$15.00 Fall 2022 Cody Show 2022 winchestercollector.org
24 | WINCHESTERCOLLECTOR.ORG • Fall 2022 e collect old Winchesters today based on their historical appeal, craftsmanship, originality, fine mechanics and beautiful wood as they are much more than just shooters. There was a time when this all began—when we first became interested in these old guns. When I was a just a kid, I grew up watching TV westerns of the era—Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and The Rifleman, to name a few. And then there were those other favorites, although without lever actions, like Rat Patrol and Combat! starring the Thompson Submachine Gun (also starring Vic Morrow)—which is probably why I always wanted one, and still do today. Yet it was those Westerns that got me started on my quest to own a leveraction Winchester, along with a Colt Single Action (with a holster rig of course). Yes, I owe a lot to Hollywood. Not so much for historical accuracy, which most shows during that era weren’t in regard to the firearms. I pretty much owe all of the joys of my years of collecting to seeing these arms in use on the big screen. These movie prop guns were either owned by the studios themselves or rented. One of the most famous old-time firearms rental agencies was Stembridge Gun Rentals, formed in about 1920 by James Stembridge and the legendary director Cecil B. DeMille to supply guns to the movie industry. Until 1979, the company operated independently in a secure warehouse located on the grounds of Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California, with no corporate affiliation to Paramount. The backbone of the business was its manager Fritz Dickie, who reigned from 1927 until 1974. In later years, the company was run by Syd Stembridge, whose father was the nephew of the founder. Our good friend and honorary WACA member Peter Sherayko of Caravan West Productions out of Agua Dulce, California, currently supplies the Hollywood Western movie W Model 92 OctagonBarrel Saddle Ring Carbines by Rob Kassab #4144LB
Fall 2022 • WINCHESTERCOLLECTOR.ORG | 25 industry. Caravan was founded out of a need for historical accuracy, in which they are focused on, whether it’s in the firearms themselves, training the actors on the historicallycorrect use of those firearms, props, set dressing, wardrobe, animals and even filming locations. Collectors are aware of some Model 92 Saddle Ring Carbines with 20-inch octagon barrels, all within the late serial range, commonly referred to by some collectors as “Movie Guns.” I have identified six serial numbers so far: 944598, 944985, 954946, 971284, 981114 and 981141. If others are known, please let me know. There has always been a mystery surrounding why these guns were made. Were they specially ordered, and if so, by whom? Were they “parts clean-up” guns? Most movie props saw hard use and abuse. If they were movie guns, why were most found to be in relatively good condition? Since there are no remaining Winchester factory records in this serial number range, we have to look at the guns themselves along with any remaining documentation. One of these guns was examined by George Madis, and from an authentication letter, Madis wrote in part: Model 1892 Carbine-Rifle Serial Number 981114. Among the greatest rarities in the Winchester collectors arms are those guns made for special uses or which utilized components on hand to make special guns. This is one of the most unusual 1892 models; serial records show this serial number was assigned to the 1892 model in 1925. Because of Winchesters great expansion during World War One, money for the expansion was borrowed from J. P. Morgan and Company and this debt was eventually to cause the bankruptcy of Winchester. Ed Pugsley, an old friend of mine and a very long-time employee of Winchester, told me that the period of the 1920s was a very difficult time for the company. In his position of manager, Ed had to meet expenses and the payroll in numerous unusual ways. One way to get money was to gather up scrap metal around the plant to sell; another way was to assemble guns to sell at discounts to various distributors and other customers. Finances were so bad at Winchester that Ed would sell scrap metal on a Tuesday to meet the payroll on Saturday. Various orders were filled for guns to be sent to other countries, Octagon-barreled Model 92 Saddle Ring Carbine, s/n 981141, barrel marked SMOOTH BORE. Photos courtesy of LeRoy Merz Antique Firearms. An inspection of Model 92 OB Carbine s/n 954946 (upper) and Model 92 Short Rifle s/n 698547 (lower) reveals that 20inch short rifle barrels were used in the assembly of these carbines, as seen by the same location of the forend cap tenon dovetail for a Short-Rifle forend. Note the short 7⅞-inch forend typically found on "Trappers." Phil LeVasser Collection
26 | WINCHESTERCOLLECTOR.ORG • Fall 2022 notably in South America. Unusual guns such as the “Baby Carbines” sold during this period are now being returned to the U.S. from these other countries. One of the most unusual orders, according to Ed was from a movie studio in Hollywood. Paramount Studios are reported to be this studio. The order was for carbines; the price was very low. (If my memory is right, this order was for less than one hundred guns and the price was about $12 each.) Winchester had many components on hand which could be assembled to fill the order and the result was the very rare Model 1892 Carbine – rifles such as number 981114, discussed here. Standard magazine retaining bands were used and the rear barrel bands are of carbine style, especially made to fit these octagon barrels. StandardWinchester 1892 rifle sights are usually found on these special guns and the markings are of standard 1892 style. Carbine stocks and buttplates are usually found on these guns, and assembly numbers were not usually used. Many of these rare guns have had the forend wood removed, apparently to make them “look older” and the majority of these “hybrids” have seen much abuse and use and bad storage. Most of these special guns are in the serial range near this gun and all of them viewed have been in caliber .44 W.C.F, most popularly called the “44-40.” Octagon-barreled Saddle Ring Carbine s/n 954946, formerly owned by Les Colvin, who authored the letter at far right. Note the Oval-P Mark ahead of the Definitive Proof Mark and the dovetail on the bottom side of the barrel, ahead of the carbine forend, originally intended for the forend cap tenon in a rifle configuration. Phil LeVasser collection, photos by Rob Kassab.
Aside from serial number 981114, the only other with any documented history identified so far is serial number 954946. This gun was previously owned by Les Colvin, a then famous singer/musician who began his entertainment career on the radio in the early 1920s. Colvin wrote the letter shown at right, dated April 24, 1983. It's addressed to David Condon, the buyer of the gun at that time. We know from Colvin’s letter that this gun was associated with former Hollywood movie actor Tim McCoy’s
28 | WINCHESTERCOLLECTOR.ORG • Fall 2022 western show, Col. Tim McCoy's Real Wild West. McCoy worked steadily in movies until 1936, when he left Hollywood, first to tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus and then with his own “wild west” show. His show was not a success and only operated from April 14, 1938, to May 4, 1938,—just three weeks. It was reported to have lost $300,000— $100,000 of which was McCoy's own money. It folded in Washington, D.C., and the cowboy performers were each given $5 and McCoy's thanks. The Indians in the show were returned to their respective reservations by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. McCoy’s prior career as a Hollywood movie actor could possibly explain the Paramount Studio/Stembridge connection mentioned by Madis. However, there are a couple of problems with this theory. As previously mentioned, most of these guns remained in very good condition, contrary to the vast majority of movie guns which saw hard use on the set. After all, these were movie props and needed to look the part. And as far as we know, studios would typically identify their guns with stampings in either the stocks and/or on the metal parts. Paramount Studios is known to have used Stembridge exclusively to handle their gun needs—obviously convenient since the Stembridge facility was located on Paramount’s property. Stembridge Above: Les Colvin performing at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., 1935 Opposite upper right: Stembridge Gun Rentals, Hollywood, California, 1969 Left: The Atlas Sports Store on the southwest corner of 9th and D Streets NW., Washington D.C., c.1965. Photo courtesy of the DC History Center
Fall 2022 • WINCHESTERCOLLECTOR.ORG | 29 was known for marking their guns with an “S” mark yet none of these octagon barrel carbines known today are noted to have any special markings. While today’s collectors generally refer to these guns as “Movie Guns,” based on this limited evidence, perhaps they should be more appropriately referred to as “Wild West Show Guns.” Regardless as to what they are referred to, they are an interesting configuration with a lot of curb appeal. It appears they were not used on movie sets and were parts clean-up guns with an unknown quantity produced. If anyone knows of any additional octagonbarrel Model 92 carbines, please email me at [email protected] RobKassab.com with the serial number(s) along with any photos and available documentation. Above: A Promotional poster featuring Col. Tim McCoy and tickets for his shortlived Wild West Show. Left: A signed studio photo of McCoy, used for a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey poster. McCoy is holding a what appears to be a Model 92 Saddle Ring Carbine with octagon barrel in the same configuration as s/n 954946.