Winchester Model 1894 Takedown Rifle (serial no. 311946) with Box of Sights

Manufacturer Winchester Repeating Arms Company American
Signed by John Ulrich American

Not on view

This engraved and gold- and platinum-inlaid Model 1894 rifle ranks among the most lavishly decorated Winchester lever action sporting guns made in the early twentieth century. The extent of its embellishment as well as its factory shipping record, which indicates that the rifle was returned to the factory on at least two occasions, suggest it may have been made as an exhibition piece.

The rifle’s blued receiver, finger lever, and barrel are engraved with scrollwork and inlaid with gold and platinum wire framing three gold-inlaid and engraved big game scenes, depicting a mountain lion, a buck, and a bear battling two dogs. The buttstock and forestock are carved with floral scrollwork. These embellishments reproduce patterns illustrated in the Winchester Arms Company’s catalogue Highly Embellished Arms. First published in 1897, Highly Finished Arms codified for the first time Winchester’s factory decoration options for its line of rifles, offering Winchester customers ten design options for receiver decoration and eight for the stock at varying price points. They include game scenes surrounded by scrollwork, and foliage motifs combined with scrollwork, with the option to customize for an added cost. The designs were conceived primarily by Winchester factory engravers Herman Leslie Ulrich (1846–1937) and William E. Stokes. This rifle features Style No. 1 engraving and Style A stock carving—the most expensive options available—reproducing the decorations of the first rifle illustrated in the catalogue.

The gun is fitted with other special-order features. It is extra light, takedown, and has a pistol grip stock made of fancy walnut with high grain contrast, shotgun butt, rubber butt plate, silver nameplate on the right side of the stock, oil finish, half-magazine, and Lyman Gun Sight Company sights with sporting rear sight. The rifle shipped from the Winchester warehouse on August 31, 1906, and was returned to the factory on two occasions (December 27, 1909 and April 07, 1916). These later shipments indicate it may have been used for exhibition. With the exception of exhibition guns, few Winchesters were ever returned to the factory.

Though signed on the lower tang with the mark of John Ulrich, "J. ULRICH", the quality and style of the engraving suggest it may not be by his hand. The animals are more lively and well-modeled than many of those known to have been executed by John Ulrich, and their skillfully rendered wooded backdrops convey a depth that many of John’s other game scenes lack. The scrollwork, too, is more fluid and dynamic than that typically found on guns decorated by John. The engraving instead may be the work of his more talented elder brother, Conrad Friedrich Ulrich (1844–1925), who left the company in 1874 but continued to engrave Winchester rifles and other firearms independently, and also possibly worked as a Winchester contractor. A deluxe Model 1894 rifle signed by Conrad Ulrich made around the same time as the Museum’s rifle (303492) and decorated with game scenes executed in a similar manner provides one point of comparison.

Though at this time Winchester forbid stamping guns decorated for private sale with "inspection signature stamps", the stamps were permitted on exhibition guns. As a senior engraver in Winchester’s Design and Engraving Laboratory, as opposed to an outside contractor, John Ulrich could have stamped an exhibition gun, like this one, even though he may not have had a direct hand in its creation. Ulrich is also known to have stamped firearms returned to the factory for work.

Though traditionally regarded as "American" in style, the decorations found on Winchester rifles and many other American machine-made firearms of the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century are in fact international in nature, reflecting the training and taste of the German-born engravers who emigrated to the United States around the middle of the century and headed the decorative operations at America’s largest firearms manufacturers, including the Ulrich family and Gustave Young. This rifle’s game and hunting scenes, and indeed many of the standard hunting and game scenes offered by Winchester, draw direct inspiration from specific northern European iconographic sources, including the 1856 pattern book by the Belgian artist Charles Claesen, . The inspiration for the profusion of scrollwork found on embellished Winchester rifles, Colt pistols, and guns by other major American manufacturers, too, traces to northern Europe, chiefly the work of Gustav Ernst of Zella, who produced six influential pattern books between 1839–53 widely used by gun engravers in America. A copy of Ernst’s pattern book Musterblätter enthaltend die anwendbarsten Jagdstücke u. Arabesken für Büchsenschäfter, Graveure etc. of 1850 owned by the famous firearms engraver Louis Daniel Nimschke (1832–1904) is part of The Met’s collection (acc. no. 2002.233.1a–j).

Soon after its introduction in November 1894, the Winchester Model 1894 became the company’s most popular lever action rifle, and eventually the most popular center fire sporting rifle in the United States. Developed in conjunction with a new .30 caliber smokeless cartridge well-suited for hunting a variety of small to larger game, the rifle chambered for this round achieved a balance of power, recoil, weight, and size favored by customers for decades. The Model 1894 in .30 caliber (or 30-30), a high velocity small bore round, remains popularly known as simply "the deer rifle." John Moses Browning (1855–1926), whose designs led to the development of nine Winchester rifle models, conceived the initial design for the Model 1894. It was the sixth Browning design manufactured by the company and it introduced significant improvements to his previous lever action found in the Model 1886 and Model 1892, most notably the consolidation of the two independent locking lugs into a single lug behind the bolt, strengthening the action and allowing for the introduction of additional safety features.

This rifle is one of three deluxe factory-decorated Winchesters given to the Museum by the Robert M. Lee Foundation in 2018 (acc. nos. 2018.856.4; 2018.856.6)—the first factory-decorated Winchesters to enter the collection.

Winchester Model 1894 Takedown Rifle (serial no. 311946) with Box of Sights, Winchester Repeating Arms Company (American, New Haven, Connecticut, founded 1866), Steel, gold, platinum, silver, wood (walnut), leather, textile, American, New Haven, Connecticut

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