Smith & Wesson Model Threes
MODEL 3 BACKGROUND The term "Model 3" refers to the largest frame size used by S&W to produce it's full sized top-break cartridge revolvers. The model line began in 1870 with the introduction of the S&W American the first commercially successful large bore centerfire cartridge revolver. Large military contracts from the Russian government encouraged a series of redesigns during the 1870's, resulting in the configurations known as "Russian Models". Between 1875 & 1878, the US military purchased Model 3's of the Schofield pattern. In 1878, S&W discontinued it's other Model 3 variations in favor of a much improved design which they called the New Model Number Three. In just a few years, a double action model was introduced, known as, logically enough, the .44 D.A. In all it's variations, the Model 3 was the most produced and most copied large frame cartridge revolver model of the 1870-1898 era.
QUICK I.D. GUIDE There are variations and individual models within each of the 5 "families" of Smith and Wesson Mod. 3s.
AMERICANS -- RUSSIANS -- SCHOFIELDS -- NEW MODEL NUMBER THREES -- 44 DOUBLE ACTIONS
This i.d. guide will help you determine which "family" your Model Three belongs to:
|S&W Mod. 3 AMERICAN No knuckle on backstrap, squarebutt, latch mounted on frame||
S&W Mod. 3 RUSSIAN 1st Model identical to American,
except marked "Russian Model"
2nd & 3rd Model Extreme backstrap knuckle, round butt, triggerguard spur DETAILS
S&W Mod. 3 SCHOFIELD No knuckle on backstrap, squarebutt, latch mounted on barrel
|S&W New Model Number Three Slight knuckle on backstrap, round butt, very short ejector housing||.S&W 44 DA Double action trigger hangs in middle of triggerguard (rather than at rear).|
click photos to enlarge
Link to photos & listings of Smith & Wesson Model Three revolvers for sale.
S&W Model Three Lore If you count all variations, the S&W Model 3 has a legitimate claim as the most popular big bore cartridge revolver of the nineteenth century. S&W production was spurred primarily by some large Russian military contracts, and Colts SAA models did not catch up in numbers produced until the early years of the 20th century. Furthermore, the S&W design was widely copied - supposedly under S&W license by the Russian Tula arsenal and the German firm of Ludwig & Loewe, and bootlegged by Spanish & Belgian firms. If you count these foreign copies, the fast loading S&W Model 3 top-break design definitely was the most prolific full sized cartridge sixgun design of the era!
In the US, judging by photographic records and historical accounts, the rugged Colt SAA had an edge in popularity in the American West in the 1875-1900 era. The S&W had its partisans too, however. Among the noted individuals reported to carry one of the various S&W Model 3s were Frank & Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, Texas Jack Omohundro, Dallas Stoudenmire, John Wesley Hardin, Charlie Pitt, Pat Garrett, Cole Younger, Bill Tilghman, Belle Starr, Frank McLowery, Theodore Roosevelt, and Virgil Earp.
Still more Model 3 Lore The S&W Mod. 3 variations saw extensive military service. The 1,000 Americans purchased by the US Army were the first cartridge revolver adopted by the American military, and most saw service in the Indian Wars, as did many of the approx. 8,000 US purchase Schofields. New Model #3s were bought for the State of Maryland militia and the US Revenue Service (Coast Guard predecessor). Foreign governments purchasing variations of the Model 3 included Russia, Japan, Turkey, Argentina, colonial Cuba, and colonial Australia.
S&W New Model Number Three
In 1878, S&W discontinued production of it's other Model 3's the American, Russian, and Schofield in favor a new improved design called the New Model Number Three. Standard chambering was .44 Russian, although other calibers were offered on special order or in related models such as the .44-40 Frontier Model, the .32-44 & .38-44 Target Models, and the very rare .38 Winchester Model. The New Mod. #3 was arguably the pinnacle of 19th century revolver design. Their accuracy was such that they were used to set most of the target records of the era.
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