This is a really strong example of an 1873 saddle ring carbine with lots of original finish. This carbine was made is in the 395,000 serial range built 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...always within the same serial ranges...too many to be a fluke. There are two very distinct serial number ranges you will find stepped receivers on standard carbines....the first one is in the year 1891....during which you will occasionally find carbines with stepped receivers in the 360,000 range up through the 390,000 serial ranges. In the past 2 months I have have found two of these carbines...one just sold in the 394,000 range while this one is in the 395,000 range....interestingly enough, both have factory taps in the upper tang for a tang sight...also unusual for a carbine. The second range you find the stepped receivers is in the high 600,000 to 720,000 range right at the end of production. 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 and could have depleted the non-stepped .44 Cal frames...late production was mostly a parts clean up situation where these frames could have been used. Your guess is as good as mine. I do know categorically that these carbines do exist and they are completely correct.....a bit of a lost chapter in Winchester folklore and something you won't find in a book. I've seen or owned probably a dozen examples in the past 20 years of collecting...all are within this serial range. 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 (this one is walnut) stocks 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! In fact, I saw one that was almost as good, nearly mint, at the Las Vegas show in January with a stepped receiver in the 719,000 w/gumwood priced just under $20K. That's a lot of $$$ but it was NICE! This carbine is by no means minty nor is this variation 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. For the amount of original blue that's remaining on this gun, this is really a great deal for a Winchester collector. In today's market, you're going to have trouble finding this much blue on a carbine in this price range. Most of these carbines got used up and thrown away...they were utility guns and made to be carried on horseback and received rough treatment in tough climates. They were ideal for use by lawmen, outlaws, and cowboys in the 19th century but in truth, these were used throughout the World and not just the American West. Bottom line is that its hard to find a 73 carbine with much condition left....this is exceptionally nice for a carbine.
Overall, its in NRA Antique Fine to Fine Plus condition. The receiver retains 60% thin original blue that is mixing with patina with a nice shadow worn through the finish from the saddle ring....a must on a Winchester 73 or 1892 carbine. The blue is stronger behind the sideplates and around the saddle ring...that gets thinner on the sideplates but still lots there...and then gets mostly brown in front of the sideplates with specks of original blue mixing throughout....nice blue on the lower tang and trigger areas.. The hammer retains 60% original case colors, with just traces on the lever having mostly turned to a brown patina. Traces of fire blue on the loading port. The barrel and magazine tube have about 50% original blue that is plumming but still clearly discernable as blue...not brown. The areas of barrel blue are particularly strong around the sights, around the caliber marking, around the bands, and along the lower half of the barrel next to the magazine tube...the tube has blue mostly on the top half below the barrel. The wood is just fantastic for a carbine....completely untouched, never cleaned, great wood to metal fit with the wood still swelling up slightly over the wood just like it did when it left the factory. There are still good traces of original case colors on the top toe of the buttplate. Buttplate has the trapdoor for the 3 piece cleaning rods which are no longer there. The bore on this carbine is not the best...I would only call it Fair....scattered pitting throughout.... fairly typical of a gun from this era in which cartridges were loaded with black powder and corrosive priming. Another common occurence, especially on carbines are rings and bulges caused by obstructions in the bore....fortunately, this carbine has a good straight bore with no rings or bulges. The action is still quite good and works quite well. If you're tired of looking at tired carbines, you will not be disappointed with this one.