by Wiley Clapp - Monday, January 07, 2013
One of the sought-after “Holy Grails” of Smith & Wesson collecting is a nice clean specimen of the 1st Model .44 Hand Ejector—the Triple Lock. This classic revolver was introduced as the “New Century” model and was produced from 1908 to 1915. Approximately 20,000 revolvers were made in this short period of time. It was an expensive gun that required a great deal of hand-fitting. Since it was popular with military officers who liked the big .44 and .45 cartridges for which it was chambered, many of the guns were pressed into service in the early months of World War I. Wartime experience with the gun’s finest feature—a precisely fitted third cylinder lock—may have caused the gun to be discontinued. That lock system was not fully reliable under the muddy, dirty conditions of trench warfare.
Nevertheless, it was a marvel of precision manufacturing matched to hand finishing. Modern shooters might easily miss the third lock that differentiates a Triple Lock from a current production Classic Series Model 21 .44 Spl. That classic N-frame revolver is in essence a “double lock” because it has a latch or lock at the rear end of the center pin at the rear end of the cylinder. Another is at the extreme front end of the ejector rod where in engages a spring-loaded plunger in the barrel underlug. On the Triple Lock, there’s a third lock on the swing out yolk. Here, a hardened insert engages a spring loaded plunger in the underside of the barrel underlug. All three locks work in marvelous synchronization because those wonderful craftsmen at Springfield fitted it all together. They are magnificent guns and were appreciated in their own time. Mint or lightly used guns are hard to find, as these guns were used hard.
It would be a hard gun to copy, but it was done. I know that to be true, because I have seen, handled and fired a beautiful copy of the Smith & Wesson Triple Lock revolver. The gun was in a small arms museum in the Amadeo Rossi industrial complex in Sao Leopoldo, Brazil.
Although it is generally unknown to Americans, Rossi has many products and services in Brazil and firearms production is a small part of its business. The company maintains a beautiful little museum with an assortment of prototypes and other guns. Browsing the aisles, I was drawn to the array of handguns and noticed what appeared to be a 4-inch Model 29. When taken from its case, I saw that it wasn’t.
Hand-made by a former director of engineering, the one-of-a-kind revolver was a very close copy of the S&W .44. It had the heavier frame, straight-tapered barrel and adjustable sights of a modern Model 29, but it also had the triple locking system of the turn-of-the century model. The engineer was apparently enthralled with complex mechanism, and made the gun from scratch just to see if he could do it. Obviously he could as the gun was beautifully rendered. I was even allowed to fire the unique revolver on the company’s range. Rossi can make some beautiful stuff when they want to do so.
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