This is one of the most interesting and mysterious First Model 1873 Saddle Ring Carbines we've had in quite a while! This gun is a classic text book example of what an early 1st Model Winchester 1873 should be except it has its scarce original full nickel plated finish as well as an unusual crest or symbol stamped on the left side of the buttstock. Otherwise its a standard carbine with 20" round barrel, full magazine, early 1st Model sights (same as found on early 1866 carbines) with pinched style barrel band front sight, short leaf rear sight, saddle ring. It also its original checkered thumbprint dust cover (not a repro...this one is all original), screw-in magazine tube cap, early sloped-back lever with screw-in lever catch, and of course, the early 1st Model frame. Correct All matching assembly numbers found inside tang, stock, and buttplate.
Overall, the gun is in NRA Antique Good condition. For a 1st Model 1873 carbine made in the 1870's, this one is above average. After all, this was made the same year as the Custer Massacre at Little Bighorn....in 1876, this was the BEST repeating rifle in the World! It was made with central fire cartridges and if you owned a Model 1874 or 1875 Winchester reloading tool like our item 0288, you could reload the spent cartridges over and over. This made the 1873, the first practical repeating rifle on the American Frontier. This carbine has about 20% original nickel remaining...mostly in the protected areas with the balance of metal turned to a light grey-brown patina. All parts on this gun were nickel plated...even the screws and internal parts. Typical of old nickel guns, there are some light scattered pits here and there on the outside of the barrel and frame where moisture got underneath the plating causing it to flake off. The markings are all in nice shape including the 2 line barrel address and Model 1873 marking on the top tang. Checkered thumbprint dust cover has wear to the checkering. There are no caliber markings on the barrel or the loading block which is correct on all 1st Model 1873's because they only had ONE caliber, the 44-40! Thus, Winchester didn't mark their rifles in 44-40...at least not until about 1884 only after other calibers were introduced. The wood is in Very Good condition overall with good wood-to-metal fit that has never been cleaned or sanded. There was one minor crack on the left side of the comb that was professionally mended. The stocks look to have most of their original varnish intact...Nickel guns tended to have extra finish on the wood...and that's certainly how this gun appears. The symbol on the stock appears to be some sort of Coat of Arms with a Knight's helmet (see photo). Perhaps with some historical investigation, the history of this 1873 can be tracked to its original destination and owners. The action is in nice shape and the bore is in Fine+ condition...still bright and shiny with Great rifling! Good screws overall.
The serial number of this carbine is in the 13,000 range and according to the Cody museum it letters as a Carbine that went into the warehouse on December 13, 1876 and shipped out on January 17, 1877. There is no mention however, in the records of this being a nickel-plated gun. Based on my own experiences and those of other life-long Winchester collectors, we believe that probably ALL 1st Models with nickel finish were never recorded into the factory ledgers. One friend of mine stated that in 40 years of collecting, and the 6 nickel plated 1st Model 1873's he's acquired in that timeframe, not a single one has shows up as a "nickel" gun in the ledgers. Another friend whose been collecting since 1950, that's right 56 years.... has owned several more nickelled 1st models including a 1st Model deluxe rifle. Once again, none of his lettered with Nickel finish either. Finally, I consulted the Holy Grail of Winchester 1873 collections....the 1998 Auction Little John's Auction Catalogs featuring several hundred 1st Model 1873's from Jim Gordon's collection (these are all in Jim Gordon's book on the 1873 Winchester as well). Gordon collected for 40+ years and amassed what was probably the largest single collection of 1st Model 1873's EVER....I never bothered to count but he had several hundred. Of those, I found two Nickel plated 1st Models in Gordon's collection..one with a 2 digit serial number...and yes...neither one of his lettered as Nickel finish either. I know its rather strange because Winchester usually gets most of these details right...and certainly documents special order "nickel" finishes quite thoroughly by the 1880's. Its my opinion that Winchester did not have the capabilities of doing its own nickel plating throughout most of the 1870's and contracted out their work to private firms. Perhaps if these guns were finished outside of Winchester, they never got recorded with Nickel plating. I know this happens with early Engraved guns too sometimes...which were generally sent off to NY for this type of work. Well, this was really intriguing me so I went a bit further than I normally do just to make sure...I removed the sideplates, the stock, and the buttplate, and found more evidence. For starters, everything on this is nickel plated...the screws, the firing pin, even the toggle links...by the 1880's Winchester would record this as "Full Nickel" meaning everything got plated. One thing I noticed were lots of assembly numbers...more than one normally finds even on a first model. Of course, all 1st Models have assembly numbers located on the left side of the lower tang, the inside of the stock channel, and inside the buttplate which are usually supposed to match...and these do! The really interesting part about this gun are two sub-sets of additional assembly numbers located on the tangs and the sideplates. See photos with pencils pointing out each number on these components. The sideplates are both number 23 and the tangs are numbered "3" in the corners...like I said, these are in addition to the standard assembly numbers. You typically find these additional numbers ONLY when Special finishes were involved like Case colored guns or in this case, nickel plating. If you were Winchester and sending out a batch of parts to be plated to a contractor, you would need numbers on critical components like tangs, receivers, and sideplates to insure the gun could be assembled correctly when returned to the factory. Given the degree and flaking and wear to the nickel finish, I think even with just casual observation of the photos, it will be quite obvious this has been a nickel gun all its life. Furthermore, its obvious the nickel was applied when this gun was brand new...in fact...just look at the photo of the slide on the trapdoor...the nickel is all there but its worn light in a circular pattern from where the original cleaning rods slid back and forth for many years wearing the finish. Since most cleaning rods were lost shortly after the gun was new, this is usually a sign of wear occurring when the gun was relatively new.
All in all, this is a good example of a rare nickel-plated 1st Model 1873 carbine. Good 1st Models are getting very difficult to find and we don't think you'll won't find a better one in this price range!
Item 0288 Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool (See on the Loading Tools and Accessories Page)