Rare Smith & Wesson #3 1st Model American with Factory 6-Inch Barrel
- Product Code: FHG-2130
- Availability: In Stock
In 1870, Smith & Wesson introduced a new cartridge revolver that would become the basis for at least five other subsequent models, and which would remain in production in one form or another for some four decades. The Model # 3 First Model, which eventually received the moniker “American” was the prototypical large frame Smith & Wesson handgun of the old west period. The nickname originated to differentiate this variant of the Model #3 from a variant produced under contract for the Russian military. The revolver was chambered for the .44 S&W American cartridge (less than 100 were also manufactured in .44 Henry Rim Fire), which was simply called the .44-100 when it was first introduced, but which had to be differentiated from the “Russian” variant of the .44 cartridge after that foreign contract was signed. The gun was a single action revolver with a six shot cylinder and a ribbed round barrel that was usually 8-inches in length. The revolver incorporated a number of “firsts” for the company. It was the first center fire revolver that Smith & Wesson produced. It was also the first .44 caliber handgun for the company, the first “large frame” handgun for Smith & Wesson, and most importantly the first gun to feature a tip down barrel with simultaneous extraction. The revolver was originally designed for the 1870 US Ordnance Board handgun trials, where it performed well enough that a contract for 1,000 guns were received by the company in December of 1870. The deliveries made under this contract tool place in March of 1871. These “martial” #3 Americans appear to be somewhat evenly distributed within the serial range of 125 to 2199. One of the features that made the #3 so appealing was the “simultaneous” extraction system. By lifting a latch on the top of the frame the action of the revolver was opened and as the barrel was tipped down, a star extractor, powered by a ratchet mechanism, withdrew the cartridges from the cylinder, and expelled the empty cases. It was then an easy matter to replace any spent rounds, close the action and be ready to use the revolver again. By comparison, Colt’s competing design, the Single Action Army, released in 1873, required a slow system of manual extraction of each spent case one at a time, with an equally slow loading process. The simultaneous extraction system would be so successful and popular that a number of Smith & Wesson models in multiple frame sizes and calibers would utilize it, well into the 20thcentury. The first 1,500 or so of the #3 American revolvers were manufactured with a tiny “oil hole” in the bottom of the barrel web, just in front of the frame hinge and ratchet system. This allowed for the ratchet mechanism to be lubricated. It was discovered that this was an unnecessary feature and was eliminated from standard production somewhere between serial numbers 1450 and 1537. In all, Smith & Wesson would produce about 8,000 Model # 3 “American” First Model revolvers between 1870 and 1872, when a refined version the “Second Model” American would replace it.
Many of the small design changes and improvements for the 2ndModel can be credited to changes requested by the Russian government, who had ordered some 20,000 #3 Revolvers in 1871. The initial successes of the #3 made the gun very popular in a number of circles. Major George W. Schofield of the 10thUS Cavalry, one of the famous regiments of “Buffalo Soldiers”, was one of those people who had a great fondness for the Smith & Wesson design. In fact, Schofield was so impressed with the design that he arranged to act as a sales agent for Smith & Wesson. Schofield sold over 100 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 suggested a number of improvements to make the revolver more user friendly for the cavalry, with the end results being the 1stModel Schofield and later the 2ndModel Schofield. Both of these guns were modified #3 American’s, chambered for the .45 S&W cartridge.
Other western luminaries were very fond of the large frame Smith & Wesson design, including William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and frontier lawman Wyatt Earp, who supposedly carried a #3 at the famous shootout at the “O.K. Corral”. Over the next four decades thousands of #3 variants would be produced, in a variety of calibers and some even fitted with shoulder stocks and long barrels as revolving rifles. The success of the design was resounding, and in the end the average frontiersman was about as likely to have a Smith & Wesson #3, or some variant thereof, in his holster as a Colt Single Action Army. All of that, however, started with the Smith & Wesson Model #3 1stModel American Oil Hole Revolver in 1870.
Offered here is a VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition example of a Smith & Wesson Model #3 1stModel American Oil Hole Revolver with a very scarce, 6-inch factory barrel length. These 6-inch barreled guns used barrels that were originally the standard 8-inches in length, which were shortened at the factory for the special orders. The most famous of the 6-inch variants are the thirty-two that were ordered by the City of Nashville for the use of their police force and which were delivered in May of 1871. Only a handful of these guns are known to exist, and extant examples are found in the 3,4XX-3,5XX serial number range. This example is part of an order of fifty Model 3 American Revolvers that were ordered by M.W. Robinson of New York, on of Smith & Wesson’s largest and oldest distributors. Of the fifty guns in the order, twenty-five had the standard 8” barrel length and the remaining twenty-five were delivered with the special-order 6-inch barrel. The gun is an “Oil Hole” variant but is some 1,300 numbers out of the standard production “Oil Hole” range. Apparently, like most companies of the period, Smith & Wesson did not discard obsolete or older pattern parts but saved them for potential use in the future. In this case, the old 8-inch “Oil Hole” barrels were chosen from old stock for factory shortening to 6-inches to fill this special order. The revolver is accompanied by a Smith & Wesson factory records research letter signed by Smith & Wesson historian Roy Jinks that confirms the configuration of the revolver and the shipment of the fifty gun order to Robinson on March 1, 1871. This letter is included with the revolver.
Smith & Wesson Model #3 1stModel American Oil Hole Revolver with factory 6-inch barrel offered here is 100% complete and correct in every way and remains a very nice, unaltered example of a very early large frame .44 Smith & Wesson. The revolver is serial number 2886, and that number is clearly stamped in the butt of the revolver. The serial number is also clearly stamped on the inside the right grip panel. The matching assembly mark RR is found on the grip frame under the right grip panel, on the rear face of the cylinder and on latch that opens the action. The top of the 6-inch ribbed barrel is roll marked in a single line:
SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS U.S.A. PAT. JULY 10. 60. JAN. 17. FEB. 17. JULY 11. 65 & AUG. 24. 69.
The marking is flanked by a pair of Maltese Crosses, one at each end. As mentioned above, the gun feature the very desirable, early production “oil hole” in the bottom of the barrel web, just in front of the barrel hinge. Only about the first 1,500 New Model #3 American revolvers had this feature, with a handful of later production guns with special order shorter barrels being noted with the feature a s well. The pistol is really in VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. The revolver shows significant real world use, but no abuse and still retains a fair amount of original finish. The frame retains about 30% of its original bright blue overall, showing moderate flaking, thinning and wear from typical use. As would be expected, the backstrap and gripstrap retain practically no finish, although the butt still retains large amount of bright, original Smith & Wesson blue. The barrel retains about 10%+ of its original blue overall, which is most prevalent in the groove between the barrel and the rib. The cylinder retains a similar amount of original blue, or slightly more, most of which is found in the flutes of the cylinder. Overall, the gun retains about 20%+ original blue, averaged across the entire gun. The areas of finish loss have a lightly oxidized plum brown patina. The frame is mostly smooth with only some lightly scattered traces of pinpricking present as well as some scattered patches and flecks of minor surface oxidation, which is most prevalent on the backstrap. The barrel shows slightly more pinpricking than the frame, with some very light pitting present around the muzzle. The barrel also shows scattered flecks of surface oxidation and minor surface roughness along its length. The cylinder shows a similar patina as the fame, with a light turn ring present through the stop notches. The bore of the revolver is in about VERY GOOD condition as well and remains mostly bright with crisp rifling that shows only some very lightly scattered pitting and some oxidation, which is found primarily in the grooves and is most noticeable near the muzzle. The hammer retains some muted traces of the mottled case coloring, which has faded and dulled to a pewter and smoky gray patina with darker case hardened mottling still visible, along with some flecks of minor surface oxidation. The hammer spur retains fine, sharp checkering. The triggerguard retains similar traces of its mottled case coloring. The trigger retains about 40%+ of its original blue, with the expected fading and light wear on the face and silvering on the edges and contact points. The screws all retain at least some minor traces of their pale niter blued finish; with some retaining as much as about 30% of their original finish. All of the screw heads are in at least very good condition, with only a couple showing some light to moderate slot wear, and the balance appearing quite crisp and relatively untouched. The original small rear sight is in place on the top of the frame latch, and the original German silver front sight is correctly pinned into the barrel rib near the muzzle. The revolver is mechanically EXCELLENT and functions correctly in every way. The action performs crisply, and the gun remains extremely tight with flawless indexing and lock up. The automatic extraction system functions smoothly and correctly as well. The revolver locks up very tightly and the frame to barrel fit is excellent with no wobble or looseness. The two-piece, oil-finished walnut grips rate about NEAR VERY GOOD. They both are solid and complete with no breaks, cracks, chips or repairs. As noted, the right grip panel is correctly stamp-numbered to the revolver on its interior. The grips show moderate wear, commensurate with the real-world and use that has left the gun with only about 20% of its original finish. The grips show numerous bumps, dings, scuffs and mars from handling, carry and use. The most obvious wear is along the flared bottom edges of the grips, where some minor surface wood loss is found due to the wear. Despite the obvious wear the grips remain in solid condition and fit the gun very well.
Overall this is a very nice and extremely scarce Smith & Wesson Model #3 1stModel American Oil Hole Revolver with a factory letter that confirms its very rare factory 6-inch barrel length. These early production #3s are extremely desirable revolvers from the period of major western expansion in the years immediately following the Civil War and are rarely found in with any original finish. The gun is absolutely 100% complete and correct in every way, displays very well, has a fantastic “been there, done that” old west look, and remains mechanically excellent. This is a wonderful piece of American western heritage and history and for an advanced Smith & Wesson collector this is one of those scarce guns, rarely found with this barrel length. It will likely be a very long time before you get another chance to buy a Smith & Wesson Model #3 1stModel American Oil Hole Revolver with a factory 6” barrel with an accompanying factory letter.