This little carbine was a wonderful find for us! Original Winchester 1892 saddle ring carbines are not uncommon but early production guns with pre-1898 serial numbers are SUPER SCARCE! Since the inception of the website in 2004, we've only found four or five examples of '92 carbines with antique SN#'s (less than one per year)...the earliest until this one came along being one in the 45,000 serial range we sold several years ago. The vast majority of early production were produced as sporting rifles with 24" round or octagon barrels with just a handful of guns being manufactured in the carbine configuration. Of those few, many were shipped abroad where they saw hard use for many years. This little carbine is in the 11,000 serial range and as you can see in the photos, it's in Fine+ condition. It was built and shipped in 1893. It's a standard configuration carbine with saddle ring, carbine sights, semi-crescent carbine style buttplate, 20" barrel, full magazine, in caliber .38 WCF (a.k.a. 38-40). It's so early, it still has the solid block style front sight as found on the Model 1873 carbine. In contrast, later production 1892 carbines have insertable front sight blades. Production began on this new model in April of 1892 with the first shipments leaving the warehouse in the following months. We called the BBHC which houses the original Winchester shipping records and were able to obtain the following information on this carbine:
Date into Warehouse: 5-25-1893
It was returned to the factory for repair on October 2, 1908...so it appears the gun was still in regular service when it was fifteen years old. Most likely, this was for something minor such as a magazine spring or mechanical adjustment as many Winchester owners (particularly those who lived in the northeast and upper midwestern U.S.) preferred the Winchester factory as their personal gunsmith.
Caliber: 38 CAL
Date Shipped from Warehouse: 9-27-1893
Overall condition Grades to NRA Antique Fine. Receiver shows 50% thinning original blue. Barrel and magazine tube have 75-80% thinning original blue. Hammer shows 70% original case colors while lever retains 30% colors. There are even some nice case colors on the top of the buttplate. 10% fire blue on the rear lip of the loading port. Both barrel bands are still wearing around 40% of their original blue. Very Good screws throughout. Original walnut stocks are in Fine Condition with the edges still standing slightly proud over the metal...just the way it did when it left the factory. No cracks, chips, or repairs. Aside from a few light handling marks, the wood is nearly excellent...quite impressive on a carbine as these were usually regarded as nothing more utility guns that were often carried in scabbards on horseback. The mechanics are perfect. Bore is Excellent...mirror bright with strong rifling. Original sights include the aforementioned block style front sight as found...the same as the 1873 carbine...and found on just the earliest Model 1892 SRC's. The rear sight is a super scarce "1886" dated ladder rear sight with 200 to 1000 yard graduations. These are typically found only on Model 1886 carbines but this one appears to have been on this gun since day one. A very rare and valuable Winchester sight as there were less than 900 Model 1886 carbines. Just a great little carbine.
Early features on this 1892 Saddle Ring Carbine: Let's start with the (1) BARREL. Over a period of years, the rifled bores in barrels, especially carbines simply wore out. Whether they were shot out, not properly cleaned, or damaged, the most feasible solution for the owner was not to junk the gun but to replace it with a new one. Winchester had a thriving business for many years selling mail-order replacement barrels. These are still found today in NOS condition from time to time and even a rumor or two that many were scrapped during WW2. These are denoted by Winchester proofs along with the letter "P" inside a small oval circle. Since it usually took years to wear out a barrel, most replacement barrels are going to be easy to spot as markings on these barrels changed every few years. More often than not, a replaced barrel will fall outside the original gun's period of manufacture and will not have the proper original markings. For example, an antique Winchester 1892 should not have "WP" Winchester proof marks on the barrel or the receiver. This is a sign the gun was returned to the factory for either a new barrel or in some rare cases, simply work on the original barrel that required a proof test. Personally speaking, I have been burned more than once by auction houses (which will go unnamed here) that seem quite content in overlooking these types of details. This can prove to be costly to collectors so ask lots of questions if a description doesn't cover all the bases. Case in point: some years ago, I won what I thought was a fantastic pre-1898 Model 1892 SRC through a live online auction only to discover upon arrival some weeks later that it had a 1930's era mail order replacement barrel. What a disappointment this was, not to mention a serious jolt to my wallet! Fortunately, that's not the case here. The carbine has survived with its original barrel intact. It has no proof marks which is correct for all antique Model 1892's. Second, it has the early style (2) 2-line Winchester address located on the top just to the front of the rear sight (see photo). Later barrels will have patent dates added (circa 1903-4)...while early guns have their patent dates located on the upper tang. Behind the sight is the caliber marking "38 W.C.F." which is correct on early 1892's. Later production, Winchester shifted both the barrel address and caliber marking from the top over to the left hand side just above the forewood. Moving on, the (3) HAMMER has a rather attractive design that's unique to just the first 1892's. These will be found with a special early style decorative border with the little "V" shaped dip along the top. While this Victorian era style checkering was used on the Models 1873, 1894, & others for several years...approx. 1892-1900, for some reason it is only found on the model 1892 for the first couple years of production until approx. 1894/5) (see photo). After that, it reverts to a plain square border which was carried until the end of production in 1940. (4) TANG MARKINGS: this gun has its correct tang markings which we'll explain: the first 1892's had (approx. 1892-1902) inventor John Browning's patent date "OCT. 14. 1884" (the same patent for the Model 1886) located on the top of the upper tang along with the "Winchester" name and the Model 1892 designation. By the early 1900's Winchester shifted the patent date from the tang to the barrel address. In fact, there is a bit of transition period where you'll see turn-of-the-century Model 1892's with the patent date on both the upper tang and tacked on to the end of the barrel address. (5) Buttplates: did you know that the vast majority of carbine buttplates used on the Models 1892 and 1894 were blued? These new buttplates were much thinner than buttplates found on the Model 1873, 1886, and 1876 carbines and Winchester soon figured out they could save money by bluing them around the turn of the century. However, the early buttplates on the 1892 and 1894 used the traditional case color hardened finish. This gun is no exception and you can clearly see original colors along the top tang of the plate. Just another little detail to keep in mind when purchasing an early 1892 or 1894 carbine that sets these apart from the bulk of production. (6)Wood: originally, the Models 1892 and 1894 saddle ring carbines used buttstocks and forends made of American walnut. These early carbines with walnut had great lines, especially along the combs and tops of the buttstock. Around the turn of the century, if I had to guess I'd say it was around 1904-6, Winchester switched from walnut to gumwood on the 1892, 1894, and eventually 1873 carbines. According to George Madis, author of The Winchester Book, gumwood saved about 1/3 of the weight of the wood. It was cheap and durable. This was a popular trend around the turn of the 20th century as American forests were being depleted of their virgin timber. You'll find a lot of American furniture made out of gumwood around this timeframe and furniture companies loved it because could be finished to look like more expensive woods. The problem with gumwood on guns was that once the thin veneer of varnish wore away and the natural tones of the wood became exposed, it was just plain ugly to look at. Gumwood was used heavily on almost all Winchester carbines except the Model 1895 right through World War One up to around 1922. Then, with the war now over, walnut was more readily available and it reemerges on all Winchester carbines. This later walnut from the 1920's is very similar to the original walnut used in the 1890's except that the fine comb and sharp clean lines are now more clubby looking and rounded. The wood-to-metal fit is also a bit more perched-looking. This carbine has its original walnut wood with its fantastic sharp early style stock comb and it's in great shape. (7) Finish: this carbine has all of its original finishes. Frames were blued along barrel bands, barrels, and magazine tubes. Loading ports and extractors will sport an even brighter fire blue. The lever, hammer, and buttplates on early production 1892 carbines were case color hardened. Lastly, the wood on carbines was usually oil-finished in contrast to varnished stocks found on sporting rifles.
All in all, this is not just an example of an early 1892 SRC, but a very nice one at that. We've never had one this early before and have only laid eyes on three or four with lower numbers over the past 25 years of collecting Winchesters. This would make a fantastic addition to any Winchester collection!