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.
A Registered Magnum is right up at the top of my “if I don’t have to worry about the price” handgun list. If I had the cash laying around and a Registered Magnum and a Python were laying there side by side on the table, I’d have to wait to find another Python. I know there are plenty who will argue with me, but, for my money, S&W figured out what a revolver is supposed to be.
I want a 6” Chrome or Nickel Python. The bluing that Colt did back then was absolutely beautiful, but I love the Chrome and Nickel finishes for some reason. If I’m being given one as a pass down, don’t care about the finish, but if I’m spending the money, I want silver.
Nothing wrong with that. I have a nickel S&W model 19. Love it. Not a python or an RM but I love it all the same.
I’m perfectly content with my 1980s vintage Security Six. I’m a simple man.
Nothing wrong with that either. I certainly won’t turn my nose up at one of SR&Co’s wheel guns.
I have a stainless (Model 66). I’ve always worried about the finish on a nickel 19. But they are beautifully polished vs the stainless smooth stainless finish. I don’t care for S&W new Model 66 with the sandblasted finish.
I have a nickel 8 3/8″ S&W .41 Mag because my FFL could not find me a blued one.
I like bigger barrels, but I just cannot like a revolver without a full under-lug. Pythons, GP100’s, some of the 686’s, 629’s, etc. It just bothers my OCD or something. Those 8+” barrels are crazy huge too, like those 10” 460/500’s.
@ Jon in CO
That’s interesting, I’m just the opposite. The full underlug looks worse to my eyes – always liked the S&W 66 better than the 686 for instance.
My favorite local gun store just recently got in a 1962 nickle plated Python that was made by Colt’s custom shop. They are asking for $4,500 for it which is way out of my price range right now, but they did let me take a look at it. That Python truly is a thing of beauty, and it is impossible for me to describe just how light and smooth its action is.
I’m pretty sure Colt sold more than 5000 Pythons so the RM would be the obvious choice. Might be a while before you see another one just lying on a table.
Yeah, I know. Just contrasting what i think is the most desirable revolver and what many would argue is the most desirable. Never seen a table so rarefied as to have both on it at the same time anyway.
Throw down an unconverted Ru ger Blackhawk in .44 magnum with a serial number under 740 and you’d really have something.
Yup, you’d have three guns on a table that I want but can’t afford.
MN, I’m a Ruger-nut, but I’d probably plop my money down on the Registered Magnum. I’d actually like to collect (primarily) revolvers from the first half of the 20th century. There’s a lot of pieces out there that aren’t that expensive, especially in the lighter calibers. Of course, the RM is not one of those.
I can’t claim to be a serious collector in the traditional sense – my “collection” such that it is, consists of whatever I thought was interesting or useful at the time – but I could definitely see myself getting pretty deep into cartridge revolvers if time and funds allowed. Among other things, I’d love to land myself a Schofield, the RM obviously, and many other Smiths and plenty of Colts as well as some others would certainly interest me. Too many guns, not enough time (or money).
That was my thought as well. Pythons are relatively rare, but even in my little mountain town I’ve seen a couple in the wild. Never seen a registered magnum though
That engraved one is gorgeous!
Please see above^^^^^^^
I’ve been wicked good this year.
Lake County Examiner, Lakeview, Oregon: Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
Letters To The Editor
Introduced jointly in 1935 by Smith and Wesson and Winchester, the .357 Magnum, originally designed by Major Doug Wesson, Phil Sharpe: a ballistician, and gun scribe writer Elmer Keith, is now 80. The .357 Magnum, and it’s parent caliber the .38 Special, were formerly the quintessential law enforcement handgun of the 20th century. Since mass conversion from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols commenced in the late 1980’s/ early 1990’s, revolvers seldom appear in cop’s holsters. However, the historic revolver remains laudable.
Both .38 Special and .357 Magnum revolvers continue to offer versatility for autonomous citizens, including the individual owning one handgun. .38’s and .357’s remain ideal for self defense/ house protection/ concealed carry, and likewise for the great outdoors. Even the .44 Magnum, introduced in 1956, especially in Alaska.
Classic Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum revolvers included the K-Frame S&W Model 19 and 66 “stainless” .357 Combat Magnum revolvers, and the two heavier N-Frame .357 Magnums: the S&W Model 27 and 28 Highway Patrolman, respectively. Other classic .357 Magnum revolvers, though now discontinued from production, were the Colt Python (the Cadillac of .357’s), Colt’s Trooper Mark III, and Ruger’s Security Six and Blackhawk single action revolver.
View online “hickok45” and “Larry Vickers and Magnum Revolvers.” Also, “The War on Guns” via http://www.DavidCodrea.com. No. A person owning only a .38 Special or .357 Magnum revolver remains well protected, armed, and secured.
Remember: No substitute exists for accuracy, reliability, versatility, and safety. With the revolver it’s still “six shots for sure!”
James A. Farmer, Ashland
Now a resident of Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)
While attending the bi-annual Jefferson State Shooter’s Association gun show at the
Klamath County Fairgrounds (Klamath Falls) today on Saturday, Dec. 1st, 2018 I reiterated on the final sentence in this letter to a gun seller: “If a person owns a .38 caliber revolver: .38 Special or .357 Magnum and is competent, safe, sane, and knows how to properly shoot they don’t require and arsenal. He agreed 100% with my sentiment. There was a nice pre-Model 27 Smith and Wesson (N-Frame) .357 Magnum revolver with 6.5” barrel with partridge front sight for sale. Price was around $1,100.00. This was a gorgeous classic revolver, though not an original pre-World War II (1939-1945) Smith “Registered Magnum.” and Wesson commenced assigning model numbers to their handguns in 1957.
Those PreWar Smiths with long action are sweet.
I have PreWar 22 Outdoorsman that is my most accurate handgun. More accurate than my Clark Ruger auto.
Nice piece of art that fun to shoot.
J Edgar Hoover’s name should not be on that list of great names, is what I think.
Revisionist. I suppose you’re in the “what if” History Club.
Yeah, maybe it should say “notable people”
I can say the same about Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ): the worst president in American history, Earl Warren and his nine justices of high treason on the Warren Supreme Court,
including the Burger Supreme Court, Ted Kennedy, Thomas Dodd (D) of Connecticut:
framer of the damnable odious 1968 Federal Gun Control Act and one of LBJ’s
lieutenants in the U.S. Senate from that era and various other career criminal politicians from our nation’s more recent shameful past!
These are wonderful revolvers. Truly.
Then again, many of the pre-war S&W revolvers are very, very nice. Not quite in the same league as Python nice, but right up there.
The Pythons were well made and finished but they still had that crappy Colt trigger that stacked like crazy.
I have owned 2, a 4 inch nickle and a 6 inch blue.
Traded one for the pre-war 22 Outdoorsman.
Sold the other and bought 2 Smith and Wesson model 27s.
They are masterfully made, but i can shoot a cheaper smith much better.
I tend to tell people: “Collect Colts, Shoot S&W’s.”
Ha. Well said. Other than the Python, the Colts that bring the highest coin are the ones that were market failures.
Diamondback, Peacekeeper, etc.
“anything between 3 1/2″ and 8 3/8″ in 1/4″ increments was fair game”, how do you get to 8 3/8″ in 1/4 ” increments starting at 3 1/2″? Just curious.
What’s an eighth of an inch between friends?
I read somewhere that they originally went up to 8 3/4″, but match rules of the day caused them to change to 8 3/8″ as the longest barrel length.
The NRA publication National Rifleman did a page on it back in the 90’s It wasn’t “registered” the way we think of firearms registration these days, the revolver was so unique at the time that it was registered to the owner by S&W
“Registered” S&W Magnum? Why Yes…In Massachusetts the S&W Magnums are indeed “REGISTERED…” If of course, YOU have a valid, local PD issued LTC……
awesome article, thanks!
I own a 27 -2 3 1/2 blued it’s early 80s I believe mint , love shooting it . Not sure I’d let it go for any money
That’s me though. Value is an individual thing when it comes to guns
Register or not Just my two cents literally
i have a mod 27. how can tell if a Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum.