Remington Model 1875 No. 3 Improved Army Revolver
By Chuck Hawks
The E. Remington & Sons Model 1875 No. 3 is a six shot, single action (SA), traditional western style revolver with a web under the barrel that invokes the percussion 1858 Remington Army revolver. The 1858 Remington had a solid top strap and the lock-work was accessed from the bottom, by simply removing the trigger guard. A single screw holds the trigger guard in place, so the process is the simplest of any revolver I have ever seen.
There is no doubt the Remington 1858 revolver was ahead of its time. Many shooters from the Civil War era preferred the Remington 1858 to the Colt 1860 Army revolver (they each had advantages and disadvantages) and Remington retained these advanced features when they made the Model 1875, which was basically an updated, centerfire cartridge version of the fine Model 1858.
The Remington Model 1875 "Improved Army or Frontier Revolver" was produced from 1874-1888, with the model first appearing in the 1875 Remington catalog. Interestingly, in the 1875 catalog it was referred to it as the 1874 Model, but this was quickly changed to Model 1875 in the 1876 and subsequent catalogs. 1885 and later Remington catalogs described the Model 1875 as the "New Model Army," rather than the "Improved Army."
Somewhere around 30,000 Model 1875s were probably made. The exact production number is unknown and I have seen guesses ranging from 25,000 to 40,000. Part of the confusion is caused because Remington changed the serial number sequence after about 12,000 revolvers had been produced, starting over with number one.
Unlike a Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver or a modern Ruger SA revolver, the Remington 1875 had a one-piece main frame and grip strap. This made for an exceptionally strong assembly.
Frames were blued or nickel plated and the hammer and loading gate were case-hardened. Remington Model 1875 revolvers were never manufactured with color case-hardened frames, although most modern 1875 replicas have this feature.
There was a lanyard ring attached to the bottom of the grip frame. Remington promoted this feature as useful when mounted on horseback.
Most 1875's had 7-1/2 inch round barrels, while a very few late production guns were supplied with 5-3/4 inch barrels. Calibers were .44 Remington, .44-40 and .45 Colt. .45 Colt revolvers had slightly longer cylinders to prevent inserting a .45 Colt cylinder in a .44 caliber frame.
Model 1875 revolvers were supplied with fluted cylinders and most came with smooth, two-piece walnut grips, although checkered grips, ivory grips and pearl grips were available, as was engraving by special order. Examples of beautifully engraved presentation revolvers still exist today and are prized by Remington collectors. (Note photo at top of page.)
Like the Colt SAA (or "Peacemaker"), the 1875's hammer is powered by a long flat-spring inside the grip frame. This is called the mainspring or hammer spring. The Remington 1875 action clicks four times as you cock the hammer, like a Colt SAA. Although they are conceptually similar, the Remington action is different in detail from a Colt.
Early examples had rectangular firing pins integral with the hammer. After about serial number 12,000, replaceable cone shaped firing pins were pinned into the hammer in the manner of a Colt SAA. The shape of the new firing pin evolved as production continued, as did the shape of the hammer. The early model hammer did not have a quarter-cock safety notch.
There were two types of triggers and trigger guards used on Model 1875 revolvers. Other detail changes were also made, as is typical with arms produced for over a decade.
The shape of the front sight changed from a pinched post to a blade. Typical sights consist of a rounded, tapered blade front sight and a small notch cut into the top strap of the frame. These sights are "fine" and harder to acquire than the Patridge type sights found on almost all modern service pistols. The only adjustment possible is to carefully file down the front sight if the gun shoots low.
I agree with the praise for the handling of Remington pattern revolvers from aficionados. As good as a Colt Peacemaker feels in the hand, the Remington has always felt slightly better to me. The shape of the Remington grip, viewed from the bottom, is a bit shorter oval (front to back) than the Colt grip. The Remington revolver is also heavier than a Colt and has a more weight forward balance, probably due to its heavy ejector rod housing and the steel web under the barrel.
Cocking the 1875's hammer is like any traditional SA revolver. As it is thumbed back from its resting position against the frame, the first hammer notch is the quarter-cock "safety" position. This is a deep notch and it holds the hammer about 3/16 inch from the frame, far enough for the firing pin to be well clear of a cartridge in the chamber.
In traditional SA revolvers, such as the Model 1875, this safety notch is not completely safe, as a heavy blow to the hammer hard enough to break either the tip of the sear engaging the notch or the notch itself could allow the firing pin to contact the primer of a cartridge and fire the gun. This is not likely, but it is possible.
Continue to thumb the hammer back and the next notch is half-cock. The half-cock hammer position frees the bolt that locks the cylinder at the bottom and allows the cylinder to turn freely in a clockwise direction. This is the loading and unloading hammer position. The half-cock notch in the hammer is not as secure as the quarter-cock safety notch and should never be used as a safety position.
The final hammer position is full cock, with the hammer held all the way back. With the hammer fully cocked, the tip of the sear engages the full-cock notch. This is a shallow notch only as wide as the sear tip and cut at a right angle to the tip of the sear (itself an extension of the top of the trigger). The tip of the sear and the full cock hammer notch are polished to slide smoothly against each other and only a small trigger movement is required to free the hammer and fire the revolver.
Loading and unloading the 1875 is traditional single action fare. Thumb the hammer back to the half-cock position, which allows the cylinder to rotate freely in a clockwise direction. Swing open the loading gate at the right side of the frame. To load cartridges, rotate the cylinder until a chamber is aligned with the loading port in the recoil shield and insert a cartridge. Repeat the process until the gun is loaded.
The 1875 should be carried with an empty chamber under the hammer. Since the cylinder chambers are not recessed to enclose the cartridge rims, you can verify this by looking through the gap between the back of the cylinder and the frame, where the cartridge rims are visible; no rim should show in the chamber aligned with the hammer.
Thumb the hammer back to its half-cock notch to free the cylinder to rotate. Open the loading gate. Rotate the cylinder to align a case head with the loading port in the recoil shield. Point the muzzle skyward. If the chambers are clean, unfired rounds will simply drop into your hand as you rotate the cylinder. It will probably not be necessary to use the ejector rod.
To eject fired cases, slide the spring loaded ejector rod (located beneath the barrel at about the 5-o'clock position) rearward until it pushes the fired case from the cylinder. Release the ejector rod and manually rotate the cylinder to the next chamber. Repeat until all chambers are empty.
REMOVING/INSTALLING THE CYLINDER
I have never had the privilege of owning an original Remington 1875 revolver. However, I have had a reasonable amount of experience with, and in some cases reviewed, Uberti, Cimarron and Navy Arms replicas. The following is based on my experience with these revolvers.
To remove the cylinder for cleaning, first make sure all the chambers are empty. Thumb the hammer back to the half-cock position and open the loading gate. Hold the pistol in your hands with the right side down. Depress the spring-loaded cylinder base pin screw (in the frame in front of the cylinder) and pull the cylinder pin toward the muzzle until it completely clears the cylinder. The cylinder will them simply fall out of the frame into your hand.
Replacing the cylinder: Unlike a Colt or Ruger SA revolver, at least in my experience, when a Remington pattern revolver is at half-cock the hand (the part that rotates the cylinder) does not fully retract into its slot in the recoil shield. At least this is the case with modern replicas. This makes it very difficult to get the cylinder correctly aligned with the cylinder pin.
Here is how to reinstall the cylinder. With the cylinder out of the frame, bring the hammer back to the full cock position. This raises the hand and the bolt. (The bolt locks the cylinder in place). Note the operation of these parts. Lower the hammer to the frame.
Now, holding the revolver in your left hand, thumb the hammer slowly back with your left thumb until the bolt is retracted and the hand is as far into the frame as it goes. Hold the hammer in this intermediate position, between quarter-cock and half-cock, and with your right hand drop the cylinder into the frame; jiggle it a bit as necessary to slide the cylinder pin through the cylinder until it locks into place. Bring the hammer back to the full-cock notch and then lower it, close the loading gate and you are finished.
REPRODUCTIONS AND HOLSTERS
Today, the vast majority of surviving Remington 1875s are in the hands of collectors. However, new 1875 reproductions are available from Uberti, Cimarron, Taylor's & Co. and perhaps others.
The Cimarron 1875 Outlaw is made by Uberti and I suspect the Taylor's & Co. version is also. Navy Arms used to market a Uberti made 1875 replica, but no longer does. However, Navy Arms guns are fairly common on the used market.
These modern replicas are made to be used and the Uberti made 1875s I have used, regardless of the importer, have been good shooters. If you purchase one of these, or are lucky enough to own an original Remington in shooting condition, you will probably need a holster in which to carry it.
Fortunately, the 1875 will fit in most holsters intended for SA revolvers with the same length barrel, including the Colt SAA and clones, 1858 Remington percussion revolver, Ruger Vaquero, etc. A widely available nylon belt holster that works well is Uncle Mike's Sidekick Size 9. Reasonably priced leather holsters are offered by Hunter and Oklahoma Leather, among others.
The Remington 1875 Improved Army revolver was perhaps the finest of the frontier six shooters of the late 19th Century. Unfortunately for Remington, their Model 1875 Improved Army came two years after the introduction of the Colt Single Action Army revolver.
Colt having gotten on the ground first, the SAA quickly became so well established that the Remington 1875 was never able to catch-up. The Colt had already been adopted by the US Army by the time the Remington became available, thus depriving Remington of the majority of US government sales. 639 Model 1875s were purchased by the US Interior Department/Commissioner of Indian Affairs for issue to Indian tribal police.
Egypt ordered 10,000 Remington revolvers, but defaulted on the contract, so the guns were never paid for and most, perhaps all, were never shipped. Some Model 1875s were purchased by the Mexican government. The size of the Mexican order is unknown, but is thought to be about 500. Other Remington 1875s were sold to Mexican state police agencies. The great majority of the Model 1875s produced were sold, not to governments, but to private citizens in the US.
Remington was having financial difficulties during the 13 year production life of the Model 1875, mostly brought on by the Egyptian default on a huge contract for Remington Rolling Block army rifles, which were shipped, but never paid for. This was a financial blow from which E. Remington & Sons never really recovered.
Model 1875 production ended in 1888, the year the Company finally went bankrupt and ownership passed from the Remington family. Controlling interest was acquired by Hartley & Graham, one of the largest firearms dealers in the US, in June, 1888 and the Company restyled as Remington Arms Company.
Model 1875 revolvers in stock after the takeover by Hartley & Graham were reworked by shortening the barrel to 5-3/4 inches and removal of the web under the barrel. These became the Model 1888 and were followed by the nearly identical Model 1890. Neither the Model 1888 or the Model 1890 ever achieved anything like the popularity of the Model 1875. However, that is another story.
Note: Much of the historical information in this article was gleaned from the Remington Society of America website (www.remingtonsociety.org).
Copyright 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.