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Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine

Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine

Successful though it was, the Henry rifle had one major drawback – its loading system with that open follower slot on the bottom of the magazine tube. Prone to the ingress of dirt and foreign matter, it would also render the cartridge follower inoperative if it were badly dented on its lower side. The rotating collar at the muzzle could also become difficult to turn due to rust or dirt. Clearly something had to be done to improve what was otherwise a fine repeating rifle.

Oliver Winchester, Tyler Henry and Nelson King

Oliver Winchester, a one-time builder and successful men’s shirt manufacturer, was elected a director of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company in 1855 and became president by the end of 1856, but the company went into receivership in February, 1857 and the assets were assigned to Winchester due to his large investment in the business, making him the principal creditor. He quickly formed the New Haven Arms Company and continued the manufacture of lever action rifles and pistols. It was soon apparent the cartridge was the weak link in the system and Tyler Henry, the factory superintendent, was given the task of improving it or designing a new one. What he came up with was the .44 rimfire cartridge, around which was built the Henry rifle and a patent was granted in October, 1860, with the rifle being commercially available in 1862. In honour of Henry’s contribution, a new company, the Henry Repeating Rifle Company, was formed in 1865 but within twelve months this was changed to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, with the assembly moving from New Haven to larger premises in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It is estimated that around 14,000 Henry rifles had been manufactured when production ceased.

Nelson King succeeded Tyler Henry as gun shop superintendent in late 1865 or early 1866 and his patent, numbered 55012, for a new loading system, was granted on May 22, 1866. Using essentially the same internals as the Henry rifle and chambered for the same cartridge, the new design incorporated a loading port in the right side of the frame, which had a spring-loaded cover to keep out unwanted debris. The under-barrel magazine tube, rather than being machined integral with the barrel itself as on its predecessor, was now a separate, lightweight affair and fully enclosed. Last but not least the addition of a wooden forearm nullified two of the Henry’s minor niggles, namely the barrel becoming hot under rapid fire and the necessity for the shooter to be careful that the magazine follower was not obstructed by the left hand. The new rifle was an instant success and was produced in carbine, rifle and musket configurations with production continuing until 1884. The last Model 1866 left the factory with a serial number just above 170,000.

As this was the first rifle manufactured by the Winchester company, it was simply known at the time as the Winchester. It was not until the advent of the Model 1873 that this gun was given the name of its year of introduction, albeit in literature only, and no model markings will be found on original specimens.

The Modern Italian Reproduction Choice

While clones of the old lever guns are quite popular among today’s shooters, these brass framed versions are seen less often than the steel examples, with the Henry in particular being rather scarce. With the latter I suspect that its quirky loading system plays no small part in its lack of acceptance, and in both cases the absence of the ubiquitous .357 magnum calibre will also be a consideration.

As the leading manufacturer of these reproduction early lever action guns, Uberti offer several variations in the Model 1866 chambered for a number of the more popular “pistol calibre” cartridges. The carbine is available in both the standard barrel length of 19” – which we have here – and a shorter “Trapper” version with a 16 and 1/8 inch barrel. The octagonal barrel rifles can be had with eighteen, twenty or twenty four and a quarter inch tubes. Along with the longer barrelled rifle, this carbine is listed in Henry Krank’s catalogue in eight different calibres from .22LR to .45 Colt, with the other barrel variations having slightly less choice. The carbines use the flatter ‘shotgun’ style of butt plate while the rifles are fitted with the crescent shape which, although to my eyes more attractive, can be a little punishing on the shoulder when using the heavier calibre models 1876 and 1886 Winchesters. You will also notice a difference between the two variations in the way the forearm is fitted, with the rifle using a cap and the carbine secured by a barrel band.

story continues below...

This is an attractive rifle with the brass parts contrasting with the blue/black and even the reddish varnish on the walnut woodwork, of which I am not particularly a fan, blending in nicely. The barrel, magazine tube, loading port and all of the screws are finished in gloss black which is nicely done. The two barrel bands are more of a satin finish. The loading lever and hammer are case-coloured with some nice muted tans and blues.

The front band and integral front sight are machined as one piece with a screw through the centre nipping it on to the barrel/magazine tube just as on the originals, although the shape of the front sight differs slightly from the nineteenth century version. The rear sight is a small flip-up with two notches in the vertical position and one when laid flat. The loading lever has a spur at the rear end which facilitates locking it in place with the stud in the frame. There is no trigger safety on this rifle, this system not arriving until the birth of the Model 1873. The fit of the various parts is very good with the joints between the side plates and the frame looking more like scratches in the brass. The rifle has minimal markings, with the Uberti - Made in Italy on top of the barrel along with the calibre. The serial number is on the bottom tang just behind the loading lever retaining stud and the proof marks are stamped on the bottom of the frame. Presumably the barrel proof marks are under the forearm.

It is a very pleasing, well balanced package which, in this 19-inch carbine configuration, comes up to the shoulder and points more easily than its 24-inch barrelled big brother, a factor which will no doubt come into consideration by the competitive CAS shooters. These good handling characteristics are aided by a surprisingly good sight picture, from what is a basic set-up. 

Nice and Easy

Those who have handled these early toggle-link action Winchesters will testify to how quickly they become smooth operators. This is due in no small part to the brass cartridge lifter, which soon blends itself with the inside of the frame upon which it rubs. In the case of this Model 1866, along with its predecessor the Henry, the combination of brass lifter and brass frame makes the operation of the lever especially slick after minimal use. I have experienced one or two stiff loading gates on these reproductions but this one needed very little pressure when loading. Holding the gate in the open position with the head of each loaded cartridge, with the last round being pushed all the way in, proved just as easy as it should. Feeding and ejection of the spent cases was faultless throughout. The hammer has a half-cock “safety” notch which would have allowed those old time shooters to carry the rifle with a cartridge in the breech, requiring the shooter to just cock the hammer to fire the first shot. There were doubtless times on the frontier where that extra split second saved could be very important, but in today’s safety conscious environment carrying any firearm with a live round under the hammer is frowned upon, and rightly so.

As was seen earlier, the original model 1866 was chambered for rimfire cartridges, an option which is not available in today’s reproductions, other than the diminutive .22. The .38-40 centre fire, introduced as a rifle cartridge with the Winchester 1873, was, by 1884, being offered as one of the popular cartridges for the Colt SAA revolver. Today these rifles are often referred to as ‘pistol calibre’ versions and a pistol/rifle combination in the same calibre will be found at many American CAS matches. The .38-40 is nothing more than a .44-40 case necked down to accept a smaller – nominally .401” – bullet. With this in mind and having no previous experience with this calibre, I decided to start with the load that I have used for many years, in both pistol (in the good old days) and rifle, for my .44-40 weapons; this is 8.5 grains of Unique powder and it proved to be a great combination with a 180-grain lead bullet, so much so that I feel no need to experiment further with this rifle, which I have added to my battery of lever guns. Recoil is only mildly more than with the heavier Henry and 1873 rifles and I can hold a 4-inch group at fifty metres, adequate for my needs as my pleasure is in shooting these guns rather than trying to obliterate the black. Doubtless others will be able to wring a better performance from this model with a little experimentation.

In summing up, this is an attractive, well-made carbine that should appeal the CAS shooters looking for an alternative the 1873 and 1892 models that proliferate the sport, especially as it is offered in a variety of calibres. It could also attract re-enactors with a firearms certificate, spanning as it does probably the most covered period in American history by these groups. Whatever your reason for buying one of these rifles, I feel that you will not be disappointed.

 

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

5 Comments

  • I have both the 1866 and 1873 24 1/2 inch barrels in 45lc.Great rifles.It a blast to reload for these in cowboy and hunting loads.

    Default profile image
    Brian l farrer
    07 Oct 2021 at 03:12 AM
  • I have both the 1866 and 1873 24 1/2 inch barrels in 45lc.Great rifles.It a blast to reload for these in cowboy and hunting loads.

    Default profile image
    Brian l farrer
    07 Oct 2021 at 03:12 AM
  • I have the 24 1/4 barreled rifle, in .45 Colt.Although not an "authentic caliber for this model, it is a shooter. I use both a 20" and the longer 24. Different tools, for different jobs. The ‘66 is by far the beauty of the lever guns produced by Winchester. You’ll be impressed.

    Default profile image
    Michael E. Arnold
    03 May 2020 at 05:23 AM
  • I have the 24 1/4 barreled rifle, in .45 Colt.Although not an "authentic caliber for this model, it is a shooter. I use both a 20" and the longer 24. Different tools, for different jobs. The ‘66 is by far the beauty of the lever guns produced by Winchester. You’ll be impressed.

    Default profile image
    Michael E. Arnold
    03 May 2020 at 05:22 AM
  • I want to purchase one of these beautiful rifles. I’ve been looking for an honest review and I think you ha e given one. I have made my mind up to go and pull the trigger, so it’s said and buy one. Thanks

    Default profile image
    Mike Towne
    15 Mar 2019 at 07:01 PM


Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine

Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine

Successful though it was, the Henry rifle had one major drawback – its loading system with that open follower slot on the bottom of the magazine tube. Prone to the ingress of dirt and foreign matter, it would also render the cartridge follower inoperative if it were badly dented on its lower side. The rotating collar at the muzzle could also become difficult to turn due to rust or dirt. Clearly something had to be done to improve what was otherwise a fine repeating rifle.

Oliver Winchester, Tyler Henry and Nelson King

Oliver Winchester, a one-time builder and successful men’s shirt manufacturer, was elected a director of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company in 1855 and became president by the end of 1856, but the company went into receivership in February, 1857 and the assets were assigned to Winchester due to his large investment in the business, making him the principal creditor. He quickly formed the New Haven Arms Company and continued the manufacture of lever action rifles and pistols. It was soon apparent the cartridge was the weak link in the system and Tyler Henry, the factory superintendent, was given the task of improving it or designing a new one. What he came up with was the .44 rimfire cartridge, around which was built the Henry rifle and a patent was granted in October, 1860, with the rifle being commercially available in 1862. In honour of Henry’s contribution, a new company, the Henry Repeating Rifle Company, was formed in 1865 but within twelve months this was changed to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, with the assembly moving from New Haven to larger premises in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It is estimated that around 14,000 Henry rifles had been manufactured when production ceased.

Nelson King succeeded Tyler Henry as gun shop superintendent in late 1865 or early 1866 and his patent, numbered 55012, for a new loading system, was granted on May 22, 1866. Using essentially the same internals as the Henry rifle and chambered for the same cartridge, the new design incorporated a loading port in the right side of the frame, which had a spring-loaded cover to keep out unwanted debris. The under-barrel magazine tube, rather than being machined integral with the barrel itself as on its predecessor, was now a separate, lightweight affair and fully enclosed. Last but not least the addition of a wooden forearm nullified two of the Henry’s minor niggles, namely the barrel becoming hot under rapid fire and the necessity for the shooter to be careful that the magazine follower was not obstructed by the left hand. The new rifle was an instant success and was produced in carbine, rifle and musket configurations with production continuing until 1884. The last Model 1866 left the factory with a serial number just above 170,000.

As this was the first rifle manufactured by the Winchester company, it was simply known at the time as the Winchester. It was not until the advent of the Model 1873 that this gun was given the name of its year of introduction, albeit in literature only, and no model markings will be found on original specimens.

The Modern Italian Reproduction Choice

While clones of the old lever guns are quite popular among today’s shooters, these brass framed versions are seen less often than the steel examples, with the Henry in particular being rather scarce. With the latter I suspect that its quirky loading system plays no small part in its lack of acceptance, and in both cases the absence of the ubiquitous .357 magnum calibre will also be a consideration.

As the leading manufacturer of these reproduction early lever action guns, Uberti offer several variations in the Model 1866 chambered for a number of the more popular “pistol calibre” cartridges. The carbine is available in both the standard barrel length of 19” – which we have here – and a shorter “Trapper” version with a 16 and 1/8 inch barrel. The octagonal barrel rifles can be had with eighteen, twenty or twenty four and a quarter inch tubes. Along with the longer barrelled rifle, this carbine is listed in Henry Krank’s catalogue in eight different calibres from .22LR to .45 Colt, with the other barrel variations having slightly less choice. The carbines use the flatter ‘shotgun’ style of butt plate while the rifles are fitted with the crescent shape which, although to my eyes more attractive, can be a little punishing on the shoulder when using the heavier calibre models 1876 and 1886 Winchesters. You will also notice a difference between the two variations in the way the forearm is fitted, with the rifle using a cap and the carbine secured by a barrel band.

story continues below...

This is an attractive rifle with the brass parts contrasting with the blue/black and even the reddish varnish on the walnut woodwork, of which I am not particularly a fan, blending in nicely. The barrel, magazine tube, loading port and all of the screws are finished in gloss black which is nicely done. The two barrel bands are more of a satin finish. The loading lever and hammer are case-coloured with some nice muted tans and blues.

The front band and integral front sight are machined as one piece with a screw through the centre nipping it on to the barrel/magazine tube just as on the originals, although the shape of the front sight differs slightly from the nineteenth century version. The rear sight is a small flip-up with two notches in the vertical position and one when laid flat. The loading lever has a spur at the rear end which facilitates locking it in place with the stud in the frame. There is no trigger safety on this rifle, this system not arriving until the birth of the Model 1873. The fit of the various parts is very good with the joints between the side plates and the frame looking more like scratches in the brass. The rifle has minimal markings, with the Uberti - Made in Italy on top of the barrel along with the calibre. The serial number is on the bottom tang just behind the loading lever retaining stud and the proof marks are stamped on the bottom of the frame. Presumably the barrel proof marks are under the forearm.

It is a very pleasing, well balanced package which, in this 19-inch carbine configuration, comes up to the shoulder and points more easily than its 24-inch barrelled big brother, a factor which will no doubt come into consideration by the competitive CAS shooters. These good handling characteristics are aided by a surprisingly good sight picture, from what is a basic set-up. 

Nice and Easy

Those who have handled these early toggle-link action Winchesters will testify to how quickly they become smooth operators. This is due in no small part to the brass cartridge lifter, which soon blends itself with the inside of the frame upon which it rubs. In the case of this Model 1866, along with its predecessor the Henry, the combination of brass lifter and brass frame makes the operation of the lever especially slick after minimal use. I have experienced one or two stiff loading gates on these reproductions but this one needed very little pressure when loading. Holding the gate in the open position with the head of each loaded cartridge, with the last round being pushed all the way in, proved just as easy as it should. Feeding and ejection of the spent cases was faultless throughout. The hammer has a half-cock “safety” notch which would have allowed those old time shooters to carry the rifle with a cartridge in the breech, requiring the shooter to just cock the hammer to fire the first shot. There were doubtless times on the frontier where that extra split second saved could be very important, but in today’s safety conscious environment carrying any firearm with a live round under the hammer is frowned upon, and rightly so.

As was seen earlier, the original model 1866 was chambered for rimfire cartridges, an option which is not available in today’s reproductions, other than the diminutive .22. The .38-40 centre fire, introduced as a rifle cartridge with the Winchester 1873, was, by 1884, being offered as one of the popular cartridges for the Colt SAA revolver. Today these rifles are often referred to as ‘pistol calibre’ versions and a pistol/rifle combination in the same calibre will be found at many American CAS matches. The .38-40 is nothing more than a .44-40 case necked down to accept a smaller – nominally .401” – bullet. With this in mind and having no previous experience with this calibre, I decided to start with the load that I have used for many years, in both pistol (in the good old days) and rifle, for my .44-40 weapons; this is 8.5 grains of Unique powder and it proved to be a great combination with a 180-grain lead bullet, so much so that I feel no need to experiment further with this rifle, which I have added to my battery of lever guns. Recoil is only mildly more than with the heavier Henry and 1873 rifles and I can hold a 4-inch group at fifty metres, adequate for my needs as my pleasure is in shooting these guns rather than trying to obliterate the black. Doubtless others will be able to wring a better performance from this model with a little experimentation.

In summing up, this is an attractive, well-made carbine that should appeal the CAS shooters looking for an alternative the 1873 and 1892 models that proliferate the sport, especially as it is offered in a variety of calibres. It could also attract re-enactors with a firearms certificate, spanning as it does probably the most covered period in American history by these groups. Whatever your reason for buying one of these rifles, I feel that you will not be disappointed.

 

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Uberti Winchester Mod 1866 Carbine - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

5 Comments

  • I have both the 1866 and 1873 24 1/2 inch barrels in 45lc.Great rifles.It a blast to reload for these in cowboy and hunting loads.

    Default profile image
    Brian l farrer
    07 Oct 2021 at 03:12 AM
  • I have both the 1866 and 1873 24 1/2 inch barrels in 45lc.Great rifles.It a blast to reload for these in cowboy and hunting loads.

    Default profile image
    Brian l farrer
    07 Oct 2021 at 03:12 AM
  • I have the 24 1/4 barreled rifle, in .45 Colt.Although not an "authentic caliber for this model, it is a shooter. I use both a 20" and the longer 24. Different tools, for different jobs. The ‘66 is by far the beauty of the lever guns produced by Winchester. You’ll be impressed.

    Default profile image
    Michael E. Arnold
    03 May 2020 at 05:23 AM
  • I have the 24 1/4 barreled rifle, in .45 Colt.Although not an "authentic caliber for this model, it is a shooter. I use both a 20" and the longer 24. Different tools, for different jobs. The ‘66 is by far the beauty of the lever guns produced by Winchester. You’ll be impressed.

    Default profile image
    Michael E. Arnold
    03 May 2020 at 05:22 AM
  • I want to purchase one of these beautiful rifles. I’ve been looking for an honest review and I think you ha e given one. I have made my mind up to go and pull the trigger, so it’s said and buy one. Thanks

    Default profile image
    Mike Towne
    15 Mar 2019 at 07:01 PM


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