1st Model Winchester 1873 ’73 Lever Action Rifle, Factory Special Order: Heavy Barrel, 28 INCH Full Length Tube, Fancy Stock & Cody Letter 1878
Model: 1873 Rifle
Serial Number: 34278
Year of Manufacture: It was shipped from the factory in November 1878 (Cody Letter)
Caliber: .44-40 Winchester (.44 Winchester Center Fire)
Action Type: Lever Action with Full Length Tubular Magazine and adjustable set trigger. (The set trigger screw head has sheared off).
Markings: The top of the barrel is marked “Winchester’s Repeating Arms, New Haven, CT. / King’s Improvement- Patented- March 29.1866. October 16.1860.”. The lower tang is marked “34278”. The top tang is marked “MODEL 1873”.
Barrel Length: The heavy octagon barrel is 28” in length and 1.00” flat-flat at the muzzle.
Sights / Optics: The front sight is a short German silver blade dovetailed into the top of the barrel (only the blade itself is German silver – the bottom of the blade and its base are steel). The rear sight is a semi-buckhorn elevator sight which has a very large circular opening with a sharp tiny notch cut in to the bottom. The base of the sight is dovetailed into the barrel, and the elevator is missing. The upper tang is drilled, tapped and filled for an aperture sight.
Stock Configuration & Condition: The stocks are two piece checkered fancy walnut with an oiled finish. The buttstock has a crescent shaped case colored steel buttplate, a straight grip, and a forend with a steel nose cap. The buttplate has a brass trapdoor over a hole in the stock for access to the stock bolt. The stocks show heavy oil staining in the wrist and at the back of the forend. The wood to metal fit is excellent. There is a small chip missing at the top front corner of the forend on the left side and two small compression marks on the left top edge of the forend at the rear sight. There is also a 3” long scuff mark and a few light compression marks on the right side of the forend and a few more slightly deeper marks in the underside of the forend. The buttstock shows several handling marks on both sides with a vertical 2” long scratch on the left side and a 2” and 1” scratch on the right side. The checkering shows heavy wear and is worn smooth in spots. There are three small light compression marks on the right wide of the wrist checkering and one on the left side. The forend checkering shows several small marks and a 1” long scratch on the right side. There are no cracks noted. The LOP measures 12 7/8” from the front of the trigger to the back of the buttplate. The buttplate has developed a brown patina and shows light wear at the heel and toe with a few light marks. The buttplate is in about Very Good to Fine condition. The stocks rate in about Very Good overall condition.
Type of Finish: The barrel and magazine tube are blued and the receiver, lever and nosecap are case colored.
Finish Originality: The finish is original.
Bore Condition: The bore is bright, tending to gray at the muzzle. The rifling shows light to moderate wear. There is a ring of erosion about 1” from the muzzle.
Overall Condition: This rifle retains about 10% of its metal finish, most of it on the barrel and lever. The barrel, magazine tube and receiver have all developed a brown patina. The front part of the magazine tube shows pitting and solid erosion. The edges of the barrel are sharp. There are light scratches on the left side of the magazine tube behind the hanger and a very few light marks along the length of the barrel. There are 6 spots on the left side of the barrel and magazine tube where the finish was removed, leaving very light pinprick surface erosion, and a spot of solid erosion in the left rear shoulder of the barrel behind the rear sight. The top of the rear sight shows numerous compression marks and scratches from filing. The sides of the receiver shows a very few very light marks but there are scratches around lever spring screw on the underside of the receiver. The screw heads are sharp except for the lever spring screw on the underside of the forend and the stock screw in the upper tang, which are disfigured. The markings are clear. Overall, this rifle rates in about Very Good condition.
Mechanics: The action functions correctly. It has a dust cover on the receiver that slides on internal grooves in the receiver typical of the First Models, and has a large oval checkered spot in its top surface to aid in sliding it back and forth. The hammer has a half-cock position. This rifle was not designed with a lever safety. From the Cody letter the rifle was shipped with a set trigger. The set trigger adjustment screw is present but the screw-head has sheared off. There may just be enough of the screw exposed for a gunsmith to grab onto in order to remove and replace. We have not fired this rifle.
Box, Paperwork & Accessories: This rifle comes with a letter from the Cody Firearms Records Office stating that this rifle was shipped in 1878 with a heavy octagon barrel, set trigger, checkered stock and casehardened receiver.
Our Assessment: Per Wikipedia: “One of the most successful, and certainly one of the most famous Winchester rifles was the Winchester Model 1873, known as “The Gun that Won the West” for its predominant role in the hands of Western settlers. T The .44-40 Win. was the first metallic centerfire cartridge manufactured by Winchester, and was promoted as the standard chambering for the new rifle in 1873. Soon, Winchester offered other cartridges, with Colt usually producing Single Action Army revolvers in the same calibers shortly after they were developed. Settlers, lawmen and cowboys appreciated the convenience of being able to carry a single caliber of ammunition which they could fire in both pistol and rifle. The .44-40 was a very potent pistol cartridge for its time, and became very popular. It is second only to the .30-30 Win. for the number of deer it has killed.”. This rifle was custom ordered by someone who certainly knew what they wanted. It has a checkered fancy walnut stock, 28” heavy octagon barrel, a set trigger, and sights we haven’t seen on any other rifle: a front sight that has a German silver blade atop a blued steel base dovetailed into the barrel and a semi-buckhorn rear sight with a large circular opening. The rifle is in Very Good condition with about 10% of its original finish remaining. There is an area of heavy erosion in the front section of the magazine tube and a few spots of surface loss with pinprick surface erosion on the barrel and magazine tube. There are several file and compression marks in the rear sight, but relatively few handling marks in the barrel, magazine tube and receiver. There are several marks in the wood, which does not appear to have been refinished. The very shootable bore is mostly bright with light to moderate wear in the rifling and a light ring of erosion near the muzzle. This is a very nice rifle that the original owner ordered, probably as a hunting rifle from the lack of target sights, with a long heavy barrel to give it a little more velocity while making it steady to hold. This rifle doesn’t have a lot of marks on it – just honest wear in the finish with some erosion we think is probably from blood or other caustic chemical. It is a First Model built in 1878 just before the change to the 2nd Model was introduced. Serious collectors should have a lot of interest in this rifle which is all confirmed by the factory letter.