Sunday, August 26, 2007

Harrington + Richardson top break .38 S+W

(click photos to enlarge)

A recent acquisition for the collection, and presented as received, is this little bit of history. A Harrington and Richardson top break revolver in .38 S+W.

H+R built these little jewels from the turn of the century till just before WWII. Coming in .32 Smith+Wesson, .32 Long, and .38 Smith+Wesson, they were never over powered by any means.

The top break revolver did not have a cylinder that swung out, but a frame that pivoted open revealing the rear of the cylinder. The early models did not have an automatic extractor, instead using a manual rod like a typical modern revolver with a swing out cylinder. Later models, like this, used an automatic extractor that ejected the shells rather smartly if the pistol was operated with authority.

One issue that plagued the concept was occasional jamming. If the star extractor managed to get above a case that did not get thrown clear, the case would fall back into the chamber and the extractor would seat above the case. This effectively jammed up the gun till it could be cleared manually, which took some small effort. It was something that happened rarely, and usually only when the shooter failed to let the extractor eject the cases as it was built to.

This particular pistol is in excellent mechanical condition. The grips are original and intact, something mildly unusual as the plastic often got damaged over the years. It has known some rust, but not too badly. All in all it’s a decent example that will clean up nicely and is fully functional.

This later model is chambered in .38 S+W, an anemic cartridge by today’s standards.

I have pictured it next to a .38 special, a round considered minimal for defensive use today. It’s practically dwarfed alongside the ,357 magnum, although the family resemblance of all three is unmistakable. They are in fact a continuation on a theme, in each instance the case being extended to increase capacity, velocity, and stopping power.

Pictured alongside its contemporaries, the .32 S+W and the .32 long, the .38 S+W does show why it might have been preferred in its day. While the .32 long tossed a 100-grain lead slug along at 650 fps, the .38 S+W hit the same velocity with a 158-grain bullet.

Today a 158 grain .38 special moseys along at 850 fps and is considered just barely adequate.

This pistol will be stripped down, detail cleaned, and then spend some time at the range.

While not a whiz bang polymer high capacity high intensity wonder gun, it is a solid piece of history with generations of enjoyment and service left in it. Ammunition is available, and even when not it’s especially easy to make from its offspring, the.38 special.

The American public purchased these pistols in the hundreds of thousands, with over a million being produced. While some makes were of questionable quality, the H+R built top break pistols were nearly on a par with Smith and Wesson.

Favored by shop keepers and home owners desiring some simple protection generations ago, this type of pistol is frequently found today in decent usable condition, and can be had for reasonable prices. There is a collectors market, but its usually a low dollar one. A pistol of this make and condition can often be found for under $150 with a bit of searching.

Another neat firearm for the collection!


ppjl said...

I have a Harrington + Richardson top break auto ejceting 32 sw CTGE. Can you tell me where to go to get a value on this pistol.


Carteach0 said...

Not really. They have a small collector following, but generally remain quite low priced even when in excellent condition. $100 to $200 seems about average.

Anonymous said...

I just got my grandfathers H&R 38 S&W. I have been trying to clean it. The pistol is very clean and next to no rust. Everything works perfect, BUT the ejector wont pop up every time. The more I clean it the better it does. I there a chance for a drawing or pictures of how to disassemble this pistol. I want it because it belonged to my Coal Miner Grandfather. He told me stories of ball bats and pistols in the unionizing of the mine in Illinois. I believe this one may have been in his pocket.
sn# 114478 38 S&W ctge 3 1/4 in barrel

Carteach0 said...


I have been unable to find an exploded diagram of an H+R top break revolver. The NRA assembly books show an Iver Johnson, with is fairly close.

A competent gunsmith should be able to check and service the pistol, or you may wish to just soak it in a quality solvent for a few days (PB blaster perhaps).

Anonymous said...

Thaks for the time. I did soak the pistol and now the ejector work great. Thank You

Anonymous said...

I need to appraise for inheritance estate tax purposes an Harrington & Richardson Arms Inc Top Break .38 S&W CTGE 5 shot serial #165823 with documentation indicating it was used in WWI.
Any clues?

Anonymous said...

You might try Gun Digest Book of Firearms Assembly/Disassembly: Part 3. I believe it is about page 168 shows how to assemble it. You can also check with Numrich for a part list. Thier's does not show an exploded view however.

Anonymous said...

I'm having a problem with my h&r 38 s&w. It seems the automatic extractor is not closing all the way, thus the pistol is not closing. Any ideas on how this might be fixed? said...

I have this exact pistol. An H&R 38 S&W 1896. Hamerless, stainless in almost perfect condition. I am wanting to sell it as it looks too new for my collection of pistols.
Would you know of anyone who would be interested in this pistol? Will send pictures if want.


GES said...

I recently inherited my grandfather's H&R Top Break, 38 S&W CTGE. It was really gummed up, having not been shot in over 50 years. I disassembled it and have it soaking in a coffee can full of PB blaster. I would really like to aquire an exploded diagram and parts list. Anyone have a sugestion?

Anonymous said...

Numrich arms sells a catalogue which is actually a book of exploded views of many, many firearms. H&Rs are included.

Anonymous said...

Hello all, I have the Harrington and Richardson, 5-shot, with old box of 38 S&W shells. The gun looks as good or better than the one on the top of this blog. It's not been fired for 65 to 75 years but was under a shop keeper's counter all that time! My question is, since I plan to it for home protection, HOW can I be sure that the shells would still be good? The look fine. They're in a box titled, Remington Arms-Union Metallic Cartridge Co. Black Powder. Thanks, Rick

Anonymous said...

How can I know if my Harrington and Richardson 38 S&W CTGE is a short or long?