Antique Winchester 1873 Rifle


June 13, 2005, 09:39 AM
I recently came into possession of a 32 cal 1873 Winchester rifle with the end cap on the forend. Looks like a 24" bbl and marked 32 Cal on the elevator with a full length magazine. The serial is in the 260K range with a B on one end. The gun is complete and looks like it would be fireable if I had some BP 32 ammunition.

Besides general info, I am interested in the condition grades of these antique weapons. The gun is complete but all bluing has turned brown. The screws have been turned but the finish on both metal and wood is intact and looks as if the gun has not been tampered with as far as restoration. The action is smooth as silk and tight.

What have I got here?

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Steven Mace
June 13, 2005, 01:45 PM
BigG, sounds like you have a Winchester Model 1873 Rifle with a 24" barrel(Carbines had a 20" barrel and Muskets had a 30" barrel) that is chambered in 32-20 Winchester. Based on your serial number information it was made in 1888 and would be considered a Third Model 1873. I'm sure others can provide more detailed information. Hope this helps!

Steve Mace

June 16, 2005, 10:07 AM
I just rechecked and noted the Serial No. is 242,XXX B. Need to recalibrate those eyeballs. :uhoh:

Yep, it is a third model according to description in the Blue Book.

Wonder if anybody out there could give me any more info???

Especially on how to judge condition, as I've hardly seen many of these antique Winchesters and Colts that have pristine blue jobs.


Jim K
June 20, 2005, 12:58 PM
You can use factory .32-20 ammo in that rifle. Even though they were made for black powder, modern ammo is still loaded to the same pressure levels. I would not fire the gun extensively, but a few shots shouldn't hurt anything if the gun is otherwise OK.

I will advise having a gunsmith check it out, but I honestly don't know many gunsmiths today who know enough about those guns to do a good checkup.


Jim Watson
June 20, 2005, 02:11 PM
Cowboy shooting has developed a substantial gunsmithing industry devoted to the '73, both real and repro. See if you can hook up with a SASS member, there are lots of ads for gunsmiths in the Cowboy Chronicle or you can ask around on the SASS Wire at

But I 'spect that old Winchester is fine and if it looks good, will shoot good.

Cowboy label ammo is lightly loaded relative to the standard stuff, which isn't all that hot itself. And will be loaded with lead bullets that will be kinder to old steel than jacketed, but if the bore is rough it is more likely to shoot jacketed acceptably.

I don't see any reason to not fire the rifle "extensively", assuming it is in good mechanical condition and is not so pristine as to lose collector value with use. The only reason there are not more original guns being shot these days is that the collectors and speculators have run the prices up so high that more folks have to be satisfied with a foreign copy than a real Winchester.

Me? Mine's a '92 with no original finish and a relined barrel. It is a stronger design than a '73 but not as slick operating. My pard shoots a reblued '73 .44WCF. He has never had any trouble with it. If you don't count the time he stuck a .45 cartridge in it. There was a real live Texas Ranger had that problem, jammed up his carbine with a sixgun cartridge and had to unscrew the sideplates with the point of his Bowie knife to clear it out. He got her fixed in time before the hostiles figured out something was wrong, but he made a point of carrying rifle and pistol in the same caliber after that.

June 20, 2005, 02:24 PM
Thanks, guys! I thought this thread had died the slow death due to lack of attention. :uhoh: I was wondering about the condition of these weapons, i.e., the gun has not been refinished but is a brown smooth finish. Not NIB but pretty dang good for a 100+ year old.

Jim K
June 20, 2005, 08:56 PM
Hi, Jim W and Big G,

I don't know exactly what I would call "extensively", but I have seen plenty of those old iron guns just plain worn out, with toggle holes worn egg shaped, slots worn nearly through, firing pin holes the size of buckets, hammers and sears rounded and worn.

Regardless of the reason for the high prices on '73's (as a practical gun, I wouldn't give a dime for one today), they are a fact of life, and it doesn't make sense to reduce the value by shooting it. If, for some strange reason, I had to use a '73, I would definitely buy a repro and let the old timer sit, retire, and accumulate dust and cash.

Regardless, a Model 1892 is a far better choice and those can stand the gaff a lot better and show less wear doing it.


June 20, 2005, 10:01 PM
Thanks again, Jim K. Despite its shortcomings compared to later offerings, the 1873 is the only leaver action I've ever coveted. Even the 1886 and 1895 have not enchanted me like the quaint perch bellied '73. Call me nostalgic -- yeah, you're right! :)

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