Questions Regarding S&W New Model 3


December 6, 2003, 12:35 AM
Hi Folks.

I have been looking around for awhile now trying to find out about the S&W large framed top break revolvers. One thing that is weighing on my mind is this. I know that the New Model No. 3 could be had in .44-40. Was the gun up to this cartridge? I mean, was the action considered strong enough to last?

How about reliability? Were these shooters reliable?

Also, regarding the .44 Russian caliber, was it a decent fighting round? Granted, it is not as big as a .44-40 or a .45 LC, but was it "good enough"? What about the .44 S&W American?

Is there anything else "good" or "bad" about this class of gun?

Thanks for your help.

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Mike Irwin
December 6, 2003, 04:40 PM
You do realize that a shooter No. 3 Frontier is still going to cost you upwards of $1,500, and that's for one in fair to good condition? And that at that price, it's still not really a shooter gun, due to its age? You're better off getting a reproduction in .44-40 or .45 Colt.


Yes, the No. 3s were up to the the power of the .44-40. They were excellent handguns all around.

They were about as reliable as other guns of the era.

The .44 S&W American round is obsolete. It used a heeled bullet, a type no longer generally available or used (other than .22 Long Rifle).

The .44 Russian is a good round, with power putting it roughly in the .45 ACP class.

Old Fuff
December 6, 2003, 07:47 PM
During my misspent youth I owned an S&W No. 3 New Model Russian/.44-40 in absolutely mint condition. Unfortunately I was too young to understand what I really had. To make thing worse it was the target model that had an adjustable sight built into the barrel latch. Did I shoot it with modern smokeless powder ammunition? You bet I did! I was in my teens - what did I know? Did the gun suffer? I don’t think so, at least nothing that was obvious.

Anyway, it was a superb shooter, and as accurate as any revolver I owned at the time. I learned much later that around the turn of the 20th century it was “the” renowned target revolver, and some of the better marksmen of the day actually outshot other competitors using European single-shot pistols. Besides .44 Russian it was, as noted, chambered in .44-40 and for that matter .44 Special during the later years of its production. It could also be purchased in a range of smaller calibers intended for target shooting. As a mater of interest, Theodore Roosevelt had one custom made and chambered in .38 Long Colt, which was the U.S. service cartridge of that day. It was not as strong as Colt’s Single Action Army, but it could be loaded and unloaded much faster. I think that those who wanted the finest revolver bought a Smith & Wesson. Those who thought they might also have to use it as a club bought a Colt.

The .44 Russian cartridge was used by Russia, Germany, Turkey and Japan among others as a military arm. They all seemed satisfied with its performance in the field. Keep in mind that while the U.S. Army used the .45 Colt they reduced the powder charge to 30 grains of FF grade black powder. Nobody complained about its power that I know of.

As Mike pointed out, an original in good shooting shape will run big-time bucks and at the present time no one is making a reproduction. That however may change.

Mike Irwin
December 7, 2003, 03:43 AM
Someone is still making the reproductions, as Navy Arms still shows them on their website. Nice selection of models, too.

Calibers being offered are .45 Long Colt, .44-40, .38 Special, and .44 Russian.

I just don't understand why they're so goddamned much more expensive (almost double) than a reproduction Colt.

December 7, 2003, 08:05 PM
I am not planning on buying one (at this time anyway) I just wanted to know how strong they were.

I am working on a piece of short historical fiction, and I just want to get things right.

Thanks again

PS, I may be back to ask about other old guns or cartridges later.

Jim K
December 8, 2003, 02:49 PM
One piece of fiction featuring the S&W is "Comanche Kid", by E.B. Mann. Try and find a copy if you can; it is a good story.

S&W was a victim of success with the big bore top-breaks. By accepting the big contracts from Russia and other countries, they made piles of money, but left the domestic market to Colt and other makers, then found it hard to get back in when the foreign contracts ended.


December 8, 2003, 04:16 PM
I happen to own a S&W Model 3 Frontier. It is an amazing piece. Nickel plated and mother of pearl grips (added later) as the S&W historian provided me with its pedigree, and it was originally shipped with the black rubber grips.

When I first acquired it, almost 20 years ago, it came with a box of 44-40 cartridges. I fired a few rounds of (new) 44-40 to see how it shot. It was still in perfect time, and shot reasonably well for an "old codger" - not the most accurate handgun I have ever fired, but it would do the job at typical pistol ranges.

Here is a pic (not the greatest quality):

Mike Irwin
December 8, 2003, 04:19 PM
My greatest gun desire in life is to find a new in box New Model No. 3 for a reasonable price...

Mike Irwin
December 9, 2003, 12:40 AM


You have a .44 Double Action Frontier.

A small point of confusion is that S&W adopted very similar names for the single and double action No. 3s.

I just assumed that Skofnug was talking about the single-action revolver...

I am EXTREMELY jealous!

Original grips for the .44 DA Frontier were either walnut (very rare) or hard rubber.

These guns were, according to Nahaus and Supica, all made prior to 1899 (the frames) but were cataloged/sold until 1913.

Hard to tell the condition from the photo, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if that were a $1,200 or higher gun.

December 9, 2003, 04:10 AM
Mr. Irwin, I was indeed asking about the single action No. 3. Now that you mention it, the more I learn about the No. 3, the more I want one.

That is a fine looking gun Deepdiver.

That leads me to another question that has been banging around in head of late. On older S&W double action guns, such as your Frontier No. 3 or the "lemon squeezer" type, were (are) the double action pulls as smooth as "modern" (hand ejector/triple lock)double action pulls?

I was handling a "lemon squeezer" in pristine condition just today. I was VERY tempted to dry-fire it. But I refrained, not wanting to damage the old gun. Somehow those triggers just look "stiff."

Thanks again.

December 9, 2003, 09:47 AM

It is indeed a .44 DA Frontier. Here is its pedigree:

S&W made 15,340 of the critters between 1886 and 1912.

The retail price of this piece was $13.75. It was shipped from the factory on Aug. 3, 1887 to Hibbard Spencer and Bartlett Co., Chicago, IL.

It was originally shipped with a 6in barrel (and it hasn't shrunk a bit!) , nickel finish, and checkered black hard rubber grips. The pearl grips (according to S&W) were probably added by the dealer to fill a special order.

Obviously this is one of the early production units (I have not included the s/n for obvious reasons, but it is a low number, and all the parts s/n match).

The picture that I posted is really lousy quality - the gun is a real work of art in my opinion (obviously I am real proud of it).

Skofnung, the DA trigger is actually very smooth (but a tad long) with a very crisp break. IMO, the gunsmiths back then were real craftsman, and new how to break edges, and finish surfaces as well, or better than we do today (at least they took the time to do it on "factory guns" - especially the higher end models) - modern finishes not withstanding.

Hope this info helped you with your research a little - I didn't notice that you were asking about the SA model in your original post. Sorry for any confusion.


Old Fuff
December 9, 2003, 09:59 AM

You were right to not dry-fire that S&W Safety Hammerless (The folks at S&W detest the name "lemon squeezer"), because if you do so when there aren’t empty cartridge cases in the chambers you can break a firing pin.

The trigger pull on these revolvers is usually smooth, but heavy - because the mainsprings were designed to set off primers that were not as sensitive as the ones we have today. However they have a unique feature. As you get to the end of the pull the weight becomes lesser to a marked degree. This allows the shooter to align the sights just before the hammer is released. At one time the U.S. Army tested some of the .38's with a 6" barrel with intentions of adopting them as a cavalry sidearm. It was not to be. They picked a Colt instead.

While most people think of the .38 Safety Hammerless as a pocket pistol they were offered at different times in 1 1/2" (special order), 2", 3 1/4" (most common), 4", 5" and 6" barrel lengths.

They were so popular that they remained in the S&W line until 1940 and the start of World War Two production - long after all other top-break’s had been discontinued.

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