Without any hesitation, I can plainly state that the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson is the single best resource of historical information on the company’s products available in print.
I suppose that by leading the review with such an unambiguous statement, you may not want to read the rest of what I have to say on the book. I understand. However, if you do decide to read, I will do my best to fully explain why I think the way I do about this scholarly tome.
Note: This is an article about the fourth edition of the book. My original Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson review was of the third edition book and has been supplanted by this one. Nevertheless, the third edition was also a very good book about the Smith & Wesson line of products, and I have retained details about it in the appropriate section below.
As described by the publisher, this is book a “…fully annotated identification and price guide to the world of Smith & Wesson…” While it may seem strange in the so-called digital age that a book could exceed the power of the internet for historical information, it does.
Significantly more than 500 pages in length, the hardcover book is a true gem of a resource for the S&W collector. Crisp black ink contrasts nicely on the bright white, semi-gloss pages to make for an enjoyable reading experience.
Photographs are in full color and are plentiful.
The authors, Jim Supica and Richard Nahas, present information in a clear, unambiguous way. The Smith and Wesson book, however, is not written in a dry academic tone. Rather, the language is easy reading and it is likely that S&W fans will find themselves whiling away the hours reading about guns they previously knew nothing about.
In its fourth edition, the Standard Catalog describes and values nearly 800 different Smith & Wesson guns. Each firearm has a separate entry with as much production and collector information as the authors have been able to locate.
More often than not, the authors have collected detailed information about changes in a gun series, years of production, barrel length options and special editions of the gun that may have been introduced.
The book starts off by describing the key areas of concern when identifying and valuing S&W guns. “Special concerns” covers important topics including revolver frame sizes, generations of semi-auto pistols, stocks, sights, factory engraving, types of finishes and more.
After covering the basics, the catalog moves into describing all of the firearms made by S&W, starting with the first issue of Model Number One.
Understandably, much of the book is dedicated to revolvers. Considering Smith & Wesson is probably the most prolific manufacturer of revolvers in the world, and the company has been around since the 1850s, there should be no doubt that revolvers make up the bulk of their historical inventory.
Semi-automatic pistol enthusiasts shouldn’t worry, though. The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson provides a lot of information on these guns as well: everything from the Model of 1913 .35 S&W Auto to the current generation of M&P polymer pistols.
As I previously mentioned, there are a plethora of full-color photos throughout the book. Nearly every listing in the book appears to have at least one photo to illustrate it. The few exceptions are for each of the varied models of M&P 15 semi-automatic rifles, some prototype guns and a number of the older rifles and shotguns the company previously made.
The handgun sections are populated with many photos.
A very minor gripe about the book is the relatively small size of the photos. Most of the photographs are less than 1/4 page in size. While this is fine in most cases, it does create a problem when trying to identify some small detail in an unusual gun that I may be trying to identify. In these cases, a larger size photo can be invaluable.
The problem with using larger photos, however, is the book would become enormous. The book is already more than 500 pages long and is measured in pounds, not ounces. Doubling the size of the photos could also double the number of pages and cost to produce.
I guess everything is a trade off. All things considered, I prefer the smaller photos if the only other option is to cut back on the information provided.
Curiosities & Oddities
I guess I am a certified gun geek, but I enjoy just opening this book and reading about some old S&W handgun I have never seen before. However, some of the more interesting guns discussed in the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson weren’t purely handguns. These include the Model 76 submachine gun, Model 320 Revolving Rifle and the ultra-rare .30 Caliber M-1 Carbine prototypes.
Did you know that S&W developed a full-auto 12 gauge shotgun? Yep. It apparently had a passing resemblance to an AR-15, but it never went to production.
Go back far enough and you will find that most firearms companies have made more than bangsticks during their existence. Smith & Wesson is no different.
While the book does not explore these non-gun products in great detail, the authors do spend time talking about the numerous things the company has made over the years that may surprise you. Some of these include:
- toilet valves
- light socket fixtures
- a .30-caliber suppressor
- reloading tools
- tear gas and other chemical weapons
- syringe dart guns
- reloading tools
The book also covers things like the different kinds of boxes in which Smith & Wesson guns shipped. Also included is information about the company’s catalogs, posters and other promotional items.
Like any historical reference, there are spots where information is incomplete, missing or is uncertain. However, the authors do a good job on indicating where information is spotty or unclear. In fact, they actively seek input from other collectors so that in each successive edition, they can improve the amount and quality of the information provided.
Is the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson perfect? Nope. But, in my opinion, the book still is the single best resource of information on Smith & Wesson firearms.
Don’t Overlook the Third Edition
As I mentioned above, the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson is in its fourth edition. That means that there are earlier editions floating around out there. Are the earlier versions of the Smith & Wesson catalog worth picking up?
The third edition was the first of this series that I purchased. I picked it up from Amazon in 2012. I was immediately impressed by the book, and have used it for many years as a reference. It was well worth the $40-ish I paid for it back then.
However, since I received the new fourth edition, I have rarely opened the third edition to check anything. The fourth edition is simply an updated and improved version of the book.
The book is hard-covered with a colorful dust jacket. It is 432 pages long and is well illustrated with color photos.
If you don’t have any of the books in the series, I recommend picking up the third edition if you come across one that is reasonably priced (and you don’t have a newer version.) The book is rich with information and photos that you can use to research most things Smith & Wesson.
However, I don’t see much need for buying an older edition if you already have the current version. For S&W collectors, having each of the editions may be a value of its own.
The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson is easily the best reference for S&W guns I have ever purchased. In fact, it may be the best reference book I have ever purchased since escaping some pretty advanced science courses back in college.
If you collect Smith & Wesson firearms, or if you have an interest in firearms history, the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson is a must-have book I’ve reviewed a lot of books, but this is the absolute best reference I’ve found in the firearms community.
There have been multiple times that I have come across a Smith & Wesson revolver that I did not know anything about, and I reached for the Standard Catalog. Each time, I was able to identify exactly what kind of gun I was looking at with little trouble. The history lessons are great, but identifying guns is what I really bought this book for, and it performs very well.
There are a number of good Smith & Wesson books on the market. However, if you can have only one Smith and Wesson book, this is the one to own. Click here to buy the current edition of the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson on Amazon.
Last Update: July 15, 2021
I believe in full disclosure with all of the products I review at GHG. Many of the reviews you read online are paid for by the manufacturer while many others are written by people with no hands on experience with the product being tested. I imagine there is a fair amount of overlap between the two groups.
I spend time with every product I use. In this case, I own and have read these books. I’ve used them for researching guns I was interested in buying and for providing additional background information in various articles.
Neither edition of this book was provided to me by the authors or publishers. I purchased both books with my own money. I cannot find a copy of my sales receipt for the third edition book, but below is my Amazon order that included the fourth edition book:
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If you have any questions or would like to offer your thoughts on the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson, I invite you to do so in the comments section below.