Regulation Police revolver, with both hammer block and stepped grip frame was almost certainly manufactured prior to the addition of the hammer block to the .32 Hand Ejector with the small grip, so Neal & Jinks felt they should both be classed as “Third Model”.

Whatever nomenclature we use, S&W discovered that if the revolver were dropped on its hammer, the foot of the hammer or the rear point of the trigger could break and a cartridge could be accidentally ignited. To positively prevent this it was necessary to design a hammer block mechanism that was only disabled when the trigger was pulled.
U.S. Patent 1122635 - 29 December 1914

U.S. Patent 1122635 - 29 December 1914

U.S. Patent 1228506 - 5 June 1917

U.S. Patent 1228506 - 5 June 1917

While they were making these changes, they also moved the spring and plunger into the sideplate to tension the hand, simplifying trigger manufacture.

  • On 29 December 1914 U.S. patent number 1122635 was granted to Edward S. Pomeroy for a hammer block mechanism built into the sideplate. A spring-loaded lever was placed in the side plate with a lug at the top that blocks the hammer. When the trigger is pulled the hand depresses the lever and forces it down into a cut in the sideplate, allowing the hammer to complete its travel. The spring for the sideplate lever also tensions the hand, allowing the hand spring in the trigger to be eliminated.
  • On 5 June 1917 Joseph H. Wesson was granted U.S. patent 1228506 for extended grip plates made to fit on a revolver frame with a small step at the rear.

In the industry trade publication Hardware Age for November 11, 1916, Douglas Wesson introduces the new Regulation Police Model revolver. He says, “...by an ingenious method of undercutting the rear strap of the frame it becomes possible to fit the square butt stocks–somewhat shorter than the target stocks and yet affording a firm and pleasing hold for the biggest hand.” He is referring to the five shot .38 S&W model, but he says: “The mechanical features...are similar to the well-known .32 caliber S. & W. Hand Ejector...with the addition of a safety hammer block....”

.32 Regulation Police Model, c. 1924-25

.32 Regulation Police Model, c. 1924-25

The Regulation Police model was available with optional target sights, which are considered scarce today, whereas the Third Model .32 Hand Ejector was only available with standard sights. The primary difference between the guns is that the Regulation Police Model has a stepped rear grip frame to accommodate the extended square butt checked walnut grip. The Regulation Police Model was also available as a five-shot .38 caliber, chambered for .38 Smith & Wesson.

Serial numbers for the Regulation Police Model were placed on the front of the grip strap, since the bottom of the grip frame was covered by the extended grips. Otherwise, the two guns are identical.

The left side of the barrel is marked in all-capital sans-serif characters, as follows:

SMITH & WESSON

The right side of the barrel is marked:

32 LONG CTG

Most of the Third Model will have the Smith & Wesson trademark logo on the left side of the frame but I have documented a number of early guns with no logo. The barrel inscription for the early Third Model Hand Ejector is identical to that of the Second Model Fifth Change. Supica & Nahas state that some early guns have no barrel inscription. Late inscriptions for the Third Model and the Regulation Police Model are in all-capital sans-serif characters, as follows:

SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A.
PATENTED FEB.6.06.SEPT.14.09.DEC.29.14

Heat treated cylinders came into use sometime in 1920, at serial number 321,000. The Third Model Hand Ejector was manufactured from 1923 to 1942 with serial numbers that run from approximately 263001 to 536684. The Regulation Police Model was manufactured from 1917 to 1942 with serial numbers concurrent with those of the .32 Hand Ejector Model, extending from about 259193 to 536000.

Post-War .32 Hand Ejector (Pre-Model 30)
and Post-War Regulation Police Model (Pre-Model 31)

According to Jinks, in his book History of Smith & Wesson, .32 Hand Ejector production was started again on 14 July 1949. Guns had been sold from existing stock in the interim years.

The immediate post-war guns are nearly identical, externally, to the pre-war models, except that the ejector rod on the post-war guns is perfectly straight, with a checked area on the front instead of a knob. The Hand Ejector is now also available with checked “circassian walnut” grips with the S&W monogram as an option. Internally, the side-plate-mounted hammer block is eliminated and replaced by a hammer block that is attached to the rebound slide. Jinks states that the hammer block was developed in 1944. This was a simpler mechanism that was cheaper and faster to manufacture and worked just as well but also required the return of the hand spring on the trigger.

  • In 1910 Joseph H. Wesson was granted two patents for hammer block mechanisms that work off the rebound slide (U.S. patents 961188 and 961189). Neither patent was ever used, but the hammer block found in the .32 Hand Ejector beginning in 1949 appears to be a simplified version of the one shown in the first patent. I have searched, but have been unable to find a later patent for this device.
.32 Hand Ejector w/ Magna Grips

.32 Hand Ejector w/ Magna Grips
as shown in Gun Digest, 1956

Sometime in 1956 the .32 Hand Ejector and the Regulation Police Model underwent a major face lift. The barrel is no longer tapered but has the same diameter from front to back and there is a long ramp front sight. The cylinder latch is a new flat style. The checked walnut grips extend further up the frame and are referred to as “Magna” grips. The only difference between the two models continues to be the shape of the grips. Both have standard fixed sights.

The Post-War .32 Hand Ejector was made from 1949 until 1960 (though it became the Model 30 in 1957), with serial numbers extending from 536685 to 712953.

The Post-War .32 Regulation Police Model was made from 1949 until 1960 (though it became the Model 31 in 1957), with serial numbers, in the same range as the .32 Hand Ejector, extending from about 536000 to 712953.


* Please write to edbuffaloe@unblinkingeye.com with photographs and information regarding your revolver.

References

  • Chicoine, David R. Antique Firearms Assembly/Disassembly. Gun Digest Books, Iola, Wisconsin, 2005.
  • Chicoine, David R. Gunsmithing Guns of the Old West. Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin: 2001.
  • FitzGerald, J. Henry. Shooting. G.F. Book Company: 1930.
  • Haven, Charles T. & Grancsay, Stephen V. A History of the Colt Revolver. Bonanza Books, New York: 1940.
  • Houze, Herbert H. “Fact and Fancy: A Critical Reassessment of the Origins, Development and Purpose of the Experimental Revolvers Produced by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company During the 1870s,” Armax: The Journal of the Cody Firearms Museum, Volume IV, Number 1, Buffaloe Bill Historical Center, Cody Wyoming: 1992.
  • Jinks, Roy G. History of Smith & Wesson. Bienfeld, North Hollywood, California: 1977.
  • Karr, Charles Lee & Karr, Caroll Robbins. Remington Handguns. Stackpole, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: 1947.
  • McGivern, Ed. Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting. Follett Publishing, Chicago: 1975. (First published in 1938.)
  • Neal, Robert J. & Jinks, Roy G. Smith & Wesson: 1857-1945. R&R Books, Livonia, N.Y.: 1975.
  • Nichols, Bob. The Secrets of double action Shooting. Sportsmans Vintage Press: 2013 (reprint of the 1950 edition).
  • Sawyer, Charles Winthrop. Firearms in American History, Vol. II: The Revolver, 1800-1911.  Charles Edward Chapel, San Leandro, California: 1939.
  • Serven, James E. Colt Firearms: 1836-1960. Serven Books, Santa Ana, California: 1954.
  • Supica, Jim & Nahas, Richard. Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson, 3rd Edition. Gun Digest Books, Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin: 2006.
  • Taylerson, A.W.F. Revolving Arms. Bonanza Books, New York: 1967.
  • Wesson, Douglas. “A New Light-Weight Revolver.” Hardware Age, November 11, 1916.
  • Ziesing, Dr. Dirk. “Der große Unbekannte: Waffengeschichte - Waffen von Jean Warnant.” Deutsches Waffen-Journal, December 2006.

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