At the cusp of the 20th century the Wild West had largely been won. Smokeless powder was muscling black powder out of many cartridges, and the trend for shooters was toward smaller, lighter bullets at relatively high velocity. Trigger-cocking revolvers—a.k.a. double actions—had been introduced and were quite popular. Most were top-breaks which meant that they could not be chambered for a powerful cartridge without being made uncomfortably large and heavy. Smith & Wesson pioneered the concept of a solid-frame revolver with a cylinder that swung left out of the frame for loading and unloading. Called the Hand Ejector, the first on the market was the I-frame .32 Hand Ejector Model of 1896, now known as the .32 Hand Ejector First Model. Four years later the company introduced a larger, .38-caliber frame Hand Ejector Model with an improved cylinder lock that restrained the cylinder from moving during firing with a locking bolt on the bottom of the cylinder, rather than on top of the cylinder as with the original.
The K-frame, as this .38-caliber frame was called, was at first designed around the .38 United States Service cartridge—better known as the .38 Long Colt. However, the cartridge garnered a reputation as a poor man stopper. Aging company patriarch D.B. Wesson thought that if the cartridge case was lengthened enough to increase the charge to 21 1/2 grains of black powder from the 18-grain charge of the service cartridge and the bullet weight increased from 150 to 158 grains it would fare better. It did, and the new cartridge was christened as the .38 S&W Special. The revolver was called the .38 Hand Ejector Military & Police. Likely, few, if any, could even dream of the impact this revolver and its new cartridge would have on people who choose to or must carry a gun, to say nothing of its influence in the success of the company.
For more than a century the Military & Police .38 Special—it received the Model 10 nomenclature when Smith & Wesson started the numbering system in 1957—has been the backbone of the company. While the M&P may not be blessed with all the glamour of some of the other revolvers made by Smith & Wesson—the .357 Magnum, Triple Lock, .44 Magnum and the relatively new .460 and .500 magnums, to name a few—versions of this revolver have been used all over the world constantly as service pistols for law enforcement and the military. This basic, workaday revolver has spawned dozens of variants ranging from sophisticated target guns to rimfire trainers and small-game guns to powerful magnums in a compact package. The Masterpiece series began with the K-38 and K-22 revolvers, and these are some of the most sought after examples by collectors of fine handguns.
During the waning years of World War II a new hammer block device was incorporated that is virtually foolproof. After the war a short hammer throw designed for a faster lock time for target guns replaced the old “humpback” hammer. March 1948 marked the two million production milestone for the M&P revolver. A new series with a C Prefix on the serial number began. My own M&P is from the early part of this run.
This gun came to me from the man who introduced me to shooting, and it happens to be the first centerfire handgun I shot. When my shooting mentor passed away tragically in an auto accident 17 years ago his widow insisted that I get this revolver and his Winchester Model 12 shotgun. When I was a teenager, he and I would head into one of the canyons on the outskirts of Los Angeles where he taught me about shooting. Today if someone wanted to do some recreational shooting in these Forest Service canyons, it would illicit a SWAT Team response. It isn’t a gun I carry or shoot much at all, but it is one of my treasures simply because it was the first “big” handgun I got to shoot.