Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1212: Tiffany Smith & Wesson .38 Double Action Revolver

Auction Date: June 6, 2020

Exceptionally Rare, Iconic, Historically Significant Deluxe Tiffany & Co. Embellished and Cased Smith & Wesson .38 Double Action 3rd Model Revolver Exhibited by the Factory at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago with Factory Letter

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $75,000 - $150,000

Exceptionally Rare, Iconic, Historically Significant Deluxe Tiffany & Co. Embellished and Cased Smith & Wesson .38 Double Action 3rd Model Revolver Exhibited by the Factory at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago with Factory Letter

Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson
Model: 38 Double Action
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 38 S&W
Barrel: 4 inch solid rib
Finish: blue
Grip: metal
Item Views: 2034
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 148
Class: Antique

From the late 1880s to the early 1900s self-described “American multinational luxury jewelry and specialty retailer” Tiffany & Co. advertised some of the period’s most spectacular and expensive highly embellished weaponry for America’s leading firearms manufacturers including Colt, Winchester and especially Smith & Wesson. “Revolvers of the most improved types, mounted in silver, carved ivory, gold, etc. with rich and elaborate decorations,” proclaimed the Tiffany Blue Book catalog, would set a customer back $50.00 to $300.00. The number of surviving Tiffany firearms remain unknown, but studies clearly show that S&W benefited the most from Tiffany’s world renowned master craftsmanship. These high art firearms are the epitome of the Art Nouveau movement. This exceptionally rare S&W revolver is embellished in the classic Art Nouveau style and is signed by Tiffany & Co. While Tiffany did some work for S&W in the 1870s, no work of this magnitude was executed until the 1890s, and they were intended to be showpieces for the World's Columbian Expedition of 1893, the Exposition Universelle in Paris of 1900 and the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY in 1901. This fantastic example was manufactured specifically for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Just ahead of the trigger guard is the special exhibition cartouche: a globe over a capital "T," which identifies items as Tiffany Columbian Exposition pieces. S&W’s exhibit was entitled "Tiffany at The World's Columbian Exposition". An advertisement taken out by S&W in the Youth's Companion dated May 4, 1893 described the exhibit as "Beauty of Design and Finish". This same ad was, interestingly enough, S&W's only published attempt in the 19th century to promote decorated handguns of any kind (including factory engraved samples). In R.L. Wilson's "Winchester: The Golden Age of American Gunmaking and the Winchester 1 of 1000," a Tiffany S&W is pictured and identified as one of those displayed in the S&W exhibit in the Department of Liberal Arts at the World's Fair, and additional information and examples are documented in Wilson's "Steel Canvas" and Neal and Jinks' "Smith & Wesson 1857-1945." The largest public display of Tiffany embellished 19th century arms can be viewed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Gallery 372. The lion’s share of the display was donated and/or sold by Dr. Gerald Klaz. .38 Double Action 3rd Model Revolvers were manufactured from 1884 to 1895. The blued fluted metal grip is constructed in one-piece, covers the frame and recoil shields, and features ornate Art Nouveau silver overlays, alternating silver and gold painted dot motif along the flutes and an ornate pommel. The hammer and trigger are casehardened. The frame lacks a visible serial number. The serial number “297594” is stamped on the cylinder, barrel, and barrel latch. Like most major firearm manufacturers of the time, engravers were not allowed to sign their own work. Amazingly, Tiffany was allowed to mark the piece made on special order as well as those made for private customers. The grip is signed "TIFFANY & CO" above the Tiffany Columbian Exposition cartouche as previously mentioned. The accompanying factory letter lists this revolver with a 4 inch barrel, blue finish and checkered black hard rubber grips when shipped on October 27, 1892 and delivered to Tiffany & Co. of New York City. This shipment was for a single unit. The fitted Tiffany burl wood presentation case features raised silver initials on the exterior of the lid, velvet lining, and hinged compartments for an included bore brush and cartridge block holding a full 18 rounds. The top of the side edges are stamped "TIFFANY & Co." and "AMBOYNE" (misspelling of amboyna, the type of burl wood veneer used on the case). The deluxe Tiffany case is most certainly fitting for a deluxe Tiffany firearm. The revolver is specifically listed in Tiffany’s official Columbian Exposition catalog (“Catalogue of Tiffany & Co.'s Exhibit: Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893”), and is revolver number 206 on page 50: “IRON HANDLE, mounted with silver, chased and ornamental, steel cylinder and barrel.”

Rating Definition:

Very fine, The barrel and trigger guard retain 97% original blue finish and the cylinder retains 85% original blue finish mixed with flaking turned to brown. 95% plus original case colors remain on the hammer and trigger. The grip retains 95% original blue finish with thinning on the balance. Nearly all of the painted dot motif remains. The silver is fine. Mechanically excellent. The beautiful high end Tiffany case is very fine with a tear in the lining where the cylinder sits and some minor handling/storage marks. This late 19th century masterpiece displayed by the factory at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago is a true one-of-a-kind rarity in S&W collecting that even the most advanced collections almost never see! Provenance: Dr. Gerald Klaz collection.

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