Today, Smith & Wesson is mostly known for revolvers and their growing line of M&P pistols. Despite the rapidly growing popularity of these polymer-framed striker fired semi-auto pistols, there’s also a lot of buzz around the former metal-framed S&W pistols that were discontinued a few years ago.

Prices on the used market for the so-called 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation S&W pistols are still affordable, but have been rapidly rising over the past couple of years. These pistols are usually tough, reliable, and excellent shooters. If you happen to run across one for a good price, now would be a great time to snatch it up.

The trouble with that plan is the absurdly confusing system that S&W used to assign the model numbers for these pistols. Today, their M&P pistols follow a pretty logical formula. I carry a M&P9c — a compact 9mm. Makes sense, right? Well, the 3rd Gen equivalent of that pistol is the 6904. But if it was made before the late 80’s, it would be the 2nd Gen version — the 469. And the single stack version would be the 3914, which is virtually identical to the 908. Confused yet?

Unless you’ve committed these models to memory, looking at the numbers stamped on the slide of an old S&W pistol in the case at a gun shop or an online ad doesn’t really tell you much. Even if you ask Google for some help, you might have to wade through a multi-page forum thread to get a straight answer.

Well, believe it or not, there is some logic to the old S&W numbering system, it’s just not particularly intuitive. So we whipped together this S&W semi-auto model number quick reference chart to make it a little easier for you the next time you misplace your S&W decoder ring.

S&W semi-auto model guide

Our chart covers most of the regular production models for the discontinued Smiths chambered in major service calibers. There are a few less common ones out there, but these are the pistols you’re most likely to run across today. Even with the chart, there might be a few confusing details about the numbering system, so keep reading for a little background info on each “generation” of S&W autos.

1st Gen Pistols

The first S&W semi-automatic chambered in a service caliber was the Model 39, which first saw the light of day in 1954. The aluminum alloy-framed 9mm pistol had an 8-shot single-stack magazine, a 4-inch barrel and a traditional double action/single action trigger with a slide-mounted safety/decocker, similar to what many people are familiar with from the Beretta 92 series. The Model 39 was developed as a potential replacement for the U.S. Army’s M1911A1. The Army declined to adopt the Model 39, but the pistol was a commercial success, and was even used by a few police departments as one of the very first semi-autos carried by American law enforcement.

In the early 1970s, S&W released a version of the 39 that used a double-stack 14-round magazine dubbed the Model 59. Together, the 39 and 59 are considered the “first generation” of S&W semi-autos. All of the following S&W 2nd and 3rd generation 9mm pistols are essentially derivatives of these two and in many cases, their model number provides some clue to that origin.

S&W Model 39-2
The S&W Model 39 and the 439 that followed are among the only S&W semi-autos to come standard with a blued finish and wood grips.

2nd Gen Pistols

In the late 1970s the S&W models 439 and 459 were released, which are considered the first of the second generation pistols. These were basically the 39 and 59 with a few small changes and the number “4” added to the begining of the model number. Steel framed versions of these pistols followed, available with either a stainless, blued, or nickel finish. Blued and nickel model numbers start with “5” (539, 559) and the stainless steel models start with “6” (639, 659).

In the mid 1980s, S&W released two alloy-framed compact versions of the 59 series; the 469 (blued or nickel finish) and 669 (stainless finish). Establishing the form factor that the third gen compacts would follow, these pistols had a 3.5-inch barrel and 12-round magazine.

Around this same time, S&W also began producing their first .45 ACP pistol — the model 645. This was a large frame, single stack pistol with an 8-round magazine, 5-inch barrel, and DA/SA with slide-mounted safety/decocker just like the 9mm pistols. There is one variant of the second gen .45 pistol — the single action only model 745, which was a special limited run intended for IPSC competition shooters.

I hope you caught all that because here’s where it gets complicated…

3rd Gen Pistols

The third generation of S&W pistols started hitting the market in the late 80s. They can be easily spotted by their four-digit model numbers. S&W continued the numbering trend they had started on the 9mm pistols — the 3900 series are full size and compact single stack pistols, the 5900 series are double stacks, and the 6900 series are compact double stacks.

Third gen pistols in other calibers are much easier to remember. The 4500 series is for .45 ACP, 4000 series for .40 S&W, and 1000 series for 10mm.

So, looking at the first two digits of a four-digit model number from a 3rd gen pistol, we can know the caliber, and if it’s a 9mm, we might also know the frame size. The rest of the info we’d need is in the second half of the model number.

The S&W Model 4506 is large, even by .45 ACP standards, but the slim grips make it usable even for people with small hands.
The S&W Model 4506 is large, even by .45 ACP standards, but the slim single stack grip makes it usable even for people with small hands.

The third digit indicates one of nine possible combinations of action type and frame size. Most S&W autos are DA/SA, but not all. Some are double action only (DAO), and a few were even made with a slide-mounted decocking lever and no external safety (similar to what you’d find on a Sig P220 series pistol). Each model series has a frame size and barrel length that is “standard” for that series, which we’ve listed on the chart. The third digit will tell you if a given model is the standard size, mid-size, or compact.

The final digit in the model number indicates the frame material and finish. Frames are either steel or aluminum alloy and the finish is either blued/black (sometimes with a nickel plating), or stainless/silver.

Exceptions

What makes this complex system frustrating to follow is that there are multiple exceptions to the product “codes”. Some are pretty easy to figure out like the “value” series pistols. These were budget versions of the third gen pistols that lack some of the finishing touches of the standard models and have a three-digit model number. The first two digits reflect the caliber (9, 40, or 45).

The Chief’s Special pistols are also easy to spot, like the one in the header image of this post. They are single stack, sub-compact variants with a “CS” pre-fix and they’re some of the most sought-after 3rd gen pistols on the used market. There’s one model each chambered in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45ACP called the CS9, CS40, and CS45 respectively.

Besides these obvious exceptions, there are a few sneaky model numbers that look normal but don’t follow the numbering trends. For instance, the 6906 should really be the 6903 — a “6” for the final digit normally means stainless steel, but the 6906 is an alloy framed pistol with a silver stainless finish.

The compact .40 S&W pistols can also be confusing. Most are double stack, but a few single stack versions were made. The model 4040PD in particular breaks multiple model numbering “rules” and seems to have been given its name arbitrarily.

Letter suffixes are another detail to watch for. A couple of letters tacked to the end of the model name might mean something minor like a new finish, but they can also indicate major changes like the “TSW” (Tactical Smith & Wesson) series of pistols which indicate the addition of features like improved sights and accessory rails. Sometimes, the TSW pistols were built with a completely different frame size and barrel length than the standard model.

Some of the oddball model names come from pistols developed by S&W’s in-house custom shop, the Performance Center. To keep things simple (relatively speaking, anyway) we didn’t include these and other obscure models in our chart. If you want more detailed information on any of these models, I highly recommend picking up the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson which was a huge help in verifying the info for the chart.

Hopefully, the next time you’re trying to track down a deal on an old Smith, this info will help your search go a little quicker. If we’ve missed anything important, or if you spot any errors in the chart, let me know and I’ll try to correct it ASAP. If you guys like this one, be sure to tell us in the comments and maybe we’ll tackle S&W revolvers in the next one!


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  • Doug Copson

    Exactly what I was looking for.

  • Matt Moore

    I briefly had a 6946… 9mm compact, 3.5″ bbl, DAO, 12+1 cap, alloy frame, silver/stainless finish…

  • Mike Finamore

    I own a S&W 5906 Stainless, 14 round double-stack double action 9mm. This is the second one I have purchased. While the 48 ounce carry weight is significant, by standards, the accuracy and power is very good with this pistol. I recently acquired a M&P Sheild in .40 cal, 7+1. It makes a great carry sidearm.

  • Todd Floros

    I’ve owned a 5904 since I purchased it new in 90. I love that gun. Extremely reliable.

  • Tim Ellwood

    For a while, S&W had a cardboard “decoding” wheel that they sent to dealers so they could keep up with the model numbers. Then they got so many different models that they could not make one big enough. By the end of the 3ed gen series, it would have been the size of a spare tire!

  • Robert Lee Silcott

    Very informative.

  • Jodi Sires

    I had a stainless 45 model 6452 I thought the 2 was for stainless but there is no mention of it here

    • LG Chris

      The 4600, 6400, 6500, and 6600 pistols are rare “transition” models between the 2nd and 3rd gen guns. According to the Standard Catalog of S&W, an estimated 200-400 of the model 6452 were produced. Looks like its the same as the 6450 and 6451 (DA/SA stainless .45 ACP) except all three have different sights.

  • skjos96

    Awesome chart, I just saw it shared on the Smith and Wesson forum. I tackled tabulating all the 3rd gen models including the rare variants and their production numbers; it is an ongoing task as I find more information on each model. If you ever decide to expand your list feel free to use the information I’ve gathered. You can find it as a sticky on the Smith and Wesson forum “The Complete 3rd Gen Model List”. It also has the 3rd gen era rim fires (not really 3rd gens, but built during the same time frame)

    • Thanks, glad you found it helpful. The S&W forum was a good reference when I was putting the chart together, so I probably used your post at some point in the process. I did a similar project for S&W revolvers, but that was even more daunting and I had to limit it to .38/.357 models only. http://www.luckygunner.com/lounge/guide-sw-38-357-revolvers/

  • John

    I’m wondering about comparable trigger guard dimensions.

    Will a kydex trigger guard fit for a S&W M&P 40 fit on either a S&W M&P 40c or S&W 40 SD?

    Any thoughts?

    • Ziggy60

      Try Apex Tactical Triggers.

  • Dr Duke

    These were great guns. I wish they still made them.

  • undeRGRound

    Great Help to the novice S&W automatic handgun collector 😉

  • jagr1pooh

    One thing I read that I think can be added, the 2nd Gen 439 did also come nickel finished, I have one. or it could be stainless not sure.

    • rick45x8

      If it’s a 439, it’s nickel. 639 was stainless. Also, an all-steel version (539, 639) weighs about ten ounces more than the alloy-framed 439.

  • bjfolds

    Awesome information! Thanks for taking the time to share it. One thing, unless I’m wrong, I noticed you said the safeties are “frame-mounted”, but if I’m not mistaken, these guns (aside from a few exceptions, I’m sure) predominantly have their safety/decocker mounted onto their slide, don’t they? Is my terminology off or wouldn’t these be considered “slide-mounted” safeties? The first time I notice you mention it is under the 1st Gen segment, and then again later on. Thanks for your time and so much for putting the chart together!

    • Yes, you are correct! With a few exceptions, the old S&W semi-autos had slide-mounted safeties. Looks like I mis-typed it as “frame-mounted” not just once, but an embarrassing three times. Must have been wishful thinking. The article has been corrected and thanks for pointing it out!

      • bjfolds

        No problem at all. Thanks for the rapid reply and thanks again for the great info and work you put into it!

  • Norman bradford

    I have a Smith & Wesson semi-automatic it’s got sd9ve what does that stand for and what holster can I get the 5th at any feedback would be helpful

    • That would be the S&W SD9 VE, which is S&W’s current production budget line of polymer pistols. A Google search returns dozens of holster options for the SD9 VE.

    • Ziggy60

      It stands for SelfDefense9mmValueEnhanced as from what I heard from you tube Hickock45.Hope that helps.

      • Ziggy60

        Also try White Hat Holsters

  • Bassman

    I’ve Been A Pistol Shooter 30 Years And NRA Instructor For 20 Years. I Lived 15 Minutes Away From COLT MFG. In Connecticut, And ,30 Minutes From MOSSBERG AND MARLIN FIREARMS, 30 Minutes From RUGER, SOUTH PORT, CONNECTICUT, And An Hour From SMITH AND WESSON MFG. Just Amazing, Even. Charter Arms, The Most Powerful Handgun Ever Made THE WILDEY ,WHICH SHOT 45, 45 Winchester Mag, And 2 RIFLE CALIBERS AS CHARLES BRONSON USED IN DEATH WISH 3. I Believe He Used A .375 Rifle Round. It Was Sent In A Walnut Box With 1 Or 3 Barrels of 3 Different Calibers. Still The Baddest Pistol, In A 1911 Type Frame And Threaded On Barrels. Makes A Desert Eagle Seem Like A Toy. So After Owning All Generations of Smiths, and SIG SAUL 2 Hours Away, All The Great Pistols Were Blue, Nickel and Stainless. In 1990 I Bought The First .40cal Glock Serial Number 67. – The Cops And Not Many People Knew About The 40cal. And I Started Bleeding Out Of My Steel Pistols Holding Onto My Sig P220, Colt Gold Cup,Officers ACP,And AR15. And The Original Mossberg Marriner Stainless 12ga. 8 Shot Shotgun. Even Sold My BROWNING Tactical. After Owning 3 GLOCKS, ,And The HK USP9 & USP COMPACT 40, 3 XD SPRINGFIELD ARMORY STRIKER, AND THE P320 SIG, ALL GREAT GUNS. I Have Been Buying The Second & Third Generation SMITH AND WESSON STAINLESS STEEL AND NICKEL PISTOLS. I Love These Guns And Should Have Kept Them. I’ve Got A Bright Stainless Steel 639/9mm, ,4506 Stainless Steel, I got A ,469 Nickel/9mm, I Just Bought A 1006/10mm, I’m Searching For A Mint 5906, And A Model 66 .357 Revolver, Stainless,The Best .357 21/2 Made. I Got Caught up On Sigs P220, 229-, 239, And Colt Defender. I’ve Found These Pistols Were Made To Last Forever, And You Can Modify Them To Shoot Extremely Accurate. They Look Better, Feel They Have Shorter Barrel 45’s, 10 mm. Better, And Shoot Better. Buy Those Smiths, They Are Great. So Many Supurb Models, LIKE THE 40cal TSW. Expect To Pay 450-500 Bucks For Mint Ones. OTHER THEN THE 10mm That’s The Very Most I’ve Paid.

  • Wally

    I wish Smith and Wesson would bring these guns back. I don’t care what frame they use, steel, aluminum, or polymer.

    The M&P guns are okay, but nothing compared to the reliability and durability these guns offered.

    • I doubt we’ll ever see them come back. They’re very expensive to manufacture compared to the polymer autos.

      • Wally

        Which is sad. Even if they did a polymer frame version, it will outsell the M&P line very quickly.

        I also heard Smith & Wesson stopped servicing these guns, including the lifetime warranty. That if you send them one of the 1st to 3rd gen guns, they’ll just send you back an M&P.

        Any truth to this?

  • Mikele Deziell

    I have a 2nd gen square trigger guard bottom that is marked model marked 659, but is actually a 3rd gen 5900 series bottom! It has a true 659 slide with the stubby rear fixed sights on top. My serial number starts with TBV and I found out I have 1 of a couple hundred of the transition models with 1/2 2nd and 1/2 3rd gen mixed together. Love this gun! Love the contours of the 3rd gen grip but not the poor aftermarket grip selection. 👍🔫

    • Patriot068

      Same here those plastic pieces are junk, o got a wrap around Banchi, grip, only problem is the DBL stack mag etc really wide and you have to have big mitts to hit mag release and decocking safety. But it’s fun to shoot I’ve had it 20+years. Though my mag springs are worn

  • Patriot068

    My 9mm just says 659 where it says ( model) not sure if it’s 1st or 2nd gen.shoots good but trying to find mags are an SOB because not sure what to call it, model 59? Stainless because of the 6?? Trying to get a Blackhawk holster CQB style locking but not sure on the back which one? Because my trigger guard isn’t smooth like in the above pics but has ridges,on the leading edges

    • The 659 is the 2nd gen steel frame variant of the 459. It uses the same magazines as the Model 59. It will probably fit Blackhawk holsters made for the 5900 series, but you might want to contact Blackhawk to make sure.

  • That’s an early S&W Model 39 with a steel frame, which is a first generation model.

  • dagray

    I’ve been looking for a good hammer fired pistol. I almost totally forgot about the 3rd Gen Smith & Wesson’s. They’re definitely kind on the wallet. Thanks for the chart I’ve been kind of confused with all the options available.