Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 15: Engraved Smith & Wesson Lever Action Repeating Carbine

Auction Date: June 5, 2020

The Genesis of the Lever Action Rifle: Monumental, Exceptional, Historic and Well-Documented, Deluxe Engraved Smith & Wesson Lever Action Repeating Carbine Formerly of the Wesson Family Collection

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $275,000 - $450,000

The Genesis of the Lever Action Rifle: Monumental, Exceptional, Historic and Well-Documented, Deluxe Engraved Smith & Wesson Lever Action Repeating Carbine Formerly of the Wesson Family Collection

Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson
Model: Volcanic
Type: Carbine
Gauge: 41
Barrel: 20 inch part octagon
Finish: blue/nickel
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 9655
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 14
Class: Antique

Offered here is a crown jewel in American firearms collecting: 1 of only 3 S&W lever action repeating rifles known to exist. The carbine is well-documented in Edmund Lewis and Stephen Rutter's "Volcanic Firearms" on pages 38 and 39. According to the two authors, "This is one of only two privately owned Smith & Wesson rifles…More than likely, this was a factory exhibition piece, never destined for sale and never fired. It was manufactured circa 1854-1855." The long guns were developed from Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson’s lever action patent of 1854. Less than 10 are believed to have been produced, and only 3 are known to exist today, including one in the Cody Firearms Museum which is not as finely finished as this example (see page 40). As explained by Lewis and Rutter, the rifles were chambered for a prototype self-contained metallic cased cartridge never intended for the magazine pistol models. "The necessary machinery for manufacturing such cartridges did not exist, and only a few prototype cartridges were made by Smith & Wesson," concluded the authors. The carbine is also pictured and identified in Roy Jink's "History of Smith & Wesson" on page 33. This carbine was originally sold from the Wesson Family Collection. The part octagon barrel measures 20 inches in length (length incorrectly listed in "Volcanic Firearms") and has a hooded front sight and rear elevation screw adjustable sight. The receiver, lever, hammer, buttplate and stock inlay are highly engraved. The engraved motifs are mostly floral scrollwork and various border patterns. The nickel plated receiver features a trigger guard attached to the frame and enclosed by the lever. The lever is engraved with rope and cross hatching motifs. The barrel and near full length magazine are blued. The buttplate and stock inlay are German silver. The iconic engraved stock inlay is on the left side and features a handshake forever memorializing the partnership presumably between D.B. Wesson and Horace Smith. A partnership which transformed American firearms manufacturing forever and for all intensive purposes would launched manufacturing juggernauts: Smith & Wesson and Winchester.The straight grip stock is highly figured walnut and features fine multi-point wrist checkering. In 1854, pioneering gunsmiths Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson began manufacturing lever action repeating magazine pistols at their Norwich, Connecticut factory under the name Smith & Wesson. The lever action and integral magazine introduced on the pistols represented the first variation of the lever action/integral magazine. These pistols were chambered for Smith and Wesson's primed rock ball that eventually received the popular nickname the Volcanic cartridge, which was one of the first self-contained cartridges. In all, about 1,700 pistols were manufactured, and the limited production total and their place in the evolution of American firearms design makes these pistols highly prized by collectors. Obtaining a S&W lever action rifle was nearly impossible until now. S&W was re-incorporated as the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company. Smith and Wesson left to form their second business venture involving the manufacture of revolvers, but their lever action design endured. In 1857, financial problems doomed the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. and the entire assets were sold to company stockholder Oliver F. Winchester. Winchester reorganized the company as the New Haven Arms Company where the Volcanic pistols and rifles continued to be manufactured. Eventually, the Volcanic actions was redesigned to use large caliber rimfire metallic cartridges. The success of the redesign became the famed Henry lever action rifle. Oliver Winchester continued to served as chief executive officer of New Haven Arms when the name changed in 1866 to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Under Winchester's direction the Henry rifle was ultimately refined to become the legendary Winchester Model 1866.

Rating Definition:

Extremely fine. The barrel and magazine tube retain 85% original brown finish. The frame retains 70% plus original plated finish with the balance a smooth gray patina. Traces of original nitre blue remain on the hammer. The lever is a mix of original blue finish and brown and gray patinas. The hammer and lever have a smooth gray patina. The German silver stock inlay and buttplate are fine. The engraving is crisp. The stock is very fine with minor dings and scratches, crisp checkering overall, and retaining most of the original finish. Mechanically fine with the minor bolt adjustment needed. Do not miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire a historically significant rifle that gave birth to the lever action. It will most definitely be a centerpiece to the most advanced private or public collection. Provenance: Wesson family, Abercrombie & Fitch of New York City, Alan S. Kelley (1975), Calhoun Norton (1978), Dr. Gerald Klaz collection (1981).

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