This is a good solid unrestored example of a Model 1886 Winchester in the ultimate caliber of 50-110, a.k.a .50 caliber Winchester Express. The Model 1886 is considered by some as the finest lever action repeating rifle ever made with .50 Express being the largest and most powerful. This one is Standard grade sporting rifle with the exception of a special order 28" octagon barrel. The benefits to increasing the standard 26" to 28" would have been modest improvements to the rifle's range and accuracy. It would also be reasonable to assume that this would have increased the tubular magazine capacity by an extra round. Serial number is in the 60,000 range which dates it production to 1891. Note, the .50 caliber 1886 Rifle in the NRA Museum was also made in 1891 and is in the 60,000 range.
A check of the original Winchester records at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming verified the configuration in the following:
Serial number 60,964
Barrel Type: Octagon
Barrel Length: 28 inches
Received in warehouse on September 02, 1891
Shipped from warehouse on September 02, 1891 Order number 8828
The lever action repeating rifle we know as the Winchester Model 1886 was conceived in the mind of a young John Browning in Ogden, Utah around 1883. At the time, Browning and his younger brothers...all in their teens and twenties, were building an amazing single shot rifle in a small brick factory/sporting goods store they had built with their own hands in downtown Ogden. Between 1879 and 1883, the Browning Brothers made about 600 single shot single shot rifles. Since they had no distribution set up, the rifles were simply sold locally off the racks placed in the front of their store. Legend has it that in 1883, a Winchester salesman named Andrew McAusland came across one of the Browning Brothers rifles in his travels. He purchased the rifle for $15 and shipped it back to Winchester thinking it might interest his company back East. He attached a letter stating such with along with the hopes they would reimburse him the fifteen bucks. All that was stamped on the gun was a serial number and the name Browning Bros., Ogden, UT. The rifle impressed management at Winchester so much that Vice President T.G. Bennett (Oliver Winchester's son-in-law) boarded a train for Ogden in hopes of buying the design from ????...well, quite literally...whoever these Browning guys were.
What I wouldn't give to go back in time and see that Yale-educated Vice President of Winchester Repeating Arms Company dressed in a suit wandering the frontier-era streets of Ogden, Utah in search of the Browning Brothers shop. Can you imagine his surprise when he realized, that the rifle (in 1883, his company had no equivalent to this rifle in their product line nor a single model that could handle calibers 45-70 and up), had been in production for four years by young Mormon brothers in their teens and twenties on the American frontier? These guys were living quite literally on the very last stop for the railroad on the frontier just about as far as you could get from the Industrial Revolution back East...yet at that moment, they were arguably building the best single shot rifle in the world. At any rate, to get to the point, Bennett purchased the rights to manufacture the Browning Bros. rifle and made them Winchester dealers, "jobbers", in the process. The rifle would be manufactured by Winchester as the Model 1885 Single Shot.
Before departing, John Browning told Bennett about another design he was working on...a new lever action repeater that could handle the 45-70. Bennett was quite interested and encouraged Browning to let Winchester have the first crack at it when a prototype was completed. The following year in 1884, it was John and his younger brother, Matt Browning, who boarded the train, this time for New Haven, CT with their new rifle in tow. This new lever action was granted US Patent No. 306,577 on October 14, 1884. John Browning was just 29 years old. BTW, this was his fifth patent! Today, I know 29-year-olds with college degrees who haven't started their first career job. Browning made enough money on the 1886 design to have built and started his own college. The 1886 was the first lever action repeater that could handle the Gov't 45-70 as well as the 45-90 and 40-82. These were the first three calibers offered in their new lever action but many more calibers would come over the next several years. The 50-110 was offered for the first time in the Model 1886 in 1887.
This 1886 has John Browning's Oct. 14, 1884 patent date on the lower tang. (See photo). The upper tang simply marked " --MODEL 1886-- ". See photo. Caliber designation is on top flat of the barrel just ahead of the frame and marked "50 EX" for 50 Express. See photo of top of action. The top flat of the barrel has the early style Winchester barrel address which reads:
--MANUFACTURED BY THE--
--WINCHESTER REPEATING ARMS CO. NEW HAVEN CONN. U.S.A.--
The original sights on the 50 Express are unique to this caliber. The rear sight is what's known as the two-leaf Express sight. See photo. This sight would later be used on the smokeless .30 caliber Winchester 1894 rifle and carbine. The front sight is also a special design called the Winchester Express Front Sight. See photos.
Overall Condition grades to NRA Antique Fine+. The frame has original case colors which have faded with the balance turned to silver. Here's a better breakdown of the colors which I'll divide up into four classes. 1. Bright Colors. 2. Faded Colors. 3. Silvered-out Colors. 4. Brown Patina. The left side of the frame shows 10% bright colors, 40% faded colors, 40% faded to a nickel/silver, with the remaining 10% turned to brown patina in the form of speckles mixing throughout. Right side of the frame: 35% faded colors, 55% faded to nickel/silver, and 10% in the form of specks of brown patina. Bolt retains 95% bright original blue while loading port shows 90% original blue. Lever has 20% faded/mottled colors on the profiles while the hammer shows about 75% medium case colors. Barrel and magazine tube retain approximately 65% original blue overall with the balance worn to a light brown patina. The case colors on the forend cap have faded to about 80% silver and 20% patina. Original walnut stock and forend are in Good+ Condition...very solid with good wood to metal fit. They appear to have been very lightly cleaned at some point but not sanded. The edges of the wood are still sharp and still retain their original factory fit...swelling slightly proud of the metal. No cracks or repairs. There is one small chip on the dog ear of the stock at the corner of the upper tang (left side). It's hardly worth mentioning but we strive for accuracy on this site. Mechanics are good. Bore is Good++ to Very Good...semi-bright with good rifling with some scattered pits. No rings or bulges. This is a good solid 1886 in .50 caliber that's all original. There weren't many 50 Express rifles built and of those, many shipped overseas to British colonies...often with round barrels, 1/2 button mags, and shotgun buttstocks. That said, it's not easy to find ANY Model 1886 in 50 Express but it's especially difficult obtaining one in a traditional configuration with a full octagon barrel, full magazine, and crescent rifle buttplate. And this one is an Extra Length 28 incher to boot! This is one of those Winchesters that has almost become extinct from the marketplace.