Rare Japanese Military New Model Russian Revolver - Published in Japanese Imported Arms of the Early Meiji Era
- Product Code: FHG-3504J-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
In 1867, the Tokugawa Shogunate that had ruled Japan since the county’s unification in 1603 came to an end and the period that came to be known as the Meiji Restoration (circa 1868-1912) began. This period of “Enlightened Rule” dramatically shifted the governmental power of Japan from the Shogun who was the supreme military dictator and the Bakufu (“curtain government”) of Shogunate officials and feudal lords under the Shogun’s direct control, who had controlled the country for more than two-and-half centuries, by returning the ruling power to the Emperor. Under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate a strict policy of isolationism had been enforced, with only limited contract between Japan and the outside world. This contact was primarily in the form of trade through the port of Nagasaki, which was the only Japanese port open to foreign vessels. Shogunate policy not only restricted trade to this single port, but it prohibited western visitors from entering the interior of the various Japanese islands. With the arrival of Admiral Mathew Perry in Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay) in 1853, the Shogunate was forced to communicate with the western world on terms it was most certainly uncomfortable with. The appearance of Perry’s small flotilla of powerful warships full of marines and sailors armed with modern breechloading and repeating weapons made it woefully obvious to even the most backward thinking member of the Bakufu (the Shogunate’s ruling council) that a Japan with a clan based military system of samurai armed with swords was woefully incapable of resisting any serious western military incursion into the Japanese islands. Over the next decade, due to internal pressures brought to bear by more contact with the outside world, the power of the Tokugawa Shogunate waned and eventually the Shogun abdicated his power to the Emperor. The Emperor, with the help of his council and advisors, initiated a policy of modernization that would transform the Japanese military from nearly medieval status in terms of technology and organization to a world military power in about fifty years. One of the first tasks was to reorganize the military from clan dominated professional soldiers to a unified national force, organized along Prussian military lines, and to introduce general conscription so that the former samurai class of “professional soldiers” served with other classes of citizens from Japanese society. The second major task was to arm and equip this new national army that pledged its allegiance to the Emperor, and not some local Daimyo (a local feudal lord who had been a vassal of the Shogun) in a modern way. This meant that for the first time in centuries firearms were now to play a part in Japanese warfare. It had not been since the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the early 1600s that firearms had played a major role in the Japanese military conflicts, and for the next 250 years the possession and use of firearms was strongly controlled by the Shogunate.
The modernization of the military initially required the importation of firearms from western powers, as no significant firearms manufacturing industry was established in Japan, other than the production of the Tanegashima, a Japanese interpretation of the 16th century Portuguese matchlock. Early long arm purchases included thousands of muzzleloading English Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle muskets as well as Pattern 1856 Enfield rifles, primarily acquired as American Civil War surplus from dealers like Schuyler, Hartley & Graham of New York. These arms were quickly replaced by more modern rifles like the Spencer from American as well English Snider breechloading rifles and European arms like Dreyse needle rifles, French Model1866 Chassepot rifles and eventually French Model 1874 Gras rifles. The Gras, in fact, became the basis for the first modern and indigenous Japanese military rifle, the Type 13 Murata rifle, which went into production in 1880 at the Tokyo Arsenal, which had been established in 1871.
However, the Japanese military still relied upon foreign handguns to arms those soldiers to which they were issued. From the early days of western influence in Japan, after the Perry expedition, the revolvers produced by Smith & Wesson had found a strong market in that country. The earliest Smith & Wesson revolvers, the Model 1 .22RF and Model 2 (Old Model Army) in .32RF were both imported into Japan in some quantity. At least 1,550 of the No. 2 Old Army revolvers can be documented from Smith & Wesson ledgers as having been shipped to Japanese importers during their period of production, with the earliest recorded deliveries being to C. & J. Favre-Brandt of Yokohama in 1868. These guns are sometimes encountered with Japanese markings, including Meiji era gun registration marks or Imperial Chrysanthemums, indicating Japanese government (military) ownership. Smith & Wesson certainly viewed Japan as a potential customer for their product line, and actively pursued Japanese military contracts. However, it may well have been the fact that Russia had adopted their own version of the Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver, known as the Model 3 Russian or “Old Model Russian,” that pushed the Japanese military to adopt the Model 3 revolver as well. Russia represented the closest potential major enemy for Japan, as well as the largest adversary in the region to resist the Japanese push to expand their sphere of influence in their constant search for the natural resources that their home islands lacked.
The Japanese military adopted the top-break .44 caliber “Russian” Model 3 Smith & Wesson revolvers as the “No. 1 Model Break Open Handgun” and would proceed to acquire several thousand of them over the next three decades. Due to the fact that these purchases took place over time, the guns technically belonged to four different model classes, the Model 3 Russian Second Model, Model 3 Russian Third Model, New Model No. 3 Single Action, and New Model No. 3 Frontier. It does not appear, however, that the minor differences between the variations was ever a basis for classification in Japanese service, as all were essentially the same model and were all chambered for the same .44 S&W Russian cartridge, with only minor improvements in the extraction system, minor differences in barrel lengths and other very minor changes mechanically and visually. The first of the Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolvers to be acquired by the Japanese government were some 5,000 Smith & Wesson Model 3 Russian Second Model revolvers that were purchased from the London based firm of H. Ahrens, who had offices and warehouse in Yokohama for the purposes of engaging in the Asian trade. These guns were purchased circa 1878 and shipped during the following months in 1878-1879. Examples of these revolvers are known with both Japanese Naval and Army markings. The next group of Japanese military purchased Smith & Wessons were some 1,000 Model 3 Russian Third Model revolvers that were again provided by H. Ahrens of Yokohama and were shipped during 1878. The next model to be acquired by the Japanese military was a somewhat considerable quantity of the Smith & Wesson New Model No 3 Single Action revolvers. The first two shipments of Japanese military New Model No. 3 revolvers were also supplied by H. Ahrens. The first order was for 232 guns with a second order placed for 600 guns. Both orders were delivered for use by the Imperial Japanese Navy during 1879. This ended the relationship between H. Aherns, and the Japanese military and all subsequent shipments of Smith & Wesson revolvers would be delivered by Takata & Company of Yokohama. Some 9,000 additional New Model No. 3 revolvers were delivered to the Japanese military by Takata in twelve shipments, delivered between 1884 and 1908, with the guns being sent to the army, navy, artillery and even seeing use with some other Imperial Japanese services including police and some diplomatic personnel. In all, the Japanese purchased about one third of the total production of the New Model No. 3 Single Action revolvers. The final variant of the .44 Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver to be purchased by the Japanese military was the New Model No. 3 Frontier. These guns had originally been produced in .44-40 (.44 Winchester Center Fire) but due to disappointing sales and their availability in the Smith & Wesson warehouse, some 786 of the revolvers had their cylinders changed to .44 Russian and were included in shipments to Takata during 1895 and 1896 to help complete outstanding orders for Japanese military New Model No. 3 revolvers.
According to the best possible research and estimates more than 17,232 Smith & Wesson Model 3 Russian revolvers in four different variants were delivered for Japanese military use between 1878 and 1908. Even though the Japanese designed and manufactured Type 26 revolver had been officially adopted in Meiji year 26 (1893), and technically replaced the Smith & Wesson revolvers in service, at least eight additional deliveries were made by Takata as long as fifteen years after the Type 26 was adopted. More than 6,100 Model 3 Smith & Wessons were delivered after the adoption of the Type 26. It was not until the Japanese adoption of the first Nambu pattern semi-automatic pistols in 1909 that the purchase of Smith & Wesson revolvers for military service came to an end. In many cases the Smith & Wessons remained in front line service rolls through the end of the World War I era, at which time they were relegated to secondary rolls, where they remained in service through the end of World War II. As a result, some of the Model 3 revolvers saw service for more than half a century, and some had a service life as long as sixty years! This explains why most examples encountered today show significant service wear, little original finish and often show mixed assembly (serial) numbers, the result of some revolvers being cannibalized for parts to keep other revolvers functioning. These guns are very scarce and desirable for Japanese military collectors today, as Japanese military marked Model 3 Smith & Wessons rarely appear on the market. For a serious collector of Japanese military handguns, a Model 3 is the first one you need in your collection, as it was the first major acquisition of a standardized handgun for general issue to Japanese forces. The fact that many of the guns remained in service through the end of World War II is a testament to the quality of the Smith & Wesson design and workmanship. A complete collection of Japanese martial handguns that covered the period from the Russo-Japanese War through World War II should include both a Model 3 Smith & Wesson and a Japanese Type 26 revolver, in addition to the various Nambu semi-automatic pistol variants and end with a Type 94.
Offered here is a classic example of a Japanese Military Smith & Wesson Model No. 3 Russian Third Model Revolver. To make things more confusing the guns were referred to by a number of names during the period of use, including “Intermediate Model Russian,” “1874 Russian,” “Third Model Russian,” and the “New Model Russian.” Technically most Smith & Wesson collectors would either call this a “Model 3 Russian Third Model” or a “New Model Russian.” According to Jinks & Neal in their book Smith & Wesson 1857-1945 – A Handbook for Collectors this revolver was part of an order of 1,000 revolvers by the Japanese government that were intended for the Japanese Navy. However other research indicates that these revolvers saw use in all part of the Japanese military and government with some even seeing use by police and the diplomatic corps. These guns were part of a special serial number range of 1 to 9,000 that was established to indicate guns that were of the “Russian” pattern but would be marked with a barrel marking that did not include the words “Russian Model”. The reason for this was to allow the guns to be sold to foreign governments who might not take kindly to the Russian model designation. In this case, countries like Turkey and Japan were among the purchasers who obtained New Model Russian revolvers with the “Re-issue Date” barrel marking, rather than the standard “Russian Model” markings. According to Neal & Jinks about 6,000 of the guns in that range were Model 3 Russian Third Models, with the balance being the earlier Model 3 Russian Second Models.
The Model 3 Russian Third Model or “New Model Russian” was introduced in 1874 and was produced through 1878. Nearly all of the production was chambered in .44 Russian, while some a small number of guns were produced in .44 Henry, primarily for Turkey, Mexico, and some South American countries. The gun has a 6 ½” barrel and is nominally 12 ¼” in overall length. Barrel lengths on known examples of Japanese military Model 3 revolvers include 6”, 6 ½” and 7” with both blued and nickeled finishes, although blued is the most commonly encountered. Grips also varied, as smooth walnut, checkered walnut and checkered hard rubber are all known to have been delivered. This example is a blued gun with smooth walnut grips. The commercial version of the New Model Russian, which is technically what the Japanese were acquiring, could be purchased with or without the lanyard ring in the butt and with or without the spur “sash hook” on the triggerguard. Japanese purchased examples are known with and without these features, although many of the guns that originally did not have the lanyard ring had them added at the Tokyo Artillery Arsenal. This gun has both those features, but the lanyard ring is now missing which is not uncommon.
The gun is serial number 4885, and the gun is marked with that number on the bottom of the butt, on the rear face of the cylinder, on the barrel catch, and inside the right grip. As these revolvers had such a long service life in the Japanese military they are often found with mismatched parts. This gun does not have that issue and is a real gem in that respect. This exact revolver is pictured and discussed on page 157 of Francis Allan, Chip Goddard, Takehito Jimbo, Doss White & Dr. Stanley Zielinski book Japanese Imported Arms of the Early Meiji Era.
The top rib of the revolver is roll stamped one line, flanked by a pair of Maltese crosses, and reads:
+ SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A. PAT’D JAN 17 & 24. 65. JULY 11. 65. AUG. 24. 69. APR. 20. 75. JAN. 19. 1875 REISSUE JULY 25. 1871.+
The barrel legend remains mostly legible and is clearly stamped, although the marking does show some wear and remnants of old added white contrast material to make the marking easier to see. A small, circled kanji is present after the address on the top rib, forward of the cylinder retention screw:
This character is “Hon” which means “book” in literal translation. This is a well-known Tokyo Arsenal inspection mark, which implies to me that the after the gun passed inspection it was added to the military’s inventory, which probably implied adding it to the “books” of inventory as it were. The only other external marking is a small 1874 date on the butt, above the serial number. It is worth noting here that since the early Smith & Wesson purchases were done through English retailers who had established Asian trading houses, that there is some level of discrepancy between Smith & Wesson records and the actual sales dates. So, even though Smith & Wesson references talk about these early Japanese purchases they tend to make it sound like the Japanese were buying directly from Smith & Wesson, which they were not doing. Instead, they were buying third hand through parties like H Ahearns in London and then eventually through their own Japanese based Takata company. Thus, deliveries of guns from an order were often of guns on hand with Ahearns in their warehouse. This is why the initial Ahearns deliveries could include guns produced several years earlier, that were either in Ahearns inventory or were “new old stock” at Smith & Wesson. This also explains the variety of models that were acquired by the Japanese, the mixture of grip types (smooth walnut, checkered walnut, or hard rubber) and the presence or lack of both the butt swivel and the sash hook.
The revolver remains in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE overall condition and much nicer than the condition that most of these rare revolvers are encountered in when they are found for sale today. The metal surfaces of the gun retain about 20% to 30% of their original blued finish, which has thinned and dulled with age and use. Most of the surviving blue is found on the frame, cylinder, and ejector housing. The balance of the metal is a lovely blend of traces of blue, an attractively oxidized plum brown patina and scattered freckles of surface oxidation with some lightly scattered minor surface roughness. There are a few flashes of bright blue here and there on the metal, primarily in the protected areas like the nooks and crannies at the rear of the recoil shield, around the ejector housing, and in the cylinder flutes. The casehardened hammer and triggerguard have both silvered out for the most part, with the hammer retaining some nice traces of mottled color and the triggered showing only some minor color at the rear web, and the balance having a pewter patina with scattered oxidized freckling. While the metal is mostly smooth throughout, there is some lightly scattered surface roughness as noted, as well as some scattered pinpricking present on the metal, as well as some scattered light pitting. The most noticeable areas of pitting are at the muzzle and on the butt. The revolver is VERY GOOD+ mechanically and functions as it should on all positions. The revolver times, indexes and locks up as it should. The break open action locks securely together with no wobble or sloppiness and opens smoothly when released. The automatic extractor functions smoothly and correctly as well. The revolver retains a FINE condition bore, which is mostly bright and still retains very crisp, sharp rifling. The bore shows some very lightly scattered pitting and a couple of tiny patches of more moderate oxidation, but really remains in wonderful condition. According to the above-mentioned book, this is not uncommon, as the revolvers were apparently carried and handled much more than they were typically shot. The revolver was fitted with a lanyard ring by Smith & Wesson, but it is now missing. As noted, the revolver retains the sash hook spurred triggerguard. The original integral round front sight blade is in place at the end of the barrel rib. The two-piece smooth walnut grips are original to the revolver, with the right one correctly serial numbered to the gun. The grips are in VERY GOOD condition. They are solid, complete, and free of any breaks, cracks, or repairs. There are a pair of marks cut into the upper rear of the left grip that may represent a pair of kanji characters, but this is not clear. The cuts are certainly intentional. There is some minor chipping on the bottoms of the grips but otherwise they only show light to moderate wear including some bumps, dings and mars that are commensurate with the condition of the balance of the revolver.
Overall, this is a very nice, crisp, and untouched example of a late 19th century Japanese Military Smith & Wesson Model No. 3 Russian Third Model. The gun is complete with the exception of the missing lanyard ring and appears to be all original parts with those numbered parts that could be checked all matching. That alone is quite a rarity for these Japanese military Smith & Wesson revolvers. As an added bonus, this gun is published, which never hurts in terms of market value and provenance. These guns rarely show up on the market for sale and a are great find for a collector of 19thand early 20th century Japanese military arms. Rarely can you find an item for sale that represents not only the early part of the Meiji restoration in Japan, but also the Russo-Japanese War, as well both the First & Second World Wars. While not a frontline issue weapon during World War II, these revolvers are still as appropriate to a Second World War collection of Japanese arms as any of their “last ditch” and homeland defense improvised weapons. If you collect Japanese military handguns, you can reasonably argue that this is the first “bookend” in that collection, and that all other modern Japanese military handguns evolved and were issued after this one. Don’t miss your chance to obtain a nice, well-marked example of a Japanese Military Smith & Wesson New Model Russian revolver that was published in Japanese Imported Arms of the Early Meiji Era.