I have newer guns, I also have “better” guns, but I love the S&W Model 1917. Why? Because it’s just about perfect. Compared to other real N frame Smith revolvers, the 1917 is the lightest of the bunch, I’m not talking about the new scandium-titanium high viz sight things here. I’m talking about real, steel, pre lock revolvers. The 1917 has a shorter cylinder and slightly longer barrel. This savings in weight makes the Smith & Wesson 1917 a very handy and surprisingly easy to carry. When Smith & Wesson adapted the N frame revolver to the .45 ACP cartridge, they created a masterpiece. The Model 1917 has excellent balance, light weight for an all steel revolver, powerful, deadly accurate, and a superb trigger pull. Why is it light weight? Well the 45 cal chambers are large, the barrel is the older thin contour, and the cylinder is shortened for the .45 ACP cartridge. There is less steel on this revolver than other N-frames, but there is enough for the job.
Just after our entry into the Great War, it became obvious; there were not enough of the new M1911 pistols around. We hadn’t made enough to equip the Army and Marines, nor could we make enough to meet the demand of our military engaged in the World War. Enter Smith & Wesson; they invented the half moon clip, a small piece of spring steel which held three of the rimless 45 ACP cartridges. Insert these in the revolver cylinder, and the same ammunition could be used in M1911s and revolvers. Colt soon adapted their large New Service Revolver to the same system and thus the Colt Model 1917 was also born. Keep in mind that the Colt 1917 and Smith & Wesson 1917 are two different revolvers, they are different designs and no parts interchange. All they share are the half moon clips, .45 ACP ammunition, and the designation Model 1917.
After excellent service in the “War to end all Wars” the Smith 1917 went on to serve the Federal Government and law enforcement. In World War II, these old war horses were refinished and had a support role. Finally the 1917 was retired from service but it continued to be popular with civilian shooters and it spawned several post war S&W N-frame 45 ACP target revolvers.
About 20 years ago a large cache of 1917s were imported from Brazil. The Brazilian Navy has purchased about 25,000 1917s in 1937. These revolvers can be identified by Brazilian Navy crest on the right side of the frame. They sold cheap with prices from $150 to $250. The Photo on the right is my M1917 Brazilian. I had it refinished and added the grip adapter. The bore is not perfect, but man does it shoot! It prefers lead bullets both 230 grain lead and 200grain SWCs shoot close to point of aim. I usually use 45 Auto Rim cases for my hand loads. These were designed after WWI and are simply a .45 ACP case with a thick rim which does not need half or full moon clips.
Mine has been one of my favorite holster, woods bumming, and take in case of trouble guns. I also like the looks it gets at ranges from the ping & tink shooters with their plastic semi auto hand guns. I’d take it anywhere with confidence.