Curious Relics #023: A Necessary Evil – Winchester 1887 Shotgun
Welcome, if you are a newcomer to this fun bi-weekly segment of AllOutdoor.com! The last time around I covered the elusive Winchester Liberator Shotgun. I went over the history, variations, specifications, and how many are around. This time around I am extremely excited because I get to go over one of my favorite firearms ever: the Winchester 1887 Shotgun! Unfortunately, I myself do not own a true old Winchester, but rather a Chiappa Reproduction. My father helped me buy it when I was in high school so that I could use my dream gun for trap shooting and I have ever since. I have hesitated to do a Curious Relics on the Winchester 1887 because I do not have an actual one to work with. Thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum I had the chance to take some photos of the ones that they have on display and I figured that was a perfect opportunity to get this gun out of the way and onto the internet! Let’s dive right into the rabbit hole!
Note: Some pictures of a Winchester 1887 are actually my Chiappa 1887 provided for closer details. The biggest giveaway is the color case hardened receiver on my personal shotgun. For anyone interested in learning more about my experience with the Chiappa 1887 specifically, you can find that information at the link here.
Welcome to our recurring series of “Curious Relics.” Here, we want to share all of our experiences, knowledge, misadventures, and passion for older firearms that one might categorize as a Curio & Relic – any firearm that is at least 50 years old according to the ATF. Hopefully along the way you can garner a greater appreciation for older firearms like we do, and simultaneously you can teach us things as well through sharing your own expertise and thoughts in the Comments. Understanding the firearms of old, their importance, and their development which lead to many of the arms we now cherish today is incredibly fascinating and we hope you enjoy what we have to share, too!
History Abridged: The Winchester 1887 Lever-Action Shotgun
With the extreme boom and popularity of Winchester repeating rifles in the late 1800s Winchester themselves made efforts to ever expand their catalog and become lever-action legends. Since a majority of their successful products were handed to them by none other than John Moses Browning, they once again turned to him with a request. They asked him to build them a repeating shotgun to piggyback off of the success of their rifles. John Browning famously expressed disinterest in the whole idea of a lever-action shotgun. This was due to the designs in his head that he was planning for the future would make all his previous designs completely obsolete. He suggested to Winchester to make it a slide action or pump, but they declined since they were a well-known lever-action company. Despite his grievances, he went to work, and in a short time he churned out a shotgun he had little love for, the Winchester 1887 lever-action shotgun.
The Winchester 1887 shotgun featured a rolling block style of lockup and only supported black powder loads of 12 gauge 2 ⅝” and 10-ga 2 ⅞” shells. Commercially at first, it was offered in a standard 30-inch barrel, but a 32 inch barreled model could be special ordered… in case 30 inches was not enough. Later starting around 1888 shorter 20-inch barrels were also offered and typically sold to stagecoach agencies, police departments, and railroad officials. These agencies and some hunting enthusiasts eventually requested more barrel lengths which then could be ordered at 18, 22, 24, 26, 28-inch barrel lengths. The barrels themselves were either made from the typical steel at the time, but a small number were also offered in Damascus.
Note: A fun piece of information is that I have seen some references to an experimental 1887 that was made and later dismissed very early on. This experimental shotgun was actually a rifle using the same action as the shotgun and it was intended to fire the ginormous .50-170 cartridge. This cartridge would look similar to a Martini-Henry .577/450 in that the base would have a diameter and rim like a shotshell, but would then be necked down to accept a rifle bullet. In this case, that bullet would be 700-900 grains! The barrels for these experimental Winchesters are said to be smooth bore until the last six inches which would be rifled. From all of my research, I never found a definitive photo of this gun. Some sources claimed that there are three surviving examples out there, but I searched to no avail.
The Winchester 1887 was made from 1887 until 1898 and boasted production numbers of almost 65,000. The reception was pretty warm, but never absolutely took off. The introduction of John Browning’s 1893 and 1897 Winchester pump-action shotguns definitely affected sales of the 1887 which still used black powder shotgun shells. Three years after the ceasing of production of the 1887, Winchester began a revival of it in the form of the model 1901. The Model 1901 was supposed to be a modernized version. The biggest change was it was now made to handle smokeless loads of 10 gauge. It was only ever made in 10 Gauge and this was Winchester making sure that the new, improved 1887 did not affect sales of the 1897 pump. The Winchester Model 1901 also had some enhanced safety features.
Dating: The Winchester 1887 Lever-Action Shotgun
Dating these shotguns is actually pleasantly simple. There are many resources to find them on the internet and all have to do with serial number ranges. This particular one is from gun-data.com. They have done an excellent job tracking all of these numbers down and have many other serial numbers tracking on their website. Take note of how only around 14,00 of the total 64,00 we made from 1893 to 1899. This small production chunk is undoubtedly due to the introduction of Winchester’s pump-action shotguns, the 1893 and 1897.
Photo Credit: GunData.com
End of Part One: The Winchester 1887 Lever-Action Shotgun
If you keep up with this segment then you know the drill. I have to cut things up before they get too long and the 1887 is just too interesting not to. I hope you guys enjoyed the history aspect and maybe have some serial number searching to do. Take care and I will see you at the next one!
In closing, I hope our Curious Relics segment informed as well as entertained. This all was written in hopes of continued firearm appreciation and preservation. We did not just realize how guns were supposed to look and function. It was a long and tedious process that has shaped the world we live in. So, I put it to you! Is there a firearm out there that you feel does not get much notoriety? What should our next Curious Relics topic cover? As always, let us know all of your thoughts in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.