Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver ~ History

By David Tong,
In this article, David Tong reviews the famed Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum.

Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver : img closed auction photo from Gunsamerica.com of 6.5" blue
Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver : img closed auction photo from Gunsamerica.com of 6.5″ blue
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

USA –  -(Ammoland.com)- The Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver is possibly most revered revolver in Smith and Wesson’s long history, perhaps competing only with the Smith & Wesson Triple Lock .44 also featured here on these pages.

Douglas B. Wesson, on top of being one of the descendants of original founder Daniel Wesson, was also a handgun hunter. He, along with famous gunwriter and cartridge developer Elmer B. Keith, desired a much more powerful “.38 Special” cartridge that would allow much greater penetration and flatter shooting.

The sales experiment that directly preceded the Registered Magnum was the “.38-44” revolver, available in both fixed and adjustable sight trim. These were chambered in .38 Special but used a high-speed version that launched a 160gr. bullet at approximately 1,100fps out of an 8.5” barrel.

In order to achieve the goal of a similar weight bullet leaving at 1,400fps, Winchester designers came up with a lengthened .38 case to preclude its use in Special chambered older revolvers for safety reasons.

Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver

 Smith & Wesson 357 Registered Magnum Double Action Revolver
Smith & Wesson 357 Registered Magnum Double Action Revolver **

The resulting Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver debuted in 1935, and 1,500fps was achieved in the available 8.75” barrel. These revolvers were built to order, and were available in any barrel length between 3.5” and 8.75”, in both blue and nickel finish, with a large option of available front and rear sights. Owners were requested to return the small card shipped with the revolver to obtain a registration certificate that confirmed its quality of manufacture, and those few revolvers which still retain this certificate and box with the arm are worth in the five-figure price range today.

Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver Letter signed by Patton.
Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver Letter signed by Patton

All of the Registered Magnums debuted with a finely machine checkered top strap on the frame, rear sight spring leaf, and barrel rib. All Magnum S&W revolvers kept the recessed case rim chamber design in their cylinders until the “Dash-3” engineering change of 1979. The revolvers were hand fitted and finished, and they are considered the pinnacle of S&W’s production capability. Magnums also required either different steel alloys, heat-treatment, or both, compared to the more utilitarian .38 S&W Special caliber service revolvers built en masse.

Patton's 1935 3.5" revolver later fitted with ivory stocks ca 1940
Patton's 1935 3.5″ revolver later fitted with ivory stocks ca 1940

Famous men who owned or carried them included FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who received Serial Number One, a 3.5” model, General George Patton who called his own engraved, silver-plated, and ivory-stocked one “his killing gun,” and late Lawman and gunwriter Skeeter Skelton of Shooting Times who declared his 5” model “the best law enforcement revolver ever made.”

My own example was one I acquired over twenty years ago at the Beinfeld Collector’s Arms show in Las Vegas. With its original skinny walnut “Magna” stocks, its “REG” serial number prefix inside the yoke on the frame, and its screw-adjustable rear sight and brass-bead front sight, it was as fine a double-action revolver as could be. Easy to shoot and well-balanced, even with Magnums, a relatively pleasant way to spend an afternoon. It showed a fair amount of holster wear, more on its left barrel near the muzzle indicating a right-handed former owner/lawman, the action was still tight and serviceable some fifty years after its construction.

S&W still builds its progeny, the erstwhile Model 27, and while they are still fairly well-turned-out, they are not quite the same in action smoothness or fitting compared to the old “long-stroke” double action goodness of the Registered Magnum. Nor do the newer ones have the milled from forged parts throughout, careful hand fitting, and impeccable finish in places one might never look at.

Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum RevolverSmith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver
Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver : Extraordinary, Signed, Exhibition Quality Alvin White Master Engraved Gold Inlaid Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Double Action Revolver with Factory Letter : Recent Prices : $14,000 – $22,500 **
  • 12 thoughts on “Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum Revolver ~ History

    1. I have a nickel plated, 3-1/2″ barrel RM that was owned by my Great Uncle and left to me. I am fortunate to have it as it was stolen from my Dad’s house during a burglary. We did not have the serial number of the gun, but one of the Sheriff’s departments in North Alabama had shot the gun on their range in the early 1940’s and had retained some of the brass in there evidence locker as it was the first 357 they had seen. The perpetrator accidently shot a friend in a Chattanooga Bar (due to the really light single action trigger pull) with the RM. The Police Department was able to compare the brass from the fired round in Chattanooga and ones stored in the evidence locker, and we were able to get the revolver back. I still wear it occasionally to work (a local gun store), but it is a load to carry!

      Bob Smith

    2. I now have a registered magnum that is one of the 45 guns sent to the NH State Police in 1937. I searched long and hard to find one for several years and finally acquired this one at the Kittery Trading Post. Based on the minimal amount they charged, they had not done their homework and did not know what a treasure they had. A perfect Father’s Day gift for my dad – who lost his father at age 18 when he was killed in the line of duty as one of the original NH State Troopers – Badge # 1.
      They are together again now – Rest in Peace dad & grandpa Harold – you are missed and loved.

    3. I was fortunate this week and acquired Registered Magnum #943. Shipped April 6th 1936 from the factory to Waterbury Connecticut. It has been treated well and looks much like it did in 1936. I consider myself merely as the current keeper of the gun. It will last many more years and will pass to others that appreciated a RM.

      With a little research I will perhaps be abe able to discover the name of the original owner through the Smith and Wesson Collectors Association. I might even be able to get a copy of the certificate and the letter from the owner. That would be great.

      http://www.smithandwessonforums.com/forum/attachments/s-w-revolvers-1945-present/197490d1502204716-i-did-not-know-i-going-lose-control-pix546608695.jpg

    4. Should note that many RMs went to law enforcement agencies and some collectors do not consider them as desirable since the registration cards were never returned on those guns. I have one from 1938 that is inscribed as 1 of 50 (#27) for the Utah Highway Patrol. Appropriate since the Model 27 is the descendant of the RM.

    5. There is nothing like the old Smith And Wesson registered magnum. Don’t own one yet but maybe one day when the wive is not looking, or I hit the lottery. Wild Bill I’m like you I never get rid of a gun I still have the first gun I ever bought.
      A single shot Glenfield, 22 S, L, LR. Had it on layaway at Harts department store for three months. A lot of rounds down that barrel, but it still shoots just as good today.

    6. Hi inherited a Smith & Wesson model 19 California Highway Patrol commemorative from my brother-in-law in a display box I have no idea what it is worth

      1. @Jack Nicholls, Some people use the Blue Book of Gun Values as a rough guide. The “worth” of anything, however, including your inherited pistol is what the market says it is worth. Meaning your pistol is worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. So BBGV might say one thing, but the actual money carrying public may say something else. I, myself, personally, do not trade firearms for quickly devaluing paper currency. I will trade paper, with pretty pictures on it, for firearms.

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