Here is a good surviving example of what is not only the first revolver produced by Smith and Wesson, but also America's very first cartridge gun. It is the great-grandfather to virtually every gun that uses a cartridge and in spite of its small stature, is an important piece of technological history. With exclusive rights to Rollin White's 1855 patent, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson entered the revolver business producing approximately 11,600 First Issues from May 1857 up to Jan. 1860. Many of these early examples saw service during the Civil War (1861-65) and later throughout the American West. See photo below of Confederate soldier armed with an early 1st Model, 1st Issue. The gun is chambered for an early version of .22 rimfire with a seven shot cylinder, 3-1/4" octagon barrel, silver plated frame, and rosewood grips. Note the early rounded brass frame, small cylindrical access plate, and two-piece hammer design...all unique to the First Issue.
During its 2-1/2 years of production, there were six noteworthy improvements to the First Issue design which center around barrel latches, rifling, and cylinder ratchets. This particular example is in the 7,800 serial range and was produced in September 1859. It's classified as the final and most common "Type 6" or more officially as a "S&W Model One, First Issue, Type 6". So what does that mean? Being a Type 6, it is the first S&W to have its ratchet integral to the cylinder; the previous five types used an internal ratchet with a keyed interface between itself and the cylinder. The other improvements this one sports from previous types are most notably the improved barrel fastening system, improved recoil plate, and five groove rifling. Going back through some records, we noticed just last year we sold a similar First Issue just five serial digits away from this one:
Overall Condition Grades to NRA Antique Good+ to Very Good with 50% thinning original silver plate remaining on the brass frame. The barrel and cylinder have turned to a gun-metal gray patina which is mostly smooth with some light pitting on the cylinder. The cryptic assembly numbers used by S&W, in this case a numeral "1" and a "." (dot) are all matching and can be found on the barrel, cylinder, hammer, and frame. The original rosewood grips are also both correctly numbered to the serial number on the frame. Barrel address is sharp and reads "SMITH & WESSON. SPRINGFIELD MASS." The tiny patent dates on the cylinder are only are only partially visible. The good news is that most of Rollin White's famous "April 3, 1855" patent for a "bored-through cylinder" is still legible. Good screws and pins. The original rosewood grips have 60% original piano varnish remaining with no chips, cracks, or repairs. Note: These early S&W First Issues have very fragile mechanics, are difficult to work on, and spare parts are virtually nonexistent. The average examples we find often require several hundred dollars worth of repairs. That said, this example has Very Good mechanics and needs nothing! Bore is Good with decent rifling, some scattered light pits but quite respectable for a revolver over 150 years old. An important piece of firearms history that would be the cornerstone in any S&W collection or grouping of iconic American weapons.
IMPORTANT: THE AMMUNITION DESIGNED FOR THIS REVOLVER DEVELOPED CONSIDERABLY LESS POWER THAN THE .22 RF SHORT (CARTRIDGE) AS WE KNOW IT TODAY. AS ORIGINALLY ISSUED THE CARTRIDGE WAS CALLED THE "NO. 1 PISTOL CARTRIDGE". MODERN AMMUNITION MAY NOT BE USED IN ANY OF THE THREE MODEL NO. 1'S AS THE PRESSURES DEVELOPED ARE MUCH TOO HIGH. page 22, Smith & Wesson 1857-1945 by Robert J. Neal and Roy G. Jinks. Copyright 1966 and 1975.