Smith & Wesson Model No 3 1st Model American Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-JM153
- 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, with less than 100 also manufactured in .44 Henry Rim Fire, which was simply called the .44-100 cartridge when it was first introduced. Later it 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 several “firsts” for the company. It was the first centerfire 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 a simultaneous extraction system.
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 was 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’s revolver models, in multiple frame sizes and calibers, would utilize it well into the 20th century.
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 soon 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 Modelrevolvers 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 2nd Model 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 10th US 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 1st Model Schofield and later the 2nd Model 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 1st Model American.
Offered here is a VERY GOOD condition example of a Smith & Wesson Model #3 1st Model American Revolver. The standard 8” barreled revolver 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 3301, 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 N8 is found on the grip frame under the right grip panel, on the rear face of the cylinder, on the rear face of the topstrap and on latch that opens the action. The top of the 8-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 one of the later production 1st Model American revolvers, the gun does not have the “oil hole” in the bottom of the barrel web, which was eliminated about 1,400 guns earlier in the production run. The pistol is really in VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. The revolver shows significant real-world use but shows no abuse and still retains a fair amount of original finish. The frame retains about 15% of its original bright blue overall, showing moderate flaking, thinning and wear from typical use. Most of the surviving finish is found around the recoil shield, in the protected areas of the frame. As would be expected, the backstrap and gripstrap retain practically no finish, although the butt still retains some faded and dulled 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 only some minute traces of original blue in protected areas. Overall, the gun retains about 10% original blue, averaged across the entire gun. Most of the areas of finish loss have a moderately 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 freckles of moderate surface oxidation, which is most prevalent on the backstrap and gripstrap. The barrel shows more moderate pinpricking than the frame, with some very light pitting scattered along its length as well as 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 cylinder is also moderate oxidized showing even pinpricking and some light pitting that is most obvious on the face and rear of the cylinder. The bore of the revolver is in about VERY GOOD condition as well and remains partly bright with good rifling that shows some lightly scattered pitting and some moderate oxidation along its length, and which 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 some darker patches of faded casehardened 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 has the same mostly smooth plum-brown patina that is found over most of the gun. The screws retain none of their pale niter blued finish and have a mostly silvery gray color. All of the screw heads are in reasonably good condition, with some showing some light to moderate slot wear. The original small rear sight is in place on the top of the frame latch, and what appears to be the original German silver front sight is correctly pinned into the barrel rib near the muzzle. The sight shows moderate wear and is slightly deformed, apparently from holster wear. The revolver is in good mechanical condition and functions correctly. The action operates correctly, and the lock up of the gun between the barrel and frame remains very tight. The revolver times and indexes correctly, with the cylinder lock up a little soft, likely due to a worn cylinder stop. The automatic extraction system functions smoothly and correctly as well, however the operating switch at the bottom of the frame which gives the user the option to open the revolver without lifting the star extractor, appears to be a very old and probably period of use replacement. The two-piece, oil-finished walnut grips rate about NEAR VERY GOOD. They both are solid and complete with no breaks, 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 use that has left the gun with only about 10% of its original finish. The left grip panel has a short, tight grain crack that runs from the bottom of the grip up about 1 ¼” towards the screw escutcheon, but this is tight and not particularly obvious. 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, as well as some minor chipping at the lower leading edges of the grips as so often happened during the period of use. Despite the obvious wear the grips remain in solid condition and fit the gun very well.
Overall, this is a very nice and solid example of a Smith & Wesson Model #3 1st Model American Revolver. These early production #3 revolvers are extremely desirable handguns 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 nice, salty “been there, done that” old west look. Despite that, it remains mechanically functional. This is a nice piece of American western heritage and history and would be a solid addition to any western revolver collection for a reasonable price.