Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 24: Roosevelt's African Safari Winchester Model 1886 Rifle

Auction Date: September 11, 2020

Historically Significant "Africa 1909" Inscribed Winchester Deluxe Model 1886 Takedown Lever Action .45-90 Rifle Reportedly Made for Theodore Roosevelt’s Famed 1909 African Safari with R. L. Wilson Letter

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $15,000 - $25,000

Historically Significant "Africa 1909" Inscribed Winchester Deluxe Model 1886 Takedown Lever Action .45-90 Rifle Reportedly Made for Theodore Roosevelt’s Famed 1909 African Safari with R. L. Wilson Letter

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1886-Rifle
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 45-90
Barrel: 26 inch round
Finish: blue
Stock: highly figured checkered
Item Views: 3624
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 35
Class: Curio & Relic Long Gun

This is a very fine example of a Winchester Model 1886 Fancy Sporting Rifle manufactured in 1909 in .45-90 W.C.F. caliber. The top of the barrel is marked with the two line address/patent dates ahead of the rear sight and "45-90 W.C.F." at the breech end. The upper tang is marked "MODEL 1886/-WINCHESTER-/TRADE MARK". The lower tang is marked with the 1884 and 1885 patent dates directly behind the trigger and the serial number to the rear. The upper right side of the receiver is period inscribed "Africa 1909". The barrel is equipped with a Lyman blade front sight with bead and two folding leaf Lyman rear sight. There is a Lyman peep sight mounted on the left side of the receiver. Half magazine tube, blue finish with casehardened hammer and lever, and mounted with deluxe, nicely figured checkered walnut forearm with metal end cap and pistol grip stock with a hard rubber Winchester grip cap and checkered hard rubber Winchester buttplate. This rifle was carefully examined by noted firearms historian R.L. Wilson. In his accompanying letter Wilson concluded that this rifle “was manufactured by Winchester Repeating Arms Co. as a sample for testing by Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit in preparation for their great African safari, 1909-10. With numerous features that were of proven and known popularity with Theodore Roosevelt in his selection of Winchesters made to his order from models as early as the 1873 to the Model 1895. A few of which accompanied TR and his son Kermit on their great African safari in 1909-10.” As the author of three books on TR’s adventures in Africa, Wilson established himself as an expert on Winchesters used in TR’s African safaris. Months of preparation leading up to Roosevelt’s 1909-10 safari included testing rifles and ammunition as well as directly communicating with Winchester on the type of arms and cartridges best suited for the hunt. Wilson explained, “It was TR’s practice to add new Winchester to his battery of arms as improved models were introduced…The writer feels that the ‘African 1909’ Model 1886 was not only inspired by the quite extraordinary Roosevelt expedition, but that it was likely prepared at the gunmaker’s own expense, as an example of a special pattern of rifle which they would be willing to manufacture.” This rifle is without a doubt configured to TR’s own personal preferences. As noted by Wilson, a Model 1886 in .45-90 (serial number 9205) was TR’s primary sporting rifle from 1887 until 1894 and the half magazine, caliber, deluxe pistol grip stock and shotgun buttplate are features that are shared with this Model 1886. We also know that correspondence between then the vice president of Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Winchester Bennett, and TR’s most trusted White House Aide William Loeb documents Winchester’s extensive assistance and collaboration in the 1909-10 safari. In an August 10th dated letter, for example, Bennet referenced a .45-70 sample rifle made specifically for TR and recognized TR’s “attachment to the 1886 .45-70 rifle, and the confidence which you feel therein. Certainly for zebra, the smaller antelope, and much other African game, this arm out to be sufficient.” In the end, Roosevelt decided not to bring a .45-90 rifle to Africa, but, as Wilson noted, “the important fact is that he had certainly considered that caliber,” as confirmed by the aforementioned letter. A Model 1886 was selected for the trip but was chambered in .45-70. As Wilson finally concluded, “Having reviewed all of the research and writing of myself and others, the inescapable conclusion is that Serial No. 147840 was prepared by Winchester as a sample of a special rifle which would fit within the exacting parameters of TR’s choices for the great safari…[The rifle] represents not only the great safari of the Roosevelts, but the intense preparation that was necessary to make their 11-month expedition the enormous success father and son hand hoped and dreamed it to be. Without the cooperation of Winchester, the saga of that adventure would not have reached its potential.” The famed 1909-10 African hunting expedition was outfitted by the Smithsonian Institution and commenced shortly after the end of TR’s presidency in March 1909, returning in June 1910. The hunt also involved professional hunters such as Frederick Selous, Edward Buxton, R.J. Cuninghame and Leslie Tarlton. As one modern day commentator put it, “Essentially this was the biggest, most macho and testosterone-laden hunting junket on Earth.” About 11,400 animals, ranging from insects to elephants, were captured or killed, including 512 big game animals. It took the Smithsonian eight years to catalog the specimens. The safari was documented by Roosevelt in his book “African Game Trails” and helped to solidify Roosevelt's image as the quintessential adventurer and outdoorsman in popular culture.

Rating Definition:

Very fine. The barrel and magazine retain 90% plus original blue finish with some thinning at the muzzle, and a few minor scratches and handling marks. The receiver retains 50% of the original blue finish with a smooth gray patina on the bottom and smooth brown on the sides. The lever and hammer retain 50% original case colors concentrated on the sides with a smooth mottled gray patina on the balance. The wood is also very fine with most of the original finish remaining and some overall scattered minor dings and dents, with crisp checkering. The markings remain crisp and clear. The action is excellent.

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