Smith & Wesson No 3 American - About Excellent
- Product Code: FHG-1888-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
In 1870 Smith & Wesson introduced a new cartridge revolver that would become the basis for at least five other models, and that would remain in production in one form or another for four decades. The Model No 3 First Model, which eventually received the moniker “American” sometime in 1872, after a major contract was signed to provide revolvers of the #3 pattern to the Russian military, was the prototypical large frame Smith & Wesson handgun of the old west period. 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 contract was signed. The gun was a single action revolver with a six shot cylinder and a ribbed, 8” round barrel. The revolver incorporated a number of “firsts’ for the company, as it was the first center fire revolver that Smith & Wesson produced. It was also the first .44 caliber handgun, the first “large frame” handgun 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, and performed well enough that a contract for 1,000 guns were received by the company in December of 1870, with the deliveries made 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 at the top rear of the frame, the action of the revolver was opened and allowed the barrel to be tipped down. This action caused a star extractor, powered by a ratchet mechanism, to withdraw the cartridges from the cylinder, and expel 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 process 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 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 discovered that this was an unnecessary feature and was eliminated 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 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, and the end results were the 1st Model Schofield and later the 2nd Model Schofield, both of which were modified #3 Americans, chambered for the .45 S&W cartridge. Other western luminaries were very fond of the Smith & Wesson design, including William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and frontier lawman Wyatt Earp, who supposedly carried a #3 American 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 Revolver in 1870.
Offered here is a NEAR EXCELLENT condition example of a Smith & Wesson Model #3 1st Model American Revolver. The gun is 100% complete and correct in every way and remains an extremely crisp, unaltered example of an early production large frame .44 Smith & Wesson. The revolver is serial number 4149, 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 assembly number 346 is found on the grip frame under the right grip panel, on the rear face of the cylinder and on the bottom of the latch that opens the action. The top of the 8” 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. The pistol is really in NEAR EXCELLENT condition. The gun retains about 90%+ of its original nickel finish overall, showing only some minor flaking, and loss along the sharp edges, all the result of typical use. As is so often the case, the nickel has dulled over time and developed a slightly “milky” tone. The frame and barrel retain similar amounts of original nickel, certainly more than 90%, with the cylinder showing more loss and retaining only about 75% of its nickel, and the backstrap showing the most loss, retaining about 30%+ of its finish. The majority of the barrel loss is along the top rib, with some flaking at the muzzle and some lightly scattered bubbling along the bottom near the web. The areas of the barrel, frame, cylinder and backstrap that show finish loss have started to develop a thinly oxidized brown patina, with the metal remaining quite smooth. There is also some lightly scattered surface oxidation scattered across the entire revolver. The revolver shows no real pitting, but the grip strap shows some lightly scattered pinpricking and flecks of minor surface oxidation, as does the barrel and the frame. The bore of the revolver is in about NEAR EXCELLENT condition as well, and remains extremely bright with crisp rifling that shows only some very lightly scattered pinpricking and frosting in the grooves along its length. The hammer retains about 70%+ mottled case coloring, which has faded and dulled somewhat, with most of the loss due to wear on the left side, and much of the remaining color (especially on the right side) remaining quite vivid. The hammer spur retains fine, sharp checkering. The triggerguard retains about 10% of its mottled case coloring, which is confined to the protected areas on the inside of the guard. The balance of the triggerguard is a smoky bluish patina with tobacco brown undertones, with some of case colored mottling present. All of the screw heads are in very good condition, showing only some light slot wear. 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 VERY GOOD and the firing functionality is perfect in every way. The action performs crisply and the gun remains extremely tight with flawless timing, indexing and lock up. The automatic extraction system, however, functions sluggishly as the internal spring that drives the star extractor is either weak or broken. Thus the extractor star moves slowly and unreliably and does not “snap” back down as it should at the end of the extraction process. This should be a fairly easy repair for talented antique arms gunsmith, but does not affect the display or basic operation of the action in any way. The revolver locks up very tightly and the frame to barrel fit is excellent with no wobble or looseness. The two-piece walnut grips rate about VERY FINE. 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 are extremely sharp with excellent edges and nearly all of their original oiled finish present. Even the sharp leading and trailing edges at the bottoms of the grip panels retain nice, sharp edges. The grips do show some light wear from handling and use, including a couple of longitudinal dents on each side, some minor impact marks on the bottom and the usual assortment of other light bumps and dings from handling, use and storage. They do, however, remain in very nice condition.
Overall this is a really wonderful, NEAR EXCELLENT condition and very scarce example of a Smith & Wesson Model #3 1st Model American Revolver. These early production #3s are extremely desirable and are rarely found in this condition. Many of the guns from this period saw extensive frontier use, resulting in heavy wear, making high condition examples like this one hard to find. The gun is absolutely 100% complete and correct in every way, displays wonderfully, and remains in good mechanical condition with the exception of the weak extractor spring. This is a wonderful piece of American western heritage and history and for an advanced Smith & Wesson collector this is one of those guns, rarely found in this condition that will be a centerpiece in their collection. It will likely be a long time before you get another chance to buy a Smith & Wesson Model #3 American Revolver with this much original finish on it, or priced this reasonably.SOLD