The first revolver manufactured by Smith & Wesson was the aptly named Model 1. It was the first commercially successful revolver to use rimfire cartridges and held 7 rounds of what is now known as 22 Short.
Hardly what most of us would consider a “Manstopper”, the Model 1 was in popular demand with the outbreak of the American Civil War as soldiers from all ranks on both sides of the conflict made private purchases of the revolvers for self-defense. So much that orders for the Model 1 revolver outpaced the factory’s production capabilities, forcing Smith & Wesson to expand into a new facility and began experimenting with a new cartridge design more suitable than the .22 Short in 1860.
We’ll look at that one down the road.
Mark Twain famously wrote of the Model 1 in his book, Roughing It:
“I was armed to the teeth with a pitiful little Smith & Wesson’s seven-shooter, which carried a ball like a homeopathic pill, and it took the whole seven to make a dose for an adult. But I thought it was grand. It appeared to me to be a dangerous weapon. It only had one fault—you could not hit anything with it. One of our “conductors” practiced awhile on a cow with it, and as long as she stood still and behaved herself she was safe; but as soon as she went to moving about, and he got to shooting at other things, she came to grief.“
What is surprising is that the Model 1 was a brisk seller from 1857 through 1882 when it was finally dropped from production.
Let that sink in.
By 1873 you had the choice of more powerful cartridges in a package not much bigger than the Model 1. Yet not only did S&W sell close to 1/4 million of these little pipsqueaks over a 25 year period (an average of 10,000 a year) but companies such as Manhattan Firearms Company, Ethan Allen Arms Works, Merwin & Bray, and National Arms Company knocked them off stateside as did countless foreign companies in Belgium, Spain, Mexico, and Germany.
These guns were popular because they were small. They may not have been what the Texas Rangers, US Cavalry or Pinkerton Agents would have carried, but were most likely bought by the owners of General Stores, City gentry and town folk carried to protect themselves in the cities of the period.
The first two versions of the Model 1 were very similar. they had square butts, a brass frame, unfluted cylinder and were “tip-up” revolvers. What that means is in order to load or unload, you had to depress a catch at the bottom of the frame in front of the cylinder and rotate the barrel 180 degrees upward.
Next, the cylinder had to be removed in order to load it or unload it. It may sound like a tedious and slow process because it was, but it was still quicker than doing the same to a cap-and ball muzzle loading revolver or single shot muzzle loading pistol.
The “ejector rod” is that pointy thing that rides under the barrel, you would have to push the cylinder face against that 7 times to clear the cylinder.
Ours is the third variant with a bird’s head grip, cast iron frame, and a fluted cylinder. Still a tip-up model, but despite it being 150 years old, it has a more streamlined look and feel than the first two incarnations.
It is one of three pieces in our collection that does not make it out to the range at all.
Primitive metallurgy coupled with modern smokeless powder (yes even in a 22 Short) makes for an unsafe condition and we prefer to keep all of our fingers. Besides, we doubt that Smith & Wesson would be able to help us out with replacement parts if something did go wrong!
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I have a first issue that is fully functional with a serial # 13 can any body tell me what it might be worth today!!!
Thanks! I own my great, great-grandfather’s Model 1, 2nd issue. It’s in a thin glove-leather holster that buttoned to the inside of his vest. It was definitely a “Rule #1 gun” but it is also important to remember that pointing a pistol at somebody was often a successful deterrent. In that era, any kind of a puncture wound was likely to breed infection and kill you. Grandpa’s wallet and pocket watch weren’t worth the risk.