Thursday, March 23, 2017

Featured Gun: High Standard Sentinel

The story of the High Standard Sentinel begins with a 17 year old Swedish immigrant named Carl Gustav Swebilius.
Many people may not know the name Swebilius, but he holds more than 60 gun patents.

Carl was born the son of a watch maker and as such had learned to work with small, finely machined parts. When he emigrated to America, he went to live with his Aunt, who just happened to live smack dab in the middle of gun central: New Haven, Connecticut.

In 1896, at the age of 17, Carl went to work for Marlin in New Haven as a barrel driller, eventually working his way up to Chief Engineer and Gun Designer.
Sometime in the mid 20's Carl left Marlin and worked briefly at Winchester. Then in 1926 Carl formed the High Standard Manufacturing Company to make tools for gun making and other industries. He went back into the gun making business when he, along with a few former co-workers, purchased what was left of the Hartford Arms and Equipment Co. in 1931 for $800.
Hartford Arms made a nifty little .22 target pistol based on the John Browning designed Colt Woodsman (have you ever wondered why the Colt and High Standard pistol looked so much alike?..).

Carl Swebilius working at the bench

Fast forward to 1955, High Standard, now operating in Hamden, CT (just north of New Haven), is partly owned by Sears, Roebuck and Company. 

The High Standard factory in Hamden, CT (see more info here)

Sears was looking for a small, lightweight "kit" revolver that they could sell at an attractive price point. Once the gun was approved Sears named their version the J.C. Higgins model 88. 

Other retailers also marketed a brand labeled version of the Sentinel, Western Auto named theirs the Revelation model 99.

 The first High Standard branded Sentinels were marked R-100.

The designer of the gun is a name that is familiar to Ruger fans, it was none other than Harry Sefried. The same Harry Sefried who along side Bill Ruger designed a whole catalog full of guns, including the Security Six whose grip profile was taken from our subject arm.

While there were other .22 revolvers on the market the Sentinels main competition was the value priced H&R Sportsman 999.

The cylinder on the Sentinel holds 9 rounds of .22 LR. It also uses an aluminum frame. Aluminum has two advantages over steel in this application: 1. lighter weight, 2. no rust.

The barrel and cylinder were of course made of carbon steel. The guns crane was held shut by the ejector rod, that needed to be pulled to the front to release the cylinder from the frame, a simple solution that required no extra machining.
The gun also employs a simple take down procedure that involves removing the grip screw then the hammer pivot pin is removed which holds the major pieces in place. The only screw present on the gun is the one holding the stocks in place which can be removed with a dime or the edge of a cartridge.
This concept also made its way to Ruger's line of double action revolvers.

Pop Culture Artist Andy Warhol created many works with the Sentinel as his muse...

The cylinders were recessed and the pawl engaged the round recesses, which made for more engagement surface and a reduction in wear. This was changed on later models.

The first Sentinel model carried the R-100 model number, it had no spring to return the ejector back to battery, as a result many of these guns will have the tell-tale scratch on the frame (as mine did below).
The original blued guns had what appeared to be traditional bluing on the steel parts and a phosphate type of anodizing on the aluminum frame. Barrel length options were originally 3" or 5".
The R-100 became the R-101 in mid 1956, with a slightly modified hammer and trigger, the nickel plated option was also added.

There were also "Deluxe", "Dura-Tone" and colored options like Gold, Pink and Blue.

Each successive change was given a new model designation with R-109 being the last. In 1975 High Standard switched to using MKI and MK IV designations for the .22 Sentinel. These new guns had steel frames and an ejector rod shroud. Also new was a .22 Magnum option.

From mid-1973 through early 1975 High Standard marketed a .357 Magnum version of the Sentinel. The guns were made by Dan Wesson Arms and were identical to the Dan Wesson model 15.
This arrangement was probably facilitated by Karl Lewis who before designing the Dan Wesson revolver worked for High Standard.

While the values for the .22 Sentinel have increased in recent years you can still find some good deals. I spotted two of them at a recent gun show for $150 and $170. Online auctions tend to go a bit higher, in the $250-$275 range. Of course the steel framed and Dura-tone models sell for more as does a NIB standard model.

While doing my research I got to wondering about what ever happened to the patents on the design of the Sentinel? I suppose since the gun has been out of production for so long, anyone could pick up where High Standard left off and begin making these guns again .....perhaps someone reading this will take heed and make these fine little guns again.

The gun below is one that I used to own. I sold the gun a few years back to a friend of my Fathers...a move I now regret. I had only fired the gun a couple of times and was just getting acquainted with it.
I am determined to find another one.

Here are some additional pictures of Sentinels

This poor gun will never be functional again.....whomever buried it wasn't thinking straight

Unblinking Eye 
Gun Digest 
Small Arms Defense Journal 

Brophy, W. S. (1989). Marlin Firearms: A History of the Guns and the Company That Made Them. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.