This is a pretty decent example of a Winchester 1886 rifle in caliber 45-70. Standard rifle configuration with 26" octagon barrel, full magazine, crescent buttplate, and ladder style rear sight marked "1886" at the top. Antique pre-1898 serial number is in the 56,000 range. Made in 1891. Stock is in the early style with the larger buttplate. Top of barrel marked "--MANUFACTURED BY THE-- / --WINCHESTER REPEATING ARMS CO. NEW HAVEN CONN. U.S.A.--" Lower tang marked with John Browning's 1884 and 1885 patent dates. Upper tang marked "--MODEL 1886--".
Overall condition grades to NRA Antique Very Good. I don't have much history on this rifle other than it was found out West, but do feel comfortable in noting that the wood grain and light patina on the metal are consistent with other guns we've found in the western United States. The original case colors on the receiver, hammer, and lever have mostly faded to silver. The barrel and magazine tube have worn to a light gray patina that's beginning to turn brown. Edges are all good and sharp with excellent markings throughout. Original military style ladder sight is correct and unique to early Model 1886's chambered in 45-70...which at the time was the official caliber of the US Army. The wood is in Very Good condition having never been sanded or refinished with tight wood-to-metal fit with no cracks, chips, or repairs. The only alteration to the gun is someone, long ago when the gun was new, added a frontier-made sling so it could be carried over the original owner's shoulder while hunting. The swivels appear to be hand-forged by a blacksmith and the sling itself is stitched from what appears to be an old saddle harness. The swivels and sling will unscrew easily from the stock and forend cap if desired...but I will leave this for the buyer to decide. The action works perfectly. The bore is respectable... in Good+ condition with decent rifling and no major pits, damage, rings, or bulges. Good screws throughout. All in all, this is a very respectable and untouched Model 1886 in one of the most desirable configurations...the standard 45-70 rifle with an octagon barrel.
"The Winchester Model 1886 action is probably the smoothest job ever developed in a lever action gun. This functioned practically without effort and in operation cannot be compared with any other lever gun ever produced with the possible exception of the Model 71, its successor in revised form." --Philip B. Sharpe, The Rifle in America.
The following information and quotations came from the book John M. Browning AMERICAN GUNMAKER by John Browning and Curt Gentry. As all dutiful Winchester collectors will tell you, John Browning was the inventor of the Model 1886; the son of a Tennessee gunsmith named Jonathon Browning who moved to Illinois and joined the Mormon church before settling in Ogden, Utah during the 1850's. Mr. Browning had three wives. Born in the latter half of the 1850's, John and Matt Browning were his middle sons from his second marriage. That's right guys...regardless of how you may view the practice, had there been no polygamy allowed in Utah back in the 1850's, John Browning would never have been born and that would mean no great Winchester lever action rifles like the 1885, 1886, 1892, 1894, 1895, or pumps like the 1890, 1897, Colt Automatic Pistols models 1900 through 1911, the FN Model 1900, the 1895 Potato Digger, Browning Auto 5 shotguns, US Model 1917, M1918 BAR, and the .50 cal "Ma Deuce" would ever have existed. It's hard to believe that one man could invent such a broad range of useful and technologically important firearms.
John and Matt grew up working in their father's small gunshop repairing rifles for hard-scrabble frontiersmen and wagon freight haulers who passed through Ogden. By the time they were teenagers, they were running the business practically by themselves as the senior Browning had taken on many more responsibilities with the church and now a third family. This freedom coupled with the responsibility of running his father's shop was the perfect incubation for the younger Browning to grow beyond his father's talents. John Browning's first design came about in the form of a single shot rifle as a sort of tribute to his father who was a pretty good inventor as a younger man. With the aid of one of their suppliers back east, Schoverling, Daly, and Gales, Browning was able to secure legal advice for a patent for his single shot rifle in 1879. He was just 24 years old. The brothers, along with several of their younger half-brothers, began manufacturing the rifle in a small brick building they constructed in downtown Ogden. In spite of their modest factory, their rifle was a great success and sold so briskly that there were never more than a handful to display in their store window. By the winter of 1882-83, Browning began working on a new design that would become what we know today as the Model 1886.
One day during the early part of 1883, a Winchester salesman named Andrew McAusland "came across a single shot rifle that was new to him. Stamped on the barrel were the words: BROWNING BROS. OGDEN, UTAH U.S.A." McAusland purchased the rifle and sent it to the Winchester factory for evaluation. Within a week of receiving the rifle, Mr. T.G. Bennett (son-in-law to Oliver Winchester), Winchester vice-president and general manager, was on his way to Ogden, authorized by his board of directors to buy the rifle. Bennett knew that what he'd just seen was a remarkable gun and he was determined to acquire it before his competition did the same. The story of the distinguished-looking Vice President of Winchester stepping off the train on a spring day in 1883 to meander through the muddy frontier-town streets of Ogden looking for the Browning Bros. Arms Factory is something I would love to have seen. When he finally found the place, he stepped inside and saw a small group of teenagers and young men in their twenties hard at work building rifles. Here was arguably the most advanced single shot rifle in the world being made by a group of what appeared to be "kids" to Bennett. How could this be? Well, he soon found out when he met John Browning who was the elder of the bunch...by this time just 27 or 28 years old. Bennett offered to purchase the single shot and make the Browning Brothers Winchester dealers. From that day on for the next nineteen years, Browning sold all of his designs to Winchester Repeating Arms. The single shot went on to become known as the Winchester Model 1885...which is still produced today in limited runs by Winchester, Browning, and now the Ballard Rifle Company. Before departing Ogden, John Browning mentioned to Bennett he was working on a new lever action rifle design. Bennett was interested and the Brownings promised that Winchester would get the first crack at it when he was finished. About a year later, Browning applied for a patent in May of 1884 and by the fall of that year, he was ready to show the design to Winchester. This time it was John and his younger brother Matt who boarded the train as they made their first trip east. Before arriving in New Haven, the brothers spent a day in New York City where they visited their sporting goods supplier Schoverling, Daly, and Gales. John Browning gave a preview of the rifle to one of their salesmen who marveled at the rifle and said, "John Browning, you know so much about guns it isn't necessary for me to tell you that you have, right her in this hotel room, the best rifle in the world--by long odds." He passed the gun back to John respectfully. "And you probably are also aware that right now you're holding the future of the Winchester Company in your hands." It's believed that Winchester paid Browning $50,000 for what would become known as the Winchester Model 1886. By the way, $50,000 in today's money would be enough to send your kid to college but back in 1885, that would have been enough money to build and start your own college.