Museum Researches 1953 Smith & Wesson Magnum Revolver

Museum Researches 1953 Smith & Wesson Magnum Revolver

The Smith & Wesson “Pre-Model 27" .357 Magnum revolver researched by the Sweetwater County Historical Museum. It features a high-gloss blued finish, a 6.5 inch barrel, a fully adjustable rear sight and partridge front sight, a target hammer, and target trigger. Photo courtesy of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum

SWEETWATER COUNTY – The Sweetwater County Historical Museum recently researched a storied American handgun – a Smith & Wesson “Pre-Model 27″ .357 magnum revolver that museum staff determined was manufactured in 1953.

In the 1930s, Elmer Keith, Phillip Sharpe, and Douglas Wesson, (the grandson of Smith & Wesson co-founder Daniel B. Wesson), collaborated to create a powerful new revolver cartridge based on a lengthened version of the long-popular .38 Special. The .38 Special’s true bullet diameter is .357 inches, and the new cartridge came to be called the .357 Magnum.

Smith & Wesson introduced the .357 Magnum in 1935 as, basically, a custom-ordered revolver called the “Registered Magnum.” A wide range of options were available, including a choice of 23 different barrel lengths in quarter-inch increments from 3.5 inches to 8.75 inches, six main sight choices, plus any King sight combinations, a blued or nickeled finish, standard or magna grips (after 1934), several different hammer options, and an optional grip adapter. 

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The finished revolver was stamped with its own registration number and shipped with a matching registration card. When the owner filled out and returned the card, he received a registration certificate, which included the owner’s name, registration number, barrel length, and trigger pull, both single and double action, and the signature of Doug Wesson, then the company’s vice president. The Registered Magnum process was discontinued after about 5,500 were produced, as it proved impractical for a revolver that sold for $60.

Original Registered Magnums are valuable and highly sought-after collector’s items. The Registered Magnum bearing Registration No. 2, which belonged to Phillip Sharpe, sold at auction in 2019 for over $54,000. 

The next Smith & Wesson .357 was the “Pre-War Non-Registered Magnum,” of which only 1,418 were made. Production of Smith & Wesson .357s was suspended during World War II, but started up again in 1946 as the “Pre-Model 27.” Starting in 1958, Smith & Wesson began assigning model numbers to its revolvers, and the .357 that began as the Registered Magnum became the Model 27.

Residents with a vintage firearm (or firearms) that would like to learn more about them, contact the museum at (307) 872-6435 or via email at There is no charge for the museum’s Firearms Research Program.