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Understanding unlisted features in the factory ledgers
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November 27, 2022 - 3:56 pm
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This topic is often a source of consternation in Winchester collecting (of rifles with, “extra” features).  Specifically, when the extras appear right as rain but they are not listed in the ledger.  Usually the case is that most of the extras are listed but others are not.  This can be a source of much frustration and influence the decision to purchase.

I was pondering this issue again when I was looking at a 3/4 magazine M1886 that had come up for auction at RIA a while back  A copy of the ledger page was shown.  I’ve seen these before and remain impressed by how intensely crowded it was.  My observation is that they never use two lines to document each serial number.  There are occasional blank lines (as are seen in the example below) but they are not used to document features from the rifle in the line above it. But as you can see from some of these entries, they are extremely crowded.  In fact, if a rifle had more special features than what was listed, I am at a loss to figure out where those features could be noted.  

The .45-70 ELW with the 3/4 magazine (yellow highlighted) is an example of what I am talking about.  The line for that rifle is very crowded. Let’s say that rifle was also engraved, had an extra-length stock and nickel trim.  I can’t believe those extras would have been made to fit on that line.

I know many here have had experience with the ledgers and perhaps can share some insight.

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November 27, 2022 - 4:50 pm
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As a person with very poor handwriting I’m always impressed with the legibility of these entries and the ability of CFM’s research staff to understand them in the cases of heavily optioned Winchesters. Since the order number is listed I suspect that document had more detailed or complete information so maybe it didn’t seem important at the time to record all the features. I do recall a rifle we discussed awhile back that somehow had over ten features listed in that tiny space. Since each line was assigned to a serial number they couldn’t just use another line.

 

Mike

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November 27, 2022 - 5:24 pm
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Steve,

The ledger books are relatively large items, and the line space in which the “extras” was recorded is much larger than you might envision.  While it may appear that the information was crammed into the ledger, there was more than adequate space if the person recording it exercised some planning and care when writing it in the ledger.  I have seen many dozens of cases in the Single Shot ledgers where more information than the Model 1886 ledger entry in question was carefully written into the Stock. Sights. and Remarks. columns.   There are also numerous cases where unused space was used from a preceding or following S/N entry was used.

The attached picture is a scanned copy of the partial page Single Shot ledger for S/N 80550 – 805561.  Note that the ledger entries for 80558 and 80559 were recorded using space in the entry directly below them, and that the person who wrote them in used crude parentheses to show the separation of information.

Bert

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November 27, 2022 - 6:17 pm
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If it’s not in the letter, as recorded from the ledger, “it didn’t happen”.  One can speculate, of course, but if the letter and firearm don’t match up…it’s a problem.

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November 27, 2022 - 6:36 pm
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At the last Tulsa show there was a 32″ 73 and it looked legit but the seller didn’t have a letter and the seller guaranteed it but a call to Cody showed its didn’t letter 32″. It probably was a error in the recording of it but you can’t pay up for a gun that doesn’t letter clean because now you have to convince the next buyer its right.

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November 27, 2022 - 7:05 pm
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1873man said
you can’t pay up for a gun that doesn’t letter clean because now you have to convince the next buyer its right.

Bob

  

You’re 100% correct Bob and that’s good advice to newer collectors and a reminder for the experience ones. 
I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done if you were beside me telling me you thought it was legit. I’m a 73 fan and a 32” barrel would be hard to walk away from.

 RickC 

   

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November 27, 2022 - 7:34 pm
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Bert H. said
Steve,

The ledger books are relatively large items, and the line space in which the “extras” was recorded is much larger than you might envision.  While it may appear that the information was crammed into the ledger, there was more than adequate space if the person recording it exercised some planning and care when writing it in the ledger.  I have seen many dozens of cases in the Single Shot ledgers where more information than the Model 1886 ledger entry in question was carefully written into the Stock. Sights. and Remarks. columns.   There are also numerous cases where unused space was used from a preceding or following S/N entry was used.

The attached picture is a scanned copy of the partial Single Shot ledger for S/N 80550 – 805561.  Note that the ledger entries for 80558 and 80559 were recorded using space in the entry directly below them, and that the person who wrote them in used crude parentheses to show the separation of information.

Bert

80550-561.jpgImage Enlarger

  

Bert, 

 

I’ve never seen the actual ledger books and I’m sure you’re correct in that I think of them as smaller than they actually are.  I did note that the ledger for the Single Shots is formatted differently than the ledgers for the repeating rifles.  The Single Shot rifle ledger has specific spaces for stocks, sights and remarks.  This is not the same format for the repeating rifles and I think more room, or option room is afforded for the Single Shots.

Your point about there being adequate room for an entry if thoughtful planning is applied, makes sense.  I’ll wager some ledger recorders were better at it than others.  I also suspect some simply stopped when the space ran out and an extra or two just go left off.  Another scenario is whether all the extras hit the recorders radar screen.  

My belief is many rifles that don’t letter are right.  I think we’ve all seen examples where we believe this is true.  The other question is how hard will we hold it against a rifle?  For example, a rifle with six extra’s that letter but the seventh, sling eyelets don’t.  Assuming they look completely correct, I think many here wouldn’t pass just because of that.  But, a M1873 with a 32 inch barrel – with no mention of the barrel length in the ledger – easy to pass on that.

I understand those collectors who take the position – 100% letterable or no deal.  You never have to dance around when it comes time to sell.  But you also miss out on a lot of desirable rifles.  One rifle I haven’t forgotten about (I can’t forget about it) is that .50-100-450 deluxe takedown rifle with the super extra heavy barrel (and the cast-off stock, accessory box, etc.).  I recall that rifle lettered all the way with the exception of the heavy barrel. Most here believed it was correct.  And Randy Saba who won it on auction (paying nearly $50k) for it likely believed it was right (i.e. paying that kind of money makes a strong statement).  I also suspect he had any fear he would have trouble selling it – which he may well have.  That was a wonderful rifle and if you decide you’ll wait for another one to come along that letters, the end of time won’t be long enough.  There is not another rifle like that out there.  

Marlin collectors don’t have it any better.  In fact, with factory engraved Marlins, it’s rare the engraving was recorded in their ledger.

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November 27, 2022 - 8:06 pm
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I would never hold sling swivels against a gun if they weren’t on the letter. It was a very common extra to be added afterwards just like sights. That extra heavy barreled gun if its was made like the 73 would be easy to verify. They didn’t just screw a heavy barrel on a receiver. A quick measurement of the receiver width and height at the chamber end would show they used a heavier frame.

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November 27, 2022 - 8:21 pm
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RickC said

1873man said

you can’t pay up for a gun that doesn’t letter clean because now you have to convince the next buyer its right.

Bob

  

You’re 100% correct Bob and that’s good advice to newer collectors and a reminder for the experience ones. 

I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done if you were beside me telling me you thought it was legit. I’m a 73 fan and a 32” barrel would be hard to walk away from.

  

  The 73 was a honest 60% dull blue, correct sights, everything sealed up from years of careful use, and I liked it. No entry on barrel length so it would letter 24″. Price 7K, don’t know if he still has it. Steve’s Pawn, House Springs Mo. 1-636-671-7114 T/R

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November 27, 2022 - 8:28 pm
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Bert H. said   While it may appear that the information was crammed into the ledger, there was more than adequate space if the person recording it exercised some planning and care when writing it in the ledger. 
  

Coming up with a 2 or 3 letter abbreviation for “Schuetzen” would have been smart.

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November 27, 2022 - 8:44 pm
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The ledger entries often get pretty crowded and if there are a lot of features noted you are out of room quickly – would have been pretty easy for something to have been overlooked. Then, when you start considering R&R’s, which rarely identify the work done, it can be easy to have a gun with a feature which is not specifically identified in the ledger entry. Like 73Man eluded, an intense inspection by knowledgable individuals will probably sort it out. In this ledger entry, I own #109591 – the ledger entry space is totally occupied. The gun was returned and repaired two different times within 15 months of initial shipping – who knows what was done. Note the subsequent entry for #109592 – there is nothing but ditto marks for the entry as all features for the gun are apparently the same as my gun. It was also returned and repaired on two different ocassions, same dates as my gun. To make it even more interesting, #109587, also shown in this copy of the ledger entry, is another identical gun which was initially shipped the same day and returned and repaired twice on the same dates as the other 2 guns. All three guns were initally shipped from the warehouse to the same order number. 

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November 27, 2022 - 8:50 pm
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It’s interesting how in the Winchester collector field, “letterable” guns can be so important, yet not a factor for a large group of collectable Winchesters.  I’m referring to all those Winchesters for which no letters are available.  It’s quite a group – nearly two-thirds of the M1892 production, a similar amount of the M1894 and ’94 production, the majority of the M1895’s, most of the shotguns, .22’s etc.  The, “does it letter question” does not apply.  Same thing if you’re a Bullard collector Wink

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November 27, 2022 - 9:16 pm
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TR said

RickC said

1873man said

you can’t pay up for a gun that doesn’t letter clean because now you have to convince the next buyer its right.

Bob

  

You’re 100% correct Bob and that’s good advice to newer collectors and a reminder for the experience ones. 

I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done if you were beside me telling me you thought it was legit. I’m a 73 fan and a 32” barrel would be hard to walk away from.

  

  The 73 was a honest 60% dull blue, correct sights, everything sealed up from years of careful use, and I liked it. No entry on barrel length so it would letter 24″. Price 7K, don’t know if he still has it. Steve’s Pawn, House Springs Mo. 1-636-671-7114 T/R

  

T/R thanks for the info. Do you know the DOM?

 RickC 

   

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November 27, 2022 - 9:42 pm
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steve004 said I’m referring to all those Winchesters for which no letters are available.  It’s quite a group – nearly two-thirds of the M1892 production, a similar amount of the M1894 and ’94 production, the majority of the M1895’s, most of the shotguns, .22’s etc.  The, “does it letter question” does not apply.

Fertile ground for the fraudsters.

Same thing for the Stevens & Ballard collector, & many others. 

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November 27, 2022 - 10:18 pm
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steve004 said
It’s interesting how in the Winchester collector field, “letterable” guns can be so important, yet not a factor for a large group of collectable Winchesters.  I’m referring to all those Winchesters for which no letters are available.  It’s quite a group – nearly two-thirds of the M1892 production, a similar amount of the M1894 and ’94 production, the majority of the M1895’s, most of the shotguns, .22’s etc.  The, “does it letter question” does not apply.  Same thing if you’re a Bullard collector Wink

  

It means “buyer beware”

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November 27, 2022 - 11:49 pm
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 Rick, I think the serial number was 364,995? I ran across another 32/20 in that serial number range several years ago and it to did not letter with the 32″ barrel. Both guns looked right. Remember these are warehouse records, not orders.

 I like the long barrels with two barrel bands, neat stuff but when it comes time to sell I don’t like to explain a gun that doesn’t letter even if it’s right. T/R

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November 28, 2022 - 12:06 am
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TR said
 Rick, I think the serial number was 364,995? I ran across another 32/20 in that serial number range several years ago and it to did not letter with the 32″ barrel. Both guns looked right. Remember these are warehouse records, not orders.

 I like the long barrels with two barrel bands, neat stuff but when it comes time to sell I don’t like to explain a gun that doesn’t letter even if it’s right. T/R

  

I envy those that don’t have this concern.  There are those that don’t intend to ever sell their collections.  For example, some don’t have heirs (or heirs they are concerned about).  For those collectors, they can buy what they like and will enjoy and care nothing for what others will say about the piece down the line.  There’s no concern about ever giving anyone an explanation.

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November 28, 2022 - 12:14 am
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Can’t argue that T/R. I guess the price would have to reflect the risk & explanation. 

 RickC 

   

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November 28, 2022 - 12:42 am
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steve004 said There’s no concern about ever giving anyone an explanation.
  

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December 1, 2022 - 2:11 am
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TXGunNut said
As a person with very poor handwriting I’m always impressed with the legibility of these entries and the ability of CFM’s research staff to understand them in the cases of heavily optioned Winchesters. Since the order number is listed I suspect that document had more detailed or complete information so maybe it didn’t seem important at the time to record all the features. I do recall a rifle we discussed awhile back that somehow had over ten features listed in that tiny space. Since each line was assigned to a serial number they couldn’t just use another line.

 

Mike

  

I am not bragging, but I have an 86 that letters with 10 extras. I’m glad they got all that on the line. 

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