Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Featured Gun: Smith & Wesson model 25

Introduced in 1957, the Model 25 was the 45 caliber N frame revolver from Smith & Wesson, but the history of this gun goes back another 50 years.

It was in 1907 that S&W introduced a larger version of their Model of 1899 .38 Military & Police (the M&P later became the K frame Model 10). This was done to compete with Colt's New Service Revolver and to introduce a new cartridge: The S&W .44 Special. We can also assume S&W had the military and law enforcement contracts in their sights (pardon the pun).
My regular readers may remember the Colt New Service I restored last year. The New Service was a full size gun, built stout for the larger cartridges and rigors of military service.

So Smith & Wesson came along with a larger frame revolver to compete, they even gave their new revolver a similar nick-name : The New Century, although many refer to this model as the "triple-lock" due to its extra locking lug on the crane, the official name is the .44 Hand Ejector First Model, regardless of the chambering, the .44 Hand Ejector name was used.

The S&W .44 Hand Ejector/New Century/Triple Lock

These "triple-lock" .44s were favorite of an outdoorsman by the name of Elmer Keith. Keith would play around with his loads and found that he could get better performance from a hot loaded .44 Special than any .45 Colt. His experiments and prodding led to the development of the .44 Magnum.

When WWI broke out, the British Government placed orders for the New Century revolver chambered in the .455 Webley cartridge (production began in 1915). The .455 Webley was similar in size to the .45 ACP, see the comparison below:

The British soon requested modifications that included removing the third locking mechanism to allow a gun clogged with debris to continue to operate. The new modification was called the .455 Hand Ejector Second Model or .455 Hand Ejector Mark II. By wars end some 68,000 units had been shipped to England.

The .455 Hand Ejector Mark II

In 1917 the U.S. Government contracted with both Colt & S&W to make .45 caliber revolvers (based on the New Service and New Century) that could shoot the .45 ACP cartridge using "half moon clips". This was due to Colt not being able to keep up with production demands for the M1911 pistol.
These guns were given the designation M1917. By the time the contract was cancelled in 1918, S&W had delivered more than 163,000 M1917 revolvers.

The S&W M1917

In 1926 a third model of .44 Hand Ejector was introduced and due to a request from a large distributor the ejector rod shroud returned. The .44 Hand Ejector Third Model (aka Model of 1926) was produced up until 1950.

The .44 Hand Ejector 3rd Model

In 1930 S&W chambered the .44 Hand Ejector in .38 Special, creating the .38/44 Heavy Duty, allowing the ,38 special to be loaded to higher pressures. This of course helped pave the way for the .357 Magnum.

In 1935 S&W introduced the first Magnum revolver cartridge: the aforementioned .357 Magnum. The revolver was based the .44 Hand Ejector, they called it the .357 Hand Ejector

These early .357s were to be custom ordered and became known as the "Registered Magnums". After 1939, the guns became a standard catalog item and were simply called the .357 Magnum.
This gun later became the Models 27 & 28.

In 1950 a new model was created for the civilian target shooting market. The Model of 1950 Target featured a 6.5" ribbed barrel, adjustable sights and a new target hammer with a wider spur and different profile. The gun also had new hand filling target stocks. The new revolver was available in a variety of chamberings including .45 Colt.
According to legend, famous gunsmith/competition shooter Jim Clark, during a shooting competition in 1954, told the person manning the S&W booth (which turned out to be the President of Smith & Wesson) that the model of 1950 wouldn't shoot worth a damn. 
Within days (maybe hours?) the production of the 1950 ended and revisions were made to improve its accuracy, the result was the Model of 1955.

model of 1950 Target

In this picture from John Taffin, you can see the evolution of the .44 Hand ejector from the New Century on top to the Model of 1950 on the bottom

In 1954 a budget version of the .357 Hand Ejector was created to compete for the law enforcement market. The model was called the Highway Patrolman. The following year S&W introduced their second Magnum cartridge in the .44 Hand Ejector Frame: the .44 Magnum. These guns are usually referred to as a Pre-Model 29, their official name is the .44 Magnum Hand Ejector.

Also in 1955 the Model of 1950 was revised into the Model of 1955
 Model of 1955 Target

That year Jim Clark won the Mid-Winter Shooting Matches and was awarded with a new Model of 1955 Target. More than a little ironic that he would be the one to win one of the first of the guns whose existence were owed to him. 
Supposedly Jim received the 3rd M1955 to come out of Springfield. He was often heard saying that gun was one of his prize possessions. To this day the gun is still in the hands of the Clark family.
Here is the gun Jim Clark won:
On a recent episode of the Outdoor Channel show Shootout Lane, Jim Clark Jr and Kay Clark-Miculek brought out some of Jim Clark Seniors guns to the range (it's the episode named "Jerry does Yoga") including the 1955 pictured above.

In 1957 Smith & Wesson began assigning model numbers to their guns and the Model of 1950 (when reintroduced) became the Model 26 and the heavier barreled Model of 1955 became the Model 25. The Model 25 was exclusively 45 caliber, with .45 ACP (with moon clips) or .45 Colt as the options.

The new N-Frames:

  • Model 24 (originally the .44 Hand Ejector) in .44 Special
  • Model 25 (Model of 1955 Target in .45 ACP or 45 Colt)
  • Model 26 (Model of 1950 Target in .45 ACP)
  • Model 27 (.357 Hand Ejector in .357 Magnum)
  • Model 28 (Highway Patrolman in .357 Magnum)
  • Model 29 (.44 Magnum Hand Ejector in .44 Magnum)

Rather than give the guns a new model number when revisions were made a suffix was added to the number. So the 1st change to the Model 25 became the Model 25-1 and so on.
The Model 25 was discontinued in 1991 with the 25-9, it was reintroduced in 1993 in the 25-10, discontinued again in 1999 and then reintroduced yet again in 2001 with the Model 25-11.

The Model 25 is still available in S&W's Classic series (I believe the current designation is the 25-15). 
The gun we are looking at below is a Model 25-5 which was introduced in 1978.
The revisions leading up to the 25-5 are listed below:
  • 25 no dash, 1957
  • 25-1, 1960, extractor rod thread changed from RH to LF 
  • 25-2, 1961, eliminate trigger guard screw
  • 25-3, 1977, round butt version offered, also by this time the 6" barrel became standard (instead of 6.5") N prefix on serial #s now used, the diamond was removed from the stocks 
  • 25-4, 1977, .45 Colt Deluxe Anniversary Edition
  • 25-5, 1978, .45 ACP dropped as an option, the longer cylinder became standard

In 1982 the pinned barrel was replaced by a crush fit barrel, marking the end of an era.  Also gone were the recessed chambers on the Magnum caliber guns. Many S&W collectors consider this a turning point in the quality of S&W revolvers.

I purchased my Model 25-5 a while back and have been collecting information ever since. I bought it from the widow of a gun dealer who had this in his private collection. He had never fired the gun, true story. 
I never thought I would ever get the opportunity to buy an unfired S&W N frame with the presentation case, but this proves those guns are out there, you just need to be in the right place at the right time.

This particular gun was made in 1980, its features include:
  • 6" full barrel (no taper) 
  • adjustable rear sight with white outline
  • ramp front sight with red/orange insert
  • .500" target hammer
  • .500" target trigger 
  • checkered Goncalo Alves target stocks

The gun was shipped in the plain S&W blue box, wrapped in the S&W "Nox-Rust" wax paper with paper work & tools.

 Also in the shipping carton was the presentation case, which included a second owner's manual and set of tools. 

The original shipping carton with model #, options and matching serial number.

Some of the pictures above were found freely on the world wide web and are used under the guidelines of Fair Use, per Title 17 of the U.S. Code.
If you own the copyright to any of these images and wish them to be credited or removed, please contact me immediately.

Smith-Wesson Forum
Gun Digest
Smith & Wesson
Gunner 777
Six Guns by John Taffin 
Guns Magazine
Supica, Jim. Nahas, Richard. (2006) Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson 3rd edition .Iola, WI: Gun Digest Books