Obscure Object of Desire: Smith & Wesson Safety Hammerless (1st Model) in .32 S&W


Last weekend, I was at a friend’s mancave discussing some business. As usual, the topic of guns came up. As I was getting ready to leave he said he had something to show me. Out of his safe came the unusual case you see above made of ostrich skin. Before I opened it up, I knew this was going to be something special. I admired the fine stitching and craftsmanship with simple soldered buttons that went into making the case. After I opened it and pulled out the diminutive gat, I chastised my good friend for not making me wear some linen gloves to handle this museum piece . . .


If you look closely, you can see two of my mitt prints on it.

As best as I can tell by serial number, this beauty was made around 1899. Some info on the pistol from Wikipedia:

The Smith & Wesson .38 Safety Hammerless models were produced from 1887 (1888 for the 32) to just before World War II. They were chambered in either .32 S&W or .38 S&W with a five-shot cylinder. They were most often produced with a 2-inch, 3-inch, or 3.5-inch barrels; but some 6″ barrelled versions are known to exist.[1]

These top-break revolvers were designed for fast reloading and concealed carry as the hammer was internal and would not snag on drawing the revolver from a pocket. They were known as “The New Departure” to reflect the company’s new approach to designing revolvers.[1]

Minor design changes were made to these revolvers over the years, resulting in several different design models, as termed by collectors. The first model was manufactured between 1887-1902. The 38 was based on S&W’s medium frame, while the 32 was based on the smaller sized “1½” frame.[2][3]

The Safety Hammerless is also know as the lemon squeezer. Why? I’m glad you asked.

It’s not that slightly raised hump to the right of the S&W medallion ensconced in the stunning mother of pearl grips. That’s a grip safety. Yup. JMB had a good idea including a grip safety on the venerable 1911, but it was preceded by a few years. In doing some reading on this beauty, I found that it was designed this way so that a child couldn’t accidentally pick it up and shoot it. The grip safety on this beauty is pretty stiff.

Not to sound all Shannon-esque, but apparently children accidentally shooting others was a problem back in the day.

The reason the Safety Hammerless is called the lemon squeezer is because of its resemblance to the kitchen tool when broken open.

After close inspection, I doubt whether this specimen has ever been fired. Maybe by the factory, but not since. Unfortunately, the cylinder has been turned and you can see a very light score mark. The bluing and polish work on the 117 year old is stunning. It’s better than my Colt Python. I didn’t try the trigger. Somehow, it seemed wrong in my mind to dry fire such a beaut.


After a careful wipe down with a soft cloth, this little gem was slipped back into its remarkable case and went back into the safe.

My friend has no plans to shoot the inherited piece. It only comes out of the safe in the man cave during times of quiet contemplation.


  1. avatar Gunsplain says:

    That there is a “my wife left me with nothing but my guns and I need a nest egg” gun.

    Like, I wouldn’t even tell my wife about that gun.

  2. avatar LNJK says:

    Love vintage firearms, as they truly tell the advancement of civilization through industrial development.

    1. avatar Wood says:

      …and the decline in craftsmanship and quality that comes with modern manufacturing models.

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:


  3. avatar Ian says:

    I always wanted a break action revolver. ?

    1. avatar Gruney says:

      I think NAA just came out with one. Won’t take up much space. I don’t know why the break-tops went away. A little longer? Not as strong? Please regale us with the “rest of the story”.

  4. avatar reggie says:

    that is SWEET ! thanks for sharing.

  5. avatar Geoff PR says:

    That… Is a real beauty, Tom…

  6. avatar Cliff H says:

    The true joy of owning something like this is the chance to share it with others who appreciate its beauty and significance. Thanks to you and your buddy.

  7. avatar Chris says:

    I like old machinery even more when it has been used. Still, it is cool to see what stuff looked like new on the shelf a century ago.

  8. avatar James69 says:

    Very nice revolver. It’s a fantastic design and I’m suprised that no one has made a modern version. Imagine a .357 snub topbreak like this. I’d buy one if the price was right. A revolver with a safety. Do you think browning pinched this idea when building the 1911??

  9. avatar jwm says:

    My brother inherited a, I shit you not, a shoebox, full of revolvers from his FIL that was stored under the old guys bed. Now it’s stord under my brothers bed.

    In addition to a snubbie model 10, a model 36 and a colt .22 there was a lemon squeezer in .38. Complete with the same flashygrips. I have a standig offer on the box, with contents, should he ever want to sell it off.

    Somepeople are lucky. All we’ll get when my FIL passes is a lot of bay area property.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      ” All we’ll get when my FIL passes is a lot of bay area property.”

      I’ve got pretty good idea on what SF real estate goes for, once you sell some of that property off you can afford most any gun you want…

      1. avatar sagebrushracer says:

        hell, you could afford to get a winter home in AZ and still afford anything you wanted, once you get state residency anyplace but CA, the world is your oyster!

  10. avatar Rick the Bear says:


    You didn’t pull the “what’s that outside the window” trick and pinch that beauty? What self-control! 8>)

  11. avatar Jaffas says:

    I am a fan of any old treasure. My plane is 60 and has aged very well but this piece of art is absolutely beautiful!
    Thanks for sharing this!!

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      60 is just middle-aged when comes to light aircraft…

  12. avatar AW1Ed says:

    Patton: They’re ivory. Only a pimp from a cheap New Orleans whorehouse would carry a pearl-handled pistol.


  13. avatar iCONOCLAST says:

    “Mancave”, is that still a thing?

    1. avatar James69 says:

      Do ya remember when it was the “manhouse” WTF happened???

    2. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      It really is kind of a cave. Concrete walls, no windows. And decorated with posters, and album cover art. It’s a nice comfy room.

      1. avatar reggie says:

        If those grips happen to be ivory instead of pearl, he needs to hide them from Salem, if it’s in the NW, As the Btards (in Salem) I believed outlawed all ivory, regardless of age last year.

      2. avatar reggie says:

        Oh and let me guess, it spent its early life, only being carried ( by a little old lady) to church on Sundays. Nothing like a low mileage original.

      3. avatar Anonymous says:

        Is it under the ground? Lol

      4. avatar Stinkeye says:

        Yep, nothing says “comfy” like a windowless concrete room…

  14. avatar Ralph says:

    As an admitted Smith & Wesson weenie, I salute your buddy, Tom. And maybe I also hate him just a little.

  15. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    A lemon squeezer is on my list, they are kind of hard to find not used up though. What a beauty.

  16. avatar Another Robert says:

    Am I wrong, or is that case designed like a ladies’ coin purse? I think this may have been marketed with the distaff side in mind.

  17. avatar jlp says:

    I have similar memories of a 1960’s Body Guard I bought in 38 special. It was unfired and was designed to shoot right out of the pocket without jamming up because the hammer was protected by a high back shroud. I regret a million times over selling it. What was even worse it was the much rarer nickel plated model. Now that Smith is making cast iron garbage I cannot go out and simply by a new one. I have haunted the gun shows but only found very beat up abused specimens that had the usual drug through the parking lot by a rope marks on the finish and the usual cylinder shot to hell end play in them and of course the Yo-yo selling this worn out disaster wanted 10 times more than it was worth. Still I hope someday to find one that has not been beat to hell and shot to hell and yes I probably would pay more than what is was worth because today all I can buy new is pure garbage.

    1. avatar Jjimmyjonga says:

      I do not consider my 627’s “garbage”….I think they are really well made and worth the $1200 I paid.

      1. avatar jlp says:

        Just cross your fingers and hope the junk MIM cast parts in it do not break when you need the gun to save the life of you or your family.

        1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          There nothing particularly wrong with the MIM process.

        2. avatar jlp says:

          I am hoping they get this process perfected someday. But in all seriousness where there is smoke there is fire and I have seen other Gunsmiths on the internet condemn the parts for being extremely brittle. I have seen people post pictures of shattered MIM cast parts. This does not instill a lot of confidence in them for me personally. The process itself involves mixing plastic with powdered metal and compressing it and heat treating it and when the plastic is removed it supposedly has more porosity than even traditional castings. At the failure rate that keeps being reported and discussed along with a few firearms companies now bragging they are refusing to even use them like Seecamp and Detonics this again gives the layman real pause for thought.

        3. avatar sagebrushracer says:

          ya, MIM is not a bad technology. Jet turbine fins are MIM, and you don’t see the news rife with jetliners plummeting out of the sky ever day.

          As with any fabrication technique, you can produce high quality stuff or garbage.

  18. avatar jwtaylor says:

    Wow. Thanks.

    1. avatar jlp says:

      In the ‘Good Old Days” of the 1950’s my Uncle had a barber shop in a small Ohio town. I remember him showing me a gun like that. He emphasized that the hard trigger pull and grip safety was so kids would have difficulty shooting it if they found it lying around somewhere. I found out later my Uncle carried the gun when he took money to the bank.

      The picture brought back memories of a past America before giant shopping malls, credit cards, cell phones, freeways, and yes I even remember what it was like before there were TV sets. I am not joking. I have seen entire small towns actually disappear off the map gobbled up by urban sprawl, swamps filled in, farms disappear by the hundreds and what was left had no hunting signs posted everywhere. No more signs that said “Pumpkins for sale for a 5 cts. or Coca-Cola for a nickel or chips for 10 cts or a brand new Savage Fox Double Barrel for $100 dollars (which I bought) Now we live on a different planet.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Pretty much mirrors my experience. It’s like waking up in a foreign country.

        When I was a kid these break top .32 and .38 were everywhere. A lot of them lived their lives in nightstands and dresser drawers and were shot little, if at all. There must still be a metric shit ton of them out there in attics, basements and garages. Packed away and forgotten when they cleaned out a dead uncle or grandparents house.

  19. avatar FormerWaterWalker says:

    Very nice and minty fresh piece…

  20. avatar Paul53 says:

    Beautiful piece! And kudos to the ostrich that donated his cojones to protect it!

  21. avatar Sixpack70 says:

    Nice! I wish my S&W Model 1 second issue was in this nice of shape. Mine is missing some nickel and a screw in the side is broken. It’s still a really cool little pocket pistol that I can’t fire easily as it chambered in .22 black powder short.

  22. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    Yes, you should be wearing cotton gloves to handle a fine gun like that.

    Thanks for writing this up. As soon as I opened up this posting and saw a lemon squeezer in MINT condition, my day was made. Thank you.

  23. avatar Rob says:

    I remember a barber shop in NJ (gasp!) that had one of these on the wall when I was a kid. I’d walk past , on my way to school, and imagine the valiant barber fending off stick-up men.

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