Original U.S. Burnside Model 1865 Spencer Repeating .50cal Converted Rifle for Frontier Use - Serial 14852

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. This fine rifle started out in 1865 as a Burnside Rifle Company made Model 1865 Spencer Saddle Ring Carbine in .52 caliber. On June 27, 1864, the Burnside Rifle Co. entered into a contract with the Ordnance Dept. to manufacture 30,500 .52-cal. M1860 Spencer carbines with deliveries completed by Aug. 31, 1865. With the changes directed to be made to the carbines, deliveries did not start until April 15, 1865, and they continued until the end of October, with 30,496 M1865 Spencer carbines being delivered. Six additional carbines were delivered as samples, prototypes and models.

Of this number, 14,494 were equipped with the Stabler cut-off and 16,008 without. The company paid Spencer Repeating Rifle Co. a royalty of 50 cents for each carbine delivered to the Ordnance Dept., and $1 was paid for the 4,000 Spencer carbines sold to military individuals and civilians.

After the Civil War ended the U.S. Government decided to take 11,000 of these Spencer Carbines, many of which were unserviceable, and convert them to rifles at Springfield Armory for use on the Wild West Frontier. The conversion entailed a completely NEW blued Springfield M1868 Barrel with 3 groove rifling, chambered for a .50 caliber Springfield round (aka .56-50 Spencer round). They were also fitted with a new fore end using only two barrel bands and Springfield style hardware. These conversions started around 1871 and continued until 1874.

Built on the same principle as the carbine, a Seven Shot repeater, reloading was performed by the use of the lever that doubled as a trigger guard. The tubular magazine was housed in the butt and had a capacity of seven rounds. Understandably this weapon became known as the one you "Loaded on Sunday and shot all week." First produced in 1860 by Christian Spencer of the Spencer Repeating Rifle Company, which remained in business until 1869.

A genuine original Carbine converted Rifle in .50 Caliber, our example is in still retains the saddle ring on the sliding bar mount only ever found on carbines. It also a clear ESA inspector's cartouche on the left butt stock, for the famous Erskine S. Allin, Master Armorer at Springfield Armory from 1853 until his death in 1879. He was responsible for the development of the original "Allin Conversion" for Springfield Rifled Muskets, which led directly to the 1873 Springfield Trapdoor.

The maker’s markings and patent information still fully legible on top of the receiver, which reads:

MODEL 1865
PAT'D MARCH 6, 1860

The rifle is also marked with serial number 14852 on the receiver tang, and on the left side of the barrel, as they had serial numbers added to match the receiver. The rifle is in exceptional condition and functions perfectly. The receiver and lock still show a good amount of their original case hardened finish, and the other metalwork has a lovely worn blue patina. The stocks are in good condition, with a lovely color and only light wear, with the expected light dents in areas.

The bore on this example is excellent, with a bright finish and crisp lands and grooves. The original machining marks can be seen in many areas, and there is just the smallest bit of oxidation in one area. The rifle functions great, cycling and dry firing, and the stabler cutoff has the correct retaining screw and washers, so it is not loose and does not over rotate. The magazine tube removes easily, and is in good condition.

Overall a great example of an iconic weapon, converted by Springfield for use on the frontier. Perfect for any collection, and ready to display!


Years of Manufacture: 1865 - converted 1871-1874
Caliber: .56-50 Spencer
Ammunition Type: Centerfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 32 1/2 inches
Overall Length: 49 3/4 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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