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08-28-2009, 11:47 PM #1Senior Member
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- Oct 2008
The WInchester Model 54 - A Primer
The Winchester Model 54
A few months ago in this forum, I posted an outline of attributes of the prewar Winchester Model 70 rifle. Today, I thought a brief highlight of its predecessor, the Winchester Model 54, might be of interest. The 54 was Winchester’s single high power center fire bolt action rifle produced from 1925 to 1936, at which point it was replaced by the Model 70. The Model 70 was clearly an improvement, but I feel that perhaps its aura has somewhat unduly eclipsed the 54, which was a great rifle in its time. [Following the narrative is a listing with photos of most sub-models features discussed.]
The Model 54 can be divided into several sub configurations. Following the standard 24” barrel rifle, a 20” barrel carbine was introduced in 1927. This early carbine configuration was not limited to a shorter barrel, but also featured a differing stock design. The carbine stock was without checkering but incorporated finger grooves. Both utilized the ‘early’ butt plate design. Later an improved extractor design was introduced and an “A” serial number suffix was assigned to all subsequent models 54 to denote the feature. In mid production, a ‘speed striker mechanism’ improving lock time and ignition reliability was also introduced.
Yet perhaps most fundamental of changes is the reconfiguration that differentiates the first (early) model from the later “NRA” model introduced in 1931. Most notable features of the first model are a lightweight schnabel rifle stock and a distinctively austere carbine stock. Another prominent early model 54 feature was the post style front sight. In contrast, the NRA model featured a single style stock design for both rifle and short rifle (aka carbine). This “NRA” stock eliminated complaints of some of the great NRA affiliated gun writers of the day reporting poor stock ergonomics. The other obvious change was a sleek integral ramp front sight base which replaced the early post type. Finally, a more subtle but noteworthy change was Winchester’s shift from “Nickel Steel” barrels to “Winchester Proof Steel” (chromium-molybdenum alloy) approximate to the NRA model introduction. During the Model 54 production era, several specialized target type models were also introduced. Rarely seen today, they are omitted from this brief outline. During late NRA sub-model production the “Super Grade”, was introduced featuring the handsome stock design that carried into Model 70 S.G. production. Finally, Model 54 configurations cannot be closed without mention of the unique 30W.C.F (aka 30-30 Winchester) chambering which utilized a specially designed receiver. The adaption of the 54 action to this cartridge caused a cascade of necessary changes, cumulating in the unique receiver itself. Such is easily identified by the absence of the rear bridge clip slot configuration found on all other Models 54 (even including the 22 Hornet chambering)! Produced only in the early model, these interesting ’30-30’ bolt rifles and carbines were manufactured just from 1928 until about 1930. Though not considered a ‘rare’ Model 54 chambering, they represented the only discontinued cartridge offering during 54 production.
Factory original features. Model 54 scope mounting holes were present in the front receiver ring and receiver sight mounting holes were in the receiver bridge left side. There were no holes in the bridge top. No magnum cartridge chamberings were offered in the Model 54. Excepting possibly some Super Grade configurations, recoil pads were not offered. All model configurations appear to have been available with Lyman 48 receiver sights from early production. In closing the sub-model discussion, it is noteworthy that in that era, the Winchester factory accommodated special order configurations. Also upon a repair basis, apparently Model 70 bolts were specially configured and substituted by the Winchester upon customer request and subsequently upon necessity when Model 54 bolt supplies were exhausted. All this being said, in the two thirds century since Model 54 production ceased, almost all non-standard production Models 54 features need to be viewed as non-original for valuation purposes.
Collectability. In the shadow of the famous Model 70, for years the Model 54 simply languished as an ‘also ran’. Those days are past and it has now emerged as collectible in its own right. However, I do distinguish fundamentally between it and the Model 70 in value aspects. In most regards, the Model 70 is still an up to date rifle. Where not sufficiently original or otherwise not particularly collectible, it can still bring a respectable price as a great hunting rifle, as the basis for a nice custom or for specialized target use. Not so with the Model 54, which is not recognized for any of these attributes. When not original, its value necessarily depreciates rapidly and substantially. Thus, I divide the Model 54 simply into two value categories: (1) Collectible factory originals (including near original/economically restorable) or (2). Just nice old generic shooters. At a little over 50,000 produced (about one tenth of the total model 70 production numbers), with patience and effort collectible Models 54 can still be purchased at prices well under $1K .
1. Winchester Model 54 Early Model Rifle
2. Winchester Model 54 Early Model Carbine
3. Winchester Model 54 NRA Model Rifle
4. Winchester Model 54 Early Model Front Sight (all sub-models)
5. Winchester Model 54 NRA Model Front Sight (all sub-models)
6. Winchester Model 54 NRA Model Butt Plate
7 Winchester Model 54 Early Model Butt Plate
8 Winchester Model 54 Early Model Steel Nomenclature
9. Winchester Model 54 NRA Model Steel Nomenclature
10. Winchester Model 54 Action (all models except 30WCF chambering)
11. Winchester Model 54 Action in 30 WCF chambering
12. Winchester Model 54 Super Grade Model Rifle
13. Winchester Model 54 Bottom Metal (all except Super Grade)
14. Winchester Model 54 Super Grade Bottom Metal
15. Winchester Model 54 Early Model Caliber Marking
16. Winchester Model 54 NRA Model Caliber Marking
Last edited by iskra; 08-28-2009 at 11:51 PM.
08-29-2009, 05:34 PM #2
Thanks for all the information
Not being much of a Winchester (or Sporting Rifles in general) connossieur I Appreciate anything I can learn thru osmosis here on GunBoards.
Thanks for the Post, It is interesting stuff for sure.
08-29-2009, 07:28 PM #3
Bolt rifles were slow sellers pre-WWII for sure.
The Remington Model 30 didn't sell very well either. The Krag was available and cheap and the Springfield was the "army rifle" and written up in glowing terms. This took care of a lot of the market for bolt action big game rifles. There simply was very little big game hunting available in the lower 48 during the 1920's-1930's except for whitetails in the East (lever gun country). The homesteaders ate many of the deer in the West that the market hunters left behind and elk were very restricted in range with few open seasons. And, the depression was a severe constraint on discretionary spending. Adopting the NRA style stock may have made gunwriters happy but it didn't help sales of the 54 much. I have a 54 (.30/06) that is early style in the 33,xxx range - it reminds me very much of a Husqvarna Model 46 or the Mauser Type B from the same time frame. The receiver is the same work of art in steel that the Model 70 was known for but the combined function trigger and bolt stop seems cheap. Mine is very accurate and lighter to carry than my later model 70 from ca 1950. I do think it was a better rifle than the sales numbers would suggest.
09-02-2009, 09:47 PM #4Member
- Join Date
- Dec 1969
Just flew in from another thread we were both involved in. Somewhat unusual is the fact that both rifles being discussed were M54's of different manufacture.
For many years I've been the caretaker or a Winchester M54 Target in .220 Swift. A nice old rifle, and quite accurate with modern bullets. My question has to do with the possible number of 54 target rifles built, and how many of these might have been in .220 Swift?
I seem to remember having several sealed boxes of Winchester Swift bullets somewhere in the plunder. I'll never personally find out, but also wonder the quality of these bullets. Not something I've ever read or heard about. Any idea?
09-02-2009, 10:35 PM #5Gold Bullet member
- Join Date
- Apr 2009
- West Texas
For years I have lusted after a M-70 22 Hornet but was not willing to pay the premium price. A couple of years ago, I found a M-54 Hornet for 1/2 of what a M-70 was bringing. Needless to say, I bought it and have been very pleased. The 54 has gotten the short end of the stick on collectability, they might be a real sleeper!
09-02-2009, 11:13 PM #6Senior Member
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- Oct 2008
Re the Model 54 Target Rifle
Both Winchester and Schultz & Larsen had such numbers and it is just coincidence that I have recently posted on both.
S&L made the mistake of just tacking on a "J" suffix for the hunting rifle and 54 without this suffix was the target model. Phil Sharpe remarked that this situation occasionally caused troublesome confusion.
Concerning your Winchester Model 54 Target Rifle - Congratulations on what is probably a very nice piece! First the bad news, I cant answer your questions precisely. Your model was produced between 1935 and 36, at the very end of the Model 54 series production, which you probably know from the serial number. Roger Rule in his book "The Rifleman's Rifle" reports that your model was fourth in rarity of ten, behind the Standard (early) Model, NRA Model and Carbine. However in chambering rarity, your 220 Swift is shown there as the eighth most rare out of ten chamberings available across the entire Model 54 series. Just how to interpolate this into final numbers, I don't know. I would just say pretty darn rare! If you are trying to classify for value, originality and condition would account for more than any further statistical result.
I can't competently answer the ammo question.
Hope this helps.
09-03-2009, 09:38 AM #7Member
- Join Date
- Dec 1969
Thanks for the return.
It appears that I'm not the only person a bit confused on any final numbers of Swift chambered Model 54's. My question on numbers has more to do with curiosity than value. Knowing what little I do about the mid-30's, it would seem that throwing tight dollars at a target rifle in a varmint caliber did not often happen through those years.
The Swift bullet question is also curiousity. I've tested all manner of bullets from that era that were contained in partial boxes. The results were far from great. When testing my M54 Winchester target, I used Remington 52 grain BR bullets. The results were under 1/2 minute, which offered proof to me of a very good barrel.
09-05-2009, 08:10 PM #8Senior Member
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- May 2009
I would love to get my grubby little paws on a Winchester Model
54 in .250-3000, not a closet queen, but a shooter.
09-06-2009, 12:14 AM #9
Thanks so much for posting about the Winchester Model 54. You pointed out several features about the .30-30 chambered Model 54s that I'd not considered before. I have a Model 54 Carbine that I enjoy using. I posted a story about it on a private forum on which I participate.
This handy and very accurate little rifle was acquired from my good friend Cres Lawson who was a long time shooting bud, 50 years older than I. He bought it brand new from William Crites gun shop in San Antonio, Texas after Christmas in 1928, just before he and his dad left for their annual month long deer hunt at their ranch in Mexico. Cres wanted an accurate and handy rifle for use on horseback. He told me that Mr. Crites had a dozen or so of the Model 54 .30-30 carbines on the rack in the shop that were received on clearance from Winchester. They were marked $30 and Cres traded a Savage Model 20 bolt action .250-3000 and $10 that he'd borrowed from his mother for this rifle. He mounted a Lyman aperture sight on it which makes it so much more effective in use.
Cres shot two deer with it right off, the day after their arrival, a couple of bucks browsing. The first dropped in its tracks and the second only looked at his fallen comrade and kept browsing so Cres took it as well, its body falling across the first one. After 12 years and quite a few deer, he last used it in deer season of 1940 in Gillespie County, Texas, one more taking two deer at the same time.
At the end of January 1929, the day before they were to leave on the train to return from Mexico to their home in San Antonio, Cres took this little rifle and rode over to an adjoining ranch which was also owned by an American to say goodbye. The fellow said that he'd been seeing a large buck in a field in late afternoon and would Cres like to take it. Cres was up for it so they saddled up a couple of the rancher's horses and rode out to the field. Sure enough when they arrived this great buck was in the field. Cres asked the rancher if the horse was fine with a rifle being discharged from the saddle. The rancher said yes so Cres essayed a shot at the buck, killing him. Cres didn't get the satisfaction of observing the bullet strike because, as he said:
"The next thing I knew I was completely prone in mid air with my rifle sailing off towards Jones."
Scrambling to his feet as the horse continued to buck away, he complained to the rancher who was laughing uproariously.
"I thought you said I could shoot from astride your horse".
"Well you can...once" came the reply as the rancher howled with glee, the tears streaming down his cheek.
Cres looked around for his new rifle, chagrined to see it stobbed muzzle down in the soft earth with it's butt stock sticking straight up at the sky.
They field dressed the buck, loaded him up on a hired hand's convenient mule and headed back towards home, the rancher just completely dissolved in laughter.
This region was mostly jungle and they were traversing a portion of it to return to the ranch house. The rancher was still chuckling and poking fun at Cres but not paying attention to his horse which had veered off the jungle path and stopped abruptly in front of some thick brush. The rancher kicked up the horse to force him on through the brush and suddenly disappeared from Cres' view. It was as the earth had swallowed him up.
Immediately though Cres became aware of a tremendous thrashing and flailing about along with a monumental barrage of cussin' all coming from out of the ground. It seems that the rancher inattentively compelled his horse to dive into one of the many sink holes common to the locale. He sent his horse headlong into a 12 foot deep pit full of tangled brush.
Cres felt it was some justice for the treatment he'd received earlier and razzed the rancher for the remainder of the ride back to the hacienda.
This rifle has the smoothest bore I've ever seen. One may fire several boxes of jacketed bullets through it and clean it in a jiffy with no copper fouling to contend with. With careful sighting off the bench rest I've obtained several five-shot groups of 1 1/2-inch, 1 1/3-inch, and even 1 1/4-inch at 100 yards. In hunting I've taken deer from 25 yards to 130 yards with it. I've always used Sierra 170 grain flat nosed bullets.
I assumed it'd be tailor-made for use with spitzer bullets since it is fed from the box magazine but it wants no part of them. I've tried seating bullets out and also different seating depths but it won't shoot them like it will the 150 and 170 grain flat nose bullets made for the lever action .30-30s. It'll even handle the 125 grain flat nose that Sierra made (may still make them) to useful velocity and with good accuracy.
It'd likely be a great cast bullet shooter but I've not explored that aspect of shooting it.
The Model 54 was not popular in .30-30 and the carbine is an uncommon variation so the combination is somewhat scarce. Cres told me that the only other Model 54 .30-30 carbines he ever saw were in the hands of some guards in a Mexican prison in the mid 1930s. He said their rifles were in absolutely wretched condition. I never got around to asking him what he was doing in a Mexican prison.
I must have seen one of these rifles at a Dallas gun show some years ago. It was gray metal and rust with a broken and repaired stock that looked all dried and shrunken. The integral front sight was worn down to a nub and would have been useless for sighting the rifle. The rear sight was missing it's elevator. The bore had that newly plowed field look about it, all ravaged by corrosive priming and neglect. That's the only other .30-30 chambered Winchester Model 54 carbine I've ever seen.
Last edited by noelekal; 09-06-2009 at 12:31 AM.
09-06-2009, 12:17 PM #10Senior Member
- Join Date
- Oct 2008
Re the Win 54
Hi Jericho. Good luck on finding that Model 54 in 250-3000. They were offered from late in 1931 to end of production in 1936. Then carried over into Model 70 production. Rare, such will undoubtedly be pricy if collectible. I have a Model 70 barrel that was rechambered from 22 Hornet to 222 Remington. (These occasional conversions usually were at best finicky and at worst resulted in chronic feeding problems.) But the bore is great and the front sight is the integral forged style. Someday I will rechamber it to 250-3000 and put it on a Model 70 action now wearing well worn 243 Win barrel. By then my barrel will have been stamped and restamped twice for caliber, so there is no danger of it ever being taken as an original. More just recycling decent components.
Congratulations noelekal on what appears a quite clean, original little carbine. Also thanks for sharing the history. I’ve owned a lot of guns over many years of collecting. To my recollection only a few were original-owner purchases and none with any interesting history provided.
As to rarity of the Model 54 30-30 carbine, I offer the following observations. Roger Rule, in his book, “The Rifleman’s Rifle”, lists ten principal models of the 54 and also 10 factory chamberings. He records the carbine as the third most common of ten and the 30-30 chambering as the fourth most common of ten. So technically, it would not really seem so unusual.
Now, my unscientific opinion based purely on personal observations over a lot of years. Most common by far seems to be the first (early) model rifle in 30-06. It seems so much more common that all the other models (technically sub-models) of the 54 seem comparatively rare today. If you add the originality factor, all Models 54 seem uncommon to say the least. The main non-originality factor is scoping. As scopes became ever more popular, many were drilled and fitted with the common scope mounts of the day. Although undoubtedly modernizing the rifle, it terminated a distinct originality factor. Ironically, available from the nineteen thirties were Stith brand mounts. They cleverly utilized factory original sight mounting features to accomplish the same thing. Models 54 and early Models 70 (which also lacked rear bridge-top holes) with these Stith mounts normally bring a premium nowadays if they also are otherwise original. The second, and also common, non-originality factor is the addition of recoil pads. Most of these are now brittle, crumbling affairs unless at least postwar additons/replacements.
There were clearly many Models 54 offered in 270 Winchester chambering, which was the second most common chambering after the 30-06. Strangely not many are seen today. I would say that the ratio of 30-06 chamberings I have seen compared to 270 is at least 20 to one. The carbines are uncommon, but are occasionally encountered. By far, most seen are in the first model. Of these, the 30-30 seems predominant (and was only available in the first model). When found, they tend to be in more original condition than their rifle counterparts. Your gun show experience regarding a ‘beater’ carbine has paralleled mine. The good news seems to be that the30-30 carbines do tend to be more original. The bad news is that they tend to have been working guns and used much more harshly than any other model/chambering I have seen. Perhaps most such have gone down the road to ‘parts guns’. If so, that might also explain the apparent difference between production numbers and they fact they are not commonly encountered. In addition to my carbine in 30-30, I also have a rifle in that chambering. Perhaps only coincidental, it is the only rifle model that I have ever seen in that caliber.. Therefore, arbitrarily, I count the Model 54 30-30 rifle more uncommon. (They were also only available in the first model.)
Finally as to pricing, your friend seemingly got quite a bargain in his purchase. When introduced in 1927, the carbines retailed in the low $40 range. If the receiver sight your carbine wears is original from the factory that would have added about $10 to the price. But I expect that it was a subsequent addition since it would have been a bit inconsistent in the context of carbine usage, particularly in the 30-30 chambering. I don’t believe that Winchester would have likely reduced the factory price so much when it was purchased in 1928. Then the carbine models were still new on the market. Also in those days, most ordinary guns shops could never have afforded to stock so many identical pieces. Given the accuracy of the facts, my best guess would be an order cancellation from which the shop was able to buy from a distressed distributor at a fire sale price. Even then, I’m surprised that Winchester would not have offered a repurchase to protect their pricing structure.
Thanks for sharing that nice piece and the interesting account of its history!
09-06-2009, 03:51 PM #11
Thank you for the comments about the story!
Perhaps some additional comment is called for regarding pricing of the carbine. My friend worked part time for Mr. Crites for several years while home from college so it could be that he got a "deal."
In conversations held with Cres about other guns in his collection originating from Crites gun shop, he remarked that he was generally given a nice discount. He bought and swapped a number of firearms there from the early 20s through the early 30s. I acquired several of these guns along with others from him after age had denied him his shooting vision. I was careful to document all the histories and stories of each one. I'm a sentimental sucker.
I mention another of his rifles here.
09-06-2009, 09:50 PM #12Senior Member
- Join Date
- May 2009
I understand that several Model 54s in .30-30 were rechambered
to .30-40 Krag by private gunsmiths. I saw a 54 carbine in .30-06
today at a gunshow, didnt check the price.