Original U.S. M1860 Spencer Repeating Saddle Ring Carbine Converted to Centerfire - Serial 21053

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. This is a very nice genuine Spencer Model 1860 Repeating Carbine, which was converted to centerfire some time after original production. It began its life during the U.S. Civil war, and is marked Serial number of 21053, indicating early-mid 1864 manufacture. This number is found on the rear of the receiver, however the under barrel marking has worn away. While the markings are faded, the 22 inch long barrel with three groove rifling clearly identifies it as a Model 1860, and not the later Model 1865.

From Spencer's initial order for 7,500 Carbines starting at serial number 11,001, 7,000 were supplied by December 1863 and the balance in early 1864. We checked the Springfield Research Service records, and this serial number does not appear. There are also no nearby large blocks that it could have been a part of, but there is still plenty of research potential left.

The carbine comes complete with its original 7-Shot tube magazine stored in the butt, which is somewhat hard to remove due to oxidation. This was the gun that advertised, "Load on Sunday and Shoot all week". The maker’s markings and patent information on the top of the receiver are completely worn away, but originally would have read:

PAT'D MARCH 6 1860

This particular carbine was not equipped with the Stabler cut-off attachment, which was retrofitted in the post-war period by Springfield Armory, to some of these carbines. It was however converted in another way, and that was by altering the breech block from rimfire to centerfire. This was done to lengthen the service life of the rifle, as Spencer went under in 1869. Converting to centerfire allowed readily available cartridges such as the .50-70 Government to be adapted for use with the carbine.

These converted carbines saw extensive use during the "American Indian Wars" following the U.S. Civil War. Brigadier General James F. Rusling of the Quartermaster's Department had recommended in 1867 that cavalry exclusively use the carbine against mounted Indian raiders, after completing a one-year tour of the new western territories. Other carbines were of also sold out of service when they were obsolete, where they often found their way to the frontier.

This example still has the wood stocks in very good condition, with the expected wear of age service, as shown. Both have a somewhat "wind worn" look to them, caused by decades of careful cleaning. The fore stock is simply lovely with a great color, and the butt stock is as well, though it does have a crack on the right side near the saddle ring bar. We do not see any wood graft repairs.

The metalwork shows an overall gray polished patina, the result of decades of cleaning the exterior. This has removed all of the markings on the receiver and barrel except for the serial number. There are also areas of light peppering due to oxidation. We checked the bore, and the 3 groove rifling is still clear, showing only light wear. There is some light oxidation and fouling in the grooves, as to be expected from a black powder rifle. The carbine functions well, and we did not notice any issues with cycling, though we did not try it with any dummy ammo to see if it could still feed. The magazine looks to be functional, and rotates easily to unlock.

Overall a very nice example of an iconic civil war weapon, that has passed the test of time with flying colors! Perfect for any collection, and ready to research and display!


Years of Manufacture: early 1864
Caliber: .52 cal
Ammunition Type: Centerfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 22 inches
Overall Length: 39 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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