The Smith & Wesson top break revolver represented a major jump in firearms technology when it debuted in 1869. Faster to load and unload, as well as far easier to reload while riding a horse than most other revolvers of the day, the top-break quickly became popular with lawmen, outlaws, and military forces all around the world.
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A few years ago, I was becoming familiar with the world of SASS-style cowboy action shooting, and needed a pistol that was fast to reload. I immediately looked to the Uberti reproduction of the 1875 No.3 Top Break, as this model is well known to be very fast in that respect.
Uberti manufactures the 1875 top break in two different styles, two different finishes, four different barrel lengths, and five different calibers. Being that my Ruger Blackhawk is chambered in .45 Colt, I selected a blued, 5″ barreled model.
Specs, per Uberti:
Overall Length: 10.8″
Cylinder: 6-shot, fluted
Number of Grooves: 6
Twist: 1:16, RH
Weight: 2.4 lbs.
Grip: 2-pc walnut
The current MSRP is an eye-popping $1,179, though it was quite a bit less back when I bought it. It came out of the box with zero issues and has not displayed any rust after over 5 years of use. The Uberti 1875 has a nice, crisp single-action trigger that breaks at 3lbs, 12oz on average.
Performance On The Range
A typical cowboy-action course of fire will involve firing 2-3 cylinders worth of ammunition from one’s pistols. Therefore, one must be able to reload quickly. The Blackhawk and other gate-loading revolvers are not good candidates for this type of speed loading. One could possibly reload an old percussion Remington revolver faster by removing and replacing the cylinder, in fact. The S&W top-break, however, was revolutionary when introduced in that it not only opens up to allow all the spent cases to come out at once, it actually has mechanically assisted ejection, especially if one works the action in the proper orientation.
With the hammer at half-cock, a light press of one’s thumb on the frame release allows opening the action. Once you get the hang of the motion, the spent cases will come tumbling out and away, and one can load the cylinder. Because the whole of the rear of the cylinder is exposed, the top-break is easy to reload, even from cartridge belt loops. I like to take two cartridges at a time, loading the cylinder in three swift motions.
On average, I can unload and reload a top-break revolver in roughly 12 seconds. I’m no expert by any means, but to put it in perspective, my reload times on the Blackhawk are usually around 30 seconds. In general, the top-break action is not as accurate or as strong as a solid frame revolver. The accuracy difference at 15 yards between the Uberti 1875 and my Ruger Blackhawk is minimal, however, with the Ruger having 1/4″ smaller groups. I can still consistently hit a 3″ diameter plate at 25 yards with the Uberti 1875 top-break.
I do find that I experience more powder burns with the top-break revolver than with any other, but that is the price one pays for quick reloads. My Uberti 1875 has also never failed to set a cartridge off, and I’ve had zero parts breakage in thousands of .45 Colt rounds.
The Uberti 1875 No.3 Top-Break revolver is a fun, reasonably accurate and quick to load cowboy action revolver. It’s great for historical reenactment and cowboy-action style shooting. Is it the best revolver to fire full-power modern .45 Colt loads out of? Absolutely not. The Ruger Blackhawk or any other solid-frame revolver would be a better choice in that respect. Were it the 1870’s again, however, I’d take a top break in a gunfight any day. You don’t have to take my word for it though: The James Gang and Wells Fargo throughly endorsed the choice as well.