A Connoisseur’s Pistol: Devel’s Full House S&W 59 Conversion at James D Julia

Produced by gunsmith Charles Kelsey, the Devel “Full House” package was a conversion of the Smith & Wesson Model 39 or Model 59 pistol (the 39 was a single stack and the 59 a double stack). In the late 1970s, there were really no factory-made semiauto compact pistols made for concealed carry – that was the realm of snubnosed revolvers. To meet the demand from the small group of sneaky and serious people, gunsmiths like Kelsey and Paris Theodore began to customize the available options – mostly S&Ws and Spanish automatics.

The Full House Devel conversion here included shortening both the barrel/slide and grip of a Smith & Wesson, shortening magazines to match (and in doing so reducing the Model 59’s capacity from 14 to 10), bobbing the hammer, replacing the sights, adding a finger hook to the trigger guard, adding grip panels with a transparent window, and performing a plethora of minor adjustments to improve the reliability of the gun.

Only a few hundred of these conversions were made by Kelsey, as it was a very expensive option. They were prized in their day, and are directly responsible for the introduction of similar features as factory models from S&W and other companies. They look clunky and large by today’s standards, but that is only because of the 30+ years of development that they spurred.

20 Comments

  1. You hit it on the head, Ian. As parts of concealed carry weapons history, showing Big Gun features people wanted before they were mass produced, this and the ASPs would be great to own.

    A fantasy I have is to find one of these at a gun show on the table of someone who thinks it’s just an old Smith auto. I know, I’m weird.

  2. Browsing S&W’s online catalog today, I see that they have compact versions of the M&P auto in 9mm, .40, and .45 ACP, plus compact SD (the newest iteration of the old Sigma), plus of course the de riguer 1911 clones (none of those are even commander-sized, much less “compact”).

    As for the 39 and 59 families…gone. Vanished.

    Apparently they couldn’t make and sell them economically today. like colt’s original revolver line, or the old ‘long action’ S&W revolvers, they required hand-fitting and skilled machinists’ work that just isn’t possible today in terms of MSRP.

    Colt has reintroduced the Detective special .38 in a new version intended to appeal to people who want a simple, reliable CCW pistol. and as usual with Colt since the 1980s, they’ve missed the whole point; the result is an $800+ revolver with fiber-optic sights and etc., that adds cost but no actual practical value.

    The best CCW guns Colt and S&W ever made were the Lawman MK III 2.5″ and Model 65 3″ snub revolvers in .357. Next up in S&W’s case was the 469 aka “Devel Junior”; the only visual difference between the two is the lack of the lightening cuts ion the slide and the distinctive Devel grips.

    Colt’s only noteworthy contributions to CCW handguns were first the M1903 in .32 or .380 ACP, and then the original aluminum-framed Commander in 9mm or .38 Super Auto.

    If I ran across a 469 today I’d buy it if I could afford it. Ditto a Commander in .38 Super.

    I would however point out that neither one is noticeably smaller than a full-sized FN P35 9mm with fixed sights and a military-style burr hammer. Or for that matter, a Tokarev in 7.62, 9mm, or .38 Super.

    BTW, over almost thirty years, my CCWs ranged from a full-grown MK IV Series 70 .45 and a Colt PP Special .38 6″ (both at the same time), to a Mauser M1934 7.65mm, two different FEG PP/PPK clones in 9 x 18mm, a Colt Lawman MK III .357, a Walther P.38, and even a S&W 645.

    The one thing I noticed was that under a windbreaker or even a golf shirt outside my belt (in the case of the 645 in an inside the belt holster), nobody noticed any of the above.

    cheers

    eon

      • Later in Soviet Union in pocket automatic pistol, there was Korovin automatic pistol (designated TK after Tula and Korovin) produced since 1926, it was designed for 6.35 mm Browning (.25 Auto) cartridge and it was of conventional design – simple blow-back, single-action, striker-fired. This was first automatic pistol serial produced in Soviet Union.

        Many years later PSM automatic pistol was produced, it fired 5.45 x 18 which was designed to give good penetration (relatively to its size), pistol itself was of conventional design. This cartridge will be used in some other designs later but without much success – OTs-26 (compact pistol), OTs-23 (Drotik), «Дрель» (shortened version of Margolin automatic pistol for 5.45-mm cartridge, see drawing here: http://www.megasword.ru/index.php?pg=176 ), generally 5.45-mm gives advantage in penetration, but its so-calling knocking power is limited

  3. “no factory-made semiauto compact pistols made for concealed carry – that was the realm of snubnosed revolvers”
    Revolvers are more friendly for “compacting”, as shortening barrel don’t require any other actions than shortening when in case of most automatic pistols slide must be also shortened and all thus all masses rebalanced to work properly, in revolvers shortening grip will require reworking spring, in automatic pistols – both spring and magazine.

    • S&W and Colt solved the grip-shortening problem sensibly fairly early on. They made their medium and small-frame revolvers with short grip frames to begin with, and then simply used oversized wood grips to “bulk out” the grips for open carry, target, or hunting work.

      Hence the “Magna” vs. “Target” grips on nearly every different size of S&W revolver, and the “round butt” and “square butt” grip frames of Colt .32s, .38s, and .357s. While the Colt square butt frame was wider at the bottom than the round but, it was generally the same length from the spring anchorage to the back of the hammer. So there really wasn’t any “re-engineering” needed between the two grip sizes.

      Probably the best solution was the Dan Wesson method. Hammer spring enclosed in a “box” welded to the frame, and the grip sliding up onto it, secured by a bolt up through the grip. With this setup, the size and shape of the grip is irrelevant as long as it fits over the “box”.

      cheers

      eon

  4. Good looking old school pistol; all metal and decent manufacture is evident thruout. Just wish to see it cycling how the “solid mounted bushing” allows for barrel motion.

  5. I must beg to differ about the purpose of the ribs on top of the hammer: they are for cocking, not decocking, the gun. The idea is, if you have time and inclination to cock, squeeze the trigger a little with your thumb behind the rear sight, catch the hammer with same thumb; next let go of trigger and pull with thumb. (Whether this can be done safely or smoothly or at all I refuse to comment upon.) I do believe also that this feature came standard on the smaller, later bobbed-hammer factory S & W automatics like the 3913 etc. For decocking, I suppose thumb in front of the hammer and gentle lowering, same as regularly-hammered guns like PP, PPK and all their descendants.

    The 39 and 59 series, and all metal-frame hammer-fired pistols, are due for extinction just as a matter of weight and cost. Polymer frames mated to slide-mounted strikers are the wave of the future: easier to manufacture, cheaper to sell, lighter to carry. I don’t approve; I just think it’s happening.

    • To decock these, just use the safety/decock as designed. No reason to risk an ND. Down is decock, just like a Beretta (unless it’s a G model, but I digress). My Smith 3914 has the same serrations on the bobbed hammer. It’s essentially the same gun as the Devel, from the factory, as Ian said.

  6. If only local laws didn’t nearly completely ban guns from law abiding citizens. I’d sneak out and get revenge for a friend who had been beaten half to death when he was mugged by some thug in a hoodie!

  7. Ah, brings back many memories of times past! Thanks, Ian. I graduated high school in 1992 & joined the Army, but had been a ‘student of the handgun’ since middle school. I read as much as I could about them and shot action & bowling pin matches. Those were good times!
    I remember these Devels, the ASP’s & their guttersnipe sights, Detonics 1911’s, along with Novak Hi-Powers, Pachmayr 1911’s and when Bill Wilson used to take a Colt Government Model & work his magic on it. And those most coveted of 1911’s, the Swensons. Not to mention all the weird PPC revolvers with 2″ diameter barrels!
    Remember Jeff Cooper? Because of his training I carried a 1911 for many years. Probably why my back is crooked – a loaded 1911 weighs close to 3 pounds! Now we have ex “operators” selling $4000 Glocks with hideous ‘battle-worn’ finishes. Even though I have entered the modern era, what with carrying a modestly customized Glock 21 (and use a smart phone…), I still miss the elegance of a chromed steel frame, blued slide and cocobolo grips.
    Odd, though, my local gunshops seem to have a lot of snubbies on their shelves. I don’t ever see service revolvers anymore, just .22’s, .44’s & snubs. I guess people still carry the little things. Maybe women? I don’t know anyone who even owns one.
    A friend of mine, who is much younger & just became a LEO, may, in 20+ years look back at striker fired, plastic frame pistols with micro red dot sights with same wistful yearning I do when I see one the fine custom handguns mentioned above!

  8. As a kid I had read about all these guns as elite concealed pistols. I got my first carry permit back in 1989 and remember looking into guns such as the ASP, Devel, and Detonics. This was the point where gun manufacturers were developing new products and taking the steam out of the high end conversion market.

    Back then if you wanted small you carried a J-frame or any one of the compact .380’s on the market. It was always a compromise in power to achieve that level of concealment and many people went with Summer vs Winter carry guns.

    We really are in the golden age of CCW options. Watching the video I kept comparing the Devel to my bog standard EDC Gen II Glock 19, itself regarded as dated given current offerings.

  9. Years ago I bobbed a revolver hammer and checkered the the top for the same reason. You pull the trigger just a bit exposing the top of the hammer and then thumb cock for a crisp SA pull. The fellow is so used to it that normal hammer feel awkward to him.

  10. I remember gun-lusting when the Asp-Devel chopped and channeled types first appeared in the late-’70s and thereabouts. Very much what I was looking for in a new contract for my security business. I’d had a Model 39 for a longish time but never been entirely satisfied with either its accuracy nor (especially) its reliability. But it was, at the time, one of the few DA/SA draw-point-shoot in a RIGHT NOW! scenareo handguns available at that time…at least at a price point I was willing to engage.
    As it happened, not too much later the reputation (without naming names) of the type became renowned for not only legendary unreliability but the bizarre sighting arrangements on some were …also considerably unreliable in their own right. Somewhere in the late 1980’s I got to try one and…surprise, surprise, it was all true. POS.
    Around about then, S&W brought out the model 469, a factory Chop and Channel job based on the rather pathetic Model 59…except this one worked.
    And I still works fine to this very day.
    It’s not perfect. The vestigial ‘non-hook’ on the trigger guard serves only to make acquiring a workable holster difficult (but not impossible. Persistence pays.). I’d like to have an ambidextrous safety, but perhaps I’ll add a bit of persistence to solve that. The sights could be better.
    But, it’s dead-assed reliable, throws a greatly intimidating ball-o-fire-bigger-than-your-head muzzle blast and a goodly “WHUMP” when sending one down range. All likely tactically useful. It’s also, shorter barrel and all at least as accurate as anything I had before.
    One of the better features is it’s ability to use the ubiquitous model 59 magazines freely. Initially I acquired one to exchange its flat baseplate with the finger-dongle baseplate of the stock 469. Not only did it work perfectly, was interchangeable with a Marlin Carbine, but enabled the 469 to assume a profile the same size as a Walter PP. Thcker of course, but with one up the spout was a full power 13-shooter. I’ll admit never having a need to actually use the box-stock 59 mag but the 20 rounder extended ones are amusing at the qualification range. ”Specially on a darkened indoor one. (See ‘Fire-Ball-Whump references above.)
    The first day I carried it on the job in a shoulder holster, it was a near hundred degree October day in Northern California and I sweated like a pig all over my new Smith and to this day it carries the drip marks. To my knowledge, all the derivatives, including the later 669, Ladysmiths, Model 39, etc, all had aluminum frames and stainless or carbon steel uppers on them.
    And no, it’s not for sale.):):)

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