Gun Review: S&W Model 19 – The Police Officer’s Perfect Revolver

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    If there was ever a perfect revolver it was the S&W model 19. A revolver in medium weight that has excellent handling, fires a powerful cartridge with wonderful accuracy. You just can’t ask for more in a revolver.

    Smith & Wesson model 19

    The .357 cartridge was created by Winchester for S&W in the 1930’s and used in the “N” frame S&W. In the early 1950’s there was a perceived need for a new .357 by Bill Jordan. Jordan was a famed Border Patrol agent and a genuine gunfighter down on the Mexican border. Armed confrontations were commonplace back in those days so if any one knew what type of revolver was needed for police officers it was Bill Jordan.

    Jordan was retired by this time and spent a year with S&W developing the revolver that was to become the most popular revolver in police officers holsters until the trend toward the “wonder nines” of the 1980’s. Sure there was the model 10 and the newer 686 but the 19 was the preferred revolver of the bunch.

    Smith & Wesson model 19

    As it turns out the model 19 was scaled down to a medium “K” frame with all the features and overall shape of it’s “N” frame big brother. The development wasn’t without challenges since existing steels of the time wouldn’t handle the pressures of the 357 in the “K” frame. After much experimenting with various steels a blend capable of handling the pressures involved was created. Both S&W and Bill Jordan were very pleased with this new medium weight revolver. In fact S&W presented Jordan with the first “Combat Magnum” in 1955.

    Bill Jordans book autographed for me in the 70’s. He has a model 19 in the cover picture.

    Smith & Wesson model 19

    The initial name of this new revolver was the “357 Combat Magnum”. S&W tooled up and began turning out Combat Magnums in blue and nickel finishes. The first were sold in 1957 and renamed the model 19. The standard models were 4 inch barreled with 2-½ inch barreled models coming out a bit later.

    With the exception of a few very large police departments most officers of the time had to purchase their own duty revolvers. If they could afford it they bought model 19’s. Many Detectives purchased these with the 2-½ inch barrel when they became available. The Border Patrol was one agency that provided duty weapons and the model 19 was standard issue for many years.

    S&W 19 Revolver

    As it turns out there were a few problems with the model 19 when digesting lots of full power 357’s. Small cracks began to appear at the six o’clock position of the forcing cone along with some cutting of the top strap. These problems weren’t considered a big deal with owners at the time. Not that many people shot 357’s all the time anyway. 38 special ammunition was cheaper and most departments had plenty on hand. Officers adapted and practiced with 38’s with the occasional practice and qualification with 357-magnum ammo. 357 rounds were the obvious carry round on duty. This adaptation solved the problem with the forcing cone and top strap issues.

    S&W 19 Revolver

    The model 19 in these photos is my personal gun. I’ve owned it since the mid 1970’s and carried it on duty a good number of years before switching to a semi auto. Even today I wouldn’t feel out gunned carrying it for protection. Using Federal 125 grain JHP it’s a formidable gun. This load is rated at a 97% one-shot stop if you do your part.

    This particular example is a 19-2 that dates it between 1961 and 1967. This was also during the time S&W made a beautiful deep blue finish unlike those finishes we see these days. Even after all these years of use and carry the finish still looks good.

    S&W 19 Revolver

    There is an interesting story behind my model 19. I happened to arrest an individual and relieved him of this revolver. I placed it in the property room and went through all the usual court proceedings checking it out and back in each time for my court appearances. What most people aren’t aware of is back in the mid 1970’s if an officer arrested someone for a felony offense, which included a weapons charge in this case, once all the appeals are exhausted and the suspect is a resident of the state for some years the officer making the arrest could ask the judge to release the gun from the property room and give it to them if the original owner could not be located. No I’m not kidding☺ Not a chance of that these days but it was a different time. Anyway, the judge would write an order releasing the gun to the officer who then presented it to the property officer who logged it out. It was now the officer’s property. You would be surprised at how many officers got new duty guns in this way. The only stipulation was the officer could never trade or sell the gun. It had to remain the officers’ property forever. Of course all of this could take a year or more but in this case it was worth the wait. This gun had seen very little use. I qualified with it and into my duty holster it went. My issued model 10 stayed at home. I’ll grant you this has nothing to do with the review but I thought it would be interesting for most of you.

    S&W 19 Revolver

    If you check local gun shops and find older S&W revolvers with pinned barrels and a counter sunk cylinder that encloses the case head you’ll spend at a minimum of just under $500. Less common models can be close to $1000. Not that many years ago a used model 19 could be purchased for $250. Since the changes in S&W’s with frame mounted locks etc. the older guns are more desirable. There are also fewer of these old guns out there.

    Most model 19’s as well as other older S&W revolvers are very accurate. I hit a home run with this particular revolver. It’s the most accurate revolver I’ve ever owned with groups of ½ inch standing unsupported at 15 yards being about average. From a rest at 25 yards the groups are about the same as the 15 yard standing groups. The load used were handloads in 38 special firing a 148 grain semi-wadcutter. Every now and then you find a S&W that just comes out from the factory better than most.

    S&W 19 Revolver

    I know that many shooters believe that revolvers are obsolete and only have a place in hunting and revolver competition. While there is some truth to this my personal belief is they are still a viable option for defense. I’ll go out on a limb here and say if I had a one on one defensive situation I would probably choose my model 19 even over my 1911’s. The problem in the current world is there are more situations that arise where there are multiple attackers in say a home invasion scenario. This calls for a weapon with more ammunition capacity.

    S&W 19 Revolver

    Conclusion

    If any readers ever have a chance to shoot one of these fine old revolvers I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and will enjoy the experience. Defense aside they are just fun to shoot. There’s not much sweeter than a nice trigger job on a fine handling revolver.

    As far as a home defense gun a revolver can be a very good choice for a novice shooter or a person who practices very little. Let’s face it when your awakened in the middle of the night you can be pretty groggy. A revolver is so simple to operate with no safeties and a long trigger pull. It just makes it safer during those seconds when you retrieve your gun and begin to get your wits about you.

    Whichever gun you chose go out and practice. Meet some of the nicest people around in your fellow shooters and enjoy the experience.

    S&W 19 Revolver

    Phil White

    Retired police officer with 30 years of service. Firearms instructor and SRU team member. I still instruct with local agencies. My daily carry pistol is the tried and true 1911. I’m retired as associate editor since December 14th 2017. My replacement is my friend Pete M email: [email protected] you can reach Pete for product reviews etc.


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