If I could own only one Winchester, it would be the 1873 carbine...there is something about that mixture of the look these have and their unbreakable tie to the American West that really makes the 73 carbine a special gun. Only 36% of 73 productions were carbines and unlike their sporting rifle counterparts, these were designed as a utility gun to be primarily carried on horseback. During the 1870's and 1880's, this was probably one of the most handy and had more firepower of any gun in the world. Its little wonder this gun ended up in the hands of so many legendary figures throughout the West such as the Texas Rangers, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, the Indian Police who tried to arrest Sitting Bull, and even Geronimo's band of Apaches. 73 carbines were used all over the World as well....from South America to the King's Army in Siam...they guarded prisoners at the Pentridge Prison in Melbourne, Australia, were given as gifts to Indian Rajah's by the Prince of Wales in 1875, and carried by the Australian Ambulance Corps in the Sudan War in 1885. Still many more went to Canada or ended up South of the Border in Mexico. This gun won a lot more than just the West.
This carbine was made in the year 1891. By nearly all appearances, its a plain ordinary 1873 SRC in 44-40 with a 20" round barrel, full magazine, carbine buttplate w/trapdoor, saddle ring, and carbine style ladder rear sight. The one difference this carbine has is the stepped receiver. This was usually reserved for 73's in 32-20, 38-40, 22 rimfire, short rifles, and trapper carbines. Well, that's what the Madis book tells us but after collecting carbines for over 20 years, I have seen a number of these standard carbines with stepped frames...all in the same serial range...too many to be a fluke. There are two distinct serial number ranges you will find stepped receivers on standard carbines....the first one is in the year 1891....you will occasionally find carbines with stepped receivers in the 360,000 range up through the 390,000 serial ranges. I haven't the slightest idea why Winchester did this...perhaps they ran out of .44 Caliber frames as there is at least one sizable musket contract in the 370,000 range that could have depleted the non-stepped .44 Cal frames...your guess is as good as mine. I do know categorically that these carbines do exist.....a bit of a lost chapter in Winchester folklore. I've seen or owned probably a dozen examples in the past 20 years of collecting...all are within this serial range. The second range you find the stepped receivers is in the high 600,000 to 720,000 range right at the end of production. In fact, if you look in Flayderman's Guide to Antique guns, you will notice the photograph of mint condition very late example of a 73 src that I'm almost certain is a 44-40 with a stepped frame and yes...yes...those are gumwood stocks (not this gun) in the photograph on Page 267 of Flaydermans 8th Edition....another little known variation of super late 73 src's. So there you have it, the poster child for probably the world's most perfect 73 src in Flayderman's has a stepped frame too! At any rate, its not something I consider rare or more valuable, just an interesting variation that you probably will never read about in a book.
Back to this gun. Overall, this little carbine is in NRA Antique Good Plus to VG condition with the metal mostly turned to a smooth gray patina that is turning brown with traces of original blue protected by the saddle ring with a decent ring shadow. Nice markings throughout with even a nice "44 CAL" marking on the brass loading block. This carbine shows some evidence of spending some time in a saddle scabbard but still quite sharp. The rear ladder sight is graduated from 200 to 900 yards with the "1873" marking on the top of the ladder. Hammer has the Victorian era decorative hammer checkering with the fancy widow's peak border. Nice Winchester address and patent dates on the barrel. The wood is in good condition with good wood to metal fit that isn't undersized. Wood is very solid and above average for a 73 src...has never had initials carved into the stock...quite common among Cowboys whose worldly possessions were kept unsecured on their horses much of the time. The buttplate has its original sliding brass trapdoor for the cleaning rods...now long gone. Bore is in good condition with decent rifling and a few light scattered pits with NO rings or bulges. Overall, just a very decent and solid 73 src in good condition with some character wear with a really neat 1891-era variation.