Lot #3012
Lot #3014

Lot 3013: Factory Exhibition Engraved Winchester Model 1866 Rifle

Auction Location: Rock Island, IL

Auction Date: May 21, 2023

Lot 3013: Factory Exhibition Engraved Winchester Model 1866 Rifle

Auction Location: Rock Island, IL

Auction Date: May 21, 2023

Estimated Price: $75,000 - $110,000
Price Realized:

Highly Desirable and Rare Documented Factory Exhibition Relief Panel Scene Conrad Ulrich Attributed Master Factory Engraved Winchester Model 1866 Lever Action Rifle with Gold Finish

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1866
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44 WCF
Barrel: 24 inch octagon
Finish: blue/gold
Grip:
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 1558
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 21
Class: Antique
Description:

This extraordinary exhibition grade Model 1866 was manufactured in 1872. A highly comparable Conrad F. Ulrich signed masterpiece is serial number 103675, a Model 1866 believed to have been part of Winchester factory display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and presented to South American Gregorio Rozas. These two exhibition grade Model 1866s share similar North American game themes with semi-relief and flush engraved circular panel scenes and most of the scrollwork cut in semi-relief as well. Each rifle is stocked in XXX select walnut and feature gold finished frame, forend cap and buttplate. With only two digits separating these two exquisite masterpieces it is very reasonable to conclude that this rifle (no. 103673) was also featured at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and engraved by Conrad F. Ulrich. Renowned Master Engraver Conrad F. Ulrich (1844-1925) did a plethora of engraving for Winchester, including some of the factory’s most spectacular exhibition pieces. See R.L. Wilson’s “Winchester Engraving” on pages 120-121 and “Steel Canvas” on pages 158-159 for photos and discussion of no. 103675. Additional supporting evidence which places this rifle in the historical context of highly sought after Winchester display pieces comes from other known exhibition grade Model 1866s previous cataloged by Rock Island Auction Co. In May 2022 we sold 96743, which included a factory letter indicating it was embellished by the factory for use as an international exhibition piece as part of a select group of the finest engraved Winchesters. It 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 order number was 11739. Two other rifles from this order have been previously sold by Rock Island Auction Company: a German silver framed Model 1866 (no. 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 Marco A. Soto (no. 18264) in our May 2021 auction. Serial number 103675 was also part of this order as well as nos. 96740, 96745, and 103672. Note that no. 103672 is another exhibition grade Model 1866 only one digit away from this example (with Cody firearms Record Office serial number search for no. 103672). 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. The Herman Leslie Ulrich signed gold Model 1866 (no. 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. Another closely serialized exhibition grade Model 1866 is no. 103671 which was signed by John Ulrich and sold by RIAC in our September 2014 auction. 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 dates to 1872. 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. 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 no. 28737 engraved by L.D. Nimschke in 1869 and the Gustave Young attributed Model 1866 no. 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. As already noted, this rifle is most comparable to no. 103675. Both rifles have ten exquisite North American game scenes and mostly semi-relief cut scrollwork with the current example featuring additional checkerboard patterning amongst the scrolls. These game scenes are cut in semi-relief and flush. As cited in “Winchester Engraving,” noted firearms historian and author R.L. Wilson proclaimed that ten panel scenes was “the most encountered by [him] on any Model 1866 Winchester” (page 121). The ten scenes on this example are the following. The left side has a bear scene at the front, separate woodcock and deer scenes on the side plate, and hare scene at the rear. The right side has bear scene at the front, separate buffalo and squirrel scenes on the side plate, and separate hare and beaver scenes at the rear. The tenth scene features a hunting dog behind the trigger guard. The upper tang has a blank inscription banner surrounded by scrolls and checkerboard patterns. Scrollwork extends the forend cap and trapdoor crescent buttplate. Apart from the masterfully executed engraving, the rifle has the standard two-line Winchester address/King's patent marking on the top barrel flat and the small block numeral serial number within an engraved banner on the lower tang between the trigger and lever latch. The rifle is fitted with a dovetail blade front sight and a folding ladder rear sight. Sling swivels are mounted on the underside of the forend cap and buttstock. The left side of the lower tang is stamped “O/XXX.” The stock inlet has the partial matching serial number “3673.” The buttplate has the full matching serial number “103673.” Included in the butt is a four piece cleaning rod.

Rating Definition:

Fine. The barrel and magazine tube retain 40% original blue finish with a smooth brown patina on the balance. 30% of original nitre blue remains on the loading gate. The forend cap, frame, and buttplate retain strong traces of original gold finish in the protected areas of the engraving, otherwise the brass components display a highly attractive mellow appearance. The engraving is crisp. The wood is very good with an overcoat of varnish and some minor handling marks. Mechanically excellent. This is a highly sought after factory exhibition grade gun in a serial number range of Model 1866s linked to both the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Its profuse deep chiseled engraving with relief game scenes make it a fantastic piece of 19th century Winchester artistry.



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