The Model 1917 Revolver

The Model 1917 Had The Back Of The M1911

When the US gunned up for World War I, it pressed a lot of manufacturers into service to make the M1911 pistol. All of that manufacturing wasn’t enough, so it turned to Colt and Smith & Wesson to modify their large frame double-action revolvers to take the rimless .45 ACP cartridge and the Model 1917 was born.

Original Model 1917 revolvers are getting hard to come by. If you find one, leave it original.

Original Model 1917 revolvers are getting hard to come by. If you find one, leave it original.

Ordinarily, revolvers take rimmed cartridges. It’s cheaper, faster and easier to bore cylinder chambers straight through, but a straight-walled, rimless cartridge can drop into the chamber so far that the firing pin doesn’t hit the primer. To solve that problem, S&W came up with the half-moon clip that, as the name implies, is a half-moon shaped metal clip that holds the .45 ACP rounds by the extractor groove, basically headspacing the rim against the clip instead of the mouth of the case against the chamber shoulder.

The most notable difference between the Colt and S&W is that generally Colts are found with chambers bored straight through while S&W actually used a chamber reamer so there is a little shoulder in the chambers and you can fire .45 ACP cartridges without the clips. The trade-off is that you can’t eject fired cases using the extractor star and you have to push individual cases out from the front of the cylinder using a pencil or other type of punch. Later, Peters came out with the .45 Auto Rim, which is a rimmed version of the .45 ACP that you can shoot in any 1917 revolver without half-moon clips.

The .45 Auto Rim cartridge is basically a .45 ACP with a thick rim that you can shoot in .45 ACP revolvers without having to use a moon clip.

The .45 Auto Rim cartridge is basically a .45 ACP with a thick rim that you can shoot in .45 ACP revolvers without having to use a moon clip.

One variant of the 1917 is the Brazilian contract known as the S&W 1937. There were 25,000 of these guns made for Brazil and they’re easily identified by the Brazilian crest. I have both a S&W 1917 and a 1937, but I had Stanton Wormley of Leckie Professional modify my 1937 for carry. Stanton bobbed the hammer, turned in and shortened the grip, chopped the barrel off in front of the ejector shroud and gave it a “creek bed” finish to hide some of the small rust pits. I fashioned new grips out of oak and wrapped them with a rubber slip-on grip because this little gun stings a bit when you shoot it.

Mayer had his Model 1937 chopped and bobbed for carry.

Mayer had his Model 1937 chopped and bobbed for carry.

Today the are half-moon clips, moon clips, two-cartridge clips and with a Dremel tool you can even fashion E-clips into single clips to shoot rimless cartridges in revolvers. Popular rimless cartridges that use moon clips in revolvers include 10mm, 9mm and .40 S&W.

Stanton did a great job on my 1937, but in hindsight I wish I hadn’t assed up this gun and left it original. A large-frame S&W is just too thick for me to carry concealed. If you do find an original 1917 or 1937, keep it original.

The S&W Model 1917 (top) and Model 1937 are basically the same gun revolver chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. This Model 1937 is heavily modified.

The S&W Model 1917 (top) and Model 1937 are basically the same gun revolver chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. This Model 1937 is heavily modified.

 

 

Scott Mayer

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“Shooting Guns & Having Fun”

Scott Mayer

Scott Mayer

Writer at John1911
Mayer began his outdoor industry career in 1993 on the NRA Technical Staff where he became American Rifleman magazine first Shooting Editor. Mayer left NRA and entered the business end of publishing in 2003 as Advertising Account Executive for Safari Club International SAFARI Magazine and Safari Times newspaper. In 2006, Mayer was named Publisher of Shooting Times magazine where he was also tasked with launching and leading Personal Defense TV, the first television show of its kind.

In 2008, Mayer returned to the editorial side of publishing, this time in the digital field, as Editorial Director for Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Handguns and Rifleshooter online magazines. After a brief stint in 2011 as the Digital Media Director for an ABC TV affiliate, Mayer returned to the outdoors industry and Safari Club International where he is currently Assistant Publisher and Multi-Media Communications Editor.
Scott Mayer

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  • Brennen Munro

    I have to stop reading your articles Scott! I of course now want to add one of these to my collection, to go along with that 9mm revolver that I want to get also… So many guns and so little money to invest into them. Ugh.

    Munro

  • jeepers

    Nice article. There are two types of the S&W M1937 Brazilian; one is identical to the M1917. The other has a channel atop the frame in front of rear sight. It has a much smoother action; much like an N frame and a joy to shoot..Both have the Brazilian crest.