Original Excellent U.S. Spencer Model 1865 Repeating Infantry Rifle in .56-56 Spencer Rimfire - Serial 90226

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. Well this is something that we have not had before! We have had a few Model 1860 rifles previously, as well as several Model 1865 Carbines converted to centerfire rifles, but never an original intact Model 1865 infantry rifle! Not only that, this is really a great example, with very little sign of being used!

The Spencer repeating rifles and carbines were 19th-century American lever-action firearms invented by Christopher Spencer. The Spencer was the world's first military metallic-cartridge repeating rifle, and over 200,000 examples were manufactured in the United States by the Spencer Repeating Rifle Co. and Burnside Rifle Co. between 1860 and 1869. The Spencer repeating rifle was adopted by the Union Army, especially by the cavalry, during the American Civil War but did not replace the standard issue muzzle-loading rifled muskets in use at the time. Among the early users was George Armstrong Custer. The Spencer carbine was a shorter and lighter version designed for the cavalry. With a 7 round magazine stored inside of the butt stock, understandably this weapon became known as the one you "Loaded on Sunday and shot all week."

Here we have an excellent genuine Spencer Repeating Rifle Company Model 1865 infantry rifle, which is definitely one of the best condition Spencer manufactured Model 1865 examples that we have had. The rifles were produced in far smaller numbers than the carbines, making any example quite rare. It bears original serial number 90226 clearly on the tang of the receiver, as well as on the underside of the barrel under the fore stock. The barrel is correctly marked M.1865 over the chamber, and it has complete and crisp Spencer maker markings on top of the receiver:

PAT'D MARCH 6, 1860

The Model 1865 rifle was made by both Spencer and by Burnside under license, and they each had their own serial number sequences. The metalwork of this rifle is in very good shape, with the original case hardened finish faded to a great gray patina over almost all of the metal surfaces of the rifle. The original ladder sight is complete and fully functional. The action functions well, though we have not tested the ability of the magazine to feed. This rifle is not equipped with a Stabler cutoff, and we see no evidence that it ever was.

The stocks are still in very good shape, with a lovely light oil finish and a lovely red brown color. They show a few expertly executed old repairs, but otherwise look to have seen very little use at all. There are minimal dents and gouges present, though interestingly the left side of the stock has a brass plate reading SPENCER A REPETITION / 1860, which does not make sense, but may indicate that it was part of some museum collection in the past.

The bore is in excellent condition, showing a bright finish with strong and crisp 6 grooves rifling. It shows very little sign of ever being used, with no wear, oxidation or other issues. We have never seen a Spencer before with a bore this close to MINT. The magazine tube removes correctly, and is in good condition.

Overall a great example of an iconic weapon, the first that we have ever had! Perfect for any collection, and ready to display!


Years of Manufacture: 1865
Caliber: .56-56 Spencer / .52 cal
Ammunition Type: Rimfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 30 inches
Overall Length: 47 inches
Action: Lever Action with Manual Hammer
Feed System: 7 Round Tube Magazine

History and overview of the Spencer repeating rifle and carbine-

The Spencer repeating rifle was a manually operated lever-action, repeating rifle fed from a tube magazine with cartridges. It was adopted by the Union Army, especially by the cavalry, during the American Civil War, but did not replace the standard issue muzzle-loading rifled muskets in use at the time. The Spencer carbine was a shorter and lighter version.

The design was completed by Christopher Spencer in 1860, and was for a magazine-fed, lever-operated rifle chambered for the 56-56 Spencer rimfire cartridge. Unlike later cartridge designations, the first number referred to the diameter of the case ahead of the rim, while the second number referred to the diameter at the mouth; the actual bullet diameter was .52 inches. Cartridges were loaded with 45 grains (2.9 g) of black powder.

To use the Spencer, a lever had to be worked to extract the used shell and feed a new cartridge from the tube. Like the Springfield Model 1873 Trapdoor Rifle, the hammer had to be manually cocked in a separate action. The weapon used rimfire cartridges stored in a seven-round tube magazine, enabling the rounds to be fired one after another. When empty, the tube could be rapidly loaded either by dropping in fresh cartridges or from a device called the Blakeslee Cartridge Box, which contained up to thirteen (also six and ten) tubes with seven cartridges each, which could be emptied into the magazine tube in the buttstock.

There were also 56–52, 56–50, and even a few 56–46 versions of the cartridge created, which were necked down versions of the original 56–56. Cartridge length was limited by the action size to about 1.75 inches, and the later calibers used a smaller diameter, lighter bullet and larger powder charge to increase the power and range over the original 56–56 cartridge, which, while about as powerful as the .58 caliber rifled musket of the time, was underpowered by the standards of other early cartridges such as the .50–70 and .45-70.

At first, conservatism from the Department of War delayed its introduction to service. However, Christopher Spencer was eventually able to gain an audience with President Abraham Lincoln, who subsequently invited him to a shooting match and demonstration of the weapon. Lincoln was impressed with the weapon, and ordered that it be adopted for production.

The Spencer repeating rifle was first adopted by the United States Navy, and subsequently adopted by the United States Army and used during the American Civil War where it was popular. The South occasionally captured some of these weapons and ammunition, but, as they were unable to manufacture the cartridges because of shortages of copper, their ability to take advantage of the weapons was limited. Notable early instances of use included the Battle of Hoover's Gap (where Col. John T. Wilder's "Lightning Brigade" effectively demonstrated the firepower of repeaters), and the Gettysburg Campaign, where two regiments of the Michigan Brigade (under Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer) carried them at the Battle of Hanover and at East Cavalry Field. As the war progressed, Spencers were carried by a number of Union cavalry and mounted infantry regiments and provided the Union army with additional firepower versus their Confederate counterparts. President Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth was armed with a Spencer carbine at the time he was captured and killed.

The Spencer showed itself to be very reliable under combat conditions, with a sustainable rate-of-fire in excess of 20 rounds per minute. Compared to standard muzzle-loaders, with a rate of fire of 2-3 rounds per minute, this represented a significant tactical advantage. However, effective tactics had yet to be developed to take advantage of the higher rate of fire. Similarly, the supply chain was not equipped to carry the extra ammunition. Detractors would also complain that the smoke and haze produced was such that it was hard to see the enemy.

In the late 1860s, the Spencer company was sold to the Fogerty Rifle Company and ultimately to Winchester. With almost 200,000 rifles and carbines made, it marked the first adoption of a removable magazine-fed infantry rifle by any country. Many Spencer carbines were later sold as surplus to France where they were used during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

Despite the fact that the Spencer company went out of business in 1869, ammunition was sold in the United States up to about the 1920s. Later, many rifles and carbines were converted to centerfire, which could fire cartridges made from the centerfire .50–70 brass.

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