When Smith & Wesson introduced the now-legendary Registered Magnum in 1935, the United States was in the middle of the Great Depression. Even so, that didn’t stop them from offering what was their most expensive revolver to date.
The entire gun was a custom order. You chose the barrel length (anything between 3 1/2″ and 8 3/8″ in 1/4″ increments was fair game), dozens of sight choices, different grips, blue or nickel finish, etc. The buyer could also specify a specific type of ammo to be used for sighting in the gun at any distance up to 200 yards.
Shipped with each gun was a registration card. If you filled it out and mailed it back, the factory would send you a handsome certificate for framing that included your name, the specifics of the gun, and the registration number marked in the yoke. Less than half of the guns sold had the cards returned for certificates, so guns that do have that extra piece of paperwork command even more money.
If you happen to have a Registered Magnum that has either been separated from its certificate or never had one to begin with, a replica can be had from the Smith & Wesson Historical Foundation. They cost $100.
Want to make it even more rare? The survival rate of the cardboard tubes in which Smith & Wesson mailed out the certificates is exceptionally low. As a result, they command hundreds of dollars by themselves. One sold recently on eBay for $340. That’s right – $340 for an empty piece of cardboard.
Because each one was unique, the average production time was 6 weeks. This all added up to a costly gun. In 1935, the average S&W K frame revolver cost $22-25. A Registered Magnum would set you back $60 – or, two weeks’ pay for the average worker.
That was a lot of money, and the guns were a lot of work for the factory. Approximately 5,224 were made between 1935 and October 16, 1939 when Harold Wesson issued instructions to stop marking the guns with registration numbers. The gun lived on, though, in what would eventually become the Model 27. The more utilitarian Model 28, or Highway Patrolman, is also of the same lineage.
Some big names in history have owned these gorgeous guns. Their ranks include J. Edgar Hoover, Elmer Keith, Ed McGivern, Jimmy Stewart, and George Patton, just to name a few. Hoover received the coveted Registration #1.
Today, the guns still command a premium. They routinely fetch tens of thousands of dollars, though some can be had for less than $10,000 – if you’re in the right place at the right time.
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.