Rare 2nd Model Schofield Revolver with Original Factory Nickel Finish
- Product Code: FHG-GB54-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
In 1870, the US Army purchased its first large lot of self-contained cartridge handguns. The purchase included 1,000 Remington rolling block single shot pistols chambered in .50-25, 1,000 Remington New Model Army .44 caliber revolvers altered to metallic cartridge and 1,000 Smith & Wesson #3 “American” revolvers in .44 S&W. While both officers and the rank and file had been requesting cartridge revolvers from the Ordnance Department since the end of the American Civil War, two large stumbling blocks had prevented the Army from abandoning the .44 caliber percussion revolver. The first was the fact that the Rollin White patent for the bored through cylinder, which was controlled by Smith & Wesson, would not expire until 1869. The Ordnance Department understood that no other manufacturer could produce a successful metallic cartridge revolver design until that patent expired. Secondly, the Army had a massive inventory of percussion revolvers that were now becoming obsolete and were of limited value for sale on the commercial market. As a result, the army continued to use its percussion revolvers well into the mid-1870s.
The three types of cartridge handguns purchased all had their various supporters and detractors. The Rolling Block pistol was strong, simple, and durable, but only offered a single shot. The altered Remington revolvers functioned suitably but were still considered “make do” conversions of obsolete guns. The new Smith & Wesson design was modern and offered rapid unloading and extraction due to its top break design and offered equally quick reloading. The downside to the Smith & Wesson was that it was somewhat delicate, with numerous small parts that were prone to breakage, and it was questioned whether it could stand up to the rigors of duty on the western frontier.
One army officer who was particularly impressed by the Smith & Wesson design was Major George W. Schofield of the 10th US Cavalry. The 10th Cavalry was one of the famous African American regiments of “Buffalo Soldiers”. Schofield was so impressed with the design that he arranged to act as a sales agent for Smith & Wesson. Schofield sold more than one hundred Smith & Wesson #3 American revolvers between the fall of 1870 and spring of 1871. Most of those guns were almost certainly sold to other cavalry officers, and as a result Schofield started to build a foundation of support for the Smith & Wesson design. Schofield did note that there could be improvements made in the #3 design and went to work to modify the revolver to be more cavalry friendly.
The most striking improvement was to redesign the latch that closed the top break frame. The original #3 design had the latch mounted in the top strap of the revolver and requited the user to hold the gun with one hand and lift the latch with the other hand to break the gun open. This was awkward at best on horseback, and even more difficult if the horse was moving any faster than a walk. Schofield’s improvement relocated the latch to the frame of the revolver and redesigned the catch so that the thumb of the right hand could depress it while the pistol was being held in a conventional grip. The top of the barrel of the pistol could then be pushed against the trooper’s leg or saddle, opening the action, and ejecting the empty cartridges. This allowed one handed opening and ejection and made the gun much easier to use on horseback. Schofield also modified the ejection system and received patents for his improvements; in June of 1871 for the latch and April of 1873 for the ejection system. With these ergonomic and functional improvements to the revolver, Schofield proceeded to arrange for US Ordnance Department trials of the new pistol. However, Schofield was a little late. In November and December of 1872 additional trials had taken place between several models of Smith & Wesson and Colt revolvers. The winning design was the Colt, a gun that would become the most famous and recognizable handgun of the old west era, the Model 1873 Single Action Army, aka “Peacemaker”. The Colt design was found to be more durable, simpler, stronger, more accurate and to contain significantly fewer parts, when compared to the Smith & Wesson submissions. After the favorable testing, Colt received an order to deliver 8,000 revolvers chambered for the new .45 Colt cartridge, the cartridge found most desirable by the Ordnance Department after testing numerous cartridge designs between 1872 and 1873. Schofield should have accepted defeat at this point, but he had quite a bit of political pull within the army. His brother was General John Schofield of Civil War fame, and the General was a friend of General William Tecumseh Sherman, who served as General of the Army (five-star general, commanding all US land forces) from 1869-1883. General Schofield had also served briefly as the Acting Secretary of War (June 1868-March 1869), had been in command of the Military Division of the Pacific and in 1876 would be made the Superintendent of The US Military Academy at West Point. Between Major Schofield’s inroads with officers who supported the Smith & Wesson design and the political influence of his brother, he managed to get his redesigned Smith & Wesson revolver in front of the Board of Ordnance for review in June of 1874. The findings were sufficiently positive that a contract was let to Smith & Wesson for 3,000 of the new “Schofield” model revolvers in September of 1874.
These guns would become known to collectors as 1st Model Schofield revolvers. They were six-shot, single-action revolvers with 7” ribbed barrels, a square butt profile and two-piece walnut grips. While most were blued with color case hardened triggerguards and hammers, some were delivered in nickel. These .45 caliber revolvers were chambered for the .45 S&W (aka “.45 Schofield”) cartridge. The action of the revolver could not function with the standard .45 Colt cartridge then in use. The Colt cartridge was too long for the Smith & Wesson cylinder, and the rim of the Colt cartridge was too small to be effectively engaged by the star extractor of the Smith & Wesson, which meant that the Colt cases could fall through the extractor become stuck in the cylinder chambers. The .45 S&W cartridge was about .10” shorter than the .45 Colt, with a larger rim, and slightly smaller powder charge and lighter bullet. The Smith & Wesson cartridge could usually be used in the Colt revolvers, but the Colt cartridge could not be used in the Smith & Wesson guns. Initial reports from the field were positive enough that a second contract was let to Smith & Wesson for 3,000 more revolvers in March of 1875. These would become known to collectors as the 2nd Model Schofield. In all, a total of 5,285 2nd Model Schofields were delivered to the US Army between 1876 and 1877, with a total production of 5,934. In most respects the guns were identical to the preceding “1st Model”, with the most noticeable improvement being the dishing out of the barrel catch to make it easier to put your thumb into it and open the action. This also changed the profile of the catch itself and the rear sight that was built into the catch. The other major change cannot be seen, but the frames of the 2nd Model Schofield revolvers were made of steel instead of iron. Major Schofield received a $.50 per unit royalty payment for design improvements for every 2nd Model that was sold but did not receive any royalty payments for the 1st Model revolvers.
The Schofield revolvers were issued throughout the US cavalry to get good side-by-side comparisons of their effectiveness and durability when compared to the Colt Model 1873. The guns saw significant service with the 4th US Cavalry, as well as with the 9th & 10th US Cavalry (the Buffalo Soldiers). However, it was not long before the original complaints about the Smith & Wesson #3 in terms of fragility and mechanical issues began to rear their ugly heads again. However, the ammunition for the guns caused an even bigger problem. The intentional issue of the Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers to the same regiments sometimes resulted in ammunition snafus. In an attempt to circumvent this issue, Frankford Arsenal developed a universal cartridge for use in both revolvers. It was shorter and lower powered than the .45 Colt and had a slightly larger rim to help with extraction from the Smith & Wesson. However, it was not uncommon for .45 Colt ammunition to be issued to troops with Schofield revolvers, who could not use it. Likewise, the .45 S&W ammo had such a large rim that it often prevented all the chambers from being loaded in a Colt revolver or could even cause the Colt cylinder to bind up, rendering the gun useless. Despite the significant advantage in unloading and loading speed that the Schofield offered, the numerous small issues with the mechanism and the ammunition difficulties resulted in the gradual removal of the Smith & Wesson revolvers from US military service.
This is somewhat ironic, as during the decade from 1873 to 1882, Smith & Wesson would produce about twice as many of their large frame single action revolvers (mostly the various #3 models) than Colt would produce Single Action Army revolvers. Smith & Wesson found their success with the civilian market and with foreign military contracts, while Colt continued to find the US government their most lucrative customer. During the 1880s, the US military began divesting themselves of both 1st and 2nd Model Schofield revolvers. The guns were primarily sold to Schuyler, Hartley & Graham and Francis Bannerman & Company, both of New York. Many of these guns were subsequently altered by having their 7” barrels cut down to 5”, and often the guns were nickel-plated. The single largest customer for these altered Schofield revolvers was the Wells Fargo Express Company, who marked the guns W.F. & Co. Ex. when they purchased them. However, some Schofield revolvers remained in service right up to the era of the Spanish American War, and some are noted by serial number in the Springfield Research Service series of serial number books as being in used during the mid to late 1890s, mostly with state militias and guard units. This is supported by the fact that as late 1890, Frankford Arsenal was still loading the universal .45 caliber Colt/S&W cartridge.
As the large majority of military contract Schofields were sold as surplus and altered during the 1880s and 1890s, it is difficult to find them in fine original condition and in their original configuration. Much like the 7 ½” Single Action Army “cavalry” revolvers that were mostly altered to mixed number, 5 ½” “artillery” configuration, original cavalry Schofields are now scarce and extremely desirable for the collector Indian War period arms and accouterments.
Offered here is a FINE condition example of a rare Factory Nickel Smith & Wesson 2nd Model Schofield Cavalry Revolver. The gun is 100% complete and correct in every way and is a very nice, unaltered example of a scarce US military revolver from the height of the Indian War era with a rarely encountered factory nickel finish. The revolver is serial number 4300 and is a fairly early 2nd Model Schofield revolver. The serial number is clearly stamped in the butt of the revolver, along with the ownership mark US. The serial number is also clearly stamped on the rear face of the cylinder. The inspector initials E and P are crisply stamped in the bottom of the barrel web, with the inspector initials Wand P on the rear face of the cylinder with the W under the serial number. The inside top face of the lower frame is stamped with a W inspection as well. The barrel is also numbered 4300, on the left side under the frame catch. The left side of the ejector housing is clearly roll stamped in two lines, with a Maltese Cross at each end of the legend:
SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A. PAT. JAN. 17TH
& 24TH 65. JULY 11TH 65. AUG 24TH 69. JULY 25TH 71.
The right side of the ejector housing is marked in a single line:
SCHOFIELD’S PAT. APR. 22D 1873
This line is also flanked by a pair of Maltese Crosses. Both grips retain very nice cartouches. The right grip has a crisp and clear script CW cartouche for US arsenal sub-inspector Charles Woodman. The left grip has an even clearer script JRJr., for US Ordnance Department inspector Lt. James Rockwell Jr., over the acceptance date 1876. This gun would have been produced in the very first part about of the production for the second Schofield contract from March of 1875.
The pistol really is in FINE condition. The frame retains about 70%+ of its original bright factory nickel finish, which shows some flaking, thinning, and loss. The barrel retains about 50%+ of its original nickel, with most of the loss along the sides of the barrel from holster wear. Even with the blued guns, it is not uncommon to find Schofield revolvers with substantially more finish on the frame than the barrel, as often holster wear resulted in significant finish loss on the barrel. The color casehardened hammer and triggerguard both have a smooth smoky gray patina with some hints of the original casehardened mottling but have essentially faded and dulled to gray. The barrel latch and catch retain most of their original blued finish. While a 70% nickel revolver can often be rather unattractive because of the tendency of the exposed metal to oxidize to brown, this revolver has managed to stay bright in the areas where the nickel has flaked or worn away, leaving the gun with the appearance of having more original finish than it does. There are some areas where the thinned and worn nickel has a more milky or dull appearance and there is some scattered surface oxidation here and there, but overall the gun remains quite attractive. The metal is almost entirely smooth with only some scattered freckles of oxidized surface roughness here and there, some minor pinpricking and some light pitting that is mostly confined to the muzzle area of the gun and the face of the cylinder. The bore of the revolver is in about VERY GOOD condition overall and remains mostly partly bright with some areas of oxidized discoloration. The bore retains strong rifling with some scattered patches of oxidation and light pitting. There are also a couple of patches of more moderate pitting around the middle of the bore. All the screw heads are in very good condition, with some showing some light slot wear, and the balance appearing quite crisp. The revolver is mechanically FINE and functions perfectly. The pistol indexes, times and locks up perfectly, and the extraction system functions smoothly and correctly. The revolver locks up tightly and the frame to barrel fit is excellent with no wobble or looseness. The two-piece walnut grips are in VERY GOOD condition and remain fairly crisp and well-marked. They both are solid and complete with no breaks or repairs. The grips show some minor rounding to the sharp leading and trailing edges of their bottoms and may have been lightly sanded long ago, but the cartouches have escaped being smeared or blurred and just show some fading due to real world wear. The grips do show some scattered bumps and dings from handling, use and storage, but are very nice condition.
Overall, this is really very nice example of a scarce US martial handgun from the Indian War era with a rare factory nickel finish. This Smith & Wesson 2nd Model Schofield is 100% complete and correct in every way. The revolver was delivered in 1876, the same year that Brevet General George Armstrong Custer led his 7th Cavalry to their deaths along the banks of the Little Big Horn River. 2nd Model Schofields are rather scarce, with only 5,285 delivered on contract to the military between 1876 and 1877. By contrast, some 37,000 US M1873 Single Action Army revolvers were accepted for US military service between 1873 and 1892; about seven times as many! With so many of the Schofields being sold as surplus, and subsequently having their barrels shortened and often receiving new nickel finishes, it is rather difficult to find an all original, un-altered US cavalry Schofield for sale. In some cases, the Schofield revolvers escaped the gunsmiths at Bannerman’s and Schuyler, Hartley & Graham by being issued to a state militia regiment during the 1880s. Overall, this is a very nice example of a US cavalry revolver, accepted in the most infamous year of the Indian War period. Don’t miss your chance to add a very nice piece of US military, Old West, and Indian War history.