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Smith & Wesson’s First Plastic Fantastic


by NRA Staff

Almost 12,000 Smith & Wesson No. 1, First Issue revolvers were manufactured from 1857 to 1860, and this spur-trigger model was the company’s first metallic cartridge handgun. Yet comparatively few of these tip-up .22-cal. handguns were offered from the factory fitted within this unusual case. While sometimes called “gutta-percha,” a product based on the sap of Asian trees that was even used in the mid-19th century as an insulator for undersea telegraph cables, these S&W cases were actually made of shellac and compressed wood particles, and are considered one of the first American plastics ever made.

The black, hinged-lid case held both the revolver and a block with drilled holes for 56 .22 rimfire cartridges. Factoring in the seven-shot capacity of the S&W No. 1, this provided owners with the ability to fill their handgun’s cylinder eight times. The outside of the casing featured a relief rendering of the revolver inside and was manufactured for Smith & Wesson by the Littlefield Parsons Company of Florence, Mass.

This is just one of thousands of historical arms on display free of charge daily at the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Va. To find out more about the museum’s programs, including our special temporary “Hollywood Guns” exhibition, call (703) 267-1600 or e-mail Visit the museum’s online galleries at