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Original U.S. Smith & Wesson First Model No.3 "American" .44cal Nickel-Plated Revolver with Factory Letter - Serial 5408

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Item Description

Original Item: Only One available. This is a definitely a rare old Wild West Revolver to find! Here we have a fantastic Nickel-Plated example of a Smith & Wesson "First Model" No.3 American revolver in .44 S&W American. The S&W Model No. 3 was introduced in 1869 as the U.S. Army's principal sidearm, which they used until 1873. However they also produced a commercial version at the same time, and this is it! This is the first example of a Model 3 "American" that we have ever had, and it's a great one!

This fine example features the original long 8 inch barrel, which has NOT been shortened for later "cowboy use. It has a cylinder capacity of 6 shots, functioning in single-action only. It also has a very nice set of aged wood grips, and overall has a fantastic lightly used look. The top of the barrel bears all the S. & W. patent dates up to 1869:

✠ SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A. PAT. JULY 10. 60. JAN.17. FEB. 17. JULY 11. 65 AUG.24.69 ✠

There are no "reissue" markings, which is completely correct for the Model No.3 "American" Revolver. The serial number 5408 is stamped on the flat on the bottom of the grip, next to what look to be some scratched in initials that we cannot read. The inside of the right grip scale is marked with both serial number 5408 and the assembly number 557, which were stamped partly overlapping, so they can be hard to read. The frame under the grips, back of the barrel extension, back of the cylinder, and the top latch are all marked with assembly number 557. That makes this a fantastic "ALL MATCHING" example, with no major parts swapped out over the years!

As a real rarity, we have a factory letter on official SMITH & WESSON LETTERHEAD, giving research information about this revolver. Many are not even aware that letters as these were obtainable, and it is the third example that we have ever had. Dated May 3, 1999, it bears the signature of Roy G. Jinks, the Smith & Wesson historian, stamped with a S&W Raised seal. The letter identifies the serial 5408 as a Model 3 American, which was introduced in the summer of 1870 and manufactured until 1874 with a total production of 32,800 revolvers. It also mentions that there are two main variations recognized by collectors, with the Second variation beginning at about serial number 6800 in December 1871. It indicates that these were made for both .44 S&W American Centerfire and .44 Henry Rimfire, with this example definitely being the centerfire type.

The letter than indicates the results of researching the revolver's serial number in the Smith & Wesson warehouse records. It was sold on September 15, 1871 and shipped to M. W. Robinson, New York City, Smith & Wesson's largest distributor, as part of a shipment of 100 units of this model, all with 8 inch barrels and a mixture of blued and nickel finishes. The original letter is included with the revolver, and would fantastic set up next to it in a display case.

This is a Top-break revolver making loading extremely easy and frankly a much better system than the side loading Colts and Mervin & Hulbert revolvers. This was the same model revolver that the famous Lawman Wyatt Earp used in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26th 1881.

The revolver functions well, with only a bit of the finicky behavior we often see in revolvers of this age. The spring for the frame latch is missing, as is the screw on top of the frame, so the latch can come open, which prevents the hand from properly engaging the back of the cylinder. If held close, it works very well. The revolver breaks open correctly with ejection, though it does not "snap" closed at the fully opened position. We do not know if this an issue, or just a characteristic of the early design. The bore is in very good condition, showing clear lands and grooves with a bright finish, showing just a bit of wear. There is very little oxidation or fouling, which is VERY rare in a revolver from the age of black powder.

Cosmetically, the revolver is in great shape, with the nickel plate retained at over 95%, showing a lovely lightly oxidized patina. The original walnut grips have great grain, and a lovely worn look. The front sight looks to be a period replacement.

A fantastic Smith & Wesson First Model No.3 American Revolver offering, complete with full factory documentation. We rarely get such compelling offerings, and this is the only Model 3 American that we have ever had! Ready to add to your collection and display!


Years of Manufacture: 1871
Caliber: .44 S&W American
Ammunition Type: Centerfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 8 inches
Overall Length: 13 1/2 inches
Action: Single Action
Feed System: 6 Shot Revolver

History of the Smith & Wesson Model No. 3

The Smith & Wesson Model 3 was a single-action, cartridge-firing, top-break revolver produced by Smith & Wesson from circa 1870 to 1915.

It was produced in several variations and sub-variations, including both the "Russian Model", so named because it was supplied to the military of the Russian Empire (41,000 No. 3's were ordered in .44 caliber by the Imperial Russian Army in 1871), and the "Schofield" model, named after Major George W. Schofield, who made his own modifications to the Model 3 to meet his perceptions of the Cavalry's needs. Smith & Wesson incorporated these modifications into an 1875 design they named after the Major, planning to obtain significant military contracts for the new revolver.

The S&W Model 3 was originally chambered for the .44 S&W American and .44 Russian cartridges, and typically did not have the cartridge information stamped on the gun (as is standard practice for most commercial firearms). Model 3 revolvers were later produced in an assortment of calibers, including .44 Henry Rimfire, .44-40, .32-44, .38-44, and .45 Schofield. The design would influence the smaller S&W .38 Single Action that is retroactively referred to as the Model 2.

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