By the turn of the century S&W was turning out special order short-barrel variation (usually 2 inch) revolvers to its top-break Double Action line. These short barrel models are affectionately called “Bicycle Guns” and are generally found in the .32 and .38 Safety Hammerless series. S&W Double Action "Bicycle Guns" are far rarer than their 2 inch Safety Hammerless cousins. But the rarest of all of these “bicycle guns” are encountered in the .38 Double Action models. In the “Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson,” authors Supica and Nahas speak to the rarity of a .38 Double Action 4th Model Bicycle Revolver: “At least one made with a 2-1/2” barrel, very rare, worth substantial premium.” While it is not known if Supica and Nahas were aware of this particular .38 Double Action 4th Model Bicycle gun, it nonetheless makes for a nearly impossible to find S&W model. This extreme rarity in S&W collecting was engraved by famed 19th century master engraver L.D. Nimschke or his shop, which only adds to its uniqueness and desirability. The near full coverage engraving consists of Nimschke’s characteristic American style bold floral scrollwork on punch dot backgrounds. The scrolls surround the S&W monogram on the right side of the frame. The caliber marking is featured in a panel on the left side of the barrel. Fine zig-zag borders decorate the barrel, and the rear of the cylinder features a wavy line and dot band. The back strap has a blank inscription panel. The ultra-rare factory special order 2 ½ inch “Bicycle” barrel has the correct two-line S&W legend on top of the rib and is numbered to the gun. The barrel latch and cylinder are also numbered to the gun. The cylinder is plated in gold. The barrel and frame are plated in silver. The revolver wears gold S&W medallion pearl grips. The M. Hartley Co. marked retailer case is lined in suede and contains a cartridge block and a bore brush. The inside of the lid bears the M. Hartley Co. retailer silk ribbon banner. The accompanying factory letter states this revolver was shipped on December 8, 1906 and delivered to Marcus Hartley and Co. of New York City. In the letter S&W historian Roy Jinks continues: “This was a large shipment for 50 units and it does not list anything other than the revolvers were .38 Double Action. Smith & Wesson did offer 2.5 inch barrels for this model on special order.” While factory records are absent of configuration details, the 2 ½ inch barrel on this .38 DA is most definitely factory and correct, just as it was the day it left the factory on December 8, 1906. Beyond the rare configuration and artistry this revolver is historically tied to one of the most revered U.S. Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt. Presented with this revolver is a statement of provenance in Spanish (copy) which is accompanied by an English translation. This statement of provenance is signed by the great-grandson of the original owner, Dr. Figueroa Alcorta. Per the great-grandson’s account, this revolver “was given to my great-grandfather Dr. Figueroa Alcorta when the ex-President of the United States of America, Theodore Roosevelt, visited the country in 1913.” Argentina is the country referred to in the statement, and in the statement the revolver is identified by serial number and short description of gold and silver plating and pearl grips as well as referencing the Hartley case. In “To the River Plate and Back: The Narrative of a Scientific Mission to South America with Observations upon Things Seen and Suggested”, Dr. Figueroa Alcorta is mentioned as a past president of the University of La Plata in Argentina (page 123). It is easy to imagine the two men meeting during one of the former U.S. president’s lectures he gave while participating in a speaking tour of South America in 1913 and just before Roosevelt set off on an ambitious expedition to the Amazon in 1913, the year Theodore Roosevelt had hoped to be serving his third term as president of the United States. Instead, he involved himself in an Amazonian expedition that nearly killed him. During the election of 1912, Roosevelt ran under the banner of his newly started Progressive Party but, despite a strong showing, especially for a third party candidate, he lost the race to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Not long after his defeat Roosevelt was invited to Argentina and Brazil to give a series of lectures. Roosevelt accepted the speaking tour invitation as well as seized upon the opportunity to organize an American Museum of Natural History sponsored expedition of the Amazon. Roosevelt teamed up with famed Brazilian explorer Colonel Candido Rondon to lead a 22 man party that included Roosevelt’s son Kermit, scientists, naturalists, paddlers and porters. Known as the Roosevelt-Rondon expedition, the purpose of the expedition was to explore the 1,000 mile long uncharted Amazon tributary, the River of Doubt, which was later renamed the Roosevelt River in Roosevelt’s honor. The expedition quickly turned into a fight for survival. Everything in the jungle was out to kill them including the insects, caimans, snakes, piranhas and native peoples. By the time the party had reached the River of Doubt in February, only three Americans remained and over half of the pack animals had died from exhaustion. Many men fell ill to tropical diseases. Roosevelt had a close encountered with a venomous coral snake, saved only by the thick leather of his boot. Conditions only worsened as the team made their way on the water. Kermit Roosevelt’s canoe capsized and his Brazilian companion drowned in the rapids. A porter shot and killed another Brazilian for stealing food. The murderer was left in the jungle. The party was tracked and harassed by hostile natives. Roosevelt fell ill to a fever and infection from a gash on his leg. He was delirious and demanded that the party leave him in the jungle. Kermit wouldn’t listen to his father. By the time the team reached civilization in late April, Roosevelt had lost a quarter of his body weight. The nightmare was over, and the former president was elated with his own success. Writing in a telegram to the Brazilian government, Roosevelt proclaimed the expedition as “hard and somewhat dangerous, but very successful trip.” Provenance: The Alcorta Family; The Norman Vegley Collection; The David Carroll Collection; NRA Display, Charlotte, NC 2010; The Sheryl Cheely Collection
Exceptionally fine. The barrel and frame retain 80% original silver plating with a smooth dark patina on the balance. 95% of the original gold remains on the cylinder. The engraving is crisp. 90% original blue finish remains on the trigger guard. 80% original case colors remain on the hammer and trigger. The grips are very fine with a small chip at the top (left panel) and highly attractive fiery colors. Mechanically excellent. The case is fine with a few cracks, minor handling/storage marks and some typical wear on the lining. An extremely rare and L.D. Nimschke New York engraved Hartley Co. retailer cased S&W .38 Double Action 4th Model Bicycle Revolver linked to one of the most revered U.S. Presidents and his travels to South America.
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