SOLD FOR: $6,104
Make: Smith & Wesson, Customized by DEVEL
Model: Full House Model 59
Serial Number: A338588.169
Year of Manufacture: 1976-1977
Action Type: Double Action, Semi-Automatic, Removable Magazine Fed Pistol with Decocker
Barrel Length: 3 3/8″
Sights / Optics: The front sight is a ramped blade fixed to the slide. The rear face is recessed and has a bright orange-red color fill. The rear sight is a fully adjustable MMC white outlined square notch sight in a base with protective ears fixed to the slide.
Stock Configuration & Condition: The grip panels are smooth two-piece maroon micarta with clear lucite witness windows and inlaid red oval “DEVEL” logos. There are some shallow nicks and faint hairline scratches. There are light handling marks. Overall, these grips are in Fine Plus condition.
Type of Finish: Satin Nickel
Finish Originality: Original to Devel Customization
Bore Condition: The bore is bright and the rifling is sharp. There are a few freckles of surface oxidation at the muzzle, nothing heavy. In my opinion, this bore rates 9 out of 10.
Overall Condition: This handgun retains about 95% of its metal finish. The slide and barrel are marked “5.169”. There are some scattered scuffs, some have caused smooth spots. There is a takedown arc on the slide. There are some scattered minor nicks and dings. There are some little freckles of discoloration. There is standard operational wear. The screwheads are sharp. The markings are clear. Overall, this handgun rates in Fine condition.
Mechanics: The action functions correctly. We did not fire this handgun. As with all used firearms, a thorough cleaning may be necessary to meet your maintenance standards.
Box, Paperwork & Accessories: Included is a 13-round magazine, a holster, Devel options pricing list, Devel conversion services brochure, April 1980 Guns & Ammo magazine, and February 1000 Guns Magazine. No 13-round magazine will be included if prohibited by your local laws.
Our Assessment: Smith & Wesson is an important name in the story of the American semi-auto double action, first with their Model 39 and then the model 59. Dismayed by the commercial failure of their .35 and .32 semi-automatic pistols, in 1946 Smith & Wesson president C.R. Hellstorm said the product line needed to be modernized. Their top goal was to release a Double/Single action semi-automatic pistol chambered for the 9mm cartridge. In the 1950s Smith & Wesson began the development of the Model 39 semi-auto pistol and it was finally released in 1955. Impressed with the German P38 Double Action, American Ordnance personnel issued a proposal for America’s very own double action pistol, this made it even more enticing for Smith to make a double action. The 39 was born and was a hit, but where to go from there? The answer…increase the ammo capacity. While the 39 was, and still is, an important handgun, but the Model 59 is massively important as it kicked off the “wonder-mine” craze in the police and self-defense pistol market in th 1980s and 1990s.
The Model 59 is by all means a great pistol, it sold well and is a historic gun. At the time of its release, there was only one problem, guys wanted a smaller carry gun. At the time, if you wanted a compact carry gun, you had one option, a revolver. In New York, there was a man by the name of Paris Theodore who was doing just that, building compact semi-auto carry pistols out of Smith & Wessons. His revolutionary pistol, dubbed the ASP, was designed for clandestine organizations and protection of high-ranking government officials; when it was released to the public was the talk of the town. Everybody had to have an ASP, and in the 1970s pistolsmith Charlie Kelsey was another shooter eager to get his hands on one. In 1976, Charlie Kelsey, a Formula One race car driver and mechanical-engineer-turned-gunsmith, sent a pistol to ASP for the conversion, and got back nothing. After two years of waiting he sued, and in the process became convinced he could build a better gun himself. He called his attempt “Devel,” which is an old Scottish word for delivering a sudden or severe blow. He consulted with industry legend Ken Hackathorn and the result was the DEVEL line.
In a shop near Cleveland, worked a man in a mad scientist’s workshop, full of blueprints and prototypes, with classical music filling the air. Charles Kelsey took inspiration from the ASP he so desperately wanted, and ultimately never received, and chopped the frame, slide, and barrel and added a solid barrel bushing. Chopping the frame was an easy task, but taking off material from the barrel and slide was a challenge, removing weight and altering how the tilting barrel lockup interfaces was complex. While the front of the barrel is stationary, the rear locks up into the slide when it’s forward, and drops down when the slide comes back. A shorter slide means less room to do that, a sharper unlocking angle for the barrel and less reliability. Besides, that inch you cut off the slide was part of the weight keeping the gun locked during firing. The solution was to make a solid bushing integral to the slide and to milling a ball like shape at the end of the barrel to interface with the new bushing. These features worked so well that Smith & Wesson later implemented them in their own designs. With the function sorted out, the hammer was bobbed, a new backstrap fabricated, and a new finish applied. There were three offerings from the company, the Function & Reliability package, the Basic, and the Full House. They ranged from minor modifications and reliability work to no-holds-barred transformations. On the top-of-the-line Full House offering, long flutes were cut in the slide, a better MMC rear sight was installed, a hooked trigger guard was added, and clear ASP-style grips were installed so rounds could be counted. On some pistols, such as the one on offer here, the side of the trigger guard was narrowed so you could get to the trigger fractions of a second sooner.
Not content with offering just Smith & Wesson based pistols, Mr. Kelsey expanded the line to include variations of the venerable 1911 and even the Browning Hi-Power. He was on the cutting edge of technology and he implemented coned barrels on his 1911s for consistent lockup. This had already been done on competition guns and while he claimed he was the first to do it on a compact pistol, Detonics had already been doing so with their Combatmaster line. Even so, he was one of the first to the party and was a pioneer in using a design that is commonplace today. Some builds were also offered with night sights, a feature so prevalent today that nobody bats an eye, but this was four decades ago!
It was not all sunshine and rainbows for the good folks over at Devel, good ideas not completely fleshed out and polished seem to be a recurring theme in the life of Devel Corp. One such example is that at the time of Devel’s success, FBI agents were fond of the stock factory Hi-Power and one agent got his hands on a Devel modified pistol. He requested one change, a firing pin block safety, soon the engineers at Devel accommodated his request and it worked like a charm! Joyed with the prospect of royalties and a steady stream of income, Charlie met with Browning to show the new design. Much to his disappointment, Browning already had the design for the safety, the agent had already shown them the gun. At that moment, Devel’s hopes for a steady stream of income died. This safety can be seen on any MKIII Hi-Power. The theme continues with the 9mm Devel cartridge. At the time other brands were experimenting with similar rounds; the Devel never worked out and the commercially viable round ended up being what we all know as the 9×23 Winchester. Perhaps more marketing could have been done, but without large infrastructure to chamber new guns for a new cartridge, Kelsey started off at a disadvantage. The Devel Corp. 8-round magazines were another would-be success, but at the time would not run and the company hemorrhaged money buying them back from customers. The follower design was eventually sold to Chip McCormick who got it working and still sells it today under the Shooting Star lineup. Colt and Randall also got in on the scavenging of Charlie’s ideas and implemented some on their respective Officers ACP and LeMay models. You could likely build a whole gun with features influenced by Devel and Charlie Kelsey.
In the 1970s Devel was flying high, they were featured in all the major pistol magazines and were winning matches. The pistols were used by the likes of competitor Chip McCormick and even won the prestigious Bianchi Cup. McCormick remarked, “The other guns were kind of like big, clunky American automobiles. His guns were like refined Ferraris,”. By the 1980s things had worsened, brands had been taking his designs, the company was in financial disarray and Charlie was in trouble. A fitting final salvo and f**k you to the brands who stole so many of his ideas, the final Devel pistol was a Smith & Wesson 469, a pistol that took many of his ideas under the guise of its own “originality”. He could have done a high end 1911 or some other design from his catalog, but it seems he just wanted to smack the Springfield behemoth in the face by letting them know he could make their gun better than they could.
He was a man who refused to cut corners, was stubborn to a fault, obsessive about his designs, and had a disdain for the mundane. He had a difficult time letting go of his inventions and when told by loved ones to work on more basic, economically viable designs, the answer was an obvious no. Maybe not enough went into marketing his products, but we will never know. In the 1980s, after the company stock (which he paid employees with) sank, secretaries had paid electric bills, employees sold shop machines to pay bills, and too many damn designs had been stolen, it was finally enough and Devel closed. Some gunsmiths see the end in sight and pump themselves up, Charlie didn’t care to do so.
He sold all of his remaining guns and Charlie then moved to Texas to be closer to his brother. He took up shop in an office at the facility of STI, and got to work on his latest groundbreaking design, this time bullets. As you may have already, this venture didn’t pan out. Dave Skinner, the director of STI, often didn’t even cash Charlie’s rent checks out of pity. Wayne Novak offered him pistolsmithing work in Virginia, but this offer was declined. His friend Tom Burczynski occasionally ordered bullets over the internet just to get some money to Charlie without a hit to his pride. Even his bullet design was good and just needed more time to be commercially successful. Today you can buy ammo from Underwood Ammo or Leigh Defense with almost identical designs to Kelsey “Jake” bullet. If his marketing skill was equal to his design genius, well, Devel might still be around today. His bullet company, “Leved”- Devel backwards, was perhaps another of his projects that could have been, but ultimately wasn’t.
In February 2003, Kelsey visited his brother in Houston. The two were both running low on cash, but Kelsey stopped at Central Market and bought two steaks and a fine bottle of wine.
“I said, ‘Charles, let’s take it easy.’ He said, ‘I haven’t put anything on that credit card and I think we deserve a decent evening,’ ” Henry Kelsey remembered. “I castigate myself now for not realizing he was saying, ‘This is the last time we will get together.’ ” When Kelsey left, Henry found a small brown envelope in the corner of his living room. Inside Kelsey left his most expensive watch. Kelsey also mailed his brother a note wishing him luck in life. A month later, two children found the remains of Charles Kelsey in a draining ditch in Texas. He had been shot in the head and burned. A man who had dedicated his life’s work to the perfection of a close-range pistol was caught without one and shot with one…. fate is a cruel mistress. Truly heartbreaking. The case remains unsolved two decades later. A tragic and mysterious end to a fascinating and vivid life.
A design genius who dressed antithetically to the average American “gun guy”, Charlie often wore a fresh pressed suit, smoked a Cuban cigar, and was rarely seen without his briefcase. The man who had been born into wealth, raced cars in Europe, and perhaps may have been quite the fit for English aristocracy, left the world without a penny to his name but left behind a legacy that will endure throughout the ages and never be forgotten.
The pistol on offer here comes from the golden era of Devel and has a fixed bushing, beveled magazine well, custom trigger guard, thin micarta grips with clear insert, lightning flutes, magazine extension, trigger work, recessed red front sight, custom backstrap, spurless hammer, modified beavertail, mirror polished feedramp, upgraded extractor, and satin nickel finish.
This one, number 169, is in great shape and comes with one magazine. A true find for any collector.
Pistolsmith Wayne Novak credits DEVEL with being his biggest inspiration and most innovative man in the business. He is quoted as saying “Charlie Kelsey was my biggest inspiration and the most innovative man in the custom pistol business. His designs and modifications were years ahead of their time”, high praise coming from one of the best pistolsmiths to ever do it. Mr. Novaks admiration for Devel is not lip service either, he backs it up with his pocketbook. He owns the largest Devel collection in the world with the vast majority of Devel pistols living a peaceful climate and temperature-controlled existence in his safe….and I don’t think any will be hitting the market anytime soon.
Whether noble or naive, Mr. Kelsey was part of a dying breed of inventors who designed not for notoriety or wealth, but because he took a kind of quiet pleasure in the work itself. While to the uninitiated this may look like a somewhat bulky carry gun, but it comes to us from roughly four decades ago. The true handgun connoisseur will know that this was the cutting edge at the time of its invention and we are sure they will show interest. Some guns are collectible because of limited production due to unforeseen circumstances. Others are collectible because of their insane workmanship. A Devel is both. These guns combine craftsmanship, beauty, and functionality that is rarely encountered. These are some of the rarest pistols you might be lucky enough to get your hands on. Please see our photos and good luck!
Some are hot, some are not, but thankfully most can be shot!