This is one of the first Model 1886's ever built...serial number 72. In 21 years of collecting I've had many low-numbered Winchesters but of all of those, currently, this is "THE" lowest number I've ever acquired in any Model Winchester lever action rifle. Its seen plenty of hard use and abuse along the way, but is still all there and is probably one of the earliest Model 86's known to exist. This was also John Browning's first design of a lever action repeating rifle. Overall, this a standard 1886 rifle with a 26" octagon barrel, full magazine, and crescent buttplate. Its in Caliber 40-82 which is one of three calibers initially offered in the 1886....I believe the other two were 45-70 and 45-90. A friend of mine whose been collecting Winchesters for over 50 years explained several interesting details about these early 1st Model 1886's. First, he noted the caliber marking is in the earliest form of and stamped in the same fashion as the Model 1876 in script followed by the smaller early "W.C.F." designation. This is a very unique and exclusive marking found only on the earliest of 1886's. style marking that is exclusive Next, the ladder rear sight is marked "1876" and not "1886" which is also correct....these early 86's use rear sights with 76 markings. You will also see the lever has a spring-loaded plunger that is designed to hold the lever in place within the action. This feature was short-lived as Winchester quickly realized the action was tight enough to retain the lever and discontinued the plunger. The bolt is also flat on the back with a sharp corner....later Winchester rounded this edge so the action could cycle more smoothly. Next, moving back to the upper tang area, there are no holes for a rear tang sight however, there is a hole which retains an inverted screw which holds an internal action spring. This is also an exclusive first Model feature. Finally, the upper tang has a thin square contour at the back of the action which proved fragile so Winchester quickly improved this area due to breakages. All of these are attributes found on early 1st Model 1886's.
Overall, this gun is somewhat of a mixed bag of good and bad in terms of condition. We're going to cover all the bases on this one because like most early guns, this rifle has lived a hard life which means there's more to discuss than something that lived in a closet its whole life. I guess the point I'm trying to get across here is how hard it is to find examples of early low number guns in ANY condition as survival rates are usually quite low.
Condition-wise, this rifle is in NRA Antique Good with very little original finish remaining on the rifle except for small patches of silvered-out case colors in the protected areas and some fading blue along the protected edges of the barrel mainly around the wood. The metal is smooth with no pitting or corrosion. All markings are in Good to Very Good condition and completely legible. Browning's patent dates are located on the lower tang underneath the lever. Good to VG screws overall. Like many first Models, as explained above, the upper tangs of these 1st models were quite fragile and a flaw in an otherwise robust design. Due to this design, the upper tang of this rifle was cracked around the hammer....it has since been expertly and soundly repaired so well in fact that it is longer visible. The wood is in fairly good condition overall with a chip on the right side next to the upper tang which has been repaired by an amateur. There are also a couple of hairline cracks in the toe of the stock, one of which has been repaired by an amateur...otherwise the wood is solid. Both of these areas would improve drastically with some little effort. Rear sight is the correct marked 1876 style while the front sight is a Winchester Rocky Mountain Front with steel blade and Platinum insert. Action works well and bore is in good condition with decent rifling an no rings or bulges. This is not the greatest of 1886's on the market but it is sound and pleasing to the eyes.
Last but certainly not least concerns the museum records about this rifle. According to the factory ledgers housed the Cody Museum, serial number 72 letters correctly except for the caliber which is listed as 45-70 instead of 40-82 WCF. While this is usually an indication that something has been changed after the gun was manufacture, this is not always the case. In fact, it is not all that uncommon for 1886 records to be inaccurate concerning calibers....after all, in the end, the chamberings increased from 3 to eventually 10. This is almost certainly a typographical error given how unique and rare the early style caliber markings are on this gun....we double-checked the records and did learn that the very next gun after 72, serial number 73 "is" listed as a 40-82 lending more probability that this was a simple mix-up in the factory ledgers. I strongely feel this gun has been a 40-82 since Day One given these facts....1. The most obvious factor are the early caliber barrel markings which are quite unique and exclusive to only consistent with the earliest of 1886's. Since it would take years to wear out a barrel, generally non-original replacements either from the factory or other 86's have later style markings, it would have been nothing short of miraculous to happen to find an extremely early barrel with the correct markings. 2. There are no wrench or signs of turn marks evidence this barrel has ever been removed. 3. The barrel condition matches the rest of the gun perfectly. And finally, 5. Why? Since there is no financial gain to be reaped from having a 40-82 instead of a 45-70, why would they. The only rational explanation which is quite plausible is that someone made a simple mistake in the ledgers....afterall, the very next rifle after 72 is listed in 40-82. . Given the low number, I strongly believe this rifle is basically all original.
If you've always wanted a Winchester with a low serial number under 100, this is a great opportunity to pick up a rare 1st Model 1886 with a 2 digit serial number and about as pure of an example as we can get to Jonathon Browning's original prototype!