Many years ago I had temporary care, on behalf of my nephew, of a rifle from a deceased estate. The ‘old rifle’ is a Winchester Model 1890 in .22 WRF (more on this unusual cartridge later).
It’s a little pump gun with a nice octagonal barrel, notable surface rust (ahem, patina), a very dirty bore, the action stiff in operation and stock in desperate need of refinishing.
So just what is it about this ‘old rifle’ that makes it interesting ?
The Winchester 1890
The model 1890 was the first slide (pump) action rifle produced by Winchester, as they had previously concentrated on the popular lever action repeaters. It went on to become one of the company’s best selling small calibre firearms worldwide. The rifle, designed by brothers John and Matthew Browning, was available chambered for the .22 Short, Long, and Winchester Rim fire cartridges, but not interchangeably. It wasn’t until 1919 that the .22 LR cartridge was also offered. The rifle was a slide action, top ejecting rifle with 18” magazine tube under the barrel. All Model 1890’s were furnished standard with plain walnut straight stocks, a crescent butt plate and 12 groove slide handle, however over time three distinct variations emerged.
Solid frame, 24” octagonal barrel, case hardened frame, fixed rear sight. Manufactured from 1890 to 1892, It is thought that 15,552 of these first models were produced. They are distinguished by their concealed locking lugs and solid frame. They are serial numbered on the lower tang only.
Takedown, 24” octagonal barrel, case hardened frame, adjustable rear sight. Serial numbered (on lower tang only) from 15,553 to 112,970. They retain the concealed locking lugs but add the takedown feature. A Deluxe version was available featuring fancy walnut chequered straight or pistol grip stock and grooved slide handle.
Second Model. (Blued frame variation).
Distinguished only by the frame being blued rather than case hardened, but otherwise identical to other Second models. Serial numbered from 112,971 to 325,250. (From number 232,328 the serial number was also stamped into the bottom front end of the receiver as well as the lower tang).
A Deluxe version was also available.
Takedown, 24” octagonal barrel, blued frame, adjustable rear sight. Serial numbered from 325,251 to as high as 853,000 it is clearly the most common of the 1890 model types. (The serial number is stamped into the bottom front end of the receiver as well as the lower tang). Distinguished by the locking cut made on the front top of the receiver to allow the breech bolt to lock externally. A Deluxe version was also available.
The Model 1890 was produced from 1890 to 1932, with around 775,000 guns sold. Values can vary enormously according to model, chambering, and condition.
If you are fortunate enough to have an excellent condition First Model (standard grade) then in 2001 an expert would have appraised it at around USD $9,000. A Case hardened Second Model Deluxe in excellent condition would fetch even more at around USD $10,000, though even a poor one would command USD $1,000. Interestingly because the .22LR was only introduced during the third model run they command a 25% premium.
This particular 1890 Third Model
The 'old rifle' is a standard grade gun, serial numbered in the 738,000’s which makes it a late production model (probably around 1930), and given that it is in poor condition it would be worth no more than USD $500 but probably much less. In this case however the value is sentimental and historical, rather than monetary. For my nephew it is a connection with his grandfather, not a term deposit.
The Successors to the 1890
The Model 1906 was designed as a lower cost version of the 1890. While using the same receiver it was fitted with a 20” round barrel and gumwood stock. In 1908 it was altered so that it could shoot the .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle cartridges interchangeably, making it a very flexible and cheaper (about two-thirds the cost of an 1890) option ensuring its success.
The Model 62 that replaced both these earlier models, featured a 23” round barrel, combined the ability to shoot the .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle cartridges interchangeably (from the 1906) with some of the 1890’s finer finish features, as well as incorporating a few “modern” manufacturing refinements to the basic Browning action. What if I want to buy a new one? Well, maybe.
Picture from taurususa.com
The Taurus M62R is, as the model number suggests, modelled after the Winchester Model 62. It has a 23” barrel, with a tube magazine holding thirteen .22 LR rounds only. Metalwork is stainless steel, contrasting with dark stained timber stock.
Naturally the Taurus features some concessions to modern design such as a safety mechanism, which was not seen back in the days of the 1890. In 2004 it was available at an RRP of $600. I'm unsure if it's still available new, perhaps someone can enlighten me. Keep an eye out on BuyUsedGuns and one may pop up eventually.
The .22 WRF Cartridge
The .22 WRF (Winchester Rim Fire) was designed specifically for the Model 1890 slide action rifle. It was later adapted to Remington and Stevens Rifles as well as Colt Revolvers. While the Winchester round used a flattened point bullet, when Remington manufactured for the cartridge they used a round nose bullet and the name .22 Remington Special. (These cartridges are otherwise identical and the name simply points to the fact that Remington did not want the name Winchester to appear on any of their rifles. Times have changed in these days of WSMs and WSSMs haven’t they!)
Chuck Hawks tells us that “The .22WRF fires a 45 grain, copper-plated, lead semi-wadcutter style bullet at a velocity of 1,320 fps and 175 ft. lbs. of energy at the muzzle of a 22" rifle barrel.
The sectional density (SD) of the 45 grain WRF bullet is .128”. Winchester also offered a 40 grain Hollow Point bullet. As its size would suggest, the .22WRF fits in between the .22LR and .22 Magnum as a hunting cartridge. This is the time to sound a note of caution. The cases of the.22WRF and .22 Magnum (WMR) are slightly larger in diameter (using a .224” bullet) than a .22LR case (which use a .220” bullet). Thus, while a .22LR cartridge will fit into a .22WRF chamber it should not be used in one. The .22WRF will not go into a .22LR chamber, so don’t try! Similarly a .22WRF cartridge will fit into a .22 Magnum (WMR) chamber but CCI warn against doing so.
Due to the relative rarity of firearms chambered for the .22WRF cartridge, it is no longer catalogued by Remington. Winchester and CCI occasionally produce runs of .22WRF ammunition. The CCI round is loaded with a jacketed Hollow point bullet. I have been unable to find any data on the Winchester wound. Ammunition is imported from time to time by Nioa - check with your preferred gunshop to see when they can get some for you (should you have the need).