In the public imagination, the lever-action rifle par excellence is the Winchester. Thanks to hundreds of movies and TV series set in the Far West, the repeating rifle produced by Oliver Fisher Winchester from 1866 together with the Colt 1873 revolver became one of the most recognizable items of American folklore.
But the Winchester was not the only lever gun of the day, and one of its most direct competitors was invented by Christopher Miner Spencer and produced from 1860 by the Spencer Repeating Rifle Company based in Boston, Massachusetts.
Originally chambered in the .56-56 proprietary caliber, the Spencer was a repeating gun with a rotating block operated by a lever that also acted as a trigger guard. The tubular magazine was inside the stock and could hold seven cartridges.
As well as a brilliant inventor, Christopher Spencer was a skilled businessman too and in 1863, during the Civil War, he tried to sell his rifle to the Unionist army, but the red tape seemed insurmountable.
Sure of the worthiness of his rifle he asked and obtained a meeting with President Abraham Lincoln who, to his great surprise, asked him to try the weapon himself. The next day Spencer, Lincoln and his son Todd met in a shooting range and fired many test shots. At the end of the meeting, Lincoln asked Spencer to lend him the rifle and some ammo. The following day Lincoln was seen firing again with the Spencer rifle, this time in the company of his secretary John Hay. Persuaded by the excellent qualities of the weapon, President Lincoln ordered the War Ministry to proceed with the purchase of the Spencer rifle.
The fact that the tubular magazine was inside the stock, and not under the barrel as in the Henry and Winchester rifles, pleased the military who appreciated this particularity of the Spencer rifle.
A total of 230,000 rifles were acquired, partly produced by the Spencer Repeating Rifle Company, partly licensed to the Burnside Rifle Company. The Spencer proved to be a very reliable weapon, and its only weak point turned out to be the .56-56 cartridge loaded with black powder, that wasn’t very powerful and limited the rifle’s effective range, but in close combat it had no rivals thanks to the magazine in the stock that allowed for the use of real "tubular speed loaders" with which the riflemen could reload the weapon in few seconds. The carbine version of the Spencer also armed the 7th Cavalry commanded by the famous general George Armstrong Custer.
The Spencer rifle replica by Armi Chiappa
Armi Chiappa produces a replica of the Spencer rifle in as many as six versions:
- Rifle with 30 in barrel (76 cm) in caliber 44-40 or .45 Long Colt.
- Rifle with 30 in barrel and three bands, caliber 56-50.
- Carbine with 20 in (51 cm) barrel in caliber .44-40, .45 Colt or 56-50.
- Carbine with 22 in (56 cm) barrel in .44 Russian caliber (on request.
Common features shared by all the models include the oil-finished walnut wood, the color case hardened finish of the frame and the blued barrel, which has a round section. The tubular magazine has a capacity of seven rounds.
Sights consist of an adjustable front sight and an adjustable ladder back sight. The length of the Rifle model is 44-in / 1120 mm with a weight of 169.3 oz / 4.8 kilograms, while the Carbine is 37.3-in / 940 mm long and weighs 144.6 oz / 4,100 kg.
The Armi Chiappa Spencer is a replica built with modern materials and numerical control techniques that guarantee maximum reliability and safety. As for the 56-50 caliber for which there are no commercial loadings, Armi Chiappa can supply both the cartridge cases and the balls and dies needed for home reloading.
The Armi Chiappa Spencer revives a weapon that in its own way made the history of the West, like the Winchester, the Sharps and the Remington Rolling Block, perhaps less known to the general public but still much loved by fans of Western history.
Prices start at around 1750 euro.