Iconic Handguns

The Washington Times recently published a list of the top dozen “Most Iconic Handguns”, and unusually for topics of this nature, I couldn’t find much fault with their choices.  To save you having to page through their stupid slideshow, the guns are:

  1. Colt 1911 Government (.45 ACP)
  2. Mauser C96 Broomhandle  (7.63mm Mauser)
  3. DWM P08 “Luger” (9x19mm Para)
  4. Browning P35 High Power (9x19mm Para)
  5. S&W Model 27 (.357 Magnum)
  6. Walther P38 (9x19mm Para)
  7. Colt Detective Special (.38 Special)
  8. Walther PPK (.32 ACP / 7.65mm Browning)
  9. Colt Single Action Army “Peacemaker” (.45 Colt)
  10. S&W Mod 29 (.44 Magnum)
  11. Glock 17 (9x19mm Para)
  12. Desert Eagle (.50 AE / .44 Magnum)

Like I said, I can’t find much to argue with, if you define “iconic” as “guns that are instantly recognizable to most people” either by their shape, their popularity or their place in legend / the movies.  Among gunnies, the list might look quite different.

But even then… one could argue that the two S&W revolvers are almost identical outside the caliber and frame design (to handle the extra recoil of the .44 Mag), and purely by the above definition, the Mod 29 (Dirty Harry’s gun) deserves its place, the Mod 27 less so.  Ditto the Luger and the P38:  the older P08 is instantly recognizable as much for its shape as for the name, but its replacement, the P38?  Not so much, even though the P38 is the better pistol of the two.  And as much as I hate to say this, the same is true of the 1911 and the High Power.  To us gunnies, the two are instantly distinguishable;  but to the general public?  Probably not.

Frankly, any such list which ignores the Colt Python (.357 Mag) must surely be suspect.

And finally, for the history buffs (and there may be one or two among us), there’s the British Webley Mk VI (.455 Webley or .38/200), which must surely rate as iconic, by any standard:

…and of course, there’s the the Smith & Wesson Model 10 (a.k.a. the Military & Police and/or Victory model in .38 Special), which some might justifiably consider the iconic revolver — certainly, with over six million manufactured, it was the most-produced handgun of the 20th century.

If I were doing the list, I might omit the Walther P38 and S&W Mod 27, and substitute two of the three beauties above (which two? aaargh).  How about a top 15?

Your observations in Comments.


  1. Pretty decent list. The “ceramic” glock invisible to metal detectors from Die Hard, Colt Python from Walking Dead, the Broomhandle would be more recognizable as Han Solo’s blaster, and don’t forget the Beretta 9 mm from Lethal Weapon. The 44 automag featured prominently in at least 2 movies (Dirty Harry and Beverly Hills Cop) but may not be enough for this list.

    And don’t forget Joe Piscopo’s 88 magnum from Johnny Dangerously, “it shoots thru schools!”.

    1. That would be true if you were talking only to gunnies, but I doubt that the average person would be able to tell a CZ 75 from a romaine lettuce.
      And remember that I’m a HUGE fan of the CZ…

  2. The S&W model 10, M&P should stand in for any & all S&W large frame revolvers as should the Python for all Colt DA revolvers. The 1911 because, well, 1911. The BHP definitely because if for no other reason, its operating system has been in use for over 80 years by virtually every semi auto pistol in the world that isn’t a mouse gun. (JMB peace be upon him) The PPK for being the first successful DA semi auto pistol
    The Colt SAA because it virtually defined and era in US history, at least in the minds of Americans.
    The Deagle, not so much, (Have you ever fired one? or tried to fire one?)
    The Smith J frame is as successful today as it was 90 plus years ago, not so the Colt dick special.
    As a final note, the measure of someone’s wisdom is the extent that they agree with your own opinions.
    The Washington Times scores over 50%.

    1. The thing about “iconic” is that it’s all about appearance, not performance — I mean, have you ever fired a Broomhandle Mauser? You have to reset your hold after EVERY shot because the stupid rounded grip turns so much in your hand. By comparison, the oversized DEagle is an easy-peasy shooter.

      Added: note that “iconic” is partly due to “who shot the thing”, e.g Dirty Harry, James Bond, etc.

      1. Remember the supposed story about choosing the Deagle for the bad guys in the Matrix? The director asked for the biggest wanker gun and the armorer pulled out the Deagle.

        Yeah, pretty much every fan-boy can recognize the deagle from that one movie.

      2. I always wondered how much popular thought about the Broomhandle Mauser came from watching the Clint Eastwood movie Joe Kidd. One of the bad guys carried and used one. Long time ago, but I think it was the first time I ever saw one.

        1. The shooter in Joe Kidd used the C96 with the shoulder stock attached. The ‘Broomhandle’ might be a mediocre – at best – pistol, but it’s not a bad PDW with the stock attached, especially for the early 20th Century.

  3. Wait ! ….. In my morning blur I would swear the post was on IRONIC HANDGUNS…my bad….

  4. Thanks for this, it reminded me that my youngest brother wound up with Dad’s Walther P.38, so I’m going to drag him to the range later today and fire a few.

  5. The N Frame from S&W made the list twice probably because each time it raised the bar for its cartridge application. In 1935 the larger frame was chambered in the first magnum cartridge .357mag. This was a great improvement over the then popular .38 special cartridge revolvers. In 1955 this frame was used to develop the .44magnum once again bringing a more powerful cartridge to the market. Seeing the N frame on the list twice is something though. Should the model 27 be bumped because it was surpassed for the Model 29? That’s an easy argument to make.

    The S&W model 10 and Python do deserve a place on the list. The python took the development of the .357magnum and took quality of finish etc to a new level. I guess you could compare the Model 27 and the Python as the Model T versus the first Cadillac or other luxury car.

    I’m not sure who came out with the snub nosed revolver first, Colt or S&W. Either way the Detective special or the S&W model 60 deserve that slot.

    Kim I think your additions are spot on.


  6. I guess that means my collection is only a little over 60 % iconic.
    I guess that means I need to keep buying guns to be totally iconic.

  7. I am partial to the Colt New Service vs the Python or Dec Special, it served in both World Wars and had pretty much any caliber you could want, though I can’t remember seeing a 44 mag but it did come in 41 mag.

  8. Hmm…with my background in muzzle-loading arms, my idea of “iconic” is a bit broader. And would include both the British flintlock duelling pistol (the question being whether Wogdon or Manton), and the Colt 1851 Navy (not the best of the percussion revolvers, but this was the gun that made Colt rich).

    1. Yes, those guns are suspiciously modern.

      And isn’t Kim forgetting the iconic handgun of the British gangster – the sawn-off shotgun?

  9. The Beretta 92 has to be there. Also, interesting note. As I recall, it was originally envisioned that the safety was supposed to be strictly a decocker, which makes for an infinitely better setup (which you can do now).

  10. Not to pick a nit, but then this IS the interwebz, #1 is a 1911A1 (I don’t care for humped MSHs :))

    As noted, the S&W 27 and 29 share the same frame. I agree that the M&P is iconic, and the K-frame is just about perfect.

    I think I’d add the Browning 1903 to any list of iconic handguns. It was copied by so many as to be ubiquitous in the 20th Century.

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