Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 Frontier


A Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 Frontier Revolver

--Japanese Contract Pistol--
(Additional Images Near Bottom of Page)

Updated 08/31/22

The Smith & Wesson Historical Foundation provenance letter for this pistol states:

“The revolver you inquired about in your recent letter is the New Model No. 3 Frontier.  This model, designed to fire the 44-40 cartridge, was introduced in 1885 and manufactured until 1908, with a total production of 2,072 revolvers.  Out of these 2,072 revolvers, 786 were converted to the .44 Russian caliber for export to Japan.  Therefore, the total number of guns produced in the 44-40 caliber was reduced to 1,286.

The New Model No. 3 Frontier was serial numbered in its own serial range and was numbered from 1 to 2072.  It was available in blue and nickel with barrel lengths of 4”, 5”, 6”, and 6 ½”.  The average retail price for this model during the years it was sold was $12.75.

We have researched your Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 .44 Frontier, Japanese Government Contract, caliber .44 Russian, revolver in company records which indicate that your handgun, with serial number 911 was shipped from our factory on March 30, 1895, and delivered to Takata & Co., Yokohama, Japan.  The records indicate that this revolver was shipped with a 6.5 inch barrel, blue finish, and checkered walnut grips.  The ivory grips were added after this revolver was shipped from the factory.”

The revolver described and pictured in this article is in well used but what I consider NRA antique forearm FINE condition.  The revolver has been in my possession for approximately 40 years.  It was in the possession of a longtime friend for at least 15 years prior to that.  This friend was told at the time he purchased the weapon, that he believes it had been brought home by a service member, from Japan as a souvenir after WWII.

S&W New Model No. 3 Frontier revolver #911 has no Japanese applied markings.  The pistol retains approximately 50% of its original factory bluing.  The barrel bore and cylinder chambers are both pristine.  The gun has obviously been used, but appears to have always been well cared for.

This Top Break revolver retains the following specifics: 6 ½” barrel.  1 9/16” cylinder length.  Serial #911 on the frame, barrel, and barrel block.  The cylinder is serial #940.  Historians say that it was common occurance on those revolver in Japan, as they were often disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled in mass, causing some interchange of parts.  The factory walnut grips are replaced by what appears to be Ivory grips.  Apparently added to the revolver in Japan.  The inside of the ivory grips have what appears to be a Japanese charactor drawn on each grip.  Also observed on one of the grips is 1000.  Not sure if this means 1000 Yen or maybe $10.  It should be noted that in 1895 the value of the Yen to the dollar was approximately 1000 Yen = $10.00.

I observed the pistol fired a couple of times by the previous owner and I have fired the weapon once many years ago.  Functioned perfectly.  Recently the cylinder stop spring broke from fatigue and has been replaced.  Bringing the weapon back into working order.

A little historical background is needed for understanding this revolver’s provenance.

Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson
New Model Number Three Frontier (1)

"……. Note: 786 were converted to .44 Russian for shipment to Japan but are usually not found with Japanese markings………."

The Japanese Chose The Smith & Wesson Revolver
Chapter 1 - Background (2)

“.......Recognizing that Japanese manufacturing would be unable to meet the nation’s need for some time, the Shogun and the hans purchased most of their arms from abroad,……………

By the late 1860’s, a broad civil war broke out in Japan……….

In the end, the Imperial forces were successful and Emperor Mutsuhito gained control over the country…………

………the Japanese government first bought Smith & Wesson revolvers.  Small lots of S&W Model 2 Army revolvers were purchased through one or more international import/export firms,…………

Beginning in 1878, and continuing through 1908, the Japanese government purchased over 17,000 S&W Model 3 .44 caliber revolvers.  These were the first handguns formally adopted by the Japanese government………Purchase in 1878 and 1879 were through the H. Ahrens & Co., but nearly all subsequent purchases of Model 3 revolvers were made from Takata & Co. of Yokohama, after Ahrens withdrew from its general export business.  Japan was the first country to import significant numbers of Smith & Wesson revolvers, and was ultimately the second largest country to import these handguns, with Russia being the first………." (3)

Chapter 3 – [S&W Model 3] (4)

Model 3 Russian 3rd Model (5)

"Grips were normally smooth walnut……, but at least one has been reported that has Ivory grips………."

New Model No. 3 Frontier (6)

".......This variation was originally chambered for the longer .44-40 Winchester cartridge.  When sales proved somewhat disappointing, 786 revolvers were taken out of stock and given new cylinders chambered for the .44 Smith & Wesson Russian cartridge, in order to fill two Takata orders for the Japanese government.  These revolvers have plain bowed trigger guards, no butt swivels, either checkered hard rubber or checkered walnut grips and 6 ½-inch (165mm) barrels.  The guns do not appear to have received any Japanese markings based upon the examples reported……….

The new Model No. 3 Frontiers are easily differentiated from the other .44 single-action Smith & Wesson revolvers discussed in this section because of the noticeably longer 1 9/16-inch (40mm) cylinders.  Collectors can quickly determine if a New Model No. 3 Frontier example is from the Japanese contract by examining the six cylinder chambers.  If there is a shoulder where the cartridge rests, which looks like a ring, it is chambered for the .44 S&W Russian cartridge used by the Japanese……….."


(1) Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson, by Jim Supica & Richard Hahas, 3rd Additon, 2006, Gun Digest Books, page 108
(2) The Japanese Chose The Smith & Wesson Revolver, by Francis C. Allan, Chip Goddard, & Takehito Jimbo, 2011, AK Enterprises
(3) abit, page 7
(4) abit, page 30
(5) abit, page 31
(6) abit, page 32


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S&W New Model No. 3 Cylinder Stop Spring Replacement

S&W New Model No. 3 Inside This Revolver

Copyright: Bruce Varner, 1972 - 2021