This is a really nice solid example of an early antique production Winchester Model 1894 Rifle. I have to look through a lot of serial numbers to find a handful that are antique. Most of the ones we find are well used and abused, so this one was a surprise...a really nice one with a very early number. Long story but we nearly missed the opportunity to purchase it. Caliber is the desirable .38-55 which was one of the last great black powder cartridges as it was both an excellent hunting and target round. Standard sporting rifle configuration with a 26" octagon barrel, full magazine, and crescent rifle buttplate. Standard sights. The serial number is in the 17,000 range which makes it a pre-1898 antique. We contacted the BBHC Museum in Cody, WY which houses the original Winchester ledgers and they provided the following information about this rifle:
WINCHESTER MODEL 1894 - SERIAL NUMBER 17533
Barrel Type: Octagon
Received in warehouse on January 25, 1897
Shipped from warehouse on January 27, 1897, Order number 2788
Going through this rifle, all the markings, knurlings, and finishes are correct and original for an early antique production Model 1894. As you will note in the pictures, the barrel address is the correct early style two-line roll stamping located on the top flat ahead of the rear sight. This marking only contains the manufacturer and the factory address. The upper tang has the correct early three-line stamp which reads: --WINCHESTER--, then MODEL 1894 in the middle line, and finally inventor John Browning's patent date which is August 21, 1894. The hammer has the correct checkering pattern with the decorative dipped border. The finishes are also correct and consistent with 1897 era Winchester production: The barrel and magazine tube are rust blued barrel while the frame, bolt, and forend cap were highly polished and heat blued for that painstaking mirror blued finish Winchester was known for. The springs such as the loading port and extractor are fire blued, and lastly, the hammer, lever, and buttplate were case color hardened. Correct early walnut stocks are varnished.
Overall, this rifle grades to NRA Antique Excellent Condition. It looks to have been used for hunting on occasion through the 1920's or 30's but well looked after and properly stored about 95% of the time. Compared to ones we find at shows, this rifle is way above average for a pre-1898 Model 1894. The frame shows 85% of its original highly polished blue with silvered edges and a mix of original blue and a light worn grey along the high spots. The flat profiles of the receiver have mostly strong bright blue with a few light scratches from carry wear as well as a few parallel lines commonly seen on early 1892's and 1894's known as forging striations due to the manufacture process. The bolt shows 95% original blue. Loading port shows an attractive 80% bright fire blue on the right side contrasting nicely with the receiver blue. The extractor atop the bolt has 35% of its original tempering tempering but unlike the vivid blue on the loading port, the colors are more of a deep purple to straw hue. This variance in color is due to a slightly cooler temperature reached before the spring was quenched. The barrel shows 90% nice original blue with some discolored spots in the finish from what I suspect were rain drops that weren't wiped away quickly enough. The magazine tube shows a bit more wear with around 65% original blue, the balance worn to grey. Forend cap shows approximately 75% high polish blue. The hammer and lever show 50% and 25% faded case colors respectively with the balance faded to a bright almost nickel appearance but little to no brown patina showing through. The case colors on the buttplate have also worn to almost all of a nickel appearance. The original straight grained walnut stocks are in Fine condition overall, perfect wood to metal fit. They've never been sanded, cleaned, or refinished. There are however a few nicks and one notable spot on the comb of the left side that shows a shallow gouge with some smaller marks and scratches...about the size of a quarter. My guess is this was a rifle was kept on the wall and whenever it must have repeatedly bumped into something. My guess is that it hit some sort of protrusion such as an exposed nail that was either once used to hold a picture frame or somebody's coat. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many hunters in the great north woods, etc built crude wooden cabins to stay warm. This rifle "roughed" it for a brief part of its life but compared to most 1894's in the 100-125 year old range, it has been well looked after. Most rifles we find built in 1897 that we find today have little to no original finish remaining, often with tremendous amounts of wear and abuse. The mechanics on this rifle are nice and there appears to still be a significant amount of original finish on the cartridge carrier. The bore is Excellent, bright and shiny, with strong lands and grooves. If you're looking for a nice Model 1894 with a hard to find antique serial number and in the most desirable caliber, 38-55, don't let this one get away.