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November 8, 2022

Smith & Wesson Revolvers of the Jim Supica Gun Collection

By Joe Engesser

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Most members of the firearms fraternity will instantly recognize Jim Supica. A renowned author, historian, and valued contributor in the world of fine arms collecting, Jim Supica worked as an antique gun dealer before serving as director of the NRA National Firearms Museums and appearing in a multitude of television and radio segments.

In the numerous books Jim Supica authored or coauthored and in his countless columns for ‘American Rifleman’ and ‘Shotgun News’ he documented some of the rarest and most historic firearm, particularly classic Smith & Wesson revolvers. In many ways, Jim’s writing drove his collection, and his collection inspired his writing in turn.

Firearms author, historian, and former director of the NRA Museum Jim Supica discusses Theodore Roosevelt's Smith & Wesson revolver.

Throughout his remarkable career, Supica assembled an impressive collection of Smith & Wesson revolvers and a unique assortment of serial no. 1 guns. Rock Island Auction Company has the great privilege to present Jim Supica’s world-class gun collection to the public in this December’s 9-11 Premier Firearms Auction.

Some of the finest 19th-century big-frame Smith & Wesson revolvers are up for bid as part of the Jim Supica gun collection this December.

With over 80 fantastic pieces up for bid, the Supica collection includes something for every price point, including numerous rarities that are absent from even the most advanced private collections. Below, we’ll highlight some of the scarcest and most intriguing Smith & Wesson revolvers offered in this tremendous gun collection.

This superb, factory engraved Smith & Wesson revolver is a rarity in its own right, but its iron clad provenance to Roosevelt sets it in a whole new stratosphere. It was shipped the very same day that TR left the East Coast en route to San Antonio to take his place with the famed Rough Riders.

The Jesse James Revolver

This extraordinary Smith & Wesson First Model Schofield revolver is tied to outlaw Jesse James through three different threads, each leading to the James Gang. Firstly, the chain of ownership is documented in signed statements and affidavits stretching back to the 1880s. Secondly, the holster accompanying the gun appears to be the left-hand mate to the famous holster and cartridge belt displayed by Jesse James, Jr. on an exhibit board of his father's firearms, sometimes referred to as the 'Crittenden Board'. Finally, the “A.H. RYAN” marking under the grip is a likely reference to Andy Ryan, a member of the James Gang in its later years.

A Smith & Wesson First Model Schofield Single Action revolver and holster attributed to Jesse James, with extensive documentation.

This Jesse James revolver has been displayed in the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum and the National Firearms Museum. Numerous publications have discussed the historic Schofield, including ‘Old Guns and Whispering Ghosts’ by Jesse L. Hardin and ‘Smith & Wesson Sixguns of the Old West’ by David R. Chicoine.

In ‘Guns West!: A Retrospective of the Old West’ this revolver is listed as “Smith & Wesson 1st Model Schofield with Holster serial no. 273, .45 Smith & Wesson Schofield caliber. This revolver and holster are attributed to the outlaw Jesse James (1847-1882) and match the revolver and holster set kept by Governor Thomas T. Crittenden.”

Only 3,035 First Model Schofields were manufactured in 1875, mainly for the U.S. Army, though many were sold off as surplus in the 1880s and carried by outlaws such as the notorious Jesse James.

The Smith & Wesson Revolvers of Theodore Roosevelt and Leonard Wood

Theodore Roosevelt's engraved Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 revolver ranks high on the pantheon of fine and historic firearms. With its condition, rarity, and historic provenance to the 26th American president, Roosevelt’s revolver is the pinnacle of Jim Supica’s collection and is the very definition of a legacy gun.

Roosevelt’s remarkable revolver comes with a factory letter confirming by serial number that it was shipped to “Colonel Roosevelt” on May 12, 1898, the same day Roosevelt left for San Antonio to train the Rough Riders.

In addition to the gun’s immense historic provenance to one of the most famous Americans of all time, Roosevelt’s stunning Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 features incredible engraving and includes a scarce chambering in .38 Long Colt, the U.S. service cartridge at the time. Roosevelt’s revolver is one of a scant few New Model No. 3s known in this configuration.

An absolute national treasure, Roosevelt’s Smith and Wesson is one of the few documented presidential guns offered to the collectible public.

Leonard Wood famously led the Rough Riders and was a close friend to Theodore Roosevelt, so it’s only fitting that Wood’s Smith & Wesson revolver also goes to auction this December. This .44 DA First Model revolver was shipped to Gen. Leonard Wood in 1905 while he was governor of Moro Province in the Philippines.

A gun owned by Leonard Wood, one of the most significant American military leaders of the late 19th century and early 20th century.

The frame of Wood’s Smith & Wesson was made prior to 1899, classifying this remarkable gun as an antique. As the revolver of a statesman and Medal of Honor-winning military leader whose four-decade career spanned the Geronimo campaign, the Spanish-American War, and the Moro uprising in the Philippines, this Smith & Wesson is a legacy piece of American history.

The revolver of a Rough Rider. Leonard Wood was an influential figure in American and U.S. military history.

The Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3

Introduced in 1878, the Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 revolver became a smashing success around the globe. Theodore Roosevelt, Virgil Earp, and “Buffalo Bill” Cody all owned a New Model No. 3, and the revolver was particularly popular with champion shooters such as Ira Payne, Oscar Olson, F. E. Bennett, Walter Winans, and James Conlin. Jim Supica’s gun collection includes numerous prestigious and significant examples of the New Model No. 3, including elaborately finished pieces exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

This sensational Gustave Young panel scene exhibition engraved Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 Target revolver displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago is an exceptionally rare masterwork that embodies the high art firearms scene of the late 19th century.

Next, we have another elite example of the New Model No. 3 from Gustave Young’s son, Oscar Young, who worked at his father’s side and eventually succeeded him as one of Smith & Wesson’s most prominent factory engravers.  A Target Model chambered in .38-44, this revolver is pictured in Dean Boorman's ‘The History of Smith & Wesson Firearms’ and on the cover of the 3rd edition of Richard Nahas and Jim Supica’s ‘Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson.’

In the accompanying factory letter, Smith & Wesson historian Roy Jinks identifies the engraver of this exemplary New Model No. 3 Target revolver as Oscar Young.

The New Model No. 3 was extremely popular overseas, as evidenced by this fantastic presentation piece from the head of the Argentine National Guard, Teofilo Gomila, to the Governor of San Luis province, Juan Saá in 1880. This breathtaking Smith & Wesson revolver wears a set of plain pearl grips with the left panel featuring the inscription: “Teofilo C. Gomila/a /Juan Saa.” Author Dean Boorman notes the scrollwork engraving as an example of “the typical Young family style.”

Documented Argentina shipped exhibition quality engraved presentation Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 single action revolver with pearl grips inscribed to Argentinian Governor of San Luis province, Juan Saá.

The Smith & Wesson Schofield Revolver

A prominent big iron revolver of the late 19th century, the Smith & Wesson First Model Schofield single action was conceived by Col. George Schofield as an improvement to the No. 3 American for military use, offering a top break design that allowed for greater ease of loading compared to the Colt SAA. The first 3,000 Schofield revolvers were purchased by the U.S. Government in 1875, including the award-winning serial no. 1, an Old West survivor that exhibits all the hallmarks of a well-traveled sidearm on the American frontier.

An NRA Silver Medal award-winning, first production Serial Number 1 Smith & Wesson U.S./Wells Fargo First Model Schofield single action revolver. As the first production gun, this Schofield almost certainly saw military service during the Indian Wars before finding its way into civilian service with the famed Western express and banking enterprise Wells Fargo.

Most of the original 3,000 First Model Schofield revolvers produced and the 5,000 Second Model Schofield revolvers manufactured from 1876 to 1877 went to the American cavalry, state militias, and law enforcement agencies, but the Schofield quickly attracted attention in the civilian market as well. In the included factory letter, the Second Model revolver below is confirmed as a rare commercial Schofield that was shipped on September 5, 1878, and delivered to M.W. Robinson of New York City with a nickel finish. Estimates place the number of civilian guns produced at only 650.

A civilian sale, New York engraved Smith & Wesson Second Model Schofield revolver from the Jim Supica gun collection. As a commercial variation, the revolver correctly lacks sub inspector marks and “US” markings as found on martial contracts.

Smith & Wesson also assembled a limited number of revolvers that were sent to shooting clubs as presentation pieces for competition winners. These highly prized, purpose-built “club guns” bore a serial no. ‘0’ or a zero prefix on the butt. According to Richard Nahas and Jim Supica on page 336 of the ‘Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson’ only 750 club guns were made, making them highly desirable collector’s arms today.

A rare and intriguing “club gun”, serial no. ‘0’ Smith & Wesson First Model Schofield revolver.

The Smith & Wesson .44 Double Action Revolver

When Colt beat Smith & Wesson to the double action revolver market in 1877, Smith & Wesson responded in 1881 with an excellent line of .32, .38, and .44 DA wheelguns. The Smith & Wesson .44 Double Action revolver was primarily chambered in .44 Russian and was produced until 1913. Jim Supica’s collection features a fine condition example that retains 95% of its original blue finish.

An excellent condition Smith & Wesson .44 DA First Model revolver.

Offered next is a rare factory engraved example of a Smith & Wesson .44 DA Frontier revolver which is pictured and identified in Dean Boorman's ‘The History of the Smith & Wesson Firearms.’ Only about 15,000 Smith & Wesson double action Frontier models were produced, chambered in .44-40 ammunition, the Winchester ‘73’s most popular rifle cartridge and one of the most prevalent cartridges of the late 19th century. The Smith & Wesson .44 DA Frontier allowed lawmen, scouts, and desperados to carry the same bullets in the saddlebag and on the gun belt without thinking twice which round they’d grabbed for either rifle or revolver.

A Smith & Wesson .44 DA Frontier revolver with pearl grips, factory engraved by Oscar Young.

The Smith & Wesson No. 3 American Revolver

After developing the Volcanic pistol in 1853, Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson formed the second iteration of their company in 1856 and turned their attention to developing cartridge revolvers with bored-through, rear-loading cylinders based on the Rollin White patent. The Smith & Wesson Model No. 1 and Model No. 2 revolvers were well suited for the .22 and .32 cartridge, but the company’s first true man stopper arrived in 1869 in the form of the large-framed Smith & Wesson No. 3 Model chambered in the .44 Smith & Wesson centerfire cartridge. This revolver was renamed “the American” in 1874 to differentiate it from the Smith & Wesson No. 3 Russian Model. The Jim Supica gun collection includes a range of impressive Smith & Wesson No. 3 revolvers, including serial no. 486, one of the first 1,000 Model 3s that was purchased by the U.S. government in 1871, the first cartridge revolvers adopted by the American military.

This revolver is documented in ‘Smith & Wesson American Model’ by Charles Pate and features the rarely seen oil hole (located on the rear of the extractor housing on the bottom of the barrel lug) as found on the first 1,500 or so of this model.

Typical chambering for the Smith & Wesson No. 3 Model was in .44 American (the eventual name for the standard .44 Smith & Wesson centerfire cartridge), but around 2,500 No. 3 American revolvers were chambered in the .44 Henry rimfire cartridge to accommodate those who owned Henry and Winchester 1866 rifles. Many of these rimfire-chambered American Model revolvers went to Mexico through the Smith & Wesson distributor Wexell & DeGress where they saw hard use.

A New York engraved Smith & Wesson No. 3 American 2nd Model single action revolver in .44 Henry rimfire with a relief carved Mexican Eagle grip.

In 1871, Smith & Wesson was approached by the Imperial Russian Army with a substantial order for the No. 3 Model, but several changes were requested. The most important modification was made to the cartridge, called the .44 Russian, which became the first widely produced bullet to use internal lubrication. The .44 Russian cartridge quickly gained a reputation for accuracy and it wasn’t uncommon for Smith & Wesson Model No. 3 American revolvers to be rechambered for the round.

A well-documented Gustave Young factory engraved Smith & Wesson No. 3 American 2nd Model revolver chambered in .44 Russian. This fantastic piece from the Jim Supica gun collection has been featured by Smith & Wesson at numerous exhibitions.

The Smith & Wesson Model 3 Russian Revolver

In addition to requesting a new cartridge, Russian General Alexander Gorloff asked Smith & Wesson to include a finger grip under the trigger guard and a squared-off grip frame to reduce the revolver from sliding as it recoiled. This became known as “The Russian Model.” The design was further improved in the 2nd Model Russian, with changes such as an interlocking hammer that locked the cylinder latch when it was in the down position.

A solid representative example of a Smith & Wesson No. 3 Russian 1st Model revolver. Jim Supica loaned this piece to the Smith & Wesson Performance Center in 2002 to serve as a template for a new line of No. 3 reproductions.

Smith & Wesson continued to refine the Russian Model as production continued and they incorporated the improvements into the 2nd Model American revolvers as well. The Russian revolver and its new ammunition proved popular in America and Mexico, particularly with target shooters. The engraved Smith & Wesson No. 3 Russian 3rd Model from the Jim Supica gun collection represents a revolver that would have been a fitting presentation piece for a wealthy businessman or a Mexican ranchero and bears the markings of a well-traveled gun from south of the border.

This Smith & Wesson No. 3 Russian revolver was pictured in Jesse Hardin's ‘Old Guns and Whispering Ghosts’ and displayed at the NRA Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) Exhibit 2015.

Smith & Wesson Revolvers from around the World

Smith & Wesson developed their finest single action, top break revolver yet in the form of the New Model No. 3 or “Model No 3 New Model”. Offered in an assortment of standard barrel lengths and chambered primarily in .44 Russian, additional calibers were available through special order or in the form of several target models. Though the New Model No. 3 saw tremendous sales in the final years of the American West, nearly 40% of these revolvers were produced for foreign militaries and police forces.

A cased Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 Target revolver documented to British general Charles Edwin Haig, one of only 4,300 target variations manufactured in .32-44.

To say that the New Model No. 3 was a worldwide favorite would be an understatement. Customers included Russia, Turkey, Japan, Cuba, England, France, Germany, Argentina, Italy, Switzerland, and China. One of the most obscure destinations for these revolvers was the Australian outback. Smith & Wesson manufactured 310 New Model No. 3 revolvers for the Southern Australian Colonial Police, all with nickel finish, 7 inch barrels, and detachable shoulder stocks, where they were carried in holster and scabbard on horseback.

A documented Australian contract Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 single action revolver with holster, shoulder stock, and scabbard. This high condition example is listed by serial number in LTC Charles W. Pate's article ‘Smith & Wesson's Australian Model’ published in the May/June 1988 issue of ‘Man at Arms.’

The Japanese Navy preferred the New Model No. 3 revolver in a 6 1/2 inch barrel. These Japanese contract guns were exported to Japan via distributors Ahrens and Takata & Co. starting in 1879 and are today rarely found in the United States. The accompanying factory letter confirms that the example pictured below was shipped on October 4, 1890 to Takata & Co. located in New York City, then in turn to Yokohama, Japan. The revolver was acquired during WW2 as a bring back gun and found its way to America after the war.

Scarce and documented Japanese Navy contract Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 revolver.

Top Gun Collections at Rock Island Auction Company

It goes without saying that Jim Supica has an enormous appreciation for Smith & Wesson revolvers and firearms heritage as a whole. The examples we’ve touched on here only scratch the surface of Jim Supica’s meticulously built gun collection. From exhibition pieces, historic icons, serial no. 1s, and guns marked with frontier wear, the Supica collection offers something for every gun collecting aspiration.

Smith & Wesson revolvers from the Jim Supica gun collection.

As the world’s number one gun auction since 2003, Rock Island Auction Company has featured some of the most desirable collections in the fine arms pursuit. December’s fantastic lineup includes offerings from the Don and Carol Wilkerson Collection, the Bailey Brower, Jr. Collection, the Paul Crockett Jr. Collection, the George F. Gamble Collection, and more. Subscribe to the weekly Rock Island Auction newsletter to receive new gun blogs and gun videos on celebrated names in gun collecting like Joe Wanenmacher, George Moller, and Hank Williams Jr.

Joe Wanenmacher, founder of the Tulsa Arms Show, developed an appreciation for rare and unique firearms, as exhibited by his collection’s vast range of unique repeating flintlocks. Rock Island Auction Company is proud and deeply honored to present Joe Wanenmacher's world-class gun collection to the public this December.

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