The Smith & Wesson № 3 Russian Model was the most widely used revolver of the various models of pistols and revolvers adopted by the Russian Army during the second half of the 19th Century. It originated as the Smith & Wesson Model that would become known as the Smith & Wesson № 3 First Model or First Model American. The term “American” was not actually used until 1872 and initially it referred to the cartridge, not the revolver.
When discussing models and variations, this revolver seems to be about as confusing as any gun ever made. The “Number 3” is a Smith & Wesson designation and refers to the frame size, not a specific model or caliber. Speaking strictly of the revolvers produced under contract by Smith & Wesson and Ludwig Loewe for the Russian government, and the revolvers produced by the Russians themselves at the Tula Weapons Factory, there are three major mechanical variations. All three variations originated and were produced at the produced at Smith & Wesson Factory in Springfield, Massachusetts. Only the third model was produced at Ludwig Loewe in Berlin, Germany and the Tula Weapons factory.
During the period from 1871 to 1878 the Smith & Wesson factory’s principle production was the Russian improved S&W No 3. Over 131,000 No 3 revolvers were produced in seven contracts delivered to the Imperial Russian government and there were probably an additional 10,000 commercial revolvers sent to Russia in the same period. This total by far exceeded the number of No 3s sold in America and elsewhere.
20,000 first model revolvers were delivered during the first contract (signed 01 Jan 1871). These were given their own serial range of 1-20000. This would be the only time the first model was sold to Russia. There are three variations or issues of this model. After the first contract was completed, the design was changed significantly.
The first approximately 500 revolvers are assembly numbered as well as serial numbered. There will be a serial number on the butt of the revolver and the remaining numbered pieces will match a number found on the right side of the on the inside of the grip. The remaining numbers are found on the rear face of the cylinder, the back of the barrel extension and the bottom of the barrel latch. For example the assembly number on Serial No. 438 is 18.
Second issue guns run from about serial 500 to around 3500 or 4500. They still have early frame features, but are completely serial numbered in the same locations as the assembly numbers in the first issue, i.e. they will have a full serial number on the butt, the face of the cylinder, the bottom of the barrel latch and the face of the barrel extension.
Third issue guns run from approximately serial 3500 through 20000 or the end of the contract. These guns have the new style frame with the new hinge screw and reinforced trigger pin and boss.
Many changes were made to the revolver after the first contract and the second model was developed in 1872. The second model is the most common of the Smith and Wesson manufactured with about 70,000 delivered. All but one contract, the third contract for 11,138 third model guns, were for 20,000 revolvers each. The second and third contracts were each for 20,000 second model revolvers. The fifth, sixth and seventh contracts were mixed and each consisted of 10,000 second or infantry models and 10,000 third or cavalry models. Each contract was supposed to start over at serial number 1 and go to 20,000 or end of the contract, which ever came first.
The third and final Russian model was developed and the fourth contract (signed 27 Oct 1874) was exclusively for third model revolvers, 11,138 were delivered in 1875-1876. Again, these revolvers were given their own serial number range starting over again at 1! There were three more contracts delivered from 1876-1878, each for 20,000 revolvers. Each of these contracts was for 10,000 second and 10,000 third model revolvers and each contract was again serial numbered 1-20000. Since all of the contracts used the same serial range, it would actually be possible to have seven different Russian contract No 3 S&W revolvers with the same serial number.
Russian contract revolvers have the address line on the top of the barrel in Cyrillic letters consisting of the following text in the old (pre 1917) alphabet:
Смита и Вессона оружейная фабрика Г. Спрингфильдъ Америка
This translates to:
“Smith and Wesson weapons factory City Springfield America”
Additionally, there is an inspector’s mark after the address line with the initials of the principle Russian inspector. The first four contracts were inspected by Captain Kasaverii Ordinets (Касаверий Ординец) and have the initials KO under the Imperial Acceptance Eagle. Later contracts were inspected N. Kushakevich (Н.Кушакевич) who replaced Ordinets in 1876. Revolvers with his inspector’s mark have HK under the Acceptance Eagle.
With the completion of the seventh Russian contract, Smith & Wesson looked for more business from the Russians, but with the Russo-Turkish War (1876-1878) the Russians decided to move their revolver production from America to Ludwig Loewe in Berlin. Revolvers produced at Ludwig Loewe didn’t need transatlantic shipment so the supply of revolvers was less likely to be disrupted. Additionally, S&W had been selling revolvers to Turkey and Japan, a current and a future potential enemy of Imperial Russia.