Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1015: Factory Gold Engraved Winchester Model 1866 Lever Action Rifle

Auction Date: May 14, 2022

Exceptional Documented Factory Relief Panel Scene Master Engraved and Gold Plated Exhibition Winchester Model 1866 Lever Action Rifle with Factory Letters

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $140,000 - $225,000

Exceptional Documented Factory Relief Panel Scene Master Engraved and Gold Plated Exhibition Winchester Model 1866 Lever Action Rifle with Factory Letters

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1866
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44
Barrel: 24 3/8 inch octagon
Finish: blue/gold
Stock: deluxe walnut
Item Views: 2907
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 18
Class: Antique

The 1980 factory letter confirms this rifle was "Shipped from the warehouse on May 6, 1878 along with 10 other guns one in silver, 6 in gold, 2 in bronze, and 1 full nickel; 7 with oil finish and 3 in varnish with the same specifications to the same order number." The 2021 factory letter lists the shipment date as May 6, 1878, and the order number as 11739. Both letters lists it as a rifle with an octagon barrel, XXX stock with oil finish, and as engraved and finished in gold. The rifle dates to 1872, and the details in the factory letters indicate it was embellished by the factory for use as an international exhibition piece as part of a select group of the finest engraved Winchesters. Two other rifles from this order have been previously sold by Rock Island Auction Company: a German silver framed Model 1866 (sn. 36200) in our September 2016 auction connected to exhibition shooter Ira Paine (listed on the letters as "silver" and "special gun returned from back book") and the gold Model 1873 signed by John Ulrich and presented to Honduran President of Marco A. Soto (sn. 18264) in our May 2021 auction. Serial numbers 96740 and 96745 were also part of this order. Another of these rifles is pictured and discussed on pages 120 and 121 of "Winchester Engraving" by R.L. Wilson, a gold Model 1866 inscribed for Gregorio Rozas (sn. 103672) who is noted as a "distinguished South American." Wilson noted that the rifle was "Believed a part of the elaborate factory display of Winchester arms at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876." The Herman Leslie Ulrich signed gold Model 1866 (sn. 109651) sold by RIAC in June of 2020 is also identified as one of the Centennial exhibition guns, and there are several of the other relief engraved Model 1866 rifles featured in "Winchester Engraving" by R.L. Wilson and "Winchester Repeating Arms Company" by Herbert Houze engraved by the Ulrichs and believed to be used as factory exhibition pieces including in 1876. As demonstrated by the range of serial numbers, these rifles were not all manufactured in the same year and were manufactured well-ahead of May 1878. This rifle along with 96740 and 96745 date to 1872. The German silver rifle's serial number dates to 1870. Factory records are mostly available for Winchester Model 1866s in the 124995-170101 range, but these rifles are part of the limited number of earlier rifles in the records because they were retained by the factory for displays and were shipped later. These rifles would have been part of Winchester's growing catalog of exhibition pieces and were almost certainly part of the factory's grand display at the famous Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, a celebration of the centennial of the Declaration of Independence and the first World's Fair held in the U.S. The Soto rifle is lettered as received in the warehouse on April 19, 1876, or April 19, 1878. If the first date is correct, that aligns with the Centennial Exhibition which began less than a month later on May 10, 1876. The May 6, 1878, date listed in the ledgers for these rifles appears to indicate they were all displayed at the Exposition Universelle of 1878, the third World's Fair hosted by Paris, which began that month and is notable to Americans given the head of the Statue of Liberty was part of the fair's displays. The hand and torch were displayed at the Centennial Exhibition. Several of these rifles, including the current example, may have been displayed at other major exhibitions in the early 1870s. At least some were retained by the factory after the 1878 World's Fair before being sold or presented. The Soto presentation rifle, for example, is documented as further embellished by the factory in 1881. In addition to these rifles engraved in house, Winchester also had factory exhibition pieces engraved by outside engravers such as the "Bust of Columbia" Model 1866 sn. 28737 engraved by L.D. Nimschke in 1869 and the Gustave Young attributed Model 1866 sn. 130255 both sold by RIAC in May of 2021. It is disappointing that no images of any Winchester's displays have been found as this array of incredible lever action rifles engraved by multiple members of the Ulrich family as well as L.D. Nimschke and other outside master engravers must have been a truly spectacular sight. Winchester reportedly had 200 guns in total on display. Of the rifles noted above, this rifle is most comparable to Model 1866 rifles sn. 104463 and sn. 107209 identified by Wilson and Houze as engraved by John Ulrich and featured in their respective books. All three rifles feature a mix of intaglio and relief engraved game scenes in circular panels on the frames and scrollwork on the frames along with similar the gilt brass forend caps, frames, elevators, and buttplates. The current rifle has seven panel scenes. The right side has a wildcat scene at the rear, magnificent bull elk reminiscent of the Monarch of the Glen at center, and a running stag at the front. The latter two are engraved in relief. On the left side, an alert stag is in relief at the front, a waterfowl scene is incised at the front of the sideplate followed by a bugling elk in relief, and a rabbit is incised on the rear. The bull elk are in different locations but in very similar poses to the scenes on sn. 104463 (see pages 382 and 383 of Houze's book), and the stags are fairly similar to those on 107209. The bull elk scene on the right is also rather similar to the scene on Granville Stuart's Winchester Model 1876 sn. 10001 sold by RIAC in December 2020 and signed "J. ULRICH." The balance of the frame and much of the of the furniture have fine scroll engraving with textured backgrounds accented by fine borders and small shell and floral motifs. These elements also show similarities with John Ulrich's work and include some of the same patterns as 107209. There are some open oval panels on the top of the frame and upper tang possible reserved in case an inscription was wanted later. The stock and forearm are XXX grade deluxe walnut with a varnished finish and particularly incredible figure on the left side of the buttstock. Sling swivels are mounted to the forend cap and underside of the butt. The barrel has a nickel silver blade front sight, notch and folding ladder rear sight, and the two-line address and King's improvement patent marking. The lower tang has the serial number in an engraved banner followed by a small "B." Included notes state that this rifle turned up in England at a country auction in the 1980s. It is possible the rifle remained in Europe after the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris and may have been sold or presented to an Englishman during or following the event. Other rifles from the exhibitions clearly ended up in South America and some have turned up in India.

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine with crisp engraving throughout. 80% original bright blue finish remains on the barrel and the magazine tube. 60% original niter blue remains on the loading gate. 50% of original gold finish remains on the frame, buttplate, and forend cap, and 60% original case colors remains on the hammer and lever. The refinished wood is good with attractive figure, a repaired break in the wrist, visible texture in the varnish, and beautiful figure. Mechanically excellent. This is a beautiful factory exhibition gun attributed to both the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris and may have also been displayed at earlier events. The combination of relief and incised engraved panel scenes is spectacular.

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