This is an exceptionally fine example of an early First Model 1890 Pump Action .22 caliber rifle. Antique pre-1898 serial number is in the 10,000 range which dates its production to the early months of 1892. Caliber is the hard to find .22 Long Rimfire as most of the early 1890's we encounter are often in .22 Short. In fact, according the book, Winchester Slide-Action Rifles Volume 1, by Ned Schwing, only 19.4% of 1st Model 1890 production were in .22 Long. Standard 24-3/8" octagon barrel, case colored frame, early block sights, and crescent buttplate. The first 15,500 Model 1890's are known as 1st Models. The main identifying feature of the first model is that the receivers on the early 1890's had their halves secured by two steel pins located just above the trigger housing. Later in 1892, a new frame design was introduced with a single takedown with offset head located on the left side of the receiver...a.k.a. the 2nd Model 1890. Upper tang on this rifle has the early style markings which read (see photo):
PAT. JUNE 26-88.
Note that there is only one patent date for the first model 1890...2nd models will have Dec. 6, 1892 added to their upper tangs to cover the patent for the new frame design with the takedown screw mechanism.
History: the original concept for the 1890 was probably born out of competition. Colt Mfg had developed its .22 pump action Lightning rifle in 1887 and Winchester turned to its new secret weapon, John Browning of Ogden, Utah to help even up the score. Browning in my opinion was probably the greatest gun designer who ever lived and the Model 1890 was only around the tenth year of his amazing forty-plus year career. At this point, circa 1888, Browning had already designed the Winchester 1885 Single Shot, the Model 1886 lever action rifle, and the Model 1887 lever action shotgun. Winchester was usually pleased when Browning submitted a design but this time the story was different. Instead, it went like this:
Browning's design for the Model 90 was not well received by Winchester engineers. John Browning's usual practice was to send a working model to Winchester for its inspection and approval. Because of a busy schedule, John Browning sent detailed drawings of the Model 90 instead. Winchester wrote back, strongly suggesting that Browning discontinue work on his design because Winchester engineers were convinced that the rifle could not possibly work. Browning made the model and sent it to Winchester with a brief note stating, "You said it wouldn't work, but it seems to shoot pretty fair to me." And work well it did, for the Model 90 was one of Winchester's most popular models for many years to come. pg. 25-26. Winchester Slide Action Rifles by Schwing.
Browning's prototype model is nearly identical to the Winchester 1st Model 1890 although the stocks bear a resemblance to the Colt Lightning. Winchester's prototype had redesigned wood and a somewhat different magazine tube pattern...but it was essentially Browning. Both prototypes had the same pinned-frame design of the 1st Model 1890.
Original Barrel: one of the biggest problems we see on these old 1890's...at least as far as collecting is concerned...is later Winchester mail-order replacement barrels. .22 bores were often shot out and/or corroded by early black powder ammunition. Unlike larger bores, unless a .22 bore was well-maintained by its owner, it generally only lasted a few years of use. As a result, Winchester must have had quite a thriving side business selling replacements for these 1890s. Fortunately here, this rifle still has its ORIGINAL FACTORY barrel that has never been replaced nor has it been relined. The bore is not too bad for a 120 year old .22...the rifling is all there but not bright. There are a few scattered pits but no rings or bulges. I would call it Fair+ to Good- overall...and might clean up a little better with some scrubbing. Markings are all early and correct for an 1892-vintage Model 1890. For starters, it has no Winchester proofmarks which is correct on all Winchester barrels made prior to circa 1903-04...nor does it have the Circle "P" indicating mail order replacement. Furthermore, the top flat of the octagon barrel is marked with caliber and the early style Winchester address...later 1890's will have their markings on the left flat of the octagon instead of the top. Finally, the barrel address itself is the early type from the 1890's. It reads basically the same as what you find on the early Model 1892 and 1894 lever action rifles:
--MANUFACTURED BY THE--
--WINCHESTER REPEATING ARMS CO. NEW HAVEN . CONN. U.S.A.--
On later guns, the patent dates original located on upper tang are moved to the end of the barrel address.
Original Sights include the block style rear sight and small steel front sight. Later guns have an adjustable rear sight made of sheet metal which shows up around the year 1898 and was later patented in 1901.
Original Finishes: Case Colors and Blue. One of the things Winchester collectors like about Model 1890's produced prior to 1902 are their lustrous case color hardened receivers. The bulk of 1890 production occurred after 1902 and frames were blued. Nothing wrong with that, but once you see an early example with its original case colors, it reveals a whole other level of what Winchester quality truly was back in the 19th century. Case colors are almost an art-form within itself and in an effort to reduce costs, Winchester did away with the practice of providing case colors as standard finishes on its Model 1890's, 1886's, and 1887's...a.k.a. the 1901. Blued became the norm and by around 1915, even case colors on hammers and levers, buttplates, etc, was abandoned for the cheaper blued finish. Today, early Winchesters with case colors are highly prized by collectors...the only trouble is finding one with decent colors at an affordable price. In the case of the 1890, most were used pretty hard as boy's rifles, the case colors were fragile...prone to wear and could even fade to silver in the sunlight...so few have survived with any semblance of this fantastic finish. Finding original rifles with case colors has become such a challenge that demand has outstripped supply as well as most of our wallets. As a result, today there is quite a cottage industry restoring 1890's with case color. Even later guns which never had case colors are being restored with case colors. Just recently, we even saw a 3rd model done this way. From the ones I've seen, they tend to get new wood, new repro barrels...just about everything is new on these and still command price tags of $4,500 and up...and we're talking 2nd and 3rd models.
This rifle is 119 years old but it still has its original finishes which include its original case colored receiver and blued barrel/mag tube. The case colors are obviously not what they once were but if you want an original 1st Model with visible colors and blue, it is one of the few untouched original 1st model rifles that you will find. Best of all, you can own this for less than what you'd pay one of those restored 2nd models...which are often made up of mostly reproduction parts. The left side of the frame on this rifle has 65% original case colors which stretch across the entire side of the frame...running from light to strong as you move from front to back. The right side of the frame also has visible case colors running across nearly the entire side...only they are much lighter and faded...but still viewable and not completely silvered out. That said, the left side is what I'd describe as 30% case colors overall...consisting of 20% very light colors 10% moderate to strong colors at the rear of the frame just forward of the receiver flair. The balance has simply faded mostly to silver with a little patina beginning to form. There are also some strong colors on the lower part of the frame under the trigger guard and at the roots of the bows (see photos). There are also some very nice original colors on the rear of the frame around the hammer and junction of the upper tang. Barrel retains 60% thinning original blue with 70% remaining on the magazine tube. Top of bolt retains 75% original blue. Original wood shows lots of character with numerous light handling marks. Stock has about 50% original varnish remaining while the forend has 25% original varnish...mostly along the top edges and down in the circular hand grooves. Screws and pins on this rifle are all Good to Very Good. Action is in good shape. If you like early Browning designs, be it the Model 1886 1st Model, the 1894 1st model, or in this case, the 1st Model 1890, these early guns (although usually short-lived before Winchester made changes) have a special connection between a product and their inventor's original conception.