Manufactured in 1870, this extraordinary Winchester Model 1866 lever action rifle features the only solid German silver frame and is decorated with a highly detailed factory exhibition quality deep relief engraving with panel scenes. Although the rifle is not signed externally, the engraving was probably executed by Master Engraver Conrad Ulrich and represents some of his most elaborate work. Model 1866s with similar engraved patterns attributed to Conrad Ulrich are found in R.L. Wilson's book "The Book of Winchester Engraving." See, for example, pages 97, 98 and 99. The scrollwork and panel scenes are of are of extremely high grade factory work from the period. The solid German silver frame sides are adorned with a profusion of deep relief scrollwork with stylish borders. The scrollwork extends to the frame tangs and top and underside surfaces. Scrollwork surrounds an engraved dog on the left rear side of the frame while a fine panel scene of a hunter with his dog is engraved on the left side of the frame ahead of the side plate. The right side of the frame features a leopard engraved at the rear and two additional panel scenes. The first scene depicts a hunter taking aim at a stag in a dense forest. The second scene depicts a dog chasing a rabbit in an open field. The panel scenes are cut with a light touch, associated with Conrad Ulrich. The scrollwork extends to the forend cap, cartridge elevator and barrel. Note that wedges of scrollwork are featured on the barrel at the muzzle, mid-point and breech. At the muzzle the scrollwork extends to seven barrel flats with the addition of an engraved band. An eagle's head is engraved on the upper tang. The serial number on the lower tang is inside a scroll banner. The top barrel flat is marked "WINCHESTER'S-REPEATING ARMS. NEW HAVEN. CT./KING'S-IMPROVEMENT-PATENTED-MARCH 29. 1866. OCTOBER 16. 1860" and is flanked by scrollwork. The barrel is fitted with a blade front sight (missing bead) and a notch rear sight. The rifle has a solid German silver frame, cartridge elevator and forend cap, niter blue loading gate and casehardened hammer. Mounted with a factory highly figured varnished walnut straight grip stock (3x) with fine checkering on the forearm and wrist and fitted with a shotgun buttplate. The accompanying factory letter confirms the rifle configuration, octagon barrel, 3x varnished stock, engraving and silver plating. The factory records note that this rifle was a "special gun transferred from back book" (likely referencing that the rifle was maintained by the factory for a period of years and used as an exhibition piece) and later shipped on May 6, 1878. Note that only 24 Model 1866s actually letter. The provenance of this rifle is discussed in an included March 4, 1974 dated letter written by Belmont L. Worman to Winchester Arms and a 2016 notarized letter from Belmont Worman II, Belmont L. Worman's son. According to Belmont L. Worman, his grandfather, William P. Loper, received this rifle as a gift from famed exhibition shooter Chevalier Ira Paine while working as the general manager of Frank A. Robbins' Circus during the 1880s. Before establishing his own circus, Frank Robbins worked as a concessionaire, or candy butcher as it was called in those days, hawking sweets and learning the showman trade at various circuses, including P.T. Barnum, in the 1870s. Around 1881 Robbins started his own circus, which operated until he retired in the fall of 1915. But retirement did not sit well with Robbins, and in 1916 he entered the carnival business where he became the first showman to use motor trucks for transportation, which up until that time had been exclusively done by train. Robbins died tragically in October 1920 from injuries incurred after a 20 foot fall through a skylight. The lives of Robbins, Loper and Paine crossed paths in the 1880s. Loper and Paine are listed in the Frank A. Robbins' Circus route books, published daily records of the circus, that date for the 1886 and 1887 seasons. Loper is listed as the general manager and Paine is listed as an exhibition shooter. (Paine's wife, Anna, was his assistant.) Known as "King of the Pistol" and "Master Shot of the World," Chevalier Ira Paine was born in 1841 in Providence, RI. After high school he joined a successful quartet, which gained him a considerable reputation. As good as he was on stage, he was an even better exhibition shooter. He may have been the world's finest all around shot during his 25 years as a shooting entertainer. Some of his most chronicled feats involved his public challenges with Captain Adam Bogartus, the legendary late 19th Century shotgun shooter. Although Paine lost most of the live pigeon shoots, it was never by more than two birds and whenever the two faced off the prize money was usually $1,000, a fortune at the time. With a dueling pistol he could regularly cut his business card in half from 30 feet when put on its edge. He also used rifles and shotguns with the same accuracy and dexterity. By America's 1876 Centennial he became so popular that he took his show to Europe where he entertained kings, czars, prime ministers and other famous people. The glass ball target was originally invented by Paine and were used as substitutes for the live pigeons during most of his shooting exhibitions, circa 1876 to 1886. Paine stuffed many of the glass targets with feathers and when squarely hit would blow feathers in a three foot diameter, which crowds never seemed to get enough of. Paine died in 1889 at the age of 48 in Paris, France, while on tour. Loper went on to be elected the Mayor of Frenchtown, New Jersey. Included with the rifle is a grouping of Frank Robbins' Circus memorabilia. The grouping consists of the following: four separate watercolor paintings on lined paper depicting the Frank Robbins' Circus train accident that left four flat cars "wrecked" on May 22, 1890 (each illustration measures approximately 6" x 9 1/2"), blank Frank Robbins' Circus employee contract, Frank Robbins' Circus route book for the 1887 season, a photocopy of Frank Robbins' Circus route book for the 1886 season and a legal document between Loper and Robbins.
Excellent. The barrel, magazine and lever retain 90% original nickel plated finish showing high edge wear and some minor flaking. The buttplate has a smooth dark patina overall. The loading gate retains 40% original niter blue finish. The hammer retains flashes of original case colors, otherwise a smooth dark patina. The frame and forend cap are solid German silver and have a nice patina. The wood is excellent showing some minor pressure dents and scratches with overall crisp checkering. Mechanically fine. A true high conditioned, factory documented engraved Model 1866 lever action rifle that is the envy of any antique Winchester collector!
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