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Cas City Forum Hall & CAS-L  |  Special Interests - Groups & Societies  |  Frontier Iron (Moderator: St. George)  |  Topic: Smith & Wesson DA .44-40... 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Author Topic: Smith & Wesson DA .44-40...  (Read 16709 times)
St. George
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« on: May 25, 2010, 09:06:37 am »


The introduction of S&W's first large frame Break Top Double Action was in 1881, and was called the Double Action 1st Model, or New Model Navy.

This revolver was chambered in .44 Russian - a popular cartridge of the time, but the .44 WCF (.44-40) was leading that race, and the popular Winchester '73 was in wide use in the American West, so being able to pair up compatible calibers was seen as sound marketing strategy.

In an effort to capitalize on this happy idea, Smith & Wesson re-tooled, and came out with the Double Action Frontier in 1886 - chambered in .44-40, and is basically the same revolver except for a longer frame and a cylinder of 1-9/16" length.

They have their own serial number range - and topped off production with 15,340 of these revolvers - and though they were catalogued until 1912, all frames were produced prior to 1899 - making them antiques - a handy thing to know...

'Double-Action' was an idea that seemed to work well enough with pocket revolvers, but there was some hesitancy in accepting it in a large-bore version. Earlier attempts such as the Starr and Cooper were somewhat ungainly and weak by comparison, so for the most part the rugged single-action reigned supreme in the U.S. when it came to real working guns.

Unlike early Colt efforts of the 1870's, S&W's double-action mechanisms were the match of many Continental designs. In fact, some of the lockwork was pirated by Spanish gunmakers, among others, and sold to civilians and the military - but then, counterfeiting firearms was an art form in Spain and Belgium, so it was almost a given that any successful design would be copied.

Frontiers featured the familiar S&W topbreak ejection system.

They could be fired double-action or thumb cocked, though there was no safety position and the hammer did not rebound after the trigger was released, creating a potentially unsafe situation if the gun were dropped or roughly handled.

Lockup was effected by a pair of lugs that fit into tandem notches on the cylinder. When the trigger was pulled and the cylinder rotated, the rear lug locked into the rear notch, and when the trigger was relaxed, the front lug came into play, securing the cylinder by the front notch. As the trigger was pulled for the next shot, both lugs dropped enough to allow the cylinder to rotate smoothly—all in all a well-thought-out setup.

Incidentally - the term "Model 3" refers to the largest frame size used by S&W to produce their full sized top-break cartridge revolvers.

In 1878, S&W discontinued it's other Model 3 variations in favor of a much improved design which they called the New Model Number Three, and in just a short few years, a double action model was introduced, known as, logically enough, the .44 D.A. In all it's variations, the Model 3 was the most produced and most copied large frame cartridge revolver model of the 1870-1898 era.

The New Model Number 3 was arguably the pinnacle of 19th century revolver design.

During the era their accuracy was such that they were used to set most of the target records of the time.

I've often said that one needs reference books and that 'treasures abound' and that 'Hope Springs Eternal'...

You'll find more of those true treasures when you know 'more' - and that's what just led to my finding a tight-as-a-drum, nickle-plated S&W DA .44-40 Frontier with a 5" barrel, hard rubber grips and a four-digit serial number, indicating 1886 production.

Incidentally - S&Ws are serial-numbered on the butt, the latch and the cylinder - and written inside the grip panels - so use a 'good' flashlight and/or strong sunlight, and many things may be illuminated.

NCOWS allows these, too...

Vaya,

Scouts Out!
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« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2010, 06:06:29 pm »

I sure agree regarding the model 3s and particularly the New Model Number 3 which I have said many times is the best handling, well balanced single action revolver of all time Grin

Will Ketchum
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« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2010, 11:40:05 pm »

I am tickled with my 44 DA.  4" barrel and 44 Russian.  Nickel plated and it qualifies as an NCOWS pocket pistol! Grin
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« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2010, 07:09:39 am »

On the large  Model 3 frame - it's actually a belt pistol, and was designed that way.

Vaya,

Scouts Out!

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« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2010, 10:51:37 am »

I know that historically.  But NCOWS rules define a pocket pistol as "no more than a 4 inch barrel" and I have seen fellows with a "Sheriff Model SAA's" shooting them in side matches.   Cheesy  Didn't write the rule, but I have read it.  Will take my S & W DA 38's and my Iver Johnson DA 38 too! Grin
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« Reply #5 on: May 26, 2010, 11:58:51 am »

I'm still haven't decided whether or not to take my 4 inch DA .44 to shoot as a pocket pistol.  It would be neat if I could get multiple medals for PP side match: one for the .44 DA, one for the Iver Johnson, etc.

Oh well, it's going to be fun.

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« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2010, 01:53:42 pm »

I do believe we established frame size as the determining factor - and not barrel length - but that discussion happened long ago.

Furthermore, if we decide to discuss 'that' - then I 'will' move this to the NCOWS Chambers.

Just because a weapon can fit into one of the over-sized pockets of the time frame doesn't make it a 'pocket pistol'...

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St. George's Notes XII - "Real" Pocket Pistols...
« on: January 21, 2005, 10:41:07 am »     

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
For one reason or another, there's always been an interest in Pocket Pistols, and rightly so as probably more of those were carried during the period of the Frontier West than any other weapon.
We'll never know, since no one "saw" them like the Colts were seen - in their rigs.
If a man actually "saw" a pocket pistol - most likely things had gone really downhill at that point...

These are best described as those small-framed revolvers designed for concealability in a trouser or vest pocket and they were built by a large number of manufacturers - some good, some not-so-good and some time-honored.

Incidentally - this isn't about that famous "other" Pocket Pistol - the Derringer.
We'll do that another time.

Sadly - no modern manufacturer is making a good replica and so - you're going to have to find an original if you want one for your Impression and if you want to shoot with one.

On the other hand - this will illustrate the fact that you can still find "real" pocket pistols out there in the woodwork.

In the past few months, I wound up with four additions to my collection of odds and ends.
1.  S&W 2d Model, 2d issue, spur-trigger .38S&W - built in 1888.
2.  S&W Safety Hammerless in .32S&W.
3.  H&R "Vest Pocket" in .32S&W - a truly ugly little revolver - with no front sight and hammerless, to boot.
No front sight was ever installed, and it's so ugly, it's really nice.
4.  Belgian-made British Bulldog - short, powerful and well-liked and copied widely during the times.

These things are out there in drawers and on tables and in many cases they're worth picking up.

Good, solid makers include, but are not limited to:
Colt, Iver Johnson, Smith & Wesson, Harrington & Richardson, Forehand and Wadsworth, Merwin, Hulbert, Webley, Hopkins & Allen and Frank Wesson.
The foreign-made "Bulldog" revolvers (other than Webley) have good steel, but timing and lock-up can be an adventure to tighten up.

Look at a couple of things before you do decide to buy:

Overall condition - look at evidence of abuse - but don't pay much attention to loss of plating, as that's common and can be re-done, and if you don't want to do that - you can Simichrome or Wenol everything enough to mask its loss.
Look instead for big dings and pitting and burred screw heads and remember - spare parts are found in other people's guns...

Cylinder lockup - you want it to be tight and not to wobble.
In many cases, these guns were played with by grandkids after their daily carrying duties were over (I once knew of kids who played with a Dance Brothers...), and they can play rough.

You want something that'll lock up reasonably - especially when you hold the hammer down as if fired.
That's the tightest lockup you'll see in a revolver, so if there's a lot of play - you can think about it for parts.

Barrel-Frame Lockup - Has to be tight.
Look for cracking at the point of joining.
In many cases, tightening the screw is all that's needed, but if it's not able to be done - think "parts".

Condition of Grips - Hard Rubber grips can be a challenge to repair, but it can be done.
Better when you don't have to.

Once you've located your prospective companion - clean it - but carefully and pay attention to how it assembles and disassembles - Dave Chicoine's books - "Gunsmithing Guns of the Old West", and his "Expanded Second Edition" are invaluable here.

As far as ammunition is concerned - BP will always work, but factory smokeless will work as well in later revolvers, but don't get carried away - these little guns were never meant for the shooting stresses of C&WAS, or the pressures of modern reloaded ammunition.

As to .22's - the really short .22CB Cap (NOT the CCI - in the .22 Short case) will safely drive a Conical Ball from its barrel and not increase pressures.

Standard Velocity .22 Shorts are about as "heavy" a round as you'll ever want for later revolvers, but I'd certainly get some of the CB Caps first.

Better yet, just pick them up to add to a vest pocket as an accouterment, if you're concerned about firing them.

Good Luck.

Scouts Out!


(this originally appeared in the NCOWS Forum awhile back, and was even included in an article for 'The Shootist'.)



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« Reply #7 on: May 26, 2010, 03:26:21 pm »


I'm fortunate enough to have a standard one in .44 Russian and a "Frontier" version in .44-40.

Both are blued with 5" barrels (IIRC).

Have to say the Ruskie is far more pleasant to shoot with a full BP load than the .44-40, which can be a hand-full.

Lots of fun, though.
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« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2010, 12:42:22 pm »

I know that historically.  But NCOWS rules define a pocket pistol as "no more than a 4 inch barrel" and I have seen fellows with a "Sheriff Model SAA's" shooting them in side matches.   Cheesy  Didn't write the rule, but I have read it.  Will take my S & W DA 38's and my Iver Johnson DA 38 too! Grin

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« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2010, 01:07:15 pm »

I have to agree with Irish Dave!  That makes me a gamer. Shocked Roll Eyes Wink
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« Reply #10 on: June 16, 2010, 08:15:46 am »

Incidentally...

S&W DA "Frontier" revolvers, all are pre-1899

Important Note: An article by Roy Jinks (S&W factory historian), some years ago reported that all of the *frames* for the large frame top-break S&W's were made prior to 1899, and hence all New Model #3's, .44 DA 1st Models, DA Frontiers, and related models are considered "antique" by the ATF, even though they may have been cataloged and even assembled well into the early 20th century.

Special thanks to Roy Jinks and the S&W Colloctor's Association for this information.

Vaya,

Scouts Out!
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« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2010, 10:17:10 am »

Put your drool bib on and gander over at Gunbroker, auction # 182507916 

WOW!

I have no connection to this auction or seller.  I thought other S&W DA fans would enjoy seeing that beauty!

Wonder what she'll sell for?

Pancho
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« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2010, 10:06:53 am »

I can't believe the picture was still up.  Did the search on a lark.  

You all HAVE to see this.

Hammer dropped at $1300.  SOMEBODY got a good buy.

She'll make a good parts gun anyway.
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« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2013, 01:18:44 pm »

Thanks to all who posted on this old thread.

 I just bought a .44 Russian S&W DA revolver online - won't be here till maybe next weekend. The seller - Cabelas in Nebraska - tells me that the gun is tight and carrys up well, but won't stay cocked in SA mode...which I believe is repairable, and may even be that famous old grease...There is NO original finish left, but the bore looks good and the grips are not broken, so I took a chance.

I have had many top break revolvers in the last 45 years, including a first and second model S&W Single Action .38, and at this time I have a very good shooting New Departure .38 from 1903. This is the first large caliber top break I have ever had, and I feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

Thanks again.This site has the best information on older guns that I have ever found...they are a lifelong interest of mine.

mark
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« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2013, 08:46:32 pm »

Speaking of pocket pistols, Bourke commented in "On The Border With Crook" that Tusconans preferred pocket pistols, and generally didn't bother to draw. They just fired them out the bottom of their coat pockets. Must have kept the tailors busy!

One of these days I'll get lucky and find an S&W 44 to go with my 38s.
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« Reply #15 on: February 20, 2013, 12:16:33 am »

My Grandma found an old S&W revolver in her garden, but I don't have a clue what it is.  It has serial number 5300 and the Barrel has 10/87 stamped on it.  It looks and awe-full lot like the picture Short Knife Johnson posted.  This one has had the hammer removed, however, but that is an easy fix. I don't have a picture of it yet, but as soon as I get one, I'll post it.  In the mean time, does anyone have any idea what this one is, i.e. caliber, date of manufacture etc.


--TK
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« Reply #16 on: February 25, 2013, 05:45:33 pm »

I bought a S&W DA revolver.  It has about 10% blueing left, has a 4" barrel, and some sort of reddish composit grips. Last pat date is May 11 & 25 of 1886, and a 4 digit serial number.  Chambered for .44WCF and locks up tight.  What do I have?
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« Reply #17 on: February 25, 2013, 06:09:47 pm »

Pictures would help.

Scouts Out!
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« Reply #18 on: February 25, 2013, 06:23:46 pm »

Quote
I bought a S&W DA revolver.  It has about 10% blueing left, has a 4" barrel, and some sort of reddish composit grips. Last pat date is May 11 & 25 of 1886, and a 4 digit serial number.  Chambered for .44WCF and locks up tight.  What do I have?

Howdy

Does it look more or less like this?



The only large frame Double Action Top Break revolver that S&W made was the Double Action 44. There were a few variations, the ones that were chambered for 44-40 were called the 44 Double Action Frontier models. I am a bit confused about the patent dates you quote though. Are you sure? The last patent date on my DA 44 is May 11 & 25 1880.

The 44-40 variation was first produced in 1886. All frames had been made by 1899 but the model was still cataloged up until 1913. There were 15,340 of them made. You would have to be a bit more specific about the SN to get a better idea of when it shipped. The SNs ran from 1 through 15340.

The 'reddish' grips are usually referred to as the Red Mottled Hard Rubber grips, although according to SCSW the 44 Double Action Frontier model only shipped with either walnut or black hard rubber grips.
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« Reply #19 on: February 25, 2013, 06:34:15 pm »


The only large frame Double Action Top Break revolver that S&W made was the Double Action 44. There were a few variations, the ones that were chambered for 44-40 were called the 44 Double Action Frontier models. I am a bit confused about the patent dates you quote though. Are you sure? The last patent date on my DA 44 is May 11 & 25 1880.



This might be representative of a Belgium or Spanish copy of the DA44.  However, I've not seen one with serial numbers.

St. George's comment is right on.  Lets see a picture.  I have 2 DA 44 "Frontier" models (.44 WCF) and they do not have the 1886 patent date.

Very curious to see this revolver. 

This is a top break revolver, not a hand-ejector, correct?
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« Reply #20 on: February 25, 2013, 06:45:13 pm »

Driftwood, it looks exactly like that, except for a 4" barrel.  I rechecked the pat date under better light and it is "80".  The serial number is 4055.  There is a serial number on the latch, butt, and cylinder.  The serial number, pat dates, and the S&W logo on the grips were all the markings I could find.  Try to post some pictures later.
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« Reply #21 on: March 24, 2013, 09:32:55 am »

I wanted to see if I could post a pic here...




This is my DA .44, which I am told was shipped in 1901. At the time I took this, it had not been cleaned. I have had the side plate off and filed the notch to hold SA cock - it works just fine now. It seems to have been covered in some type of grease many years ago, which hardened and formed a coating over the whole piece. I have it soaking in Ed's Red right now and I find every time I clean it I still get stuff out of it...but it works better and locks tighter.

Just got Remington .44 Russian ammo for it and will shoot it when it gets a bit warmer-too cold for this old man to be standing on a windswept range at this time.

I have seen speculation on another forum that these DA .44's were somehow not very good, and thus did not sell...I thought they set records for accuracy, and they did sell quite a few for a long time in an era of great innovation in handguns...and there ar quite a few out there still working after well over 100 years, which is pretty good IMO.

 This gun got me started on an old Smith buying spree that led me to find 2  1876 Single Action .38 Baby Russians and another 1880's .38 DA and I have 2 No. 1 tip up .22's coming, a second and third issue...and maybe a Rollin White revolver as well.

Thanks again for fueling my bad habit.

mark

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« Reply #22 on: March 24, 2013, 10:43:40 am »

I wanted to see if I could post a pic here...




This is my DA .44, which I am told was shipped in 1901. At the time I took this, it had not been cleaned. I have had the side plate off and filed the notch to hold SA cock - it works just fine now. It seems to have been covered in some type of grease many years ago, which hardened and formed a coating over the whole piece. I have it soaking in Ed's Red right now and I find every time I clean it I still get stuff out of it...but it works better and locks tighter.

Just got Remington .44 Russian ammo for it and will shoot it when it gets a bit warmer-too cold for this old man to be standing on a windswept range at this time.

I have seen speculation on another forum that these DA .44's were somehow not very good, and thus did not sell...I thought they set records for accuracy, and they did sell quite a few for a long time in an era of great innovation in handguns...and there ar quite a few out there still working after well over 100 years, which is pretty good IMO.

 This gun got me started on an old Smith buying spree that led me to find 2  1876 Single Action .38 Baby Russians and another 1880's .38 DA and I have 2 No. 1 tip up .22's coming, a second and third issue...and maybe a Rollin White revolver as well.

Thanks again for fueling my bad habit.

mark



Mark:  for that old grease, try MPro-7.  I have a lot of luck removing old brittle cosmoline and such. Just don't get it on rubber or wood. 
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« Reply #23 on: January 13, 2018, 03:36:46 pm »

I just wanted to say thank you all for sharing information like this. I just picked up a Belgian DA.44 about an hour ago. The nickle has seen better days, but the action is tight.
This is my very first original piece. My others are reproductions so, even while this isn't a gun that a collector would drool over, by golly its pretty awesome to me Smiley The only other piece I have that came close is a Bolo model C96 mauser that dates to 1901. So close to being 19th.c!! So now I'm really excited to have an actual 19.c piece Smiley
By the pivot point in the break on the lower frame assembly is stamped 1686. Was that a mistake? Or is that serial number? I would really like to try and trace this piece to its manufacture date. I do a lot of living history events and I would like to be able to have hard facts about it when I show it to the crowds.

Kindest regards,
-Jason
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