Breechldrs Help IDing a Spencer Carbine

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
All the Spencer Model 1860s up to about serial 11,000 were rifles.
Roy M. Marcot's "Spencer Repeating Firearms" which is the standard reference confirms this.
Only after Spencer finished a contract for Navy rifles, and then a 10,000 unit contract for army rifles did the Spencer company make the first carbines, starting at about serial 11,000.
The Spencer referenced above and pictured on Mr. Ridgeway's fine website, serial 1758, has a rifle buttstock and a rifle receiver (neither made to accept a carbine sling bar), and so this Spencer 1758 is a rifle buttstock and receiver that has been fitted with a carbine barrel and carbine forestock at some time in it's history.
 
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bobinwmass

Corporal
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Jul 14, 2019
Location
Western Massachusetts
While most experts agree the carbines were not made in quantities enough to be delivered to arm large numbers of troops (for example, the National Park Service report about the Guns at Gettysburg indicate deliveries of carbines did not start until around October 1863 after the initial rifle contracts), there seems to be no doubt that Spencer was making individual carbines (perhaps from the rifle pieces at hand) and getting them into the hands of individuals he hoped could help promote the weapon for future sales. William B. Edwards in "Civil War Guns" writes: "Specimen carbines were also distributed to officers who could hit the mark and report." He recounts a letter written January 13, 1863 by Colonel T. E. Chickering (perhaps related to the Chickering Piano Company where the Spencer rifles were being made) of the 41st Mass. Infantry. "...I took my carbine along, for amusement...I hit the target every shot, and put one ball through the very center of the bullseye, beating the whole party. The little gun shoots most admirably, and is all the Rifle Company claims for it." Perhaps the Ridgeway carbine is one of these early carbines.
 

Jeff in Ohio

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Joined
Oct 17, 2015
While most experts agree the carbines were not made in quantities enough to be delivered to arm large numbers of troops (for example, the National Park Service report about the Guns at Gettysburg indicate deliveries of carbines did not start until around October 1863 after the initial rifle contracts), there seems to be no doubt that Spencer was making individual carbines (perhaps from the rifle pieces at hand) and getting them into the hands of individuals he hoped could help promote the weapon for future sales. William B. Edwards in "Civil War Guns" writes: "Specimen carbines were also distributed to officers who could hit the mark and report." He recounts a letter written January 13, 1863 by Colonel T. E. Chickering (perhaps related to the Chickering Piano Company where the Spencer rifles were being made) of the 41st Mass. Infantry. "...I took my carbine along, for amusement...I hit the target every shot, and put one ball through the very center of the bullseye, beating the whole party. The little gun shoots most admirably, and is all the Rifle Company claims for it." Perhaps the Ridgeway carbine is one of these early carbines.

Good information, Bob, but remember that this Spence serial 1758 is a rifle with a carbine barrel. Lots of Spencers were rebuilt after the War; some were even fitted with octagonal sporting barrels. One of the major wholesale houses was still offering, in their catelogs long after the War to buy Spencers, even ones that did not work, so they could rework them and sell them on the civilian market. None of these reworks were made by Spencer; but they have now been in existence for 130 or 150 years, and sure match for condition!
 

bobinwmass

Corporal
Joined
Jul 14, 2019
Location
Western Massachusetts
Good information, Bob, but remember that this Spence serial 1758 is a rifle with a carbine barrel. Lots of Spencers were rebuilt after the War; some were even fitted with octagonal sporting barrels. One of the major wholesale houses was still offering, in their catelogs long after the War to buy Spencers, even ones that did not work, so they could rework them and sell them on the civilian market. None of these reworks were made by Spencer; but they have now been in existence for 130 or 150 years, and sure match for condition!
I would think that all these early "specimen" carbines would be just that, rifles with shorter carbine barrels. I believe the final carbine design with the carrying ring had not come about yet, but Spencer was trying to drum up interest in the shorter barreled carbines. Apparently they were much less work to drill out the bores with shorter barrels. But there are multiple references to these early versions out there.
 

drm2m

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 22, 2010
Location
Quebec
Here is another one with a much later serial number.

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bobinwmass

Corporal
Joined
Jul 14, 2019
Location
Western Massachusetts
Yes, but the ESA cartouche tells us this one was refurbished afterwards at the Springfield Arsenal. If one wants to use the definition of a carbine to be a longarm with a barrel length shorter than the corresponding rifle of the time, then Spencer did make an unknown number of them from the parts he was using to produce rifles prior to October 1863. These would have serial numbers mixed in with the rifle range, would not have carrying rings, and would be authentic unaltered firearms of the period, despite what others may have done to some rifles after the war. I would call them early carbines.
 

Jeff in Ohio

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Joined
Oct 17, 2015
I would think that all these early "specimen" carbines would be just that, rifles with shorter carbine barrels. I believe the final carbine design with the carrying ring had not come about yet, but Spencer was trying to drum up interest in the shorter barreled carbines. Apparently they were much less work to drill out the bores with shorter barrels. But there are multiple references to these early versions out there.

Always glad to learn more, and I'd like to get info on those references you mentioned about early carbines without the sling rings - I've never heard of those before.
By the way, my favorite Spencer I ever owned was a rifle that went to a fellow from western Massachusetts, a former shoemaker, who was in, I believe, the 37th Mass, and it came to me with a good deal of original paperwork, including a heart rending letter about how, after the War, his wife and toddler daughter fell through ice and drowned - and that included a small child's glove, just what a toddler would have been wearing in a Massachusetts winter.
I did some on line research, and found the grave sites of his first wife and child.
 
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bobinwmass

Corporal
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Jul 14, 2019
Location
Western Massachusetts
Always glad to learn more, and I'd like to get info on those references you mentioned about early carbines without the sling rings - I've never heard of those before.
By the way, my favorite Spencer I ever owned was a rifle that went to a fellow from western Massachusetts, a former shoemaker, who was in, I believe, the 37th Mass, and it came to me with a good deal of original paperwork, including a heart rending letter about how, after the War, his wife and toddler daughter fell through ice and drowned - and that included a small child's glove, just what a toddler would have been wearing in a Massachusetts winter.
I did some on line research, and found the grave sites of his first wife and child.
I would love to own a Spencer identified to a Massachusetts soldier. I do not have multiple references to early carbines lacking the sidebar and carrying ring. I have multiple references to Spencer carbines existing before we get to the 11000 serial range numbers that the carbines we are most familiar with began being mass produced. That these early specimens would have been made from rifle parts and receivers, and lacked the sidebar and carrying ring, can be assumed by two things. First, at the documented time of the most early carbines, Spencer had only just got the factory geared up for the production of rifles. I can't remember where it was that I read when he was ready to begin producing the carbine we are more familiar with, (I was not researching carbines at the time, was researching my rifle with number 7338, made early June 1863), but it was likely not until he was sure of getting a contract. Secondly, such carbines without sidebars and carrying rings, like serial number 1758 on Ridgeway's website, exist. As we know, Spencer numbered the rifles and carbines consecutively as they were made. I find it interesting that serial number 1758 likely would have been made sometime around January 1863, the same date of the letter referenced above by Colonel Chickering. Besides the pretty decent chapter about Spencer's written by Edward's in "Civil War Guns", I have a reprint of a late 1860''s Spencer sales booklet that contains numerous letters from military and political personnel that were solicited by Spencer to help him tout his firearms. Several of them mention carbines well before October 1863, including one where Capt. G. Middleton of the 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry writes March 14, 1863, that he received his carbine the day before and was impressed with it. Another letter from the BG and Acting Chief of Ordnance Massachusetts reports that in May 1863 they were provided with a demonstration of various firearms, the result of which was an order for both rifles and carbines from Spencer (of which they only got 100 rifles as the rest were needed by the Federal government for the War.)
 

Jeff in Ohio

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Oct 17, 2015
I've looked carefully at Marcot's book on Spencers, the standard reference, and he says that the earliest known standard size M1860 Spencer carbine was a prototype, and was serial 7886, pictured and discussed at page 63 on his book.
 

bobinwmass

Corporal
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Jul 14, 2019
Location
Western Massachusetts
I've looked carefully at Marcot's book on Spencers, the standard reference, and he says that the earliest known standard size M1860 Spencer carbine was a prototype, and was serial 7886, pictured and discussed at page 63 on his book.
Don't have Marcot's book, but with my 7338 being made in early June 1863, I would guess 7886 was made later in same month. Can't help but wonder if the carbines mentioned in letters of January and March 1863 by the officers above are still around someplace.
 

Jeff in Ohio

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Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Marcot says that although there were at least one carbine made in smaller size and smaller caliber (he pictures serial #5), the first regular size carbine was 7886, and it was still just a prototype, having installed on it the Sharps sling bar. As it turned out the sharps type sling bar proved too weak, and so Spencer thereafter developed the stronger Spencer sling bar system before the carbine went into production.
 
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