This incredible Winchester Model 1866 lever action rifle was manufactured in 1870 and was engraved and signed by the renowned 19th century Master Engraver Louis D. Nimschke. He remains one of the most recognized and accomplished nineteenth century American arms engravers. Henry and Winchester rifles with Nimschke engraving are among the most desirable of all engraved American firearms. The gilt brass forearm cap, receiver, cartridge elevator and buttplate are engraved with Nimschke's distinctive American style scrollwork on punched backgrounds with zig-zag, scalloped, and double line borders as well as floral accents. "L.D.N." is signed on the lower receiver tang behind the trigger. This rifle is 68 serial numbers apart from 36223, a Model 1866 shown on page xxix of "L.D. Nimscke: Firearms Engraver" by R.L. Wilson. That rifle has "C/H" inscribed on the bottom of the frame at the front, and this rifle has "C" in the same location. The reason for these markings is not clear. Perhaps this is for Cuno Helfrict. Like Nimschke, he was a German immigrant. Helfricht first began working in Colt's Stocking Department in 1869 or 1870, but he left shortly thereafter to return to Germany to study at the Berlin Medal and Die-Cutting Institute later in 1870 and then returned to the U.S. in September 1871 and started working as an engraver for a company located at 333 Main Street in Hartford, CT, before becoming Colt's primary engraver in 1875. The scroll engraving on the frame, particularly in the front panels, are very similar on these rifles. The open panel in the engraving on the right side behind the loading gate and the border designs just ahead of the side plates are very similar to the patterns on the famous solid silver frame Model 1866 engraved by Nimschke, heavily represented in his pull-book, and sold by RIAC in December 2021. The serial number is stamped in block numerals on the lower tang behind the trigger. The rifle has a 24-inch full octagon barrel with full-length magazine. The barrel has a dovetail mounted, nickel-silver Rocky Mountain front sight and dovetail mounted notch and folding ladder rear sight. The top barrel flat is roll-stamped with the two-line legend: "WINCHESTER'S-REPEATING ARMS. NEW HAVEN. CT./KING'S-IMPROVEMENT-PATENTED-MARCH 29. 1866. OCTOBER 16. 1860" ahead of the rear sight. Special order sling swivels are mounted on the forearm cap and stock. The crescent buttplate has a hinged trapdoor, and the compartment contains a four-piece steel cleaning rod. The barrel and magazine are blued, the hammer, trigger, lever and sling swivels are color casehardened; and the brass forearm cap, receiver and crescent buttplate are gold plated. The stock and forearm are straight grain American walnut with a high polish piano finish.
Very good. The blue on the barrel and magazine has aged to an attractive plum dark brown patina. The metal surfaces are smooth with only minimal handling marks. The edges of the barrel flats are sharp. The Winchester legend is crisp. The attractively aged brass forearm cap, receiver, cartridge elevator and buttplate strong traces of the delicate gold plated finish in protected areas. L.D. Nimschke's flawlessly executed American style scrollwork is crisp. The case colors on the hammer, trigger, and lever have faded to a gray-brown patina. The loading gate retains 25% of the original nitre blue finish. The stock and forearm are both fine and retain most of the original piano finish with scattered scratches and very minor handling marks. Mechanically excellent. This is an exceptional example of a rare L.D. Nimschke signed, engraved, and gold-plated Winchester Model 1866 rifle.
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