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The Model 1876 and the .45-90
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November 1, 2020 - 2:07 pm
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We may have talked about this before.  It is something that has intrigued me since I purchased The Winchester Book by George Madis in the late 70’s.  One single sentence, in the chapter covering the Model 1876 was devoted to the subject:  “In 1878 45-90 cartridges with 450 grain bullets were offered but discontinued within a few months.”

We of course know such a cartridge would not cycle through the ’76 action.  I seem to recall subsequent research revealed this cartridge was designed to be single-load.  I am perplexed regarding why Winchester considered the ’76 action to be strong enough to handle this powder charge/bullet weight.

We know that initially the ’76 was chambered in the 45-75 only. Madis states, “The 45-75 cartridge had a case one and seven-eights inches in length and a 350 grain bullet.  Attempts were made to adapt the model to the 45-70 government cartridge but the action was not deemed of sufficient strength to handle the 405 to 500 grain bullet of the government cartridge, although the powder charge was five grains heavier than the government load.”

So… how they were thinking 90 grains of powder combined with a 450 grain bullet is not making sense to me.

I’m sure a box of these 45-90 cartridges is an extreme rarity – if a box exists at all.  Has anyone seen one, or a photo of one?  Or, a single cartridge?  

I am not surprised Winchester discontinued the 45-90 after a few months.  I would love to see a transcript (like the transcript we saw of management staff deciding to add the .300 Savage chambering to the M70 line) of BOTH the decision to add this cartridge as well as discontinue it.  Maybe it just didn’t sell.  Maybe they had second thoughts about the safety.  Maybe they determined it was confusing to offer a cartridge that wouldn’t cycle through the action it was made for.  

Intriguing to anyone else?

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November 1, 2020 - 2:32 pm
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Steve and others, I have not heard of anyone with a box of such cartridges.  I can add that I DO HAVE a .45-90-500 cartridge and had it displayed some years back with my Model 1876 display.  The two loadings used a paper patched  bullet, and I weighed the loaded cartridge and compared its weight with a Winchester loaded .45-75-350.  If you are interested I can later pull out the comparison weights and measures, but there was little doubt the cartridge was loaded pretty much as depicted.  Now to identifying them, there are none known with the head of the cartridge stamped with any identifying information.  Thus I at least try looking in the “orphans/unidentified” boxes of cartridges and comparing the brass to the .45-75 cartridge brass as they are same dimensionally.  The book by Houze has a picture of the cartridge in a line drawing.  It is indeed long enough to be strictly a single loading proposition, and I would imagine it a real effort to tease an UNFIRED round out of the chamber and the action as you can not raise the cartridge lifter as that will jam the cartridge.  An upside down presentation accompanied by shaking should dislodge a loaded round, but would look funny.  There is no doubt in my mind that either loading would soon cause a failure to the rifle, even despite the early tests to destruction that were cited in various magazine articles of the day where double bullets and extreme powder charges were used.  Pirkle and I believe Madis cite that ONE rifle stamped for the .45-90 cartridge left the factory, but no one has found it as of yet or at least have not advertised it as such.  Many assume it was chambered for the .45-90 as used inthe 1886, which is patently way too long.  No doubt the quick demise of the “single loading” version for long range use was due to the overworking of the 1876 action.  My thoughts only, though.  A further thought–the paper patching allowed the lead bullet to ride the lands and reduces pressure some compared to a full diameter bullet.  Tim

PS.  Another cartridge that I displayed was the .46 or .47 Oliver F. Winchester cartridge.  You don’t know what you missed!

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November 1, 2020 - 2:45 pm
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Tim – thanks!  That was extremely informative.  It’s helpful to have it confirmed that the case of this 45-90 cartridge is the same as the 45-75.  And, wow – even loaded with a 500 grain bullet!  I don’t know the location of the one ’76 that left the factory marked 45-90.  However, I did have a collector friend (deceased several years now) who had a ’76 in .45-75.  It was a standard rifle and not marked differently in any way.  When he sent off for a factory letter, it came back listing the chambering as 45-75 High Velocity.  

I’m sure you are speculating correctly about the difficulty extracting a loaded cartridge out of the action.  Seems once the round was chambered, the shooter was mostly committed to firing it!

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November 1, 2020 - 3:08 pm
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The 1876 action was plenty strong for black powder loads with heavier bullets.  See “The Winchester Model 1876 Centennial Rifle” by Herbert J. Houze pages 113-114.  Winchester conducted testing on the strength of the action during the fall of 1877.  Seven tests were conducted with loads up to 203 grains of powder and six bullets of 480 grains each for a total of 2880 grains.   Test six was a charge of 203 grains of powder and six bullets with a weight of 2100 grains total. 

The 1876 action “worked well” in six of the tests. In test seven the load was 203 grains of powder and six bullets of 480 grains with a total weight of 2880 grains.  This charge bent the breech pin, blew out the side plates, split the frame and disabled the arm.  Oliver Winchester added that it was a burst cartridge case that caused damage in test seven.

Also, there was a Model 1878 Winchester rifle musket in .45-70 that competed in arms trials that year.  It was essentially an enlarged 1876 action that was long enough to handle the length of the .45-70 cartridge.  The arm did not pass the service trails due to rust testing and was not adopted by the U.S. Army but it does go to show that the basic 1876 action was strong enough to handle .45-70 cartridges.  See Houze, pages 165-171.  

I have not seen an original .45-90 cartridge for the 1876 like Tim has.  Years ago I made one using a 500 grain paper patch bullet I had for my Sharps rifle.  It would load in the chamber and you could shake it loose.  I never fired it.  

I suspect that during the early 20th century people tried to use heavier smokeless loads in 1876 rifles and this caused damage and injuries that led to the action being considered “weak.”

I call myself a collector as it sounds better than hoarder

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November 1, 2020 - 5:36 pm
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Bill – that’s great information as well.  In just a matter of hours I feel vastly better informed on a puzzling questions I’ve had for decades.  Very cool answers too.  I would love to have a full box of those cartridges!

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November 1, 2020 - 5:51 pm
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Bill and others,  I have to add a few foot notes here.  I obtained the cartridges I cited above with the help of both Dan Shuey and Ray Giles.  If either of them read and care to chime in, they know way more of these cartridges than I.  Next, I had read the passages cited in the Houze book on the torture the 1876 was subjected to obtain its failure.  I lightly alluded to that in my passing above.  However, I am reminded of a discussion with a Remington representative at a skeet shoot in Flagstaff in I think 1977.  The topic was “blowing up a shotgun” with reloads.  He stated that they had found it impossible to blow up a Remington shotgun with a single shell as long as there was any kind of wad between the powder and the shot.  Couldn’t get enough powder and shot in a shell if a wad was there, regardless of the type of powder.  Lack of a wad allowed the burning powder to fuse the lead into a chunk that was bigger than bore diameter.  But they had blown up their model 870 over time with overpressure shells such as an overly adventuresome reloader might assemble.  I have no idea how many it took nor just how adventurous the shells were, but in time the metal quit and the shotgun came apart.  Nor do I know what parts failed.  It was enough to know that over time and with accumulated stress, something will eventually give out.  I would suspect that the case with the 1876, but obviously I have not tested to destruction nor do I intend to.  Also way too young to have been there back in the day!Laugh  My take for what its worth.  Tim.

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November 1, 2020 - 5:59 pm
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I am going to weigh in with my 2-cents worth…

I do not believe that Winchester ever commercially made or offered a 45-90-400/450/500 cartridge. If they had made it, they would have offered it in the Model 1885 Single Shot which had no limitations on cartridge OAL, and it was definitely stout enough to handle the cartridge.

Bert

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November 1, 2020 - 8:26 pm
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Tim, do you have pictures of the 2 rounds you mention?

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November 1, 2020 - 11:10 pm
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I am a complete NOOB with collecting so to speak, but not handloading and building rifles in these calibers.

I have never heard of that load and thought the 45-90 was an express round for higher velocity with lighter bullets when Winchester officially adopted it.  To think they took the standard 1877 Sharps load of 400 grains, upped it another 50grs to play with in this shorter case of the 1876 seems odd.

If it was a “45-90” built on the 45-75 case, I can see how it fits the action…but strength is another matter all together.

I have not encountered any data that said Winchester made twist rates that fast in the 1876, but obviously they could do it.  Having built long range 45-90 lever guns that rival the power of the Sharps in 45-110, I personally would not trust an 1876 loaded to UP to shoot 450-500 grain pills.  With the right twist and medium velocity I can’t see it being a problem, save one issue.  The dwell time of black powder is not like that of smokeless.  Even Fg is too fast to ramp up big pills like smokeless.  So the thought of having a 450-500 grain pill in that short 45-75 case take the peak pressure crunch on the base of that heavy of a bullet leads me to believe it wouldn’t be long before she let loose.

I would like to see this cartridge so I might stuff 90 grains of black in one of my 45-75 cases and see how much compression there is with a 450gr bullet.  Certainly not going to touch one off.

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November 2, 2020 - 1:11 am
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You don’t need

34871 said
I am a complete NOOB with collecting so to speak, but not handloading and building rifles in these calibers.

I have never heard of that load and thought the 45-90 was an express round for higher velocity with lighter bullets when Winchester officially adopted it.  To think they took the standard 1877 Sharps load of 400 grains, upped it another 50grs to play with in this shorter case of the 1876 seems odd.

If it was a “45-90” built on the 45-75 case, I can see how it fits the action…but strength is another matter all together.

I have not encountered any data that said Winchester made twist rates that fast in the 1876, but obviously they could do it.  Having built long range 45-90 lever guns that rival the power of the Sharps in 45-110, I personally would not trust an 1876 loaded to UP to shoot 450-500 grain pills.  With the right twist and medium velocity I can’t see it being a problem, save one issue.  The dwell time of black powder is not like that of smokeless.  Even Fg is too fast to ramp up big pills like smokeless.  So the thought of having a 450-500 grain pill in that short 45-75 case take the peak pressure crunch on the base of that heavy of a bullet leads me to believe it wouldn’t be long before she let loose.

I would like to see this cartridge so I might stuff 90 grains of black in one of my 45-75 cases and see how much compression there is with a 450gr bullet.  Certainly not going to touch one off.  

You don’t need to compress the bullet any more than normal.   It ends up being something more like a breach seat bullet. The .45-90 cartridge for the 1876 rifle was being used as a single shot, so it will be longer than the overall length of the original cartridges.  The bullet just needs to lightly compress the black powder without leaving any open space.  I would put in a cardboard wad to protect the paper patch bullet.

I don’t want to test it on my antique rifles, but it might be interesting to see it done on a modern reproduction.  

When Winchester did those maximum loading tests I talked about earlier in this thread the 1876 receiver was made of iron.  Steel did not replace iron on the 1876 (and 1873) receivers until the 1880’s.  It seems to me the matter of strength to handle black powder loads with extra weight bullets was proven back in 1877.  

I call myself a collector as it sounds better than hoarder

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November 2, 2020 - 2:04 am
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 The weak spot on a 1876 is the chamber. On the failures I have seen the chamber bulges down and cracks the receiver  between the barrel threaded area and the magazine tube hole. This is the weak point because of the bottle neck design of the 45-75 and 50-95 cartridge. The larger rim size requires a larger magazine tube and the bottle neck chamber is thin in the same area. The early guns had a smaller barrel thread, not as strong and more lightly to crack in the threads.. The later guns had better steel and a thicker chamber but I have seen them crack to. Perhaps that’s why the 86 was straight walled in the 45 and 50 caliber. T/R

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November 2, 2020 - 1:25 pm
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Chuck,  Yeah, nothing like putting me on the spot!  I hate taking photos of good enough quality, then having to find a way to attach to whatever I am doing!  It will be a bit, but I will try to get good photos on here in the not distant future.  If I didn’t delete them, I had photos for the pamphlet for when I took my display to the Dallas NRA convention.  They were good enough for Rob so likely would work.  But I also tend to keep my files cleaned and limited so they may be gone.  Tim

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November 2, 2020 - 4:25 pm
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steve004 said
We may have talked about this before.  It is something that has intrigued me since I purchased The Winchester Book by George Madis in the late 70’s.  One single sentence, in the chapter covering the Model 1876 was devoted to the subject:  “In 1878 45-90 cartridges with 450 grain bullets were offered but discontinued within a few months.”

I think what we have here is a typo on the part of Madis, and I beleive he meant to write the “45-75 with 450 grain bullets were offered…”.

The 45-90 W.C.F. didn’t come onto the market until 1886. And there is mentioned in one of the early WRACo catalogs about a special 45-75 Express Target cartridge with a larger than standard grain bullet. 

I’ll have to dig through my library to see if I can find the specifics of this cartridge. But I also believe Dan Shuey wrote about this in some detail in his Cartridge head stamp books.

Sincerely,

Maverick

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November 2, 2020 - 4:40 pm
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Maverick said

steve004 said
We may have talked about this before.  It is something that has intrigued me since I purchased The Winchester Book by George Madis in the late 70’s.  One single sentence, in the chapter covering the Model 1876 was devoted to the subject:  “In 1878 45-90 cartridges with 450 grain bullets were offered but discontinued within a few months.”

I think what we have here is a typo on the part of Madis, and I beleive he meant to write the “45-75 with 450 grain bullets were offered…”.

The 45-90 W.C.F. didn’t come onto the market until 1886. And there is mentioned in one of the early WRACo catalogs about a special 45-75 Express Target cartridge with a larger than standard grain bullet. 

I’ll have to dig through my library to see if I can find the specifics of this cartridge. But I also believe Dan Shuey wrote about this in some detail in his Cartridge head stamp books.

Sincerely,

Maverick  

I’ve continued to give this topic thought.  I believe it is correct to view it as a different loading vs. a different cartridge.  Reminds me of my .40 caliber Bullard rifle.  I don’t know what to call it.  It stamped Cal. 40.  Is it a .40-60 Bullard, .40-70 Bullard or .40-75 Bullard? It just depends on what box of cartridges you purchased. They all fit – just different loads. By the way, my Bullard takes .40-60 Marlin and .40-65 Winchester just fine too. Back to Winchester, the .45-82, .45-85 and .45-90 were different loadings for the .45-90. And, I believe these cartridges were headstamped respectively.  Regarding the cartridge under discussion, from what I recall was said, they weren’t headstamped at all.  I really wonder what the cartridge box markings were.  If they did use 90 grains of powder, the  boxes might have specified .45-90.  

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November 2, 2020 - 11:46 pm
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tim tomlinson said
Chuck,  Yeah, nothing like putting me on the spot!  I hate taking photos of good enough quality, then having to find a way to attach to whatever I am doing!  It will be a bit, but I will try to get good photos on here in the not distant future.  If I didn’t delete them, I had photos for the pamphlet for when I took my display to the Dallas NRA convention.  They were good enough for Rob so likely would work.  But I also tend to keep my files cleaned and limited so they may be gone.  Tim  

Didn’t mean too.  Just send me the cartridges and I’ll take some picturesLaughLaughLaugh

Take pictures with your cell phone, mail them to your email, once in your computer attach here.  Don’t get to close that the camera can’t focus.  Use a flash or shoot in the bright shade.  When transferring the picture file transfer the largest file you can.

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November 3, 2020 - 12:02 am
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Bert H. said
I am going to weigh in with my 2-cents worth…
I do not believe that Winchester ever commercially made or offered a 45-90-400/450/500 cartridge. If they had made it, they would have offered it in the Model 1885 Single Shot which had no limitations on cartridge OAL, and it was definitely stout enough to handle the cartridge.
Bert  

I believe the Single-Shot rifle was chambered in a rifle for the cartridge under discussion.  I say this as the M1885 was chambered in .45-75.  And actually, the 45-75 load under discussion would probably have worked much better in the M1885 than the M1876.  Of course, there were better choices if the purchaser wanted a .45 caliber rifle that would shoot heavier bullets.  I suppose at the time this .45-75 load was brought out, there was not the thought to use it in the M1885 as that model came nearly ten years later.

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November 3, 2020 - 1:54 am
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Chuck,  I found a picture of the .45-75-350 next to my ..45-90-500 that isn’t too bad.  This will be my first effort to attach a photo to a reply here in our forum.  Wish me luck.  If this works I also have a download of a short description for the cartridge from the auction it came from.  TimP1010669.JPGImage EnlargerLaugh

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November 3, 2020 - 1:58 am
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That worked rather easily, if I can keep in mind the location in my computer.  Now the auction blurb on the .45-90-500. Tim45-90-500-001-1.jpgImage Enlarger

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November 3, 2020 - 1:59 am
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Tim – it work! ed Very cool looking cartridge.  Yes, I could see that cartridge would not cycle through the ’76 action.  I’m eagerly awaiting the rest of the information you will be posting.

The rest came through.  There must have been darn few of these cartridges that survived.

Thanks again – this topic has intrigued me for over 30 years.

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November 3, 2020 - 2:01 am
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Chuck and others,  I apparently no longer have a photo of the .46 Oliver F. Winchester cartridge in my computer, at least that I have been able to find as yet.  It will come along one day soon, I hope.  The process was rather easy IF I can find the photos in their stored location, etc.  I am definitely not organized.  Tim

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