Page 20 - Auction84-Book1
P. 20

According to author Herbert Houze "Winchester Rifles and Carbines using Winchester's Magazine System Must be Regarded as the First, True Production Winchester Firearms"
    LOT 12
Extremely Rare Experimental “Winchester’s Improvement/Brigg’s Patent” Henry Lever Action Rifle - Serial no. 6, 44 cal., 24 inch round bbl., blue/
bright finish, walnut stock. The New Haven Arms Co. Henry rifle and subsequent Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Model 1866 are arguably the two most significant lever action firearms in history and are responsible for establishing lever action repeaters as a genre. The ‘66 in particular is incredibly significant as it introduced the Nelson King’s patented loading gate system that has set the standard for lever action rifles ever since, but this was not predestined to be the case as is shown on this incredibly rare transitional experimental carbine manufacture in late 1865 or early 1866, and the transition was more complicated than Oliver Winchester simply
taking over the New Haven Arms Co. and slapping his name on it. Instead, there was a clash in 1865 and 1866 that included
innovating the Henry design by men working for Winchester. This incredibly rare rifle is one of the very few firearms that survive from
that transition between the Henry rifle and the birth of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. and their premiere firearm: the Model 1866, and
it is even rarer in that it remains in private hands and is now available
at public auction. Winchester historian Herbert Houze discusses the transition from the Henry to the Model 1866 in great detail in “Winchester Repeating Arms Company: Its History & Development from 1865 to 1981” and noted on page 42 that these Winchester Arms Co. rifles and carbines manufactured using Oliver F. Winchester’s magazine system “must be regarded as the first, true production Winchester firearms” and that the subsequent Model 1866 then secured the Winchester’s name forever in American firearms history.
Houze’s layout of the historical context should be referred to for those deeply interested in the context of the production of this rifle, but a summary is useful here. By the time this rare rifle was manufactured,
Oliver Winchester had already been involved in the financing of the manufacturing of repeating arms for a decade as a significant financier and shareholder. After the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. had been reorganized as the New Haven Arms Company,
Benjamin Tyler Henry was hired as the firm’s superintendent in the
spring of 1858 and tasked with improving the Volcanic/Smith & Wesson repeater design so that it could use more advanced and powerful rimfire ammunition. The result was the historic Henry rifle that became famous
in the hands of Union soldiers during the American Civil War. Henry received a five year contract for his rifle design in May of 1859, but he
and Winchester clashed as the end of Henry’s contract approached and Winchester leased a factory in Bridgeport to expand Henry rifle production without the same contractual obligations to Henry. The latter left the company in the middle of 1864 but continued to be a thorn in Winchester’s side. At the same time, the company (or companies) began exploring improvements and alterations of the Henry design with a particular focus on the magazine system which was a noted weak point due to the open channel along the bottom that allowed debris to clog the magazine. For example, George W. Briggs (on leave from his work as chief designer at
the New Haven factory) received patent no. 58,937 for an “Improvement in Magazine Fire-Arms” on October 16, 1866, that was assigned to Winchester. The patent notes “a great objection has existed from the fact that the open slot upon the underside of the tube would admit more or less dirt, or other substances foreign and injurious to the proper workings of the follower and spring, within the magazine, and the necessary complication in the construction of the upper part of the magazine and barrel renders them very liable to get out of repair.”

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