This is one of the earliest Model 1873 1st Models we've ever offered here at Antique Arms, Inc. It sold to a collector several years ago who is currently transitioning his investments towards retirement. I will never forget the day this one turned up at the Baltimore Arms show in 2001. A gentleman approached me and asked if I would be interested in purchasing a very early Model 1873 rifle. He mentioned the serial number was 526. At first, I thought he must have been mistaken....years had gone by traveling to shows without seeing such a low number. Naturally, I was a bit of a skeptic. However, he assured me it was in fact had a 3 digit number and that after he returned back home to neighboring Pennsylvania, he'd bring it back with him to the show the next day. I tried not to get my hopes up...it just seemed to good to be true. Sure enough, what he handed to me that cold Sunday in Mid-March was this grand old first model, number 526 and in surprisingly good shape. He had acquired it from a PA family that had owned it for many years, I remember it smelled like it just came out an old trunk or closet. Even though I haven't laid eyes on it for 7 years, its just like it was then except it smells better. Back in 2001, I can remember just staring at it for days once we got it home. Unfortunately, like most nice Winchesters we get, its visit was all too brief. This time around, I had a little more time to enjoy it and wonder about what people must have thought back in the Spring of 1874 when they saw one of the very first 1873 Winchesters ever built. Aside from the original blued finish wearing to a grey-brown patina, it still looks very much like it did 134 years ago.
Configuration is a standard 1st Model Sporting Rifle in caliber 44-40 with 24" round barrel, full magazine, crescent buttplate w/trapdoor. It also has a special order single set trigger (trigger works fine but set mode no longer engages).
There are a lot of little details on early 1st Model 1873's you won't see on later guns that includes other 1st Models. Probably the most noticeable feature is the reversed rear sight used only on the first 1300 rifles built. Apparently, this unique feature is the result of Winchester using Model 1866 rifle barrel blanks that had already been dovetailed for the 1866/Henry style ladder sight. In order to fit the new 1873 rear sights, Winchester had to turn them in backwards. If you ever get a chance to study one carefully, you'll notice that Winchester had mill the aperture around the V slot on the opposite face of the buckhorn. Also, on early guns, they usually milled a narrow flat on round barrels for the sliding sight elevator. Note that because the sight goes in backwards, the milled flat is out in front of the sight instead of behind it. Another interesting feature is the dust cover which used a raised thumbprint instead being checkered across the body of the cover. This feature was almost as rare as the reversed sight used on only the first 2500 Model 73's built. Other early features you'll find on that are exclusive to 1st models are the frame screw positions for the tangs and exposed hammer screw. The sideplates use a smaller screw on 1st and 2nd models, and the loading port cover is secured with a screw from the outside of the plate. 1st and some of the earlier 2nd models use a screw-in magazine cap and a sleeve that goes around the firing pin on the bolt. You will also notice this rifle has screws with narrow slots, a swept back lever with no safey block, and an early style screw-in lever latch. More subtle features are a slightly thicker buttplate, and no caliber markings on the barrel or loading block. After all, they only had one caliber back then...the 44-40. Finally, this is one I've noticed but have never found in a book. The very first 1873's have a more rounded contour on the bottom of the frame just in front of the brass loading block.
Overall condition grades to NRA Antique Very Good with traces of original blue in protected areas and the balance of the metal worn to a light gray patina that is starting to haze over to light brown patina. The metal has no pitting or roughness anywhere. The small areas of original blue are mostly around the sideplates, screws, receiver flares, and across the tang above the lever. There are also slight traces of fire blue around the loading port and some spots of washed-out original case colors on the hammer. You can see where there once was a good amount of original blue in protected spots along the barrel and magazine tube but over the years, the blue had mostly darkened and/or turned to a plum patina. Markings are all excellent with the upper tang reading "Model 1873" in the early style sans fluer de lis. The serial number, 526, is located just behind the lever latch on the lower tang. No caliber markings...which is correct for all early 44's. The barrel address is very nice and clearly reads "WINCHESTER'S REPEATING ARMS.-NEWHAVEN. CT. / KING'S-IMPROVEMENT-PATENTED-MARCH 25 1866 . OCT 16 1860." The walnut wood is original to the gun and in VG+ condition echoing the overall look and wear to the metal. With the exception of a couple of gouges on the left forend, the wood is remarkably void of any significant blemishes. The wood to metal fit is perfect and its hard to beat a 1st Model in that department. A collector who knew Winchesters once told me that a standard 1st Model required 45 man-hours to complete...by the time they introduced the 3rd Model in 1882, they had reduced the hours to around 30 if my memory is still working. 1st Models show measurably more attention to details such as wood to metal fit as a result. Wood has no chips, cracks, or repairs. Action works nicely...lever stays up. As mentioned earlier, the single set mode of the trigger is not engaging and the adjustment. This is very common on almost any precision mechanism after 100 plus years. Bore is Bore is in Fine Condition with some light frosting but no noticeable pits. Like most 1st Models, it has that super strong early production rifling that is almost indestructible. No rings or bulges.
This is a fantastic example of an early Model 1873 and one of the earlier ones known. In 25 years of collecting Winchesters, this is the 2nd lowest number we've owned. Jim Gordon, the author of a book on Model 1873 Winchesters spent several decades collecting almost exclusively 1st Model 73's amassing probably the largest single collection of early 73's in existence. In 1998, he sold his collection of several hundred 1st Models at Little John's Auction in CA. Thumbing through the catalogs for that auction (held 10 years ago), he had a fantastic array of low serial numbers. However, we could find only 8 examples in Mr. Gordon's 40 years of collecting that he had acquired with lower numbers than this rifle.