Classic Smith & Wesson Revolvers # 1 - The Combat MasterpieceIn 1949 Smith & Wesson began production of the K-38 "Combat Masterpiece". The gun was essentially a variation on the K-38 "Masterpiece" that was itself introduced shortly after WWII. The original K-38 was a target pistol, a companion gun to nearly identical revolvers offered by S&W in .22 and .32 calibers, but the K-38s chambered the more powerful .38 S&W Special cartridge. All "Masterpieces" were designed around the proven Smith & Wesson "K" frame, which is exemplified by the time tested and popular Military & Police model. The K-38 was basically an upgrade of the M&P with several improvements to make the gun more accurate and friendly for target shooters and outdoorsmen. The additions included a new heavier, ribbed barrel and adjustable rear sights. The "Target" K-38 proved to be very popular, so much so that by the late 1940s police officers and civilians alike began clamoring for a "Masterpiece" with a shorter barrel length; the "Combat Masterpiece" was born. The differences between the two K-38 models was negligible, the Target Masterpiece offering a longer 6-inch barrel and target front sight while the Combat Masterpiece included a shorter 4-inch barrel and a Baughman quick draw ramp front sight. While both K-38 models were good sellers for S&W the Combat Masterpiece would become especially popular with police officers and civilians interested in carrying a gun. The popularity of the Combat Masterpiece was quite simple really, the gun was designed to be a versatile and deadly accurate package optimized for those who might have to carry a gun in harm's way, and in that respect it was a remarkably successful design. In this day and age of high capacity "Wondernines", "Pocket Magnums" and "Operator" pistols calling a six shot .38 caliber revolver a "Combat Masterpiece" might seem like a joke. No joke, because in the hands of an experienced shooter this finely crafted handgun is as deadly as anything more modern. Despite what some homeboy carrying "Tupperware" thinks the K-38 is still more than enough gun to get the job done. In 1957 Smith & Wesson changed all of their guns from names to model numbers, the Combat Masterpiece became the Model 15. Over the years the gun would serve its owners well and would remain very popular with both shooters interested in self defense and law enforcement. Among those that have officially sanctioned and used the Combat Masterpiece / M15 would be the United States Air Force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Department of the Treasury, the Los Angles Police Department and County Sheriff's Department, the Washington D.C. Police and that's not even mentioning the countless other smaller police agencies that relied on the M15 as their service weapon. In 1964 a 2-inch model was introduced and later both a 6 and 8 3/8-inch barrel would also be cataloged but the basic design was so good that it remained essentially unchanged for decades. In November of 1999, because of slowing sales, Smith & Wesson finally ceased regular production of the Model 15 after 50 years. It is unfortunate but it would seem that in our modern age, with the rise in popularity of the autoloader and particularly the "spray and pray" shooting technique, few people could still recognize the true "Masterpiece" in the Model 15.
The gun pictured is a Model 15-2 that I just recently picked up at a local pawnshop; if you've read my previous thoughts on pawnshops you already know my opinion of them. This time though I must say that I got a decent deal on this little M15, not a real "deal" but certainly fairly priced for the condition. This particular gun is a well used mid sixties model that is very close to how it left the factory over 40 years ago. It does have bluing wear, the grips are considerably worn, and someone has applied a dab of red paint to the front sight. All things that you would expect to see in a gun that has actually been used and carried as intended over the years. Like many older Smith revolvers the trigger is buttery smooooooth and promises to be a great shooting six gun. I have owned five Model 15s over the years; four of them 2-inch models (I just love a good snubbie!) and can honestly say that I was never disappointed in any of them. Up until the last few years Model 15s were cheap and plentiful. I would often buy one, shoot it a while and then when I tired of it trade it on something else that I wanted, knowing that if I wanted another it could be readily had at a reasonable cost. That has changed though in recent years and a Model 15, especially a pre model number gun (or any good S&W revolver for that matter) is getting harder to find at affordable prices. But so many were made over the years that if you take the time to look around you can still find good used ones at decent prices. If you've never owned a Model 15 you owe it to yourself to get one, you won't be disappointed. Besides, what kind of Smith & Wesson collection could be complete without a Combat Masterpiece?