Author Topic: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer  (Read 1091 times)

Offline SpencerCurious

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Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« on: October 30, 2020, 08:10:48 PM »
Last weekend I visited my mom who is currently cataloguing my late stepfathers firearms collection. I became intrigued by one particular piece and chose it to research. Although my stepdad was meticulous in researching his collection, he had been very ill the last couple of years and we do not know where his more recent write-ups were stored. The one mention of this gun was one line from a 2014 inventory, 1860 Spencer Repeater, 50%. I wish I had had the time to do more online research before having to leave. I have become a bit obsessively curious about Spencers as I have researched them this past week, and I am sorry to say I do not even know if the gun in question was a rifle or a carbine.

That said, there is one thing that we have had no luck at all figuring out. On the top of the shoulder stock (which I now know think? is called the comb), there is a weird not-quite-symmetrical metal plate attached with two nails? pins? I dont really know. My mom sent me the attached photo which is so out of focus that the plate looks smooth, but it actually has engraving.

Line 1 is unreadable from wear
Line 2 is unreadable because one of the pins goes through it
Line 3 says New York
Underneath these lines of very small print is a larger 4

I know it is pretty impertinent of me to ask for help on the basis of so little hard evidence, but might anyone have any idea at all what this plate could mean?

Edit - for some reason all my apostrophes and quotation marks got weird so I updated to get rid of them.

Offline Two Flints

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2020, 05:38:29 AM »
See if your mom can get more photos of the Spencer - full view of the Spencer, and if possible get the serial # of the Spencer found on top of the receiver.

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Offline SpencerCurious

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2020, 09:10:11 AM »
I didn’t have a chance to give her your excellent tips on photography because she’d sent me these when I woke up this morning. The SN is 57548.

In two of the photos you can see a better idea of the placement of our mystery plate.

She also sent a close-up photo of the trigger which I hadn’t noticed but which she pointed out is very different from photos we’ve found online.


Offline Cap'n Redneck

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2020, 11:10:00 AM »
You have a Spencer that has been quite extensively sporterized.  It has an octagonal barrel fitted instead of the round rifle/carbine barrel that it would have had originally.  It has had "double set triggers" fitted instead of the single military trigger.  They are adjustable and allows for a very fine trigger pull.
It has also had the sling bar and sling-ring removed.
It looks to me like the rear sight is broken, with the rearmost part including the sight notch missing?

Our question now will be: is it in .50 caliber or .46 bottleneck caliber?

BTW; the location of the brass plate is not on the comb (that's where you rest your cheek when aiming), but on the wrist of the stock.

One can SPECULATE that this gun was purchased from the Army by a dismissed soldier at the end of the WBTS.  He took it home and had it customized by a local gunsmith to fit his target-shooting / hunting / self-defense needs.  And he fitted the brass plate as a memory of his service with the "4th. New York Infantry / Cavalry"...?
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Offline SpencerCurious

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2020, 11:54:54 AM »
Thank you so much for that feedback, Capn Redneck! You were able to give me more information than I’ve been able to put together all week long. I called my mom and read her your comments, and at the end she said she had found another note somewhere. Joe had it down as a .56 rim. From some quick googling, I take it that’s not the best way to determine caliber, and of course it could have been a typo and he meant to type either .50 or .46? But there’s that information for whatever it may be worth.

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #5 on: Today at 12:57:24 PM »

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2020, 12:12:45 PM »
The best way to determine the caliber would be to slug the bore. As the octagon barrel could be anything, it wouldn't tell what the original cartridge was. It could have been a .56-.56 which were the outside diameter of the original #56 (coincidentally) cartridge of the M1860 rifles and carbines.  The position of the brass plate on the wrist of the stock might have been to cover screw holes for a rear sight. Given the engraving, perhaps not.
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Offline Cap'n Redneck

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2020, 12:35:11 PM »
All Spencer cartridges were based off of the #56 cartridge, that has a base diameter of about .56", as Trailrider writes.
Then they improved this cartridge twice by giving it a slight taper; first as the .56-52, then the .56-50.
The .56-46 was a bottleneck cartridge developed by Spencer for civilian / sporting purposes.
It will be quite evident that the bore-diameter at the muzzle is around .45" and not .50" in such case.

Does the top of the receiver have the Spencer marking?
(some Spencers were also made by the Burnside Company in Rhode Island...)
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Offline SpencerCurious

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2020, 12:57:54 PM »
More photos as requested. The close-up makes the engraving look almost smoothed out, but when I was there I was able to use side lighting to fully make out

SPENCER REPEATING
RIFLE CO. BOSTON, MASS
PAT’D MARCH 6, 1860

I included the less close-up photo she sent as well, because (at least in the original quality on my phone) I can zoom in on the metal plate and make out the 4.

Offline Cap'n Redneck

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2020, 02:44:21 PM »
I was able to enlarge the photo of the brass plate enough to read the "New York" and the "4".
My impression is that the text is not engraved, but rather stamped /die struck into the metal.

It also looks like the whole brass plate sits proud of the wood? (on top of the wood, rather than countersunk into the wood?) 
If it is indeed so then it suggests to me that this is not an engraved and inletted "thumb plate" as is customary on high-end sporting guns, but rather some sort of home-made "trench art", where the text "New York" + "4" was utilized from a piece of brass already stamped so.

Ah; if only the gun itself could talk...?!!  ::)

It would be interesting to see photos of the front of the forearm, and the metal buttplate?

As it is stated in another thread on this forum, the Spencer company used standard buttplates on their sporting guns, whereas the Hawken / Gemmer-conversions used a modified buttplate that more closely resembled the crescent-shaped "Kentucky-rifle" buttplates.

https://americansocietyofarmscollectors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2011-B103-Spencer-Sporting-Rifles.pdf
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Offline Major 2

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2020, 02:47:16 PM »
What you may just have there is a Spencer Sporting Rifle Conversion by J.P. Gemmer.

EDIT:  Capt. Redneck, beat me to the punch  :)
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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #10 on: Today at 12:57:24 PM »

Offline El Supremo

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2020, 03:29:32 PM »
Hello and welcome:

A couple other things might apply:

Double-set triggers are usually accompanied by a "fly" (pivoting half cock protector) concealed within the lock mechanism on the tumbler to prevent the sear from striking the half cock notch during forward rotation when rearward finger pressure does not keep lifting pressure on the sear. Whew! Please visualize this.

WHILE carefully holding the hammer rearward, release the trigger, take your finger off the trigger and slowly allow the restrained hammer forward, feeling for any contact with the half cock notch.  If no contact, there is probably a "fly" fitted to the original tumbler by a 'smith. I am unaware of any original military isses Spencers with flies.  I have seen them on custom sporters. 

If there is felt contact, something is probably amiss and requires professional inspection.
Do not "snap" the hammer until a pro examines it.

At this point I do not recommend removal of the lock unless you are skilled. Some are closely fitted and removal chips wood at the rear end of the plate inletting.  If tempted, the hammer must be at half cock so the sear will not chip a section of inletting. 

This trigger may release BOTH as a regular trigger with full weight on the unset trigger or as a set trigger.
Careful test rotation with hammer restraint should show this.

Some plates on the top of the wrist were fillers or overlays on spots where the thin wood over the magazine tube let loose or was worn through.  I want to recall pictures on our Forum, but cannot find them.

Thanks for sharing.  Will be waiting for more details. 

All the best,
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Offline Dave Fox

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2020, 01:28:47 PM »
Don't know how thick the wood is at the wrist, but could that plate hide a spot once occupied by a tangent sight?

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2020, 02:10:39 PM »
I was kinda thinking the same thing! With no barrel-mounted sight it would be logical to have mounted a tang sight, especially for a sporting rifle.
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Offline Jack Wagon

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #13 on: November 01, 2020, 05:26:45 PM »
Very interesting, thanks for posting. I also have a Spencer carbine, like yours converted to a mountain rifle by some unknown gunsmith. The metal plate on the left wrist is for a sling ring bar for a single point sling for cavalry use. My rifle also has a metal plate in the wrist, but mine is drilled and tapped for a tang sight that is now missing and an octagon barrel.  My rifle is equipped with a single set trigger which performs the same functions as double set triggers. Originally a 56-50 or 52, mine has been re-chambered to a 56- 46 Spencer. The famous mountain man Liver Eatin' Johnson carried a similar rifle. You might find this article interesting. https://www.historynet.com/the-hawken-spencer-rifle-was-a-crossbreed-in-western-armament.htm    Jw
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Offline El Supremo

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #14 on: November 02, 2020, 05:56:02 AM »
Thanks, Jack Wagon:

I agree on Spencer tang sights being on the top of the stock wrist.
The wood there is thin and makes a sight base seem fragile to me.

How about a close photo of the wrist sight base plate on yours, please?
.
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Offline Jack Wagon

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #15 on: November 02, 2020, 10:27:38 AM »
No problem El Supremo, here is a close up of the sight base on the wrist of my rifle.  Jw
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Offline Jack Wagon

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #16 on: November 02, 2020, 10:58:34 AM »
Just for comparison, here is the Spencer factory tang sight set up.  Jw
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Offline El Supremo

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #17 on: November 02, 2020, 11:28:27 AM »
Thanks, Jack Wagon:
Big help. 
Yours have relatively substantial bases.
I see the brass bumps on the wrist under the folded staff.
Any thoughts on them, please?
Tx.
Kevin
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Offline Jack Wagon

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #18 on: November 02, 2020, 12:12:13 PM »
Kevin, Apparently those small brass tacks were added by the owner to protect the wood from the sight when it is folded back.  That rifle has a fancy burl walnut stock he must have paid extra for. Jw
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Offline Jack Wagon

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Re: Question about metal plate on 1860 Spencer
« Reply #19 on: November 03, 2020, 09:42:51 AM »
SpencerCurious   My best guess would be a unit marking tag from it's military or state militia days. I think  Spencers like yours converted to mountain rifles for western use are very cool. If you look very close on the top barrel flat, sometimes the builder will put his mark  there. If you see Gemmer or Hawken you've hit a home run. Thanks for posting.   Jw
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