This is a rare and historic S&W Model Number 1, First Issue revolver in .22 rimfire with a scarce and desirable pair of original ivory grips. The vast majority of Model Ones of First, Second, and Third Issue types came with standard rosewood grips. This was Smith and Wesson's very first revolver and the first American-made weapon to hold a cartridge. In addition to coming up a cartridge, not to mention the means to manufacture it in quantity, it was Horace Smith's and Daniel Wesson's agreement with Rollin White and exclusive rights to his 1855 patent for a bored-through cylinder, that gave the company a lock on the cartridge handgun market until the 1870's. Today, most people will walk right past this small 1850's era revolver, never realizing that almost every gun we see today that holds a cartridge originates from this First Model S&W. I just heard recently that the NRA classifies the Model One, First Issue as one of the top ten MOST important guns in American history; and rightfully so!
When production started in 1857, S&W was clearly learning the ropes on how the best way to manufacture these early revolvers. During that 2-1/2 year span of production, S&W made six notable improvements during the 11,600 units of First Models manufactured. The improvements mainly centered around the barrel latch mechanism, cylinder ratchet placement, recoil shields, and types of rifling. This particular revolver is in the 4,400 serial range which makes it a 5th type or officially a Smith and Wesson Model One, 1st Issue, 5th type. The 5th type's improvement over the 4th Model was a change from three groove to five groove rifling. Smith and Wesson produced these starting from the 4,200 serial range up to approximately 5,500. The 5th type is the last variation of Model One, First Issue to utilize an independent ratchet mechanism mounted to the recoil shield on the frame. The back of the cylinder interfaces with the ratchet via a small round key located on the face of the ratchet. In concept, this was probably better than cutting the ratchet notches directly onto the back of the cylinder. Being internally mounted onto the recoil shield, it was less prone to damage from dirt and the elements. If damaged, it could also be replaced rather than having to discard the entire cylinder. However, from a manufacturing standpoint, it would have been costly and more time-consuming to make which is why the 6th and final variant of the Model One, First Issue eliminated this extra part in favor of simplicity with the ratchet design cut directly onto the back of the cylinder.
Overall condition grades to NRA Antique Good with its brass frame now bare with no original silver plating remaining. The barrel and cylinder have turned to a frosty gray patina showing much use but good lines and a legible Smith and Wesson Springfield Massachusetts barrel address. The cylinder shows portions of its tiny patent dates remaining with the balance worn away. The bore has its five groove rifling intact and is in Good condition with some scattered pits, but not dark, and lands and grooves still look pretty good. The ivory grips are in good condition overall for old ivory with a little shrinkage, a couple of repaired hairline cracks along the upper halves of each panel, and some filler at the base of the grips where the ivory chipped out around the guide pins. A few years ago we sold another First Issue with ivory grips. Our customer later forwarded us a copy of the letter he received from Smith and Wesson curator Roy Jinks which stated that his gun was shipped to Storrs of New York. The letter noted that only one gun in the entire 200 gun shipment was stocked with ivory grips. That's not to say that other shipments had more or less First Issue revolvers with ivory grips but it does give us a general sense of how uncommon these were...we could reasonably estimate that these were found on less than five percent of production.
Like most S&W Model One, First Issues, this revolver came into our hands over a year ago as mainly what you see now but with very poor mechanics. Early Smith and Wessons were really more like precision instruments. Compared to other gunmakers of the mid-19th century, you get the sense that Smith and Wesson approached manufacturing as though they were building watches rather than guns. Their products were refined, trendsetting, and put together and finished extremely well; but their early models were not what you'd describe as "robust". Couple that with the fact that people in the 20th century would often try to shoot these using modern smokeless ammunition, and you can guess the rest. Many of these rare and historic little guns have been damaged beyond repair with blown cylinders and barrel hinges from such poor decisions. From a pure business standpoint, the amount of time and money invested in these types of projects can make them costly, unpredictable, time-consuming, and under-appreciated to warrant investment. Just wait until they get to be worth five to ten thousand dollars...THEN you'll really see some love and affection. That said, these little guns, while still undervalued are rare and their historical value far outweighs simple dollars and cents. That is why we went through this process. By putting another First Issue back on its feet again, we hope it will survive for future generations. Who knows, in the hands of some good private curators, this could survive another 150 years. Fortunately, this gun wasn't as bad as many we've seen but the mechanics were pretty chewed up. To get one of these back up and running takes a special person with tremendous talent and many years of experience to rebuild the action on a First Issue. Very few gunsmiths will take on such a task as little parts have to either be rebuilt or made from scratch as no parts for these are available. The average cost to rebuild an action on one of these runs us around $500...and that is the "Good Buddy Price". So, take into account that this one has been thoroughly serviced and doesn't just "kinda work"...IT WORKS VERY WELL...and just the way Horace and Daniel designed it back when Smith and Wesson was just starting out. A rare and historic example of America's earliest cartridge revolver, its first EVER cartridge gun!
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.