The Winchester Model 1873 is often referred to as “the gun that won the west”, and while the huge numbers produced and the overall popularity of the model in the American West may suggest there is some truth in that statement, it is in all reality hyperbole. Introduced in 1873, the Model 1873 was a significant improvement on the earlier Winchester Model 1866. The primary improvements revolved around the introduction of a reloadable centerfire cartridge, the Winchester .44 Center Fire (better known as the .44-40 or the .44 WC). The introduction of center fire primers and brass cases had allowed some of the inherent limitations of the earlier self-contained ammunition to be reduced. The Henry Rifle, and the 1873’s direct predecessor the Model 1866, had fired the .44 Henry Rimfire Flat cartridge. It was a rimfire ignition, copper cased cartridge that used a 200-grain bullet backed by 26 to 28 grains of black powder, generating a velocity of about 1,125 ft/s and a muzzle energy of about 568 ft/lbs. The new .44-40 was brass cased, center fire, reloadable and pushed that same caliber 200 grain bullet to velocities around 1,250 ft/s using a charge of 40 grains of black powder. The roughly 11% increase in velocity allowed the new cartridge to increase the muzzle energy of the bullet to about 688 ft/lbs., or about 21%. This is a fine example of the physical formula (Energy equals Mass times Velocity squared). Thus, a small increase in speed offered a much greater increase in energy. The introduction frame of forged iron (later forged steel), rather than the 1866’s brass frame, provided greater strength and less weight for the M-1873s. The Model 1873 remained in production for just under a half century, from 1873 to 1919, and during that time some 720,610 arms were produced in a dizzying array of configurations and variations. However, in simple terms the gun was available in carbine, rifle and musket models, with the “standard” barrel lengths being 20”, 24” and 30” respectively, with full length magazines standard on all models. Of course, custom barrel lengths, as well as custom magazine lengths, sights, features and finishes were always available at additional cost. Typically barrel lengths could be increased in 2” increments and from a practical standpoint anything that the Winchester gunsmiths and artisans could do, could be ordered as long as the buyer was willing to pay for the enhancements. The Model 1873 went through three major “model” improvements during its lifetime, designated by collectors as 1st Model, 2nd Model and 3rd Model. Most of these changes were relatively minor in terms of the actual operation and functionality of the weapons, with small manufacturing changes to the lever, trigger and hammer mounting, dust cover and dust cover rails being typical of the improvements. Detailed analysis of these modifications can be found in the exhaustive study, The Winchester Book by George Madis. From a collector standpoint, more important evolutionary changes were the introduction of new calibers, including the .38-40 (1879) and the .32-20 (1882). Slightly less than 20,000 M-1873s were also produced in .22 RF. Despite the overwhelming commercial success of the Model 1873, it was military the possibility of contracts that had actually driven Winchester to develop the model. An experimental US military trials rifle, produced by Winchester in 1871 had evolved into the Model 1873, and well into the twilight of the model’s lifetime, Winchester continued to offer a militarized version of the M-1873. The “Musket” version of the Model 1873 came standard with a 30” round barrel and a 27” magazine tube which were secured to the forend with three barrel bands. The musket was also equipped with a combination front sight/bayonet stud to accept an angular socket bayonet. Sling swivels were also provided, one located on the upper barrel band and one in the toe of the stock. Although Winchester doggedly attempted to secure US military contracts for their design, it was universally felt within the US military that the .44-40 cartridge was underpowered and not suitable for military use. This is somewhat interesting, as the during the Civil War, the Henry Rifle, essentially the grandfather of the M-1873, saw some use and acquisition by the US Ordnance Department, and its cartridge (as noted above) was about 11% slower and 21% less powerful than the .44-40. However, by comparison to the newly adopted .45-70 Government cartridge, whose carbine loading pushed a 405-grain bullet at around 1,390 ft/s with a muzzle energy of about 1,798 ft/lbs., the .44-40 was really a pip-squeak pistol strength cartridge. However, a number of foreign countries felt that the rate of fire of the Model 1873 overcame any issues with cartridge performance, and Winchester found a small market for their musket overseas. Most customers were plenty satisfied with the .44-40 as well, and about 80% of all Model 1873 production was in that caliber. The greatest popularity for the Model 1873 Musket was found in South American countries, where the guns were acquired by government and rebel forces alike during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, as many of these newly independent countries dealt with internal power struggles. The rifle and carbine, however, proved to be the stars of the Winchester Model 1873 product line, with some 58.4% of production being rifles, 36.6% being carbines and only 5% being muskets. Of the rifle production, the large majority were standard length (24”) octagonal barrels with only 1 in 6 rifles (about 16.6%) being produced with round barrels. Standard finish was blued frames, barrels and magazine, with color case hardened levers, hammers and crescent buttplates. Case hardened frames could be custom ordered. Open “sporting” sights were standard, but a wide array of special sights, including various tang-mounted peep sighs were available. After the initial production, it was standard for the .38 and .44 rifles to have a trapdoor in the butt to accept a multi-piece steel cleaning rod. Straight grained walnut was the standard wood for stocks and forend, usually oil finished, but sometimes varnished. As with all other features, stock up grades could be had at an additional cost, including pistol grips, checkering and high grade fancy wood in 2X, 3X or even more exotic, if the buyer’s wallet allowed. Most of the
Offered here is a VERY GOOD condition example of a 3rd Model Winchester M-1873 Saddle Ring Carbine. The gun is in the “standard” carbine configuration with a 20” round barrel and saddle ring attached to the left side of the receiver. The carbine is serial number 102132, placing its production in 1882, a year Winchester produced 27,866 Model 1873s of all configurations. The serial number is stamped into the rear of the trigger tang in italic numbers, followed by the Winchester factory work mark A, which is not part of the serial number. The bottom of the brass cartridge lifter is unmarked, as is the top of the barrel, but the carbine is in the most popular and powerful of the 1873 chamberings, .44-40. The upper tang is marked with the standard mid-production MODEL 1873 mark, flanked by a pair of foliate sprays. The top of the barrel is marked with the usual mid-production two-line address and patent information and reads:
WINCHESTER’S-REPEATING-ARMS NEW HAVEN CT.
KING’S-IMPROVEMENT-PATENTED-MARCH 29, 1866. OCTOBER 16, 1860.
The 3rd Model Winchester Saddle Ring Carbine offered here is in about VERY GOOD condition overall. The gun has a thickly oxidized plum brown patina over most of the metal surfaces, with only some trace hints of blue remaining in the protected areas, like the nooks and crannies of the receiver and the at the barrel to receiver joint. The gun remains crisp overall with good lines and edges, and all markings remain quite clear and legible. The metal is mostly smooth, with some scattered pinpricking and light pitting, mixed with some scattered surface oxidation and minor roughness here and there. The light pitting is most prevalent around the muzzle and the forward portion of the barrel and magazine tube. The barrel and receiver also show some lightly scattered bumps and dings from handling and use. The left side of the receiver shows wear to the finish and patina from the movement of the saddle ring. The hammer retains traces of its case-hardened finish, with a mottled light and dark gray. The lever has a darker, tobacco brown patina with traces of mottling as well. The buttplate shows a mostly smooth plum brown patina that matches the balance of the gun as well. The brass cartridge lifter has a pleasing, dark ocher patina, and shows some light impact marks on the bottom and more moderate ones on the top. The bore of the rifle is in about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition. It has a dark brown, seasoned appearance and is heavily oxidized. The rifling remains clear and visible for its entire length, but the bore shows light to moderate pitting along its entire length as well. The original carbine-style ladder rear sight is in place, as is the standard carbine front sight. The original 3rd model dust cover and integral rail are in place on the top of the receiver and the dust cover operates smoothly, although its fit is a little loose. The original trapdoor that conceals the recess in the buttstock where the cleaning rods are stored is in place and is fully functional, but the rods are missing. The rifle is mechanically FINE and remains in sound condition. The action works smoothly, with the lever, bolt and lifter all working exactly as they should. The stock and forend are in about VERY GOOD condition as well. They are both solid and complete and free of any breaks, or repairs. Both show some numerous scattered bumps, dings, mars and assorted scratches from handling, use and transport. Neither shows any indication of having been sanded or refinished in any way. There a couple of tiny, surface grain cracks present along the lower tang on the bottom of the wrist. This is a fairly common occurrence, and even a minty example that I have for sale has a surface grain crack in this area. They are nearly invisible, and I only noticed while editing the photos for the web site. They are really not even worth mentioning, but in the spirit of full disclosure and accurate description, I have noted them here. The wood to metal fit remains quite good throughout, and the condition of the stock and forend match the balance of the rifle very well.
Overall this is a salty, but very attractive example of a 3rd Model Winchester M-1873 Saddle Ring Carbine. Carbines only represented about one-third of total Model 1873 production, they are always desirable in the greater scheme of 1873 collecting. Every old-west gun collector needs to have a solid example of a Winchester 1873 Carbine in their collection. This gun was made during the final push of westward expansion, and based on its well-used condition, was likely witness to the last years of the American “Wild West”. With so many of the Winchesters on the market having been repaired, restored, or in some other ways “helped” or “enhanced”, it is nice to find a crisp, completely untouched example of the desirable Winchester 1873 Saddle Ring Carbine. This carbine remains a very nice, completely honest example of a desirable Model 1873 Saddle Ring Carbine, the “gun that won the west”.SOLD