Smith & Wesson's "New Century" 44 Hand Ejector First Model


by Boge Quinn

photography by Boge Quinn

December 1st, 2010

UPDATED January 4th, 2011




Click pictures for a larger version.


Smith & Wesson's 44 Hand Ejector First Model, also known as the "New Century" and the "Triple Lock", as the author found it.



The famous "third lock" (top) provided a locking point in addition to the familiar rear of the cylinder and front of the ejector rod (bottom).



Sights are rudimentary by today's standards, but surprisingly effective and easy to see, even for aging eyes like Boge's.



As purchased, author's Triple Lock was equipped with a set of plastic fake stag grips. They looked kind-of cool and felt pretty good, but something more special was in order.
















In 1908, Smith & Wesson made history by offering its new "Hand Ejector" revolver in an even-newer caliber: the 44 Special. To create the 44 Special, one of the greatest cartridges ever invented, the 44 Russian case was simply lengthened from 0.970" to 1.160" (the 44 Special case would again be lengthened to 1.285" in 1955, and become the 44 Magnum). To handle the additional power of the 44 Special, S&W beefed-up the frame, creating what would come to be known as the N-frame. 

This new sixgun was called the 44 Hand Ejector First Model, or the "New Century". The New Century was more than just a larger Military & Police, however, by virtue of two innovations that cemented its status as the finest double-action revolver ever created, before or since. First, the ejector rod was fully enclosed by a shroud under the barrel, which protected the ejector rod from blows that could cause damage. Secondly, and most elegantly, the cylinder locked-up in three places: in addition to the familiar lock-up points at the back of the cylinder and the front of the ejector rod, the New Century featured a beautifully machined third lock at the rear of the barrel / front of the yoke. This signature third cylinder locking mechanism resulted in the nickname for which the 44 Hand Ejector First Model, or New Century, is best known: the Triple Lock.

Taken as a whole (new cartridge, new frame size, new protected ejector rod, and third cylinder locking mechanism), the Triple Lock was far ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the ammunition makers of the early twentieth century were just beginning to find their footing with the newfangled "smokeless" powders, and as a result, the early loadings of the 44 Special did not significantly improve upon the ballistics of its predecessor, the 44 Russian. In fact, the new 44 Special did not even achieve the power then available from the 45 Colt cartridge, which had been around since 1873. It was not until a young cowboy turned gun writer named Elmer Keith began experimenting with the cartridge in the 1920s that the 44 Special started to come into its own as one of the finest sixgun cartridges ever designed.

Alas, all this was too late for the Triple Lock. Smith & Wesson determined that the Triple Lock, at a selling price of $21, was just too expensive to be a consistent seller. The Triple Lock never really had a chance to catch on; it was discontinued in 1915, after fewer than 16,000 were produced. The New Century was replaced by the 44 hand Ejector Second Model, which did not include the enclosed ejector and third lock of the beautiful New Century. The selling price of the Second Model was $19; the savings resulting from the design changes were not insignificant during an era in which an extra dollar could put some real food on the table, but the thought of doing away with those wonderful design features in order to save a mere $2 is hard to imagine now.

But enough of history. I'll tell you what I know first-hand: my experience with Triple Locks was entirely through the works of such great writers as Skeeter Skelton and John Taffin, who could go places I couldn't go, do things I couldn't do, and take me with them through their ability to weave mere words into a tapestry of shared experiences. I'd never handled a Triple Lock, and I never imagined that I would. The only Triple Locks I had ever seen in the ferrous flesh had been under glass or on tables at places like the Tulsa Arms Show, right next to signs reading DO NOT TOUCH! Triple Locks are so rare, and change hands so infrequently and at such astronomical prices, that the chances of a country boy such as myself ever being able to call one his own...well, it just never occurred to me to even hope to own one someday.

Fast forward to March 2010. 

The Confederate Sixgunners Association (CSA) is a loose group of friends and Internet acquaintances who get together a couple of times a year to shoot, visit, play music, and eat (not necessarily in that order). My brother Jeff and I have been to several CSA gatherings, and it was through CSA that I first made friends with several Shootists, in time being asked to join the brotherhood of Shootists myself. I have made many wonderful friends through my association with these guys, and over the years Jeff and I find ourselves doing far less shooting than visiting at the CSA gatherings.

The CSA Spring 2010 shoot was hosted by my good friend and brother Shootist, Tom Richardson. Tom always puts on a great event, the local hoteliers and restaurateurs are friendly, the local gun and pawn shops are well stocked and reasonably priced, and the local Church ladies always lay in a fine feed for us. We spend several days shooting stuff and blowing stuff up, but the times I enjoy the most are those times when I'm relaxing with friends, chewing the fat with not too many folks shooting and making racket.

During one of those relaxed moments, I was visiting with my friend Marc Murphy. Murphy, as we call him, is a great guy with a heart as big as all outdoors, and he plays guitar and sings with a gusto I can only dream of matching. Best of all, he always has some fine shootin' irons with him. On this rainy day at the outdoor range, I was drawn to a cool-looking old N-frame Smith that he had on his table. I picked it up, turned it over, and immediately forgot what we were talking about when I saw that third lock. It had a shortened barrel and it was refinished, but I was sure it was a real Triple Lock!

I played it cool and chatted with Murphy about anything and everything else, while I continued to fondle that big Smith. I kept it in my hands for over an hour, mostly to keep it away from others who would surely ruin my plans if I gave them a chance. Finally, I took a deep breath and asked Murphy if the sixgun was for sale; he didn't seem eager to get rid of it, but told me he'd be willing to sell it. When I asked the next logical question, he gave me a couple of boxes of ammo and told me to go shoot it and see if I liked it first. While I had it, I walked over to where Jeff was visiting with some other Shootists, and showed it to them. They all said I'd better buy it if I could, so I went back over to Murphy and told him I was interested. He shot me a price that was more than fair (in fact, it was a steal), but he assured me that he was making a little on it, as he'd bought it from a dealer who didn't know what it was. Plus, the sixgun had been refinished, the barrel had been shortened, and the front sight had been filed way too low, so it was far from "collector grade"...but still, it was a TRIPLE LOCK. I had my cash out before Murphy's big, booming voice stopped reverberating with his price, and at long last I owned the Holy Grail of DA sixguns. As I showed my prize around, several CSAers told me if they'd had any idea the Triple Lock was for sale, I'd have never gotten a chance. It was meant to be, and Murphy was glad that I would appreciate the sixgun more than he did.

Once I got the Triple Lock home, I did some digging. Made in 1909, my Triple Lock was originally a nickel-plated sixgun with a 6-1/2" barrel. Sometime in the dear, dim past, the barrel had been shortened to 3-1/2" and the entire gun had been refinished a beautiful high-polish blue. For the most part, the polishing was not too extensive; barrel markings are still crisp and sharp, but the S&W logo on the sideplate is now only faintly visible. Sure, the shortened barrel and refinishing had harmed the value of the sixgun greatly, but to me the modifications only did two things: they greatly improved the appearance and handiness of the gun overall, and they made the gun affordable enough for me to be able to buy it. No problem here, I'm not looking to re-sell anyway!

The original grips were long gone, and had been replaced by Murphy with an old set of fake stags he had robbed off of another old N-frame; the fake stags had a neat "retro" look about them that appealed to my fiancée,  but I had a plan. More on that later.

Mechanically, the gun still locked-up tightly and functioned well, with no readily-discernable problems of any kind observed at CSA or after I got it home. The original front sight had been reattached to the barrel, and the sight had been filed down to the point where it would not "dial-in" with any proper 44 Special load. The checkering on the hammer had been worn to the point where the sixgun could not be consistently cocked without the hammer slipping out from under the thumb, which is of course unacceptable from a safety standpoint. I needed to have the front sight welded-up, and the hammer checkering chased to safely allow manual cocking; I also thought it a good idea to have the 101-year-old revolver gone over completely  by a qualified professional. So, very shortly after I got the Triple Lock home, I sent it off to Alan Harton for a good going-over, figuring to have it back in all its glory for the Shootist Holiday in June.

Alan did all that I asked, and did it quickly enough so that I would have gotten the sixgun back in time to take it to the Shootist Holiday...IF UPS had not forgotten where I lived for a couple of days. Instead, the sixgun showed up at my house the day after I arrived in Raton, NM. Oh, well, I will have it with me at the 2011 Shootist Holiday. Anyway, Alan beautifully welded-up the front sight so that is perfectly regulated for the load that John Taffin recommended to me of 6.0 grains of Unique under a 240-grain LSWC bullet; as Taffin explained, S&W did not heat-treat the cylinders in those days sufficiently to allow a steady diet of Skeeter Skelton's classic 7.5-grain loading. Alan also chased the checkering on the hammer very subtly; the difference cannot really be seen, but it can definitely be FELT, and the hammer can now be cocked and decocked without fear of the hammer slipping from under the thumb. Alan told me that the case-hardening on the S&W's hammer was so hard that his diamond checkering files would barely scratch it. Finally, Alan went over the internals and gave the Triple Lock a clean bill of health. He told me it was the only Triple Lock he'd ever worked on, and it was a pleasure to go over such a well-made sixgun.

After I got back from the Shootist Holiday, I took a couple of weeks to bond with my Triple Lock, and then I decided it was time to do something about the grips. The plastic fake stags that were on the gun were cool-looking in their own way and felt pretty good, but I had something a bit more special in mind. Tedd Adamovich of Blu Magnum makes some of the finest sixgun grips available anywhere; Tedd is an artist in wood, one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet, a member of the Shootists' Board of Directors, and my friend. I've always considered his DA grips the absolute finest, so I sent my prized Triple Lock off to Tedd for a set of his Skeeter Skelton Style grips in his finest Presentation-grade walnut. Tedd's Skeeter-style grips are modeled after Skeeter's original design, featuring an open backstrap, enclosed front strap and bottom strap, plain front, slim sides, and a slight palm swell and flare with rounded edges at the bottom strap. When I received the sixgun back from Tedd, I was certainly not disappointed! The grips are beautiful, and they fit and feel as fine as they look. A very special sixgun deserves a very special set of grips, and the Blu Magnums are perfect. I later sent the fake stags back to Murphy so he could put them back on the gun from which he'd originally removed them; this takes the grips full circle, and gives Murphy something by which to remember me and his old Triple Lock.

Finally, I decided I needed a nice custom holster. Like most sixgunners, I had several N-frame holsters laying around, but again I needed something special for such a special sixgun. I had recently seen some holsters made by Bill Swehla of Alaska Leather Works, and had been in contact with him via the Ruger Forum for some time. I was impressed enough by his work to see if he'd be willing to make up a holster for my Triple Lock. He was happy to oblige, and sent me a custom holster of a new design; called the "Lawman", the holster has a bit of a forward rake and a semi-exposed trigger guard. It was inspired by the "Patton Holster" with a more Western look, and can be made with either a hammer loop or a safety strap, and in a drop-loop style as well. Bill also included a nice matching cartridge slide that snaps on and off the belt; very nicely done. NOTE: ALASKA LEATHER WORKS IS NO LONGER ACCEPTING ORDERS, AND HAS OFFICIALLY GONE OUT OF BUSINESS.

The odyssey of a sixgun that began in 1909 in Massachusetts, and continued through a little country range in 2010, has started a new chapter, for the time being, in Tennessee. As with only a rarified few material things that transcend mere objects, this Triple Lock has come to rest with me for a time. I am not really its owner, only a steward of this sixgun for the rest of my time on Earth; it is my hope that when I am no longer its possessor, it will come to rest with another who appreciates its beauty and its mechanical wonder, and just maybe it will have a few more stories to tell.

For any type of gunsmithing work, from simple action tuning to full-house custom builds, I highly recommend Alan Harton. His work is impeccable, his prices are reasonable, and his turn-around schedule will be as quoted. You can email him at, or call him at (713) 907-6031.

Tedd Adamovich makes some of the finest grips available anywhere, for both double-action and single-action revolvers. For more info, please click here.

Boge Quinn


NOTE: All load data posted on this web site are for educational purposes only. Neither the author nor assume any responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. The data indicated were arrived at using specialized equipment under conditions not necessarily comparable to those encountered by the potential user of this data.  Always use data from respected loading manuals and begin working up loads at least 10% below the loads indicated in the source manual.

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Click pictures for a larger version.


Blu Magnum "Skeeter Skelton" style grips, made from Presentation-grade walnut, greatly improved the appearance and the feel of the Triple Lock.



"Lawman" holster and matching cartridge slide from Alaska Leather Works.