Over the years Rock Island Auction Company has had the pleasure of offering to the public an astonishing assortment of 19th century highly embellished S&Ws. Today we continue that tradition with this sensational Gustave Young panel scene exhibition engraved New Model No. 3 Target Revolver displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. A series of factors make this well-documented, NRA Silver Medal award winning Gustave Young masterpiece one for the ages. The revolver is identified by serial number in Smith & Wesson's Exposition catalog "Description and Prices of Finely Decorated Revolvers Prepared for World's Fair at Chicago, 1893." The revolver is listed on page 3 as one of “2 Single Action Revolvers, 44 calibre, blue finish, pearl stocks, and finely engraved, Nos. 27916 and 27917, each $43.00.” It is not often that we catalog firearms identified by serial number as being exhibited at a World's Fair. In this case, however, the S&W exposition catalog makes for definitive evidence that this prestigious and historically significant New Model No. 3 was among the highly finished revolvers S&W exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. These exceptionally rare World's Fair showpieces are the embodiment of the high art firearms scene in the late 19th century. Although held in 1893, the Chicago World's Fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's landing in America (1492) and became a symbol of American exceptionalism that was sweeping the nation. Larger and grander than other world's fairs of the past, the six month running fair was attended by more than 27 million people and showed the world that Chicago had risen from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. At the fair Smith & Wesson exhibited spectacular decorated handguns, including those manufactured in conjunction with Tiffany & Co. The exhibition engraving on the revolver is indicative of S&W’s rich quality and style established by the Young family members, arguably the greatest family dynasty in the 19th century American engraving: Gustave, Oscar and Eugene. In the accompanying factory letter S&W historian Roy Jinks clearly points out the significance of this revolver which cannot be overstated. Jinks wrote, “Your revolver is unique because of the panel scenes which are engraved on the side of the frame. I have only seen these panel scenes on five other Smith & Wesson revolvers of various models. You might be interested in noting that the serial range in which this gun falls contains shipment of special guns to many famous individuals such as Walter Winans, Frank E. Butler (husband of Annie Oakley) and D.B. Wesson. Needless to say, it is unusual that the factory ships direct to any individual, as is the case in your revolver. This is generally done only in very special cases or where the individual is a prominent person. Smith & Wesson sales were handled through its network of distributors, a policy that D.B. Wesson enforced vigorously.” The factory records indicate the revolver was shipped from the factory on November 11, 1893 to Oscar I. Olson. This shipment occurred less than a month after the Columbian Exposition closed on October 30, 1893. Considering the exhibition embellishment and shipment directly to an individual, it is likely this revolver was a factory presentation piece, and Oscar Olson made for a prime candidate to receive S&W’s finest target revolver. Oscar I. Olson was a world champion target shooter of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His exploits were captured in The United States Revolver Association publication “Bullet Holes: A Record of Records” complied by S&W co-founder D.B. Wesson. As detailed in the publication, “One of the best performances with a practical revolver is that of Oscar I. Olson, Duluth, Minn., who at Walnut Hill, June 30, 1903, using a SMITH & WESSON .38 caliber military revolver, fixed sights, four pound pull, full charge factory ammunition, scored 554 out of 600, beating twenty-nine other men, American and French, who used every refinement of arm or ammunition their individual taste suggested.” When the factory letter was written in early 1988, Jinks’ asserted the revolver was engraved by Oscar Young. Over 30 years have passed since Jinks wrote that letter, and these years have given time for study and reflection. In the most recent publications featuring this revolver such as the 2004 edition of David Chicoine’s “Smith & Wesson Sixguns of the Old West” (page 393) and the 2017 edition of “Guns of the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum” (page 231) credit for the engraving has been bestowed to Oscar’s father, Gustave Young. In "Smith & Wesson Engraving," where the revolver is pictured on page 84, author Michael Kennelly proclaimed that the revolver "can only be thought of as a Young family tour de force." World renowned Master Engraver Gustave Young worked with Smith & Wesson as early as 1865 after serving as Colt's Master Engraver and was the in-house engraver for Smith & Wesson starting in 1869 until his death in 1895. His sons, Oscar, Eugene, and Robert, also worked for Smith & Wesson and used similar styles. On this revolver Young’s fine exhibition quality scrollwork covering 90% of the surfaces. Even the hammer features near full coverage engraving. Both sides of the frame are decorated with detailed charging cavalry scenes inside large oval panels. The scene was likely inspired by the famous 1882 print by Adolf Schreyer of an Ottoman cavalry charge. It is interesting to speculate as to why this subject matter was chosen by S&W for international exposition. Romanticized "oriental" themes were popular in the era but are not often seen on American firearms. It is possible that S&W hoped to attract Middle Eastern sales. The hammer and trigger guard are casehardened, and the remaining surfaces are blued. Matching full serial number appears on the butt, cylinder and barrel. The revolver is fitted with a pinned Lyman beaded blade front sight, adjustable target rear sight, and highly attractive pearl grips. At the NRA Annual Meetings in Kansas City, Missouri, in May 2001, this gun was awarded the coveted "10 Best" Silver Medal Arms Award, "one of a maximum of ten certificates awarded each year to arms of outstanding historical value, or beauty, or rarity, selected from displays of the NRA's Affiliated Gun Collector Organizations." The silver medal was No. 398, and the medal is included along with its original case as well as the NRA Silver Medal Certificate of Recognition. Over the years this seminal work of late 19th century S&W artistry has been documented in several firearms related publications: David Chicoine’s “Smith & Wesson Sixguns of the Old West” (page 393), Michael Kennelly's "Smith & Wesson Engraving" (page 84), “Guns of the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum” (page 231), the cover of the February 1997 issue of the “Gun Journal (issue included), and on the cover of the 1996 edition of Neal and Jinks’ “The History of Smith & Wesson, 1857-1945.” The revolver was on display at the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum from 2013 to 2022 as the centerpiece of the "Engraved Guns of the Old West" exhibit.. Provenance: The Supica Collection
Exceptionally fine. The barrel retains 85% plus original blue finish, the cylinder retains 60% original blue, the frame retains 70% original blue and the grip straps have faded to an attractive smooth gray. The engraving is crisp. Patterns of original case colors remain on the trigger guard. 80% original case colors remain on the hammer. The grips are excellent with highly attractive fiery colors. Mechanically excellent. A true rarity in S&W collecting, this 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and Oscar Olson shipped New Model No. 3 featuring an extremely rare Gustave Young exhibition panel scene engraving is worthy of the finest public or private collections.
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