J-Frame of Mind: Smith & Wesson’s Classic Centennials

I’ve always wanted a small frame revolver. There’s just something about it that beckons me. Reliability, since they cannot fail to feed. They’re compact enough for me to conceal about half a dozen, should I feel the need. And the atmosphere, the feel, the slow drip of pulp noir. History and tradition. The elegance of the machine in your hand is undeniable. Once the snubbie gets in your imagination, it lingers there.

442 Airweight, with crutches by Laser-Max.

Every so often, I visit a gun store or pawn shop and there, in the glass, sits a snubbie. I used to be the kind of person who would look down on the little pocket 38’s, but I have gained a lot of respect for them over the last forty years. Now, I find my gaze lingering. I feel the want growing. I don’t own one yet, but I imagine I will. Every time I pick one up, it gets harder to put it back down. From the SP101 to the Detective Special, I crave them all for different reasons. Ruger’s LCR has the best factory revolver trigger on the planet. (Go ahead, argue, it won’t make you right.) Taurus and Charter Arms have very affordable options. Kimber even made their first entry into the revolver market a snubbie.

But today, I was handed a well used beauty. It belongs to a dear friend, and she asked me to make it cleaner. And as I pulled it from the holster and worked the trigger, all those wants and needs and urges and feelings and other justifications for purchase came roaring back. It is a Smith & Wesson Model 640, 38 Special.

Like this one, only not engraved. The more I see engraved guns, the more I want one.

The Model 640 goes back to 1990, though the basic design goes back much further. It is one of the models in the Centennial line that goes back to 1952, Smith & Wesson’s 100th’s anniversary. The original Centennial became the Model 40 in 1957, which later spawned several other models in the line. The Centennial Airweight came out at the same time, and became the Model 42 in 1957. The difference between the two, was the frame. The Model 40 was a steel revolver, while the Model 42 featured a lighter alloy frame. The difference in weight was about six ounces, unloaded, which may not seem like much until you have carried that extra six ounces on your belt all day.

Various models and features came and went. The Original Models 40 and 42 had a grip safety, which has been done away with on modern models. Though, Smith and Wesson does make a classic line from time to time that includes it. The Model 640 that I have been handling tonight has been around since 1990, in a full, brushed stainless frame. Twenty-one ounces of steel will eat a lot of recoil energy, a feature I appreciate in a smaller gun.

This 442 Airweight even comes pre-cut for moon clips, from the factory.

The Centennial models span most of S&W’s price and quality ranges. While none are likely to be a bad quality, they are available in the more economical 642 and 442 base models in 38 Special can be hand for just 350$. A brand new gun in the 640 model I have here, runs about 550$. And Smith and Wesson offers a plethora of models at varied prices, with varied bells and whistles, as you can see below.

I have a lot of choosing and narrowing laid out for me.


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