When last heard from, the old guy here was talking about New Year’s Resolutions, and how a resolution not to buy any guns in 2022 would get in the way of my quest for the elusive S&W Model 12 4” barrel revolver I’ve been wanting for my collection.

My lovely bride and I spent Christmas with family in the frozen wastelands, and didn’t open our own gifts to one another until several days after the holiday, after our return home.  

And, behold: the Evil Sweet and Beautiful Princess had gifted me with the object of my desires. Complete with original box, a Smith & Wesson Model 12-3, with four inch barrel and round butt, found its gift-wrapped self under our Christmas tree.  

The quest for the grail has ended. This revolver is in pristine condition, without even a discernible turn-line on the cylinder.

It took her quite a while to hunt that thing down, and she won’t tell me what she paid for it, but I strongly suspect it’s more than would have paid for it.

And therein lies the rub. These rare models have gone out of sight price-wise.  The Scottish blood of my maternal grandfather cries, “Ye should nae shoot it, Laddie!”

But I want to shoot it. 

And, if there is a soul in its 4140 ordnance steel, its aluminum frame, and its checkered walnut stocks, it wants me to shoot it.

There is only one possible solution.

I obviously need a slightly worn, shooter-grade four-inch Model 12 Airweight .38 Special…


  1. Curious about the year of manufacture on this one. Probably another S & W that I wish I had bought back in the day it became available. Would it be +p rated?

    • My late gunsmith friend, Steve “the Greek” Vaniadis, said of aluminum frame revolver’s made before + P ratings, that they will take it, but you should carry often and shoot seldom. The gun’s won’t blow up, but will wear/loosen up a lot faster with + P.

    • “Curious about the year of manufacture on this one.”

      According to my references, the S&W Model 12-3 was made between 1977 and 1983. In 1982, S&W stopped pinning the barrel. I see from the above photograph that the displayed revolver has a pinned barrel. So, that places the date of manufacture between 1977 and 1982.

      I would need the serial number to “pin” it down to a more specific date (forgive the pun! 🙂 ).

      My own Model 12-4 was manufactured in late (about November?) 1983. It must have been one of the first Model 12-4’s to come off the line. It does not have a pinned barrel, of course, since it was made after the 1982 switch to non-pinned barrels.

      As noted above, none of the Model 12’s are strictly rated for +P ammo. Since they are built on the K-Frame, they should be strong enough for a limited diet.

      Actually, the pre-Model 12’s (built before 1957) and the Model’s 12 to 12-3 were built on a thinner KA Frame. S&W used special grips to accommodate the thinner frame. For this reason, standard K-Frame aftermarket grips will fit poorly on these revolvers. Mas, I recommend that you stick with the factory grips for your new gift. That is, unless you want to spring for custom grips that would be “hand-made” to fit your thinner KA frame.

      I believe that S&W also used a special, thinner hammer in these guns too. For the last of the Model 12’s (the 12-4), S&W changed to a standard K-Frame with standard width hammer. Therefore, aftermarket K-Frame grips fit just fine on my Model 12-4.

      I suppose that, in theory, my Model 12-4 is stronger than other Model 12’s. It’s frame is about 0.08 inches thicker. I don’t know if this means that my Model 12-4 will stand up to a diet of +P ammo better than older Model 12’s or not. I don’t see any reason to push it so I always fire standard pressure ammo in it.

  2. Mas,

    If the photo at the top of the page is actually your firearm, I do see a turn line on the cylinder, so it has been shot some. I say shoot it. Every firearm in my safe gets shot. The “valuable” ones just a little less to save on wear.

  3. “It took her quite a while to hunt that thing down, and she won’t tell me what she paid for it, but I strongly suspect it’s more than I would have paid for it.”

    Based upon this page:


    It was probably a “Pretty Penny”. Scroll down the above page and you will find a New-in-the-Box Model 12-3 (with 4″ barrel and square butt) being sold for $1,295.

    Prices for used ones are somewhat less, of course. However, this page also shows a used Model 12-2 (with 4″ barrel and round butt) in “Very Good” condition going for $799.99.

    I have an old S&W catalog (with Price list dated March 1, 1959) that shows the price for a blued Model 12 as being $65. The nickel plated version went for $73. If you take these prices and adjust them for inflation (Using the CPI calculator on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics web site), then the equivalent price (in Today’s dollars) would be $625 and $702 respectively for a NIB Model 12 revolver.

    Therefore, a NIB revolver looks to have appreciated in value at about double the rate of inflation. Even a good used one would have appreciated a bit more then what an inflated new one should cost.

    Therefore, once again, we can see that firearms are a good investment. If one purchases a desirable model and takes proper care of it, it should more than retain its value relative to inflation.

    My own Model 12-4 is not NIB. However, it has been so lightly used that the turn-line on the cylinder can only really been seen with magnification. Mine is the blued, square butt version with 4″ barrel.

  4. Well, technically you didn’t actually “buy” it so your resolution is still intact…technically!

  5. It appears your New Year’s Resolution is becoming a New Year’s Suggestion.

    The gift and the giver are both keepers.

  6. You are correct.
    You NEED a shooter grade one now.
    That doesn’t count against your resolution becase you are only getting it to protect the gift your lovely bride gave you.
    It would be inconsiderate to damage that one so the only thing to be done is to buy it a friend.

  7. Just 3 or 4 years ago found a pristine Detective Special on a gun show table. No turn line, and the Colt logo and words on the barrel were crisp and appeared to have gold leaf rubbed into them. There was no evidence of carbon accumulation on cylinder or forcing cone. Someone probably bought it before GCA 1968 and shoved it in a sock drawer. Asking price, $525. It lettered to a department store in Seattle in 1968.
    I carry and shoot it. It’s a gun. I might feel differently were it a 1st generation SAA in that condition, but this one begs me to be carried.

    • Wondering if this was the model of the handgun in the intros to the old Dragnet films. The beauty of the rich brass color of the cartridge cases in the open cylinder is unforgettable. And the words of Sergeant Joe Friday: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

  8. That’s really cool Mas. Shoot or not to shoot? Well ultimately it’s your choice, but once awhile ago I attended an antiques fair and there was a couple with these three-hundred year old wine glasses which cost slightly more than their age in pounds. Each. And they were drinking wine from them. And when asked why, they said it was because it was what they were for.

    Either way, that was a really cool gift from the Princess. Happy 2022

  9. Reminds me of the Model 15 I carried when I was a reserve police officer in Mission, Kansas back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. When I first started on the department we all had to provide our own sidearms. It was a trade-in from the KCMO PD and was among a group of that model available at the Law Enforcement Equipment Company. Later, the department issued beautiful heavy-barrelled Smith Model 65’s to the entire department (we carried .38 Special +P hollow points in lieu of the .357 ammo the gun was designed to handle). I occasionally kick myself because for some unknown reason, I decided to sell that Model 15. Wish I still had it.

    • Cool! I bought one of those KCMO PD trade-in 15s myself, and had Ron Power make a custom PPC gun out of it. Won a bunch of stuff with that Power gun.

  10. Those light weight M and P style revolvers are nice weapons for second belt guns along with a LW Commander since you get two weapons for the weight of one all steel weapon,
    Best of course in nickel finish.
    I had Smith make me one with a four inch bull barrel and it was even better than the skinny barrel as only slightly heavier but much better with the extra weight out front for indexing and repeat follow up shots.A photo of it is in my book on K frame revolvers published by Collector Grade by the way.
    Enjoy your new weapon!

    • Mr. Mullin:

      Is your book on the S&W K frame revolvers going to be re-printed? I have your books Magnum and Serious Smith & Wessons ordered from Collector Grade Publications and need the third one to complete my collection, but will not pay the $300+ for a used copy asked by sellers on ebay.

  11. Happy New Year, Mass. I’d say your quest has only taken a brief pause. If THE GIFT is in pristine, collector condition, I suggest it remain so.

    However, a short while ago, an avid gun enthusiast was all to happy to relate his latest acquisition, “I recently snapped up an XYZ from So-n-So Gun Shoppe. It’s not that I NEEDED it. But I WANTED it.”

    I have taken his philosophy to heart and purchased a firearm or two for just that reason. So, continue your quest. A shootable Model 12 with a 4” barrel is out there. Somewhere. Good luck!

  12. Judging from the photo, your S&W is not in absolutely mint condition, so in my humble opinion, go ahead and shoot it, but only with very light loads and limit your shots.

    I’m currently trying to track down an older very good to excellent condition S&W model 27 with 3 1/2″ barrel in blued finish for a decent price. Of course, that description gun and decent price is an oxymoron nowadays.

  13. Oooh, pretty.

    I concur with Glypto: there is a faint line on the cylinder. Sooo, ya might as well shoot it with light loads (to be kind to the aluminum).

    Happy New Year to you and Gail.

  14. Total nonsense Mas, they are made to be shot. What are you planning to do, tell St Pete at the pearly gates that you owned a model 12 that you foolishly never shot. That’s the point where I see you repeating the swift kick in your own rump for NOT shooting it while you were among the mortals. Shoot it without regrets

  15. I think you’re right, Mas, don’t shoot it. But I can shoot it for ya, just to make sure it works! I think the Princess will be happy either way, but if you do shoot it save it for you’re next anniversary to shoot the cork off a nice bottle of bubbly. Wishing you many more, anniversaries & guns, that is.

  16. Since these Model 12 revolvers are generally not rated for a steady diet of +P ammunition, what would be a good standard pressure round to use?

    Range ammo is (relatively) easy. There are numerous makers of standard-pressure 158 gr. LRN and 130 gr. FMJ ammo for range use. However, a non +P defensive round is a different story.

    Hornady makes versions of its critical defense ammo in non +P form. Winchester makes a bonded 130 gr. JHP and Federal makes a 110 gr. Hydra-shok round. I can’t find any of these currently for sale on the internet, however. Probably would not find them in local gun shops either.

    Underwood makes a 100 gr. Defender round. I see it for sale on the Midway site but it is dear.

    Buffalo bore makes 158 gr. LHP and 125 gr. JHP standard pressure loads. They are out of stock on the 125 gr. JHP (at the moment) but they have the 158 gr. LHP load for sale. Again, the price is dear but “those are the times in which we live”.

    If one looks around, one may also find 148 gr. wadcutter ammo for sale. Some people recommend it for defensive use in non +P revolvers. I have my doubts about this but a wadcutter round would likely be better than a plain LRN bullet.

    What do you say, Mas? Any standard pressure .38 Special ammo recommendations in these pandemic times when such ammo is scarce as “Hen’s Teeth”?

    • I’d be looking at the midrange wadcutters, bro. Sellier & Bellot can be found on some of the online ammo sales sites, and quality control is decent.

      • No doubt, what you say is true. Nevertheless, I still have my doubts about using wadcutters for self-defense. I can’t believe that a wadcutter will ever work like a well-designed hollow-point.

        Also, wadcutters are difficult to speed reload. Whether you use speed strips or a speed loaded, the flat faces of wadcutters just don’t want to load in a hurry.

        This is the great thing about the Hornady FTX style bullets. Their pointy noses will speed-load slick and fast.

        Fortunately, I still have a couple of boxes of Hornady standard pressure 110 gr. Critical Defense and a couple of boxes of the old Federal 125 gr. Nyclad standard pressure hollow points on-hand. So, I am not yet driven to use wadcutters just yet.

      • If you don’t plan on carrying this piece for serious use, just shoot some light reloads in it. For practice with my various J frame S&W revolvers, I load a 158 grain lead or plated bullet with 3.0 grains of Bullseye powder. Even an alloy framed revolver will last forever with this light load. I keep Speer 135 grain Gold Dot +P ammo in it for bad guys/gals and only carry it for backup purposes.

  17. Thanks for the laugh :- ). I appreciate your conclusion…if financial attitudes are genetic, I inherited mine from my great-grandfather, who grew up during the Depression. And, every firearm needs a sibling. My question: What does the Princess say in answer to this conundrum? No matter what she says, you win — either you shoot it, or you end up adopting a sibling :- ).

  18. I was going to say that your resolution is still intact, hadn’t bought anything. But, it obviously needs a twin brother that has seen some use, so… I mean, it’s SO OBVIOUS that it needs a brother.

  19. “There is only one possible solution. I obviously (also) need a slightly worn, shooter-grade four-inch Model 12 Airweight .38 Special…”

    Ha ha!

    And when you get it, I would say stick to a limited number of wadcutter target rounds (or handloaded rounds that are yet weaker). When you broaden your visage by taking another trainer’s intense high round count class, bring something else! And not for bowling pin competition, either!

  20. Congratulations Mas and Gail did great! I have a 2” bbl Nickel Model 12 I got in the ‘80s while stationed at NAS Cecil Field Florida. It’s a accurate revolver. MAG40

  21. I wish S&W would make a basic 3 inch barrel aluminum frame, fixed sight K-Frame 38SPL+P revolver. I believe such a “Pro-Model” revolver with a flush to the frame spurless DAO hammer would appeal to a lot of revolver lovers – without breaking the bank.

    I suspect the empty weight would come in just under 20 ounces and in the neighborhood of 22 ounces loaded. The 3 inch tube should get the +P velocity levels up to consistent “expansion” levels with modest recoil.

    I believe there are many who would appreciate just how easy such a light, snag free, belt revolver is to live with.

  22. With respect to shooting +P ammo in a S&W Model 12, there is a guy over on the S&W Forum that put over 1,000 rounds of +P ammo through a S&W Model 12-2 (with 2 inch barrel) with no apparent problems and no measurable damage. See this link:


    Statistically, a test performed on a single Model 12 does not establish any kind of durability lifespan for these revolvers. However, it does show that you are unlikely to get a catastrophic failure by shooting a few cylinders of +P ammo through one.

    What the actually durability of these revolvers is, with +P ammo, remains unknown. It might even be variable. For example, it is likely that S&W improved the strength of the alloy, used in the frames, over time. Age and use is also a factor. Therefore, it may be that older Model 12’s would have a shorter lifespan, under +P use, than later generation revolvers made in the 1980’s. I have already noted that the Model 12-4 revolvers have a slightly thicker frame (+ 0.08 inch) than older generation guns.

    In addition, +P ammo varies in terms of the pressure it generates. Some of it, like the Buffalo Bore stuff, may push the upper limit of +P pressures. Other factory rounds may produce pressures that are barely over the Standard Pressure limit.

    In summary, I suspect that any “hand-wringing” over the strength of these Model 12 revolvers, under +P pressures, is overblown (no pun intended! 🙂 ). Few of us will put enough +P ammo through one of these revolvers to really wear it out. With today’s ammo prices, few of use could afford to buy enough ammo to wear one out! 🙂

    • One of my backup guns is a S&W model 37 with 2″ barrel and spurless hammer. It has over a 150 rounds of +P ammo, mostly Speer 135 grain Gold Dot, fired through it without any ill effects. I fire off the five rounds I keep in the revolver each year and replace them with 5 new cartridges. I’ve owned this S&W 37 for over 30 years now and it still functions perfectly. My similar sized two year old S&W 642 is rated for +P ammo and so marked on it’s barrel.

      • What engineering change is your Model 37?

        In 1997, starting with the Model 37-3, S&W began building the Model 37 on the Magnum J-Frame. So, all of these later models, built in 1997 or later, are rated OK for +P ammo.

        It is only the older Model 37’s, built prior to 1997, that are not (technically) rated to fire +P ammo.

        Another quick check. Does your Model 37 have a pinned barrel. If so, it was made prior to 1982 and would certainly not be rated for +P ammo.

        In a similar way, S&W began building the Model 642 (the M642-1) on the Magnum J-Frame in 1996. So, all M-642’s, built after 1996, should be OK with +P ammo as well.

        I also have a recent Model 642. It is a Performance Center Model and it is also rated to be just fine with +P ammo.

    • OMG, njk you are right! I am clearly drifting away from my usual self. I am in “Gun guy” mode rather than “Political guy” mode. 🙂

      Not to worry. I promise to revert to type in my first post in Mas’ next blog.

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