SOLD FOR: $30125
Make: Winchester Repeating Arms Co.
Model: 1866 Rifle
Serial Number: 23500
Year of Manufacture: 1869
Caliber: .44 Henry Rimfire
Action Type: Lever Action with Tubular Magazine.
Markings: The top of the barrel is marked “HENRY’S-PATENT-OCT. 16. 1860. / KING’S-PATENT-MARCH 29. 1866″. The lower tang is marked “23500” and “B”. The inside of the buttplate at the toe is marked “3500”, the inlet for the top tang in the wrist of the stock is marked “3500”. The left of the bottom tang is marked “VV”. The right of the bottom tang is engraved “J. Ulrich”. The brass parts, the receiver, sideplates, nosecap and buttplate, have extensive scroll engraving with a hunting dog scene on the left sideplate, a woodcock scene on the right sideplate, a rabbit scene on the right in front of the sideplate and a Swiss cross on shield on the left in front of the sideplate. The top-rear of the barrel is marked with an ovalled “WP”, found again on the top-right of the receiver outside of the engraving (see Our Assessment).
When sold previously, the barrel was noted as being marked “500 I.C.” on the bottom, matching the last digits of the serial number. We were not able to remove the forend without possibly damaging the wood, so we elected not to inspect this marking.
Barrel Length: 24? Nominal, 24 3/8? measured (Per “Winchester Lever Action Repeating Firearms Volume I”, Pirkle, rifles were listed as 24? but when measured were between 24 1/4? and 24 1/2? when measured from muzzle to breech.)
Sights / Optics: The front sight is German silver blade held in a slotted rectangular base dovetailed to the front of the barrel. There is another, smaller dovetail cut in front of this sight with indexing lines in front of this smaller dovetail. The rear sight is a folding ladder-style sight. When folded down, the rear sight presents a “V”-notch. When folded up, there is a ladder sight with the cross-piece having a small “V”-notch and the top and bottom of the ladder each having smaller “V”-notches. The ladder is graduated from 300-800 yards for use with the slider, the bottom notch is marked for 200 and the top notch marked for 900. The crosspiece is slightly loose to the ladder, staying in place when set at most locations, but loose enough that it may slide down when firing. The top tang is drilled and tapped with a folding peep sight installed, adjustable for elevation. The aperture is tight to the arm at the top and bottom, but moves fairly freely in the middle portion, similar to the rear sight’s slider.
Stock Configuration & Condition: The stocks are two-piece smooth walnut with brass nosecap, brass crescent buttplate with trapdoor storage compartment, a sling swivel mounted to a plate screwed to the belly and another sling swivel mounted to a stud on the bottom of the nosecap. The buttstock is a second variation with long wrist, short comb and less severe curve between the wrist and comb. The stocks have some scattered nicks, dings, scuffs and scratches. There is thinning finish from handling toward the rear of the forend and discoloration at some edges where the wood meets metal. There are cracks on each side of the forend at the front edge, more notable on the right. The LOP measures 13 1/4? from the front of the trigger to the back of the buttplate. The plate has some scattered spots of remaining gold wash with the exposed brass areas gone to a light-moderate mustard patina with the crystalline appearance of old brass. There is some light wear at the points of the heel and toe with a few scattered light nicks. Overall, the stocks are in about Very Good condition as Antique.
Type of Finish: Blue & Gold Washed Brass
Finish Originality: The finish is Original, however the rifle has been back to the Winchester factory sometime in or after 1905. According to accounts from a previous owner, the rifle was returned to the factory to have its hammer, sear, bolt and trigger replaced to equip the rifle with a half-cock safety notch. While some early 1866 rifles had half-cock notches, the hammer’s checker pattern does indicate a later replacement. In an after 1905, it would have been Winchester’s practice to proof a gun returned to the factory which had been made before the proof was implemented.
Bore Condition: The bore is semi-bright with sharp rifling. There is some scattered light erosion and infrequent light pitting.
Overall Condition This rifle retains approximately 80% of its metal finish. The finish is thinning at all edges. The barrel retains generally strong blue finish with some scattered light nicks, scuffs and minor oxidation. There is some minor scratching on the right shoulder next to the ladder sight. The magazine tube has strong finish at the front and rear with the middle portion gone to a light patina. The magazine tube has a few light marks, the most notable is a small scratch on the left about mid-way between the magazine bracket and the nosecap. The receiver retains the majority of its gold wash finish with the areas of exposed brass gone to a light-moderate patina. There is some discoloration around the screw and pin heads with verdigris around the tang sight’s base. The receiver has a few scattered nicks and scratches, mostly blending well with the engraving. There is a scrape on the top-rear edge of the hammer in the checkering. The markings are clear with well defined engraving and good detail on the animal scenes. Overall, this rifle rates in about Excellent condition as Antique.
Mechanics: The action functions correctly and the hammer has a half-cock safety. We have not fired this rifle. As with all used firearms, a thorough cleaning may be necessary to meet your maintenance standards.
Box, Paperwork & Accessories: This rifle comes with a leather sling and a wooden display/storage case. The sling shows scattered light wear and discoloration. The case is English-fit on the interior for the rifle and accessories. Included is a pull-through bore cleaner. Please note, the fit of the compartments in the case will require that the tang sight and sling be removed in order to fit the rifle in its compartment. The case shows scattered light storage wear on the exterior with light wear on the interior from the contents.
Our Assessment: The Model 1866 rifle was the first firearm to be built by the new Winchester Arms Company after they changed their name from the New Haven Arms Company in 1866. The Model 1866 was a much-improved version of the Henry rifle, with a loading port on the right side of the receiver featuring a spring-loaded cover, through which cartridges could be fed into a new solid magazine tube that was much stronger than the slotted tube used on the Henry as well as not allowing dirt and debris such easy entry. Even better was the wood forearm which could now be installed as the exposed tab of the magazine follower was no longer necessary. For all the marketing hype surrounding the immense cartridge capacity of the 1860 Henry, those who have used it will know that it became somewhat difficult to hold onto after extended firing sessions due to the heat of the barrel.
The M1866 was made in rifle, carbine and musket versions and in four different models dependent on date of manufacture. All of the different models were chambered in .44 Henry Rimfire, with some of the later 4th Models chambered in .44 Henry Centerfire. This rifle is a Model 1866 Rifle with a 24” octagon barrel and still has its original rimfire bolt. The rifle has beautiful scroll engraving with animal scenes on the sideplates and receiver as well a a Swiss cross on the left of the receiver. With the serial number indicating that the receiver was produced in 1869, this rifle came along at a very interesting time for Winchester engraving, right at the dawn of the Ulrich era.
The first Ulrich to be hired by Winchester was Herman. Born in Germany, Herman’s family moved to New York City and then Hartford, Connecticut where Herman’s father was hired at Colt’s Patent Firearms Company. There’s a lack of specific documentation, but it is generally accepted among engraving connoisseurs that Herman apprenticed with one of Colt’s engravers, likely Gustave Young. After completing his apprenticeship, he engraved for Colt’s for a few years before being hired by Winchester in 1870. Herman’s younger brother John was already working for Winchester as an assembler in the Gun Shop. Following an increase in demand for engraved Winchesters, Herman’s older brother Conrad would be hired, and Conrad would take over Herman’s position as the chief engraver. While we don’t know how Herman may have been felt about being replaced by his older brother, it could not have escaped his notice that Conrad would also move his younger brother John into the engraving department and pay him more than half a cent more per hour than Herman!
Given that this rifle was signed by John Ulrich and its serial number, it is possible that it was produced while all three Ulrich brothers were working at Winchester. It is even possible that each of the brothers worked on this very rifle. It was common for one of them to sign a gun where some work, a scene, scrollwork or borders, was actually performed by another Ulrich. The brothers each had slightly different styles, with slight variations in their scrollwork, shading, and anatomy of their animal and human scenes. A close inspection of each animal scene as well as the scrollwork on this rifle will show a slight variation in these qualities, making it likely that more than one Ulrich had a hand in producing this extraordinary rifle.
The rifle may have a bit more of a story, but one which is much more difficult to document or confirm. This rifle first appeared on the public market in 2010. The seller had purchased the rifle in 1997 from Pat & James Keating, great, great grandsons of Patrick W. Keating. The younger Patrick insisted that the rifle had been given to his great, great grandfather by none other than “Buffalo” Bill Cody, supposedly as a thank you for assistance from Detroit’s Director of Public Works (Keating) in putting on Cody’s Wild West Show. While family photos from this time were lost, the timeline would seem to fit. The Wild West show would come through Detroit several times between 1908 and 1916, after the Winchester Proof was implemented. In addition to his public service to the city of Detroit, Keating was also known as something of a marksman who would have an interest in upgrades such as the half-cock safety and improved sights. In any case, trying to trace the connection between Cody and Keating could make for a fun research project.
The beautifully engraved rifle is in about Excellent condition with about 80% of its blued and gold washed finish, wear in the stocks consistent with responsible use over the past century and a half, a surprisingly nice bore for a rifle of this age, and strong mechanics. All of the 1866 models are very collectable due to their age and the relatively short time period over which they were made: the M1866 was made up until the 1890’s, but very few were made after the 1873 rifle was introduced with its improved center fire cartridges. Most Winchester collectors would never think that their collection was complete without at least all three variations of the M1866, while some would argue for all the variations of the four different models. To have one engraved by Ulrich makes this a truly exceptional opportunity for collectors. Please see our pictures and good luck in your bidding!