Highly Attractive and Exceptional Winchester Model 1866 Lever Action Musket
Gauge: 44 RF
Barrel: 27 inch round
Serial Number: 72121
Offered here is a musket variation of the popular Winchester Model 1866 as manufactured in 1869. It has the serial number stamped behind the trigger and a single upper tang screw. Winchester first offered the musket version of the Model 1866. In all, Winchester produced approximately 14,000 Model 1866 muskets, the lowest production figure for any of the Model 1866 variations (rifle, carbine and musket). Model 1866 muskets are a very rare Winchester as most were sold to foreign customers, especially to South America, and saw hard use. This musket lacks foreign proofs and therefore most likely stayed in the United States. Encountering an above average condition example, like this one, is increasingly becoming very difficult. The barrel is fitted with three barrel bands, a block style front sight that serves as a lug for an angular socket bayonet (not included) and a dovetail mounted folding leaf rear sight graduated to 900 yards. The rear sight is the Henry pattern two position folding type with the staff marked 2-8 (200-800 yards) and the 900 yard sighting notch on top. The top of the barrel is stamped with the two-line Winchester New Haven address/King's patent legend. It has the correct 27 inch round barrel with the magazine tube that stops about 2 3/4 inches from the muzzle, allowing this rifle to have a full 17 round capacity, and correct sling loops mounted on the middle barrel band and lower stock area. The bolt retains its original rimfire firing pin. It is fitted with a straight grain American walnut straight grip stock and 3/4 length forearm. The buttstock has the musket style brass buttplate featuring a sliding trapdoor (cleaning rod not included).
Fine. The barrel rifling is amazingly nice. The three barrel bands and barrel have a smooth gray patina mixed with traces of original blue. The exceptionally nice brass has a highly attractive mellow appearance. The receiver has tight fitting side plates. 50% original case colors remain on the hammer. 50% original niter blue remain on the loading gate. The buttstock and forearm wood is fine with a couple scuffs and scratches. Mechanically excellent.
The brass-frame Model 1866 was Winchester's first lever-action firearm to be made in a musket model. The barrel, magazine, and fore-end of these muskets were several inches longer than those of the Model 1866 Rifle and Carbine. The Model 1866 was manufactured c. 1866-98. SN 72121
Oliver Fisher Winchester was born on November 30, 1810 in Boston, Massachusetts. Although raised on a farm, Winchester eventually became a carpenter, and by 1830, he was a construction supervisor in Baltimore, Maryland. While in Baltimore, he entered the dry goods business, and after several years, Winchester became a manufacturer of men's shirts in New Haven, Connecticut. This venture proved to be sufficiently profitable that he began to extend his business interests.
In 1855, Winchester became a stockholder and director of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, a firearms manufacturing firm that brought together the talents of Winchester with those of Horace Smith, Daniel B. Wesson, and B. Tyler Henry. Volcanic produced lever-action repeating pistols and carbines based on the patents of Smith & Wesson. These two, who would later become famous for their revolvers, had followed up on the earlier repeating rifle designs of Walter Hunt and Lewis Jennings. Smith and Wesson sold their patents and other assets to the newly-organized Volcanic Company, and after a short time, both left Volcanic and began work on the first of many revolvers to bear their names.
The Volcanic's operating mechanism was very similar to that still used today in lever-action repeaters, but the guns were plagued by problems with their self-contained cartridges. These consisted of a hollow-based, powder-filled conical bullet backed by a fulminate primer plate. In addition to problems with velocity due to the limited amount of propellant available, these rounds also had the unfortunate tendency to go off prematurely, sometimes while still in the magazine. A further complication was the Volcanic's lack of an extractor or ejection system. These were not necessary when the ammunition functioned properly, but their lack created additional problems in case of misfires. Consequently, marketing and sales efforts were hampered.
In 1857, financial problems forced Volcanic into insolvency. The company's assets were purchased by Oliver Winchester, who by this time had become Volcanic's president. Winchester reorganized the firm and resumed operations under the name of New Haven Arms Company. Unlike others in the field of firearms manufacture during this period, Winchester's talents lay not as an inventor but as a successful businessman. This success would continue with New Haven, and it extended beyond financial matters to the staffing of the new company. Among those hired by Oliver Winchester was B. Tyler Henry, who became plant manager. Henry had a great deal of experience with repeating firearms, having worked previously for various arms makers, including Smith & Wesson. One of his tasks was to develop a metallic cartridge to replace the inferior self-contained bullets chambered by the Volcanic.
Others, including Daniel Wesson, were also working on this problem, and Wesson's .22 rimfire cartridge may have influenced Henry's efforts. By 1860, Henry had developed a .44 rimfire, and he then turned his efforts to modifying the Volcanic to load, fire, and extract his new cartridge. His subsequent patent for these improvements was assigned to the New Haven Arms Co. The firm abandoned its pistol line and concentrated its efforts on the manufacture of lever-action rifles of Henry's design which also bore his name.
The coming of the Civil War brought with it a great demand for firearms. Although the Henry, with its sixteen-shot tubular magazine and impressive rate of fire was a truly revolutionary rifle, conservative elements within the U.S. Army favored the tried-and-true single-shot muzzle loading rifle-muskets as a standard infantry arm. The government did place orders for a total of over 1,700 Henry rifles, and many of these were issued to troopers of the 1st Maine and 1st District of Columbia Cavalry regiments. Many more found their way into the ranks through private purchase. These rifles provided Union troops with a formidable advantage over their enemies. At least one awed Confederate referred to the Henry as "that damned Yankee rifle that can be loaded on Sunday and fired all week!"
In 1867, the New Haven Arms Company was re-organized and became known as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, with Oliver Winchester serving as president, treasurer, and board member. The new company also introduced a new firearm, the Winchester Model 1866. These .44 rimfire caliber brass-framed arms were available in musket, rifle, and carbine configurations. Winchester still hoped to crack the military market, but despite the Henry's success and its popularity during the Civil War, the Army remained wedded to the single-shot rifle.
Nonetheless, Henry and Winchester Model 1866 "Yellow Boy" rifles found a ready market on the western frontier. The Indians referred to these arms as "many shots," and "spirit gun," which showed a measure of awe and respect for the products of the New Haven-based company. Many warriors were able to obtain these arms for themselves, and more than twenty of them were used against George A. Custer's 7th Cavalry and their single-shot Springfield carbines at the Little Bighorn in June, 1876. Winchester repeaters also found favor with miners, homesteaders, ranchers, lawmen, and highwaymen. Winchester's success continued with the centerfire Model 1873 and 1876 lever-action repeaters, both of which were available in a range of calibers and optional features. The Model 1886 was a milestone for the company in two respects: it marked the first association between Winchester and designer John Browning, and it was also the first lever-action rifle capable of chambering big-game calibers, including the .50-110 Express cartridge.
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