Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1016: Ulrich Exhibition Engraved Winchester Model 1873 Musket

Auction Date: September 11, 2021

Extraordinarily Rare Factory Exhibition Engraved, John Ulrich Signed Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Musket with Sword Bayonet and Factory Letter

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $50,000 - $75,000

Extraordinarily Rare Factory Exhibition Engraved, John Ulrich Signed Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Musket with Sword Bayonet and Factory Letter

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1873
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44-40 WCF
Barrel: 30 inch round
Finish: gold/nickel
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 542
Item Interest: Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 17
Class: Antique

The factory letter lists this extraordinary Model 1873 as a musket with nickel and gilt finish, a fancy grade checkered stock, engraving, and angular and saber bayonet when received in the warehouse on February 20, 1885. The first shipping date is not listed until February 25, 1891, in order number 1141, and it was received again on June 16, 1891. These first dates are followed by numerous entries for shipping and receiving dates extending until December 21, 1904. A large series of entries is typical for Winchester's well-traveled factory exhibition pieces that were displayed at various World's Fairs, other international exhibitions, American exhibitions, and sometimes at important dealers. Only a limited number of notations were made indicating a few of the musket's destinations. "NY Ex 97," "NY Ex 98," "Buffalo," and "returned by W.S. Brown." The New York entries are for the American Institute Fair held annually in New York City, and the Buffalo notation almost certainly corresponds with the March 26 and November 27, 1901, receipt dates listed as those would be just before and just following the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. William Smith Brown was the president of W.S. Brown Sporting Goods Store and Gun Manufacturing Enterprise in Pittsburg, a major Winchester dealer that remained active after his death in 1928. Earlier in his life, he went looking for gold in the West and was in a fight with Native Americans alongside Buffalo Bill Cody. Brown was likely loaned the musket for a display at his store. Several of the destinations are not recorded in the records, but the dates provide strong evidence of where it went. The December 7, 1893, may be for the return of the gun from the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago from May to October 1893. The May 9 and December 29, 1898, dates closely align with the Trans-Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha from June to November 1898. The March 14, 1904, shipment and return on December 20, 1904, align with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition held in St. Louis from April to December 1904. This incredibly rare Model 1873 Musket was clearly a key display piece for the company and was likely seen by millions of potential customers between 1885 and 1904. As such, it is an important piece of Winchester Repeating Arms Co.'s colorful history. It was likely on display alongside the Deluxe Winchester Model 1886 from lot [BATD2-83] at multiple historic exhibitions in the 1890s. Both are noted as sent to the New York Expo in 1897 and to Buffalo, and they have matching received in warehouse dates for March 4, 1897, May 9, 1898, and December 29, 1898. In addition to the exciting exhibition history, the embellishment really sets it apart, especially given it is a musket, a variation rarely embellished at all let alone engraved by Master Engraver John Ulrich and finished with gold over nickel. The engraving consists of flourishes of scrollwork on the muzzle and breech sections of the barrel, on the sides of the barrel bands, the loading lever, dust cover, hammer, and buttplate tang, a detailed scene of a bull elk on the right side plate, a bear on a rocky outcrop with two birds flying above it on the left flat, and panels of scroll engraving on the balance of the action along with border designs. John Ulrich signature "J. ULRICH" in italic print is on the lower tang under the lever. John Ulrich (1850-1924) originally worked for Colt but spent the bulk of his career as an engraver for Winchester. This Model 1873 musket is pictured and described in the book "Winchester's New Model of 1873, Vol. I &II" by Gordon. The elk scene is similar to 1873 sn. 37862 shown on page 159 and 1876 sn. 45520 on page 161 of "Winchester Engraving" by R.L. Wilson. The latter is especially significant because that rifle was owned by Theodore Roosevelt. A bear scene based on the same design is shown on Model 1886 sn. 150084 shown on page 166 and Model 1894s sn. 222901 and 308993 on page 172 of Wilson's book. The barrel has a military style "barleycorn" front sight that also serves as a bayonet lug for a socket bayonet, the two-line address and patent marking on top ahead of the musket pattern notch and folding ladder rear sight (graduated out to 900 yards), and "44/CAL" marked between the rear sight and receiver ring. The upper barrel band has a lug for mounting a saber bayonet. The upper tang has "MODEL. 1873." with foliate accents. The bottom of the cartridge elevator is marked "44 CAL.," and the lower tang has the serial number and "A" between the lever latch and rear screw. The musket length forend and stock have panels of the checkering. The buttstock is a particularly high grade piece of walnut with beautiful figure. The left side of the lower tang has "294 XXX C." The upper tang mortise has a "P" and "294." "294" is repeated faintly inside the buttplate at the toe. The bayonet is also gilded and has an 18 1/2 inch blade marked with "crown/WG" on the left side and "Ga" and a double headed reichsadler on the right, polished scales, and a blued metal scabbard marked "P 79874."

Rating Definition:

Fine with crisp factory engraving and markings throughout, 30% bright factory gilt finish remaining and especially retained in the protected areas such as the lower tang and around the side plates, mostly bright nickel plating and some patches of gray patina on the balance, and mild age related wear throughout. The wood is also fine and has mostly crisp checkering with spots of wear, beautiful figure on the buttstock, smooth re-oiled finish, and general light dings and scratches. The modified European bayonet is good with considerable applied silver and gold remaining. The scabbard retains the vast majority of the finish. Mechanically excellent. This is an incredibly rare and significant work of art by Master Engraver John Ulrich that was proudly displayed by the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. for nearly twenty years!

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