The Russian Smith & Wesson Revolvers - The First Model

A Russian First Model Smith & Wesson № 3
A First Model Smith & Wesson № 3 - Serial № 211 from the First Russian Contract

The address line and Imperial acceptance mark on the barrel.

All first contract guns all have the Cyrillic address line on the top of the barrel rib followed by an inspector’s final acceptance mark in the form of a double headed Russian eagle above the inspector’s initials. All of the first contract guns were inspected by then Capitan Kasaverii Ordinetz (Касаверий Ординец) who inspected the Smith & Wesson production until early 1876, hence the KO under the eagle.

Roll stamp on top of serial 211
Line address and inspector's mark on a First Model Smith & Wesson № 3 - Serial № 211 from the First Russian Contract
Acceptance mark on serial 211
The inspector's mark on a First Model Smith & Wesson № 3 - Serial № 211

The address line contains the following text in old (pre 1917) Cyrillic letters:
Смита и Вессона оружейная фабрика Г. Спрингфильдъ Америка
This translates to: “Smith and Wesson weapons factory C(ity) Springfield America” This is the address line and acceptance mark arrangement that would be used through at least the first two or three contracts. The address line is located to the rear of the 8 inch barrel and there is minimal space between the end of the address and the acceptance mark. Later the address line would be moved forward to make space for the serial number in front of the acceptance mark.

There are three major variations of the № 3 as delivered to the Russians during the first contract:

  1. First issue - revolvers with old style straight bottom frames, small trigger pin, old style hinge pin, and marked with assembly numbers. Some of these may be missing some of the first mechanical improvements. Of the approximately 500 first issue revolvers that were manufactured, so far, only two pieces are currently known.
  2. Second issue - revolvers with old style straight bottom frames, the small trigger pin, old style hinge pin, but marked with full serial numbers instead of assembly numbers. Approx 2500 pieces manufactured. (revolvers have been observed with high, 5000ish, serials? Datig)
  3. Third issue - guns with new style (enlarged trigger pin boss) frames, enlarged trigger pin, new style 2 piece hinge pin, and marked with full serial numbers. Approx 15-17000 third issue revolvers produced.

First Issue - Assembly Numbers

Serial number on the butt of Serial 438
Serial number on the butt of a First Model Smith & Wesson № 3 - Serial № 438 from the First Russian Contract

The original Smith & Wesson №3 "Americans" had been produced with a full serial number on the butt and the inside of the right grip plate. Assembly numbers were put on the major parts; the master assembly number on the frame was found on the right side of the butt portion of the frame underneath the right grip plate and the matching assembly numbers were located on the face of the cylinder, the barrel latch and the rear face of the barrel extension.

The Russian contract revolvers of the first contract have been reported to all have full serial numbers in five locations; the frame, the right grip plate, the cylinder face, the barrel extension face and under the barrel latch - the exact same locations as the "American" assembly numbers. However, the first approximately 500 revolvers for the Russian contract were produced with the "American" style numbering system. Only two examples of this model are currently known; Serial numbers 211 and 438. Assembly numbers and the early style frame are the identifiers for the first issue revolvers - after about serial № 500 full serial numbers are found in the five usual locations.

Assembly number on the butt of Serial № 438
The assembly number 18 on the butt of serial № 438 from the First Russian Contract
Cylinder face of Serial № 438
The assembly number 18 on the cylinder face of serial № 438 from the First Russian Contract
Latch and barrel extension of Serial № 438
The latch and barrel extension showing assembly number 18 on Serial № 438
Girp plate of Serial № 438
The full serial number on the inside of the right grip plate of serial № 438

Serial № 211

The Assembly number on Serial 211 is 302 or 3O2. At some point in its history this revolver has probably been refinished and the the cylinder may have had the serial number put on at that point in time (the face of the numbers don't quite match).

Serial number on the butt of Serial № 211
The serial number on the butt of serial № 211 from the First Russian Contract. Note the small Roman 'D' on the bottom of each grip plate and the Cyrillic 'Д' on the frame itself. This mark seems to be present on at least all first contract / first model revolvers.
Assembly and serial numbers on the cylinder face of Serial № 211
Rear cylinder face of Serial No 211. The inset is the stamped number from the butt showing the slightly different face of the numbers. The Assembly nuber 3O2 is clearly shown.
Assembly numbers on the latch and barrel extension of Serial № 211
The assembly numbers on the latch and barrel face of serial number 211. The number on the latch looks like the middle character is probably an 'O' not a '0'. However, the middle character on the barrel extension face looks like a '0' (zero).

Serial № 211 First contract first issue
Serial № 211 first contract first issue
Serial № 13300 first contract
Serial № 211 first contract first issue

Second Issue - Full serial numbers

Shown below are the serial numbers on a third issue, but they are in the same locations as a second issue revolver (I simply couldn't get good pictures of the serial numbers on a second issue as they are quite rare, but not as rare as first issues).
Serial № 13300 first contract
The butt showing the Serial № 13300. The mark on the grip plate appears to be a cicle 'P' and the Cyrillic letter 'Д' appears in this location on the frame on all first model revolvers
Serial № 13300 first contract
The cylinder face with detail of the serial number and the circle 'D' mark
Serial № 13300 first contract
The serial number on the barrel extension

Serial № 13300 first contract
The serial number on the barrel latch
Serial № 13300 first contract
The serial number on the right grip plate

Third Issue - The Trigger Pin and Hinge Pin Changes

Trigger pins on first contract S&W № 3s

Serial 211 on the left, note the flat line of the bottom of the frame. Serial 13300 on the right shows the enlarged trigger pin boss that would be used through out the rest of the entire production

In the fall of 1871, the Russians requested another change that has served to establish one of the major differences in what has been defined as Second and Third Issue revolvers. This change was to increase the size of the pin holding the trigger in the frame and to reinforce the frame with a boss at the bottom of the frame at the location of the trigger pin hole.

This change was considered to be of great importance by the Russians. So important that late in 1871 Gorloff, who had by then been promoted to general, asked the factory to take back all of the revolvers that had already been inspected and approved. Since the Russians were Smith & Wesson's biggest customer, they wanted to keep them happy but needed a way to quickly sell the returned revolvers. Smith & Wesson contacted their agent, M.W. Robinson, to ask his assistance in selling the completed revolvers and the nearly completed revolvers still in production.

We have finished about 2,500 of the Russian Army pistols, all of which have been accepted by them and stamped with their stamp and we have perhaps 500 more to be finished. We have made a slight alteration in the model, which in the opinion of the Russian officers is of great value to the pistol, so much so that they ask us if we will receive back those not having the improvement and begin again with them. The question we cannot answer until we know whether we can turn them into money. We propose to stamp them “Russian Model” if we sell them. They are the best pistols ever made, having been most carefully (we may say almost painfully) inspected by the Russian inspectors…

It is not surprising that Robinson found a buyer, and it is not surprising that the prospective buyer was Schuler, Hartley & Graham (SH&G) of New York City. SH&G had contacted Smith & Wesson in September regarding a possible large order for a foreign government only to be told that the Russian contract made any early delivery of a large number of army-size revolvers impossible. When SH&G asked to purchase any that were on hand, Smith & Wesson referred them to M.W. Robinson because … our business relations with Mr. M.W. Robinson of your city are such that we prefer that you should arrange the matter with him … Then on the 13th of November, after the issue of the change in the frame had come up, Smith & Wesson wrote Robinson

We have been told by a Russian officer that he has been asked by S.H.&G. to sell some of their pistols to them. This was before the alteration in the model and was declined of course. This [unreadable] may be useful to you.

SH&G was very active in acquiring foreign orders for American arms and would eventually be the greatest commercial customer for the Smith & Wesson Russian Model. After Robinson notified Smith & Wesson of SH&G’s agreement to take the inspected revolvers, Smith & Wesson wrote General Gorloff that they could accept his proposal, but asked that the Russian government pay the cost of removing the Cyrillic barrel address. The factory’s estimate cost to replace the barrel marking was ten cents per pistol. Gorloff balked at this unexpected expense, stating there was no appropriation for it. The General advised Smith & Wesson that Marcellus Hartley had made an “urgent” request of him to purchase some of the pistols and indicated that they would pay more than the usual price for them. Given their willingness to do so, the General suggested that SH&G be asked to pay for removal of the markings. Smith & Wesson wrote Robinson on the 8th of December asking him to see if his customer would bear the expense of remarking the revolvers. Robinson replied the following day that SH&G had agreed, and Smith & Wesson immediately began the necessary preparations. But on the 14th of December, the partners received a telegram from General Gorloff saying he had decided to keep the finished revolvers. His reason for doing so is not been given in any available documentation. The most likely scenerio is that Gorloff learned the ultimate destination for the revolvers was to be the Ottoman Empire. Given the deteriorating relationship between Russia and Turkey, Gorloff may have not wanted the revolvers to fall into the hands of a potential enemy.

Needless to say, all of this was quite an embarrassment to Smith & Wesson. Writing to Robinson on the 19th of December after Gorloff’s decision had been confirmed, Smith & Wesson said:

…We were never in such a fix before so we do not know what to say. You must try and help us out of it which perhaps you can do by offering Messrs. SH&G some advantages from the 25,000 pistols ordered by you on completion of the Russians. And again, we shall soon be able to turn out some on our own account if you desire it and can [help] in arranging this matter. We feel that all the necessary apologies and reparations are due from the Gen. & not from us…

How Robinson worked the situation out is unrecorded, but Smith & Wesson's relationship with SH&G remained cordial. Robinson appears to have received most, if not all, of the approximately 500 revolvers of the old-style frame that were unfinished when the problem arose. While some of them were delivered to other customers, perhaps he gave SH&G some special consideration with them and later orders. SH&G clearly received favorable treatment on Russian Model revolvers made in later years.

The old style hinge pin found on first and second issue revolvers

Hinge comparison of first and third issue hinge pins
The visible difference between second and third issue hinge pins. There is no visible difference between the two types on the left side. On the left the new style introduced with the new frame with the enlarged trigger pin. On the right the original style used on first and second issue revolvers.

In addition to changing the trigger pin size, the hinge pin was changed from a single piece design to a two piece design of larger diameter. The early small diameter model simply threaded into the right side of the frame after passing through the left side and barrel extension assembly. The hinge pin was then locked in place on the left side with a second interference screw on the left side of the frame of the revolver.

The new style can be recognised by the screw head on the right side of the frame.

Pictures of a late first contract revolver

Shown below is an excellent example of a standard first contract revolver serial № 13300

Serial № 13300 first contract
Serial № 13300 first contract
Serial № 13300 first contract
Serial № 13300 first contract

Marks found on the first contract guns

The basic proof or mark locations for the first model are:

Cylinder face of Serial № 438
The assembly number 18 on the cylinder face of serial № 438. Note the punch marks directly under the assembly number and on the tip of the extractor star. These are probably testing marks from testing the heat treat of the cylinder and extractor star.
Serial № 13300 first contract
The cylinder face mark of serial №13300 showing the circle 'D' mark with no punch mark on the cylinder face. There could be a remnant of a punch mark on the extractor star.

The circle 'D" on various parts and the cyrillic 'Д' on the butt are marks that are not seen on any other model of the Russian № 3. A simple 'D' without the circle will show up on second model revolvers in the second contract, but the circle 'D' mark has only been observed on the first contract revolvers. This mark has been observed on all first model cylinder faces directly under the serial or assembly number on the cylinder face as well as on the sides of the barrel extension of some very early first issue revlovers. It also appears on the top of the frame strap under the cylinder on many first contract revolvers (a 'P' appears in the same location at some unknown inerval). Early first model revolvers show a punch mark on the cylinder face and the extractor star, later revolvers do not seem show this mark.

Star marks and rejects

Content to be added!

The Survivors

First contract guns are VERY difficult to find and examine – only about 15 guns of the original 20,000 guns produced are currently known to the author (less than .1% of the original production!). The survival rate for original Smith & Wesson manufactured guns from any contract is very low. The average Russian soldier, officer or trooper, took very poor care of his weapons and the loss rate was horrendous! These guns were in service from 1871 through the First World War and Civil War. During that period of time the Russian army fought at least four major conflicts; the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78, The Russo-Japanese War 1904-05, the First World War 1914 -1918, and then the Revolution and Civil War. Guns that were broken were repaired when possible but were often simply discarded due to the lack replacement parts. There were only 20,000 first models manufactured for Imperial Russia and they were not parts interchangable with the later models. As the newer models came out, the longer barrels on earlier models were often cut down to fit in new style holsters or simply for convenience.

Known first contract guns

On Dec 6, 1871, the Russian Grand Duke Alexis visited the Smith & Wesson factory and was presented with a fully engraved, carved pearl grip, cased Model 3. This gun and case cost the factory $400 ($100 was for the case and $100 for the carved Ivory grips) but it was a worthwhile investment, since the company hoped for additional contracts. The Grand Duke proudly displayed his revolver as he toured the American Frontier and carried it on a buffalo hunt with the famous “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
=> find pictures of the gun – does it still exist?

Under construction
We are currently under construction, please be patient as the site is loaded.