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Smith & Wesson's Model 41: collectibles, edibles, and a lesson in history.

Smith & Wesson historian Roy Jinks wrote a book titled History of Smith & Wesson, and in it he tells the story of young Joe Wesson's keen interest in semiautomatic handguns. "[Joe's] father had given him a free hand in the development of new firearms," Jenks astutely tells us. But, like all great tales of yore, there's a catch, a disappointment, a crashing of expectations. For even after gathering examples of every semiautomatic pistol manufactured in the late 19th century, young Joe Wesson remained unimpressed.

In 1909, spring came, as spring does, and there took place a meeting between Joe Wesson and a firearm designer from Liege, Belgium, named Charles P. Clement. Mr. Clement offered something that appeased little Joe's soul. For soon after that meeting, Clement's .25 caliber semi-auto pistol design rights were negotiated straight into S&W's hands.

In possession of the heart of Clement's little pistol, which featured a barrel locked into the frame by trigger guard and cross bolt, Joe Wesson set about improving the design. He added a thumb-bar safety to prevent firing until the gun was fully engaged by the shooter's hand, and then, in 1910, recognized left-handed shooters with a finger-activated safety in the grip's front strap. A recoil spring "disconnector" was another improvement, enabling the slide easy rearward travel--whereas previously only strong hands could operate it.

Next move was a new .35 caliber cartridge. Tooling up began in 1912, and production soon after in early 1913. The new .35 caliber S&W semiautomatic pistol was catalogued at $16.50, with its safety device strongly advertised as a major feature.

But curses! Woeful World War I stepped in to cease production of the semi-auto pistol in question. Arms for battle were needed, not arms for plinking. And by the time the pistol found its way back on-line in 1919, sales had dropped off the radar screen...though such things didn't exist in 1919. (Except for maybe on spaceships, whose existence to this day is still doubted by naysayers and the uninitiated. Editor). Shooting members of the public, just as addicted to convenience then as they are today, were interested in the semi-autos with larger frames and cartridges readily found at the local crossroads' general store -- not an offbeat .35 caliber S&W. Sales remained feeble. The model was dropped in 1922 after 8,350 units were manufactured. The silence was deafening.

Checkered Past

Today an S&W .35 caliber semi-auto pistol in excellent condition fetches $500, though one especially gullible collector recently laid out over $3,000 for the redesigned streamlined model chambered for the .32 ACP cartridge. By the late 1940s, S&W had its Model 39 single-action semi-auto on the market, along with the Model .44 double-action, the first of its kind produced in the United States. Continuously improved 9 mm pistols rolled from the factory as well. But no one asked the high-grade target auto-loader in .22 Long Rifle to dance, until entered stage left sweet Mr. Model 41.

In July of 1947, the X-41 and X-42, two experimental models, were completed. Always interested in refinements, the company did not offer a true factory model until mid-September 1957, serial number 1,401 of the company's Automatics.

Target shooting was the name of the 41's game. It came with a 7 3/8" barrel and muzzle brake. Regardless that the general shooting public was ignored in favor of target buffs, the company could (not produce sufficient 41s to meet the demand. They sold like them proverbial hotcakes. Only 679 units rolled out of the door 1957, but by the close of 1958 the factory had built and assembled 9,875 Model 41 pistols. Even this high number, however, was still too low to match orders.

A lighter 5" separate barrel was offered in 1958 for field use. Smart move! After all, the snap-down trigger guard removal of the barrel made swapping one for another simple and fast. A customer could order the pistol with 5" barrel in place, or buy the barrel separately. A 41-1 came along in 1960 chambered in .22 Short for International Rapid Fire competition, but only a thousand were made with the light aluminum slides necessary for function with the low-power Short.

Through Points In Time

In August 1963, the Model 41 earned its excellent 5" barrel, still available today along with a 7" barrel. Stoeger's Shooter's Bible of 1964 shows the Smith & Wesson Model 41 with 7 3/8" barrel grooved for Olympic centerweights. Also listed is a Model 41 with 5" barrel, plus another with a heavy 5" barrel, all three sub-models going for $100 retail. Along with these Model 41 options, S&W had a Model 46, one with a 7", another with a 5" barrel. The Model 46, a slightly dressed down Model 41, came along in 1959 for the U.S. Air Force. But, just like the Yugo, its lower retail price failed to impress the buying public.

There are so many fine .22 semi-automatic pistols of both past and present manufacture that singling out the best of the litter becomes a matter of personal opinion. However, the .41 has a cult-like following who believe it remains as good a .22 rimfire sidearm semi-auto repeater as money can buy. I was introduced to the Model 41 by a fan as we sat in his den pawing through his gun collection. He wore a funny hat, a cape, and an amulet, and after speaking in tongues, said:

"This is the best .22 pistol I ever owned."

He handed it to me.

I handled it.

I had to have one.

"But they don't make it anymore," he gloated.

The 2001 Standard Catalogue of Firearms from the Gun List people at Krause Publications shows the Model 41 at around $650 used in top shape, the less-refined Model 46 going for more because of its rarity. Due to further rarity, the Model 41-1 demands between a grand and $1,200.

But that wizard was either wrong, or having fun with me. Because the Model 4l is in the Smith & Wesson catalogue. Restyled in 1994 with handsome checkered hardwood stocks showing contoured finger indents, Millet click adjustable rear sight, and for a front sight a 1/8" undercut Patridge, the new model is also drilled and tapped for scope mounts. All of which are important things.

Anachronistic Particulars

The Model 41's design is much of the reason for its lodestone reputation. It is magazine fed, as these pistols are, and graciously bears the responsibility of having a 10-shot capacity. With the aforementioned hardwood grooved grips solid in hand, the pistol is as well balanced, stable, and accurate as anything else.

Sights are about as good as irons get, with precise rear-sight windage/elevation capability. The test model was dead on target at 25 yards, requiring no further adjustment. Trigger stop setting is accomplished with a small Allen wrench (provided) by simply pulling the trigger guard downward then rotating the set screw clockwise to increase travel, counterclockwise to reduce travel. And it must be said again and again -- ONLY TEST TRIGGER PULL ON AN UNLOADED GUN.

If the hammer will not fall, the screw has been turned out too far. A manual safety is located beneath the rear slide. Click up for safe, down for battery. The magazine release button is also handily located just behind the trigger guard. The slide stop lever rests above the upper left-hand grip panel.

There are two cautions to observe for best Model 41 shooting results. First, the pistol is ammo sensitive. Some brands and loads simply do not work well with the rather heavy slide. Smith & Wesson's Model 41 technologist recommends CCI standard .22 Long Rifle as foolproof. Second, the slide must, of course, be lubricated. But too much grease will cause it to drag.

Perhaps the most impressive design feature of the Model 41 is the takedown for field stripping. The steps are simple. Lock the slide back. Remove the magazine. Snap the trigger guard smartly downward. Pistol must be held horizontal during this maneuver because the barrel is now free to fall away. Lift barrel upward from the frame. Pull the slide back at a slight upward angle. Push the slide assembly forward to free it from the frame. The gun is now ready for cleaning. Reversing the procedure reassembles the Model 41. In the field stripped position, the gun is reduced to six parts: frame including trigger, trigger guard and grips, barrel, magazine, slide assembly, recoil spring, and recoil spring guide.

Feeding Beasts

The Model 41 is designed for .22 Long Rifle rimfire ammunition, including standard velocity, high velocity, target, and match. As a test, mainly to satisfy curiosity, a few groups were fired with RWS R25 .22 Short ammo -- single-loaded, of course, as they would not fit or function in the magazine. The Short had too little poop to activate the slide, but groups at 25 yards were well under an inch center to center for 10 shots. Group size in general using proper ammo varied with the talent of the marksman and range conditions. However, anything over an inch at 25 yards for 10 shots was a poor showing by the shooter. Although the Model 41 is still considered a target pistol, mine is destined for another service -- mainly gathering edibles on the trail. With a 5" barrel, the Model 41 carries nicely on the side in an Uncle Mike's holster Number 8105-1 Size 5.

Early fall finds me in the high mountains of my home state, Wyoming, for a full month of seeing no city lights. When I go this season, the accurate Model 41 will be a meal ticket at my side, providing mountain grouse and cottontails for the pan. However, the pistol will fire far more shots at inanimate targets. One time a reporter asked a bullet manufacturer where all those bullets ended up.

"Mostly in dirt banks," he replied.

That's where the vast majority of bullets from my Model 41 will come to rest. And I'll enjoy planting every one.


Caliber: 22 Long Rifle

Magazine Capacity: 10 Rounds

Barrel Length: 7" or 5"

Overall Length:

12" with 7" barrel

10.5" with 5" barrel

Material: Carbon steel

Weight: 41 oz.

Sight Radius:

9 5/18" with 7" barrel

7 7/8" with 5" barrel

Stocks: Checkered hardwood with modified thumb rest for right - or left-handed shooters

Sights: Front-1/8" Patridge, Rear-Adjustable Click

Finish: S&W blue with sandblasting, matting, and serrations around sighting areas to break up light reflection

Trigger: 3/8" with (.356) with S&W grooving and adjustable trigger stop

Hammer: Internal

External Safety: Single slide

Suggested Retail Price: $958.00
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Author:Fadala, Sam
Publication:American Handgunner
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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