March 13, 2020
By Brian Beck
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The Winchester Model 1873 is one of the most popular American sporting arms in history and often described as “the Gun That Won the West," for their prolific use as the United States expanded westward. There are three basic “models” of the Model 1873, and their most readily identifiable difference for beginners is the style of dust cover they use, and how it is mounted to the receiver. Knowing the difference could prevent you from getting burned when buying or selling. Below you will find some information to help you quickly identify the three models of 1873 by what dust cover they are fitted with and how it’s attached.
If you’re interested in buying or selling, Rock Island Auction Company is a great place to do either one. You can get more information about selling with us here, and you can check the selection of 1873’s in our upcoming auctions here.
The First Models of Winchester 1873 are often the most desirable and were produced from serial number 1 to approximately 31,000. These models have the widest variety of dust covers with four variations, but it is not terribly important to know the subtle differences in variation. For beginners, the easiest way to identify a First Model 1873 are the guides for the dust cover. On the first models, the guides are located on top of the receiver on either side of the ejection port, with the dust cover sliding under them. The First Models also have a thumbprint-sized checkered grip area on top of the dust cover towards the front. Known as the “thumbprint,” the size and style of this checkered area is what separates the four variations within the First Model.
Here you can watch RIAC President Kevin Hogan discussing the earliest deluxe Winchester First Model 1873 rifle.
Looking only at dust covers, the early Second Model 1873 is not all that different from the first. Early production of the Second Model 1873 Winchester continued with the impressed “thumbprint” grip on the top of the dust cover. However, with this variation the style of retention changed. This model ran from approximately serial number 31,000 to 90,000. With this model, a single guide rail was added right down the middle of the top of the receiver and is an easy way to differentiate a Second Model 1873 from a First Model 1873. One important thing to note with this center guide rail is whether or not there are screws retaining it to the receiver or not, one of which will be visible when the dust cover is closed (pictured above with retention screw circled). The later Second Model 1873 dust covers continued the guide rail retained with screws, however, the cover itself transitioned to the characteristics of the Third Model. The “thumbprint” was scrapped for a smooth look and serrations were added to the rear (pictured below).
Here one can distinctly see the serations on the dust cover as well as the lack of screw in the guide rail. This rifle, seen in the book "Winchester Engraving" for its work by Master Engraver John Ulrich, sold in December 2019 for $28,750.
The Third Model was the developmental culmination of the Winchester 1873, when Winchester finally settled on the style of dust cover and the manner in which it would be attached to the receiver. The model ran from approximately serial number 90,000 to the end of production at approximately 702,042. On this model you will find a dust cover rail that is integral to the receiver, meaning the retention screws are gone, and the smooth dust cover with serrations at the rear was continued on from the late Second Models. The guide rail on this model looks very similar to that of the Second Model, so your key to identifying a Third Model 1873 will be to look for the screw pointed out with the last model, which will not be present on this model. The Third Models are by far the most numerous and easily accessible if you are looking to start your collection with a Winchester Model 1873, and a great place to start would be checking our upcoming catalogs, here.
Here at Rock Island Auction Company we take great pride in identifying and presenting these historic rifles with the dignity they deserve. We have an extensive list of sellers that have been happy with the price their 1873 hammered for as well as an extremely large list of happy collectors that have added another Model 1873 to their collection. Please don’t hesitate to contact us about selling, and if you’re in the market to buy, have a look at our catalog good luck bidding!
The Winchester Book by George Madis
Blue Book of Gun Values: Thirty Ninth Edition by S.P. Fjenstad
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