Original U.S. Spencer Model 1860/65 Saddle Ring Repeating Carbine with Smoothbore Barrel - Serial 29617
Original Item: Only One Available. This is a very interesting example of a genuine Spencer Repeating Rifle Company Saddle Ring Repeating Carbine. It looks to have started life as a Civil War issue Model 1860 carbine, with serial number 29617 indicating early 1864 manufacture. This number is also too high to be a Spencer produced Model 1865. It is however fitted with a 20 inch barrel, with crossed out serial number 20019 on the bottom, indicating that it was one of the 12,000 M1860s retrofitted at Springfield Armory to incorporate features of the later Model 1865, which included the shorter barrel. As such we are calling it a Model 1860/65.
Additionally, at some point after conversion, the barrel was smoothbored out to .54", which is something we have rarely seen before. This would be about a 28 gauge shotgun, which wasn't very useful for hunting, but could have been used as a "Prison Service" shotgun very effectively. It also is possible that it was later modified for use in Hollywood productions, which were usually equipped with blanks and smoothbored to prevent them being used with live ammunition. Definitely some interesting research potential here!
The .56-50-cal. M1865 Spencer carbines manufactured by the Burnside Rifle Co. and the Spencer Repeating Rifle Co. weighed 8 pounds, 5 ounces with 20-inch barrels, and they had an overall length of 37 inches. Those modified at Springfield were roughly the same dimensions. 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.
The barrel on this example unfortunately has no markings on the top, though there is a J.L.C. marking on the left side of the barrel, for inspector Joseph L. Cottle, who worked 1863-1875. His inspection markings have been seen on other examples of the Model 1865, but not the 1860, so the barrel was definitely made as a Model 1865 barrel and not shortened later. The carbine still does have the original Spencer receiver markings, though they are a bit faint:
RIFLE CO. BOSTON MASS.
PAT'D MARCH 6, 1860
The metalwork of this carbine shows that it has been cleaned and possibly refinished in the past, which has made the markings faint on the receiver. It now has a mottled patinated look on the exterior, typical of guns that saw long service, and really looks great. The saddle ring bar is still present, with the original saddle ring installed. 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 is one of the Carbines manufactured by Spencer with a Stabler cutoff, as indicated by the set screw next to the securing screw, and the cutoff is still present and fully functional.
The stocks are still in very good shape, with a lovely light oil finish and a lovely red brown color. The forestock have some wood missing to the rear of the barrel band, however otherwise is great. The butt stock has a fantastic color and great grain, showing no inspector markings, so it could be an unmarked arsenal replacement. The smooth bore does show some oxidation and fouling, so it definitely was used after being bored out. The magazine tube removes correctly, and is in good condition, though it may take some effort to open.
Overall a very interesting modified example of an iconic weapon in fantastic condition. Perfect for any collection, and ready to display!
Years of Manufacture: circa 1864 - later modified
Caliber: .54 Smoothbore
Ammunition Type: Rimfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 20 inches
Overall Length: 37 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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