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Old 08-07-2017, 10:29 AM
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Default Three-fer in an auction

A week or so ago, I bought the below three S&W pistols at an online auction (Sierra in Phoenix).

First is a Model 5903. This is a weird one. I THINK somebody polished that matte stainless? I've not seen one that looks like this. Worn rubber grips. It was FILTHY. Nice barrel and bore. All works fine. Got it for $155.

Second was a S&W Model 915. This looks like it was barely shot...and barely carried. Has Hogue grips on it an one little rub spot at the left muzzle. Almost new. Got it for $190.

This was a Model 39-2. Really nice, although rubber Pachs on it. A few little nicks on the frame. Very nice bore. Paid $280 for this.

Here's a few pics. Let me know what you think. Jim



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Old 08-07-2017, 10:55 AM
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The 5903 is a transitional gun, still has some 2nd Gen features...too bad someone did "that" to the finish. Still should be a great shooter though.

The 39-2 seems a prime candidate for a "Hush-Puppy" conversion :-).

Seems like you did OK.

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Old 08-07-2017, 10:56 AM
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$625 for 3 3rd gens !!!
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Old 08-07-2017, 11:50 AM
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Originally Posted by GHEN View Post
The 5903 is a transitional gun, still has some 2nd Gen features...too bad someone did "that" to the finish. Still should be a great shooter though.
Not to be a nit-picker, but S&W pistol aficionados and collectors have a definition for "transitional" and this pistol doesn't qualify for that term. Loosely said, it is certainly from the time where S&W transitioned from the 2nd Gen 459 to the 3rd Gen 5903, but it's not what collector's term a transitional or a pilot gun. It appears to be an early 5903 with the early hooked trigger guard and the pre-Novak fixed rear sight.

The prices paid for these three are obviously quite good! But these are well-worn guns for sure. The 5903 doesn't seem odd to me in any way... a 5903 is a stainless upper on a silver-colored alloy frame. The picture indicates nothing obviously different than that to my eyes... just VERY worn. I would agree that someone may have attempted to polish it at one time, which typically results in a finish that looks different AND then really cannot resist wear after being polished.

The original grip is not rubber, it is "Delrin", a slippery hard plastic. And on a pistol that early and a grip with that much wear, it is possible (perhaps likely) that this is a recalled grip. The earliest grips were made from a poor mix of plastic that resulted in grip being prone to shattering if dropped. If that happens, the pistol is inoperable. It isn't "unsafe" per se, unless you use the pistol for service or defense, in which case it can leave you with a handgun that won't fire, which could get you hurt. S&W still honors the recall if/when they have a grip in stock to replace it. Call them and they may be able to ship you a new grip.

The 915 was a high-production workhorse pistol and that one should give good service. These are not valuable or (much) collectible pistols and the 915 shown has a lot of finish wear on the slide... or perhaps the picture lighting makes it look worse than it is? Fine buy for $190 as a working gun, but you'd need to buy a thousand of these at $190 and sell each of them at $250 to make a living out of this. Fine buy for a working gun but not a lottery ticket.

The 39-2 is a classic and always a joy to own and shoot. As S&W made nearly 400,000 of this model, -many- of them in a similar condition sell for these kinds of prices. Some would say that any 39-2 for under $300 is a heckuva deal and I wouldn't argue EXCEPT to say that once you own a couple of 39-2 pistols (and everyone should! ) you will find yourself far more drawn to -REALLY- nice, minty versions of them. This one shows a hard life. SN suggests 1979 production, so it certainly has earned it's scars! This one would look and feel much better (my opinion, of course) if you ditched the Pachmayr grip and found some well-used original walnut. While I do like a lot of Pachmayr grips on many guns (my formative years were in the 80's!) I just don't like them on S&W 1st & 2nd Gen pistols. They are too big, have a palm-swell and ruin the feel of a 39-2 and especially a 59/659. Original stocks would really change a lot about that pistol, IMO.

Thanks for sharing these fine buys!
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Old 08-07-2017, 11:51 AM
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I would say with a couple of friends, three new recoil springs and a case of cheap ammo, you have a party there.

The 5903 is early and may still have pre-recall grips.
39-2 grip screws are currently on sale at Midway.
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Old 08-07-2017, 12:02 PM
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I have a set of original walnut grips for the 39-2 on the way now.

It must be a trick of the light (flash), that makes the 39 and 915 look worn. The only wear on the 915 is a very slight rub at the muzzle. The 39-2 is also very nice - far from minty, but just a few scratches and nicks.

Thanks for your insights Sevens - I would classify the prices I got as good. I see LE turn-ins lately on the 915 for about $250, and thought that was my best "deal" I made.

New recoil springs have been ordered as well.

I will make a call about the 5903 grips.

Thanks again, all.
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Old 08-07-2017, 12:31 PM
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Jim--I think you cleaned up! Guns like these are just plain fun--you can shoot and carry them at will and not worry about babying the finish. I love a pistol I can carry under the seat of an ATV or in the glove box.
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Old 08-07-2017, 09:58 PM
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Quote:
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Not to be a nit-picker, but S&W pistol aficionados and collectors have a definition for "transitional" and this pistol doesn't qualify for that term. Loosely said, it is certainly from the time where S&W transitioned from the 2nd Gen 459 to the 3rd Gen 5903, but it's not what collector's term a transitional or a pilot gun. It appears to be an early 5903 with the early hooked trigger guard and the pre-Novak fixed rear sight.
Please educate me. If a pistol has a 3rd generation model number but 2nd generation frame and other equipment, how is it not "transitional"?

Not to nitpick in return but "aficionado" & "collector" also have definitions and I am quite certain I qualify on both counts.
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Old 08-07-2017, 10:21 PM
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Early 59xx guns had the "1st Trigger Guard" which was square. The later 59xx guns had the "3rd Trigger Guard", which was rounded. There was never a "2nd Trigger Guard" for reasons I've never seen explained.

The 5903 pictured is early production 3rd Gen, there is nothing transitional about it. I have a 5906 that looks just like it, but has a Stainless Steel frame instead of the alloy of the 5903. I've had it since 1993-94 and bought it from a then co worker who bought it new. I don't have the box handy, so I don't know the exact production date, but it was an early gun.

There is plenty of information on the 3rd Gen production variants and the transitional guns. As I recall, the transitional guns had their own series of model numbers, were mostly made for distributors, and indeed had 2nd Gen frames with 3rd Gen uppers. Production number varied, but not were especially common.

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Please educate me. If a pistol has a 3rd generation model number but 2nd generation frame and other equipment, how is it not "transitional"?

Not to nitpick in return but "aficionado" & "collector" also have definitions and I am quite certain I qualify on both counts.
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Old 08-07-2017, 11:40 PM
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There are a few guns that have a "3rd Gen frame" (easily identified by the one-piece Delrin grip) and also show a 3-digit 2nd Gen Model number stamped on the frame. These are the pilot guns. These have four-digit model numbers on the box end-label that don't match the actual numbering system that S&W ended up using.

For example... if the pictured gun in this case were a pilot gun, it would say 459 on the frame and 4590 on the box end label but it would have a 3rd Gen grip.

The transitional guns were the ones sent to RSR Distributors in Florida and those carry RSR-prefixes on their serial numbers. These have the odd four-digit Model name on the pistol, but not the (eventual) proper model numbers that S&W ended up using.

Yes, I agree that you also are a fan of these pistols as I am, perhaps even more than I am. Nothing that I wrote was intended to ridicule or offend, but the terms we use around here do have some definitions attached to them. In fact -- what I just wrote likely isn't wholly accurate (I'm guessing) and one of the members better versed in pilot and transitionals will be along to correct it, for the betterment of all our knowledge.

The pictured pistol is regular production, an early example of the Model 5903.
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Old 08-08-2017, 08:23 AM
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Quote:
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There are a few guns that have a "3rd Gen frame" (easily identified by the one-piece Delrin grip) and also show a 3-digit 2nd Gen Model number stamped on the frame. These are the pilot guns. These have four-digit model numbers on the box end-label that don't match the actual numbering system that S&W ended up using.

For example... if the pictured gun in this case were a pilot gun, it would say 459 on the frame and 4590 on the box end label but it would have a 3rd Gen grip.

The transitional guns were the ones sent to RSR Distributors in Florida and those carry RSR-prefixes on their serial numbers. These have the odd four-digit Model name on the pistol, but not the (eventual) proper model numbers that S&W ended up using.

Yes, I agree that you also are a fan of these pistols as I am, perhaps even more than I am. Nothing that I wrote was intended to ridicule or offend, but the terms we use around here do have some definitions attached to them. In fact -- what I just wrote likely isn't wholly accurate (I'm guessing) and one of the members better versed in pilot and transitionals will be along to correct it, for the betterment of all our knowledge.

The pictured pistol is regular production, an early example of the Model 5903.
Between 1990 and 1998 I was fortunate to be a regular visitor to S&W. I had more access to the Academy and Performance center than I would have allowed a non-employee but I had some pretty influential friends at the time, in fact I would pull my car up to the guard shack and be let in to park and walk into the PC unescorted. I don't say this to brag, but simply to illustrate that I have spent my time among a whole lot a gun builders and other employees at S&W. Everyone I ever spoke to called the 3rd gen guns with 2nd gen features "transitional guns". S&W was using up existing parts before fully going over to the new 3rd gen design.

Now, if the jargon here indicates that those are not "transitional" then I bow to the majority, but I wanted to explain my rationale for the words I used.

I appreciate the explanation.

Cheers,

GHEN
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Old 08-08-2017, 10:30 AM
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Everyone I ever spoke to called the 3rd gen guns with 2nd gen features "transitional guns". S&W was using up existing parts before fully going over to the new 3rd gen design.
Except that there are no unique 2nd Gen features on the Model 5903 shown above. And if it were a true transitional, the model number on it would have to be something like 6590, 6591 or 6592, etc. (i.e., 2nd Gen number plus suffix) instead of 5903 (a 3rd Gen model number)... except that there were reportedly no full-size 9mm transitionals ever made with alloy frames. In other words, it is just an early Model 5903... no more, no less.
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Old 08-08-2017, 02:51 PM
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My 5906 has a serial number of TCZXXXX. Which, from as best as I can tell looking at the SCSW, makes it a 1989 production gun. The Spec. Ord. number is 9159, which seems to confirm that. Product Code is 104008, which again the SCSW shows as 1989.

It appears that the 3rd Trigger Guard appeared in 1991-92.

I guess it's possible that the first 3rd Gen 59xx guns were forged as 2nd Gens, but then machined to 3rd Gen standards. I guess.

The alloy frame double stacks were all compacts, similar to the 6904/06, as you note.

So, yes the OP's gun was an early First Trigger Guard 5903.

If workers at the factory referred to them as transitional guns, that just means that workers at the factory referred to them as transitional guns, not that S&W officially considered them anything but early 59xx guns.

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Except that there are no unique 2nd Gen features on the Model 5903 shown above. And if it were a true transitional, the model number on it would have to be something like 6590, 6591 or 6592, etc. (i.e., 2nd Gen number plus suffix) instead of 5903 (a 3rd Gen model number)... except that there were reportedly no full-size 9mm transitionals ever made with alloy frames. In other words, it is just an early Model 5903... no more, no less.
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Old 08-08-2017, 05:55 PM
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You guys have gone way past why I was saying it was a bit weird. I have found the discussion interesting though.

The reason I wondered if it was unusual was that every picture in the SCSW was showing a matte finish. Did some come with a polished finish? I know this one has been buffed as the S&W logo on the right side of the frame is almost gone.

Thanks all for you insights. I'm fairly new to S&W pistols as I have been a S&W revolver guy only until recently.
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Old 08-08-2017, 06:01 PM
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I'd guess that a previous owner polished that 5903 to within an inch of its life. There are threads here about how to restore a finish, or at least how to make it less shiny.

Even polished like that, it's a nice gun.

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You guys have gone way past why I was saying it was a bit weird. I have found the discussion interesting though.

The reason I wondered if it was unusual was that every picture in the SCSW was showing a matte finish. Did some come with a polished finish? I know this one has been buffed as the S&W logo on the right side of the frame is almost gone.

Thanks all for you insights. I'm fairly new to S&W pistols as I have been a S&W revolver guy only until recently.
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Old 08-09-2017, 10:04 PM
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Had lunch yesterday with Bert Duvernay, long time instructor and former Director of the S&W Academy. I told him about this discussion and he chuckled and said "of course those are transitional guns, there are a bunch of them out there."

And yes, these were 2nd Gen forgings machined as 3rd Gen frames, you know....in transition.

I'll be sure to be more careful in my lexography while on this forum to match the expectations of the group.

GHEN
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Old 08-10-2017, 11:33 AM
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Please tell Bert that the guys in the forum would LOVE if S&W packed the house with a slew of guys that used to be around when all of these guns were in their heyday. Seems all we see out of the Mothership these days are plastic guns, cheap rimfire pistols that haven't been beta-tested and squirrely revolvers that spend more time in warranty service than they ever did being built.

As for the jargon and the terms... the current trading market is what it is, for better or worse. I have two different 3906 pistols, one with the early style pre-Novak fixed rear sight and one with a Novak night sight, including the machined ledge at the rear of the slide. Beyond simply the rear sights, these two slides appear about as different as two stainless, full size S&W 9mm slides could be, you would almost wish to call one or both of them "transitional" but that would sure be a reach since RSR never had any and there were no 639's with a Delrin one-piece grip that I've seen. I have heard of the 'AIP' pistols but never seen one, information seems nearly as rare as the guns themselves.

Hmmm, to be honest, besides a single pair of grip panels which attach view screw, the removable barrel bushing, all the ergonomic cuts and shaping done to improve the handling characteristics of the handgun... (none of which my 3906's and the subject gun in this thread HAVE), I'm at a loss to figure exactly what these "2nd Gen" and "transitional" features are that we are discussing.

Is all of this sour discussion based on the old style trigger guard?

Does this mean that both my 3906's are transitionals? Each has an 80's style hooked trigger guard, but remember that the lettering on the slides simply couldn't be more different.

For better or for worse, the terminology evolves. This conversation has gotten for more personal than it ever needed to be, the entire idea has been to SHARE thoughts and perspective, nothing more.
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Old 08-10-2017, 01:10 PM
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Quote:
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Please tell Bert that the guys in the forum would LOVE if S&W packed the house with a slew of guys that used to be around when all of these guns were in their heyday.
Trust me, he feels our pain :-)


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For better or for worse, the terminology evolves.
I think this is one of those times when a particular term is at the same time correct and incorrect. When I say any guns made from essentially leftover parts before they got to the planned 3rd Generation design and features are "transitional" one cannot argue that they are that, given the definition of the word. Having said that, from the perspective of the collector community here, that terminology is wrong. As I previously stated, I am happy to conform to the accepted language for the sake of clarity (and sanity).

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This conversation has gotten for more personal than it ever needed to be, the entire idea has been to SHARE thoughts and perspective, nothing more.
Nothing personal meant from my end. Typing onto a computer screen is a horrible way to communicate and a lot of meaning gets lost. I don't know you but I am sure if we ever met we would have more pleasant words than not and I am certain I would learn more than just a thing or two.

Fair winds,

GHEN
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Old 08-10-2017, 01:52 PM
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I wholeheartedly agree.

And perhaps it is a simple matter that collectors and especially folks in these forums have taken the word "transitional" and made it a proper name, "Transitional" and gone ahead with that name regardless of the meaning of the word before the guns of the mid-to-late 80's even existed.

Anyone familiar with -any- S&W products from -any- period of time is also familiar with the idea that S&W didn't care to waste any parts, seemingly EVER. That means that every time any product was updated, you had a pretty good chance to find some old parts mixed in with new parts every where that S&W could make them work.

Heck, that's a typical move in almost any business, making the best fiscal use of the materials that you have. What we are looking at in this particular discussion (late 80's semiauto) had been common fare in revolvers many decades before.
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Old 08-10-2017, 01:53 PM
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I think you did good. I will go on record as offering you your money back.
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Old 08-10-2017, 02:18 PM
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Just pulled my 3906's and my beat-up 639 out of the safe in search of more visual differences that are at least easy to spot from a casual glance or picture (as the subject 5903.)

I see that they also updated the magazine catch on the frame of the 3rd Gen pistols. You can see the difference on both sides of a 1st/2nd Gen frame as compared with a 3rd Gen frame. The difference on the left side is slight, with the pin being 45-degrees displaced around the magazine release button. The difference on the right side of the frame is more obvious with the 1st/2nd Gen pistols using a smaller horizontal bar and the 3rd Gen updated part is round and larger. If I had to guess, I might wonder if changing this part was preemptive, to give the option in the future of an ambidextrous swappable magazine catch?

The pictured 5903 that is the subject of this discussion also shows this newer feature. I truly don't know exactly how Smith & Wesson turned the raw frame forgings in to working handguns, and I'm sure it's possible that they altered a 2nd Gen forging to fit the newer 3rd Gen magazine catch parts, but it's another (small) bit of evidence that the pictured 5903 was never born as a 2nd Gen forging. But we may never really know.

Heck, "forging" may not be the proper word for an alloy frame 5903. I suppose it would be the proper term for my stainless 639 and 3906's.
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Old 08-10-2017, 03:17 PM
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S&W turned the raw forgings into finished frames by machining them. Lots of machining. Back before CNC machines, that meant that a frame had to be moved from one milling machine to another. The last time I was at a factory tour (2012) they were forging 1911 frames and then they went into the CNC machine for finishing. Same with M&P and 1911 slides.

They do them in batches. So one day (or week) they'll stamp out 1911 frames, the next day (or week) 1911 slides, then M&P slides. Of course they still do revolver frames that was as well.

It's an interesting process and if I ever get an opportunity to go again, I'm going.

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Just pulled my 3906's and my beat-up 639 out of the safe in search of more visual differences that are at least easy to spot from a casual glance or picture (as the subject 5903.)

I see that they also updated the magazine catch on the frame of the 3rd Gen pistols. You can see the difference on both sides of a 1st/2nd Gen frame as compared with a 3rd Gen frame. The difference on the left side is slight, with the pin being 45-degrees displaced around the magazine release button. The difference on the right side of the frame is more obvious with the 1st/2nd Gen pistols using a smaller horizontal bar and the 3rd Gen updated part is round and larger. If I had to guess, I might wonder if changing this part was preemptive, to give the option in the future of an ambidextrous swappable magazine catch?

The pictured 5903 that is the subject of this discussion also shows this newer feature. I truly don't know exactly how Smith & Wesson turned the raw frame forgings in to working handguns, and I'm sure it's possible that they altered a 2nd Gen forging to fit the newer 3rd Gen magazine catch parts, but it's another (small) bit of evidence that the pictured 5903 was never born as a 2nd Gen forging. But we may never really know.

Heck, "forging" may not be the proper word for an alloy frame 5903. I suppose it would be the proper term for my stainless 639 and 3906's.
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Old 08-10-2017, 04:16 PM
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In the interest of keeping the peace, I think the word "transitional" (small t) and "Transitional" (Capital T) might be a solution here.

Most of us here in Team 3rd Gen, Transitional 2nd/3rd Gens means the infamous RSR Transitionals, bearing the RSR serial number prefix and special "2nd Gen plus suffix" model numbers: 4690, 4691, 6450, 6451, 6452, 6453, 6454, 6590, 6591, 6592, 6690 and 6691. There are discussed in the 4th Edition of the Bible on pages 387 and 388. There are certain other pistols (very few, but some) with "transitional features" discussed in the Bible but I've certainly never come across any of them (other than the RSR's).

It is important to note that the RSR Transitionals did not appear before the first 3rd Gens or even concurrent with the first 3rd Gens. Rather, they came at some point after the early 3rd Gens were out for a while... and hence some of the mystery surrounding them.

Now to the word "transitional" (small t): I personally view the entire 2nd Generation S&W semi-auto pistol family as transitional (small t). I also view the early (1st trigger guard and pre-Novak sights) 3rd Generation pistols as transitional (small t) simply because the mothership later decided that hooked square trigger guards were a bit problematic and Novak sights were the cat's meow!

Anyway, is it weird that an S&W employee at the time would have thought of the early 3rd Gens (1st trigger guard and pre-Novak sights) as "transitional" to something better coming down the pike? Not really. Is it weird that certain raw materials intended for 2nd Gens ended up as 3rd Gen parts? Nope. But does that mean we should all be willing to pay a whole lot more for early 3rd Gens because some parts in them started life intended to be 2nd Gen parts?

I don't think so... but that's for each of us to decide.

Bottom line: The RSR Transitionals will continue to draw collector interest for their rarity and unique numbers... and price premiums if in top condition. It's a collector thang.

But for 3rd Gens that were "transitional" (small t) just because they were early production 3rd Gens that may have some parts or materials that originally started life intended for 2nd Gens... or because they had hooked square trigger guards and old style sights? Nothing particularly special there IMHO... certainly nothing to pay a premium for. But if someone wants to point out that they are "transitional" (small t) in the sense that an improved 3rd Gen with round trigger guard and Novak sights was on the way? I guess I have no big problem with that.

Last edited by TTSH; 08-10-2017 at 07:22 PM.
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Old 08-10-2017, 06:41 PM
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That's a fantastic summary of this discussion!
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