During the past year, we've had an amazing streak of good fortune in acquiring not one, but three of the earliest known Model 1894 saddle ring carbines in existence. This little carbine is a standard Winchester 1894 Saddle Ring Carbine (SRC) with 20" round barrel, full magazine, carbine ladder sight, saddle ring, and semi-crescent style buttplate. The earliest known 1894 carbine, 787, and the second earliest known, 791, both were listed in our website last year. Here are the links to those two carbines:
The serial number is 793 and it was in the exact same crate with 787 and 791 as part of an eight carbine shipment that left the Winchester factory on December 1, 1894. All three of these 1894's are rare 1st Models in caliber 38-55. Interestingly enough, 787 and 791 were found in the northeastern United States while 793 was found recently in Oregon. The only carbine to ship out before this group was number 471 which has not been found to date. By order of what shipped by date, if all carbines were found, this would be around the eighth to leave Winchester. By serial number alone...since a couple of earlier numbers (46 and 786) didn't ship until later dates, this would have been about the tenth earliest carbine by number. However, this shipped before those guns on Dec. 1 simultaneously with seven other carbines. Based on what has survived...this is currently the third earliest known carbine in existence to ship from Winchester in 1894. Even if they found them all, it would still be in the top ten! That's an amazing thought when you consider that when the Winchester plant in New Haven closed earlier this year, over seven million Model 1894's had been produced between 1894 and late 2005/early 2006.
I've often read in Winchester books that 14,760 Model 1894's were built in the first year. Truth is, while they "MAY" have manufactured a large batch of receivers, only about 1,300 to 1,400 1894's were actually built. Of those, not all of them even shipped in that first year. Several hundred were still uncompleted or simply sitting in Winchester's warehouse when the year 1895 rolled in. There are even model 1894's with one- and two-digit serial numbers that weren't built and shipped until 1895. In fact, the first .30-30 wasn't built until May 29, 1895 with a serial number that was only in the 5,000 range. The reason so few 1894's were built in that first year is this: John Browning didn't patent the concept for the Model 1894 until August of that year. From there, it took engineers at Winchester about six weeks to tool up for production...which was quite a feat! Production didn't start until around October 20, 1894 with the first 1894 rifles being shipped at the end of October. As those last few remaining weeks passed in 1894, small quantities of 1894's trickled out of the Winchester warehouse to dealers but many...even very low numbers...stayed in the warehouse until 1895. Furthermore, the ones we do find today that shipped early are almost always sporting rifles. We believe that only about thirty carbines physically shipped from the Winchester warehouse in 1894.
Winchester 1st Model 1894's. So what are these 1st Models? There were only approximately 2,000 made and they are generally found in serial ranges up to about 3,000. The highest we've personally seen was one in the 5,000 range. All first models we've ever seen or ever heard about are in caliber 38-55. I've had a handful of 32-40 caliber '94's with low serial numbers...the lowest was around 740 and another was in the 1,500 range...all were 2nd Models that shipped in 1895. So what's the difference???? Well, the main thing that separates a first model from a second model is the placement of the screws for securing the guide rails. First models have their screws located on the outside of the frame located just to the top left of the loading port. Second model guide rail screws are secured from the inside out about 1" forward of this position (or almost directly above the middle of the loading port. Other features we often find on 1st models but some 2nd models are curious little rectangular slots milled into the left guide rail that usually contain small springs. Since these little springs protrude slightly outwards from the slot, the cartridge carrier is milled (or dished out a bit) on the left side so it won't interfere. We have no idea what this was for but they appear on many early Winchesters. This carbine has a couple of even more unusual features that you won't find on but a handful of the earliest 1894's. It has a small hole drilled through the bottom of the carrier inside...I've only had a couple of 1st models with this feature. It also has a block of metal that was never milled out from the bottom of the carrier...you have to look up into the action to see it but it's quite unusual. Another unusual feature you find on some these very early 1st models are numbers stamped upside down on the right side of the upper tang. Many advanced Winchester collectors are familiar with assembly numbers Winchester used to fit stocks and buttplates on the Henry, Model 1866, and early 1873's. Well, that's what this number basically was intended to be as guns with very low numbers will have a matching number on the stock. However, once you get up around 500 to 600, it seems as though you find more guns with just the number on the tang and nothing on the stock. One theory is that once the workmen got the hang of fitting the stocks during early production, they quickly abondoned the assembly number practice. After all, it was extra work and these stocks were identical to the ones used for the Model 1892. True to form, serial 793 is another gun we've encountered that has a little number, "660" on the upper tang but nothing inside the stock. As I recall on carbines No. 787 and 791, these were exactly the same.
Overall condition of this carbine is NRA Antique Very Good with a nice look to it. You can tell this gun was carried in a scabbard as the metal is mostly shiny with blue in the protected areas. In spite of the wear, it's still quite sharp with great markings and edges. The walnut stocks are light in color and show lots of grain. The metal has turned to a light silvery grey appearance with 20% original blue on the receiver. There is a fairly good-sized patch of blue around the saddle ring with the balance around screw heads and near the flares in the frame. The saddle ring is an old replacement but looks good. The loading port still has a nice bright ring of original fire blue around the edges. The frame does a good job of showing its forging triations...something found on almost every antique Model 1894 receiver. Many people believe these are scratches...but they're actually in the metal and were a byproduct of Winchester's forging process. Hammer shows 25% faint silvery case colors while the lever shows 10% faint colors with the balance silvered out. The barrel and magazine tube retain 25% original blue mostly around the bands, forewood, sights, and between the barrel and magazine tube. Nice markings include the two line barrel address which reads "MANUFACTURED BY THE -WINCHESTER REPEATING ARMS CO NEW HAVEN. CONN. U.S.A-". The caliber marking is located directly on the top of the barrel as "38-55" with no Winchester proofs. This is correct for an early 1894 made prior to 1901 or '02. The rear sight is the earliest variation you'll find on the 1894 carbine with two to nine graduations which is exactly like the Model 1873 and 1892. As you will note in the photos...there isn't the date "1873" at the top of the ladder...that is because this marking was stopped shortly after the Model 1892 was introduced in 1893. The front sight is a solid post...just like the Model 1873...I suspect this was replaced at some point...as 787 and 791 both had a post with an insertable German silver blade. It was not uncommon for these front sights to get knocked off...especially saddle guns...this one looks like it's been on there forever. The hammer has the earliest style checkered border with the decorative dip at the top of the pattern. Upper tang is marked with the early three-line pattern 1. "MODEL 1894", 2. -WINCHESTER-, and 3. "PAT AUG. 21 1894." The screws are all in nearly in Very Good to Excellent shape. The wood is in very good condition overall with no chips, cracks, or repairs. It has lots of nice grain showing and has never been cleaned or sanded. The wood to metal fit is perfect and very tight. Nice mechanics and an Excellent bright shiny bore with no pits, rings, or bulges. A very strong example of one of the oldest 1st Model 1894's in existence.
While the whole gun world seems to be running around trying to buy up all of the last Model 94's produced by Winchesters for extraordinary prices, here is a gun that was in the first crate containing multiple 1894 carbines to leave the New Haven factory 112 years ago. It's the great-grandfather to all of them! This is a very rare opportunity for a collector to acquire not only an antique carbine in 38-55, but a rare 1st Model carbine, one of a few that actually shipped in that first year, and the third earliest SRC currently known in existence.