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.32-40 carbine sold at Morphy last November - real?
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January 14, 2022 - 11:29 pm
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https://auctions.morphyauctions.com/_C__RARE_WINCHESTER_MODEL_54__32_40_BOLT_ACTION_CA-LOT512318.aspx

I can picture myself making my way through some brush in the deep woods with this rifle.  There is snow on the ground in my imagination.  So I’ll weigh in – I believe it is a real hunting rifle.  It’s not easy to find a bolt action rifle in .32-40.  But from a collector perspective… opinions?

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January 15, 2022 - 12:52 am
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I certainly would like to have the M54 in my very modest collection. I doubt that I could have afforded to be the winning bidder at over $7000 Canadian.  Beautiful collector quality gun in a rare chambering.

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January 15, 2022 - 2:43 am
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Hard to believe it’s real, without some credible supporting evidence.  Are there any factory records that refer to the availability of this chambering in a 54?  Any reference in the new 54 book?   If it was a deluxe, no-expense-spared, rifle, one might speculate that some eccentric VIP with “connections” at the factory had it specially built, but it’s a bottom of the line 54. With all the modern chamberings available for 54s, it’s bizarre that anyone would want this antiquated cartridge; & if they just wanted something milder than ’06 or .270, .250 Savage was a standard option. The models for which records are unavailable provide golden opportunities for fakers.

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January 15, 2022 - 3:33 am
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The Winchester proof stamps don’t match each other. Aren’t both applied at the same time?

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January 15, 2022 - 4:15 am
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Vince said
The Winchester proof stamps don’t match each other. Aren’t both applied at the same time?  

Good eye, something odd about that barrel. Clarence has some excellent points, also. Very attractive rifle but….

 

Mike

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January 15, 2022 - 4:45 am
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Please do not construe this to be my endorsement of it being an authentic Model 54, but, I will point out that Winchester made a significant number of them in 30 WCF and a smaller number in 32 WS and 38-55 (all Model 1894 calibers). To my way of thinking, it is not a big stretch of the imagination to believe that Winchester also chambered a few Model 54 rifles for the ither two Model 1894 cartridges (e.g. the 25-35 WCF and 32-40). Because no production records survived, we will likely never know for sure, so I am not willing to say “Yeah or Nay” on this topic.

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January 15, 2022 - 4:59 am
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Bert H. said
Please do not construe this to be my endorsement of it being an authentic Model 54, but, I will point out that Winchester made a significant number of them in 30 WCF and a smaller number in 32 WS and 38-55 (all Model calibers). To my way of thinking, it is not a big strecth of the imagination to believe that Winchester also chambered a few Model 54 rifles for the ither two Model 1894 cartridges (e.g. the 25-35 WCF and 32-40). Because no production records survived, we will likely never know for sure, so I am not willing to say “Yeah or Nay” on this topic.
Bert  

It does seem odd to have a rimmed cartridge in this model but you’re right, Bert, they built them. From what little I know this would make an interesting target rifle but this rifle doesn’t look like it was assembled over 90 years ago and that proof mark on the barrel just doesn’t look right to me. I’m probably wrong but something about this rifle doesn’t pass the sniff test. On top of that it’s a carbine, not a rifle. Just can’t make sense of it.

 

Mike

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January 15, 2022 - 6:25 am
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Bert H. said
Please do not construe this to be my endorsement of it being an authentic Model 54, but, I will point out that Winchester made a significant number of them in 30 WCF and a smaller number in 32 WS and 38-55 (all Model 1894 calibers).
 

Well, if that’s so, it alters my skepticism somewhat.  .30 WCF was a catalogued option, as well as being a “modern” small-bore smokeless cartridge, but .38-55 is a horse of quite a different color.  The Model 54 was supposed to be Winchester’s “great leap forward” into post-WWI modern times, the “Jazz Age,” so the idea idea of offering it in such an antique chambering seems retrograde to me.  Being a diehard .38-55 shooter doesn’t compute with choosing a bolt-action.  How were such chamberings supposed to be sold if they weren’t catalogued or advertised?

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January 15, 2022 - 1:34 pm
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The Remington-Lee M1899 Sporter (magazine-fed bolt action rifle) chamberings included .30-30, .32 Special and .38-55 (and the .38-72 WCF and .405 WCF).  Not many of them around.  

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January 15, 2022 - 2:40 pm
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In addition to the Remington-Lee that Steve mentioned, and while it was not a bolt-action, Savage also chambered the same cartridges in the Model 1899.

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January 15, 2022 - 2:55 pm
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clarence said

Bert H. said
Please do not construe this to be my endorsement of it being an authentic Model 54, but, I will point out that Winchester made a significant number of them in 30 WCF and a smaller number in 32 WS and 38-55 (all Model 1894 calibers).
 

Well, if that’s so, it alters my skepticism somewhat.  .30 WCF was a catalogued option, as well as being a “modern” small-bore smokeless cartridge, but .38-55 is a horse of quite a different color.  The Model 54 was supposed to be Winchester’s “great leap forward” into post-WWI modern times, the “Jazz Age,” so the idea idea of offering it in such an antique chambering seems retrograde to me.  Being a diehard .38-55 shooter doesn’t compute with choosing a bolt-action.  How were such chamberings supposed to be sold if they weren’t catalogued or advertised?  

I suspect that in the case of the Model 54, Winchester was simply giving people the option (special order) to own a more modern rifle in very familiar (and popular) cartridge set.  Keep in mind that at the time the Model 54 was introduced, the Model 1894/94 was the most common (popular) sporting rifle on the planet, and that the 38-55 chambering had accounted for just over 12.8% of the total production through the year 1931 (138,400+ of the 1,079,689 Model 1894s manufactured).  Further, Winchester had already solved the issue of feeding and ejecting a rimmed case (30 W.C.F.) in the Model 54.  Making one in 32-40 or 38-55 was simply a case of boring, rifling, and chambering a barrel to the desired caliber.  The bolts already in production for the 30 WCF and 32 WS rifles need no adaptation to accommodate the 32-40 or 38-55. 

I suspect that the small number of people who special ordered a Model 54 in 38-55 did so with the intention of shooting W.H.V. type loads in them, and the same was probably true for the one fellow who special ordered his Model 54 in 32-40.

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January 15, 2022 - 3:33 pm
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There is a recent article in The American Rifleman (January 2022) by Layne Simpson regarding the Win Model 54.  Standard cartridges 30-06 & 270 when introduced (1925), 30-30 Win (1928), 7×57 mm Mauser, 7.65 x 53 m Argentine, 9×57 mm Mouser (1930), 250 Savage (1931), .22 hornet (1933), 220 Swift & 257 Roberts (1936).  The article goes on to say “Special-order rifles were built in .25-35 Win., .32 Win. Special, and .35 Whelen…”.  With that in mind, and as Bert mentioned, its not a stretch to believe the other 94 cartridges could have been provided on special order.  

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January 15, 2022 - 4:16 pm
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From the beginning, we know Winchester had a reputation for accommodating special order requests from their customers.  We also know that shifted substantially and Winchester became more discouraging of special order requests (other than the standard cataloged special order options).  I think by the time this rifle was made, Winchester was well into their practice of discouraging special orders of this magnitude.  However, that doesn’t mean certain customers, employees, ex-employees and so on didn’t have,”pull.”  Given the .30-30 was a cataloged chambering, there wasn’t much modification to be made to manufacture one in .32-40.  And as Bert points out, a small number were made in .32 Special and .38-55.  

I like the carbine.  As I’ve mentioned here more than once, I would have loved to assemble a full set of five M54 carbines in the Winchester M1894 chamberings.  I have seen every one offered for sale.  But like this one, I’ve never seen one with factory provenance.  Well, there is the provenance that comes with having been sold by a major auction house.  I know that carries no weight here but it’s amazing how out in the wider world how much that means.  It’s similar to how many believe that any Winchester pictured in one of the Madis books is automatic verification of authenticity.  

By the way, despite liking this carbine, I would not have paid near that much for it.

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January 15, 2022 - 4:52 pm
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steve004 said  Well, there is the provenance that comes with having been sold by a major auction house.  I know that carries no weight here but it’s amazing how out in the wider world how much that means. 

So true, unfortunately, which is why those possessing the specialized knowledge to recognize errors perform a valuable service in setting the record straight, even though their good work is probably wasted on the “wider world.” 

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January 20, 2022 - 3:34 pm
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If that barrel is fake the gunsmith who made it is as good as Winchester themselves. One possible explanation of why the proofmarks don’t match is when Winchester received a special order for that caliber they took a rifle from stock and re-barreled it thus resulting in the proof mark being different. 

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January 20, 2022 - 7:54 pm
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CJS57 said
If that barrel is fake the gunsmith who made it is as good as Winchester themselves. One possible explanation of why the proof marks don’t match is when Winchester received a special order for that caliber they took a rifle from stock and re-barreled it thus resulting in the proof mark being different.   

That is a reasonable explanation for the proof marks stamps, and one that I had not considered before your mention of it… quite plausible.

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January 22, 2022 - 5:48 pm
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Some observations. Not meant as a definitive conclusion either way.

Lack of clip slot rear receiver bridge supports that it was originally built for a rimed cartridge. Rimless had clip slots.

It shows uneven wear – Bolt handle, extractor sleeve, etc. 54 magazine floorplates almost always show wear. Barrel/receiver look like new.

The number “2” font used on the barrel is maybe odd?  I might be reaching on this one.

I think the nickel steel under barrel mark on the 54’s was MNS not NS.

The carbine did not come standard with sling swivel studs. But this wouldn’t seem particularly odd on a special order rifle.

Perhaps a skillful upgrade from a .30 WCF standard rifle to super rare carbine configuration? .30 WCF was offered as standard cataloged cartridge.

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January 22, 2022 - 8:56 pm
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 I like CJS57’s theory but in the absence of factory records a critical eye is recommended, especially in this price range. Even if that is truly what happened a certain segment of the market will pass on an item that requires an explanation. At this price point an item’s value is closely tied to what the next owner is likely to pay for it and how long it will take to sell. I like this carbine but situations like this are why I’m a spectator in the bolt gun segment of the collectible Winchester market, not a participant. 

 

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January 22, 2022 - 9:50 pm
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TXGunNut said
 I like CJS57’s theory but in the absence of factory records a critical eye is recommended, especially in this price range. Even if that is truly what happened a certain segment of the market will pass on an item that requires an explanation. At this price point an item’s value is closely tied to what the next owner is likely to pay for it and how long it will take to sell.

As Steve pointed out, once a gun brings big money in a major auction, most potential buyers, should it come up for resale, will regard the fact of its previous sale as absolute verification of its legitimacy.  “Most,” I said, not the cognoscenti-us!

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January 23, 2022 - 3:40 am
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clarence said

TXGunNut said
 I like CJS57’s theory but in the absence of factory records a critical eye is recommended, especially in this price range. Even if that is truly what happened a certain segment of the market will pass on an item that requires an explanation. At this price point an item’s value is closely tied to what the next owner is likely to pay for it and how long it will take to sell.

As Steve pointed out, once a gun brings big money in a major auction, most potential buyers, should it come up for resale, will regard the fact of its previous sale as absolute verification of its legitimacy.  “Most,” I said, not the cognoscenti-us!  

Maybe, but what about the ones that notice it brought less than the auction “experts” forecast? Did someone get a bargain? Did everyone else see something the “winning” bidder missed? Did the auction house “experts” get it wrong? There has been so much fraud that sometimes even an item that is likely correct will not bring what it probably should. I’m no expert but I pay attention to what the more experienced eyes see. Even the experts have been fooled and they’ve also been wrong, IMHO. Many of us enjoy finding a very unusual or rare item; is this one of them? We’ve learned that Winchester would fill almost any order and there were/are likely dozens of “one of a kind” Winchesters. 

I hope this carbine is exactly what it appears to be and the new owner is enjoying his recent addition. 

 

Mike

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