Skip to content

History of the Spencer Shotgun. Part 3 of 3, Model differences, Breakdown, Myths, and Pictures.

Part 3 of 3:

This section will focus first on specific design differences and how to differentiate each model easily. Later we will also show breakdown and pics of the parts, lots of period specific pictures of them, myths and misnomers that have been spread throughout the years, and more. It will be very pic heavy and as detailed as i can make it, and include facts that i have found recently through actual hands on experiences that directly contradict current understanding. One of these is barrel construction methods.

See part 2  HERE


Model Types


1882 Spencer

This is the first model of the Spencer shotgun. Approximately 800 were made between 1884 and 1885 in Windsor. Their first catalog printed in 1885 listed 3 grades of shotguns and these were available with 30 or 32 inch barrels, with shorter barrels available “by custom order”. They were 7 3/4 to 8 1/2lbs depending on barrel length and grades: These are easiest to identify by long control plates and the single screw on those along with them all having the trombone grip

-Grade A, Finest Italian Walnut, pistol grip, Turkish Damascus barrel, Extra engraved…. $100
-Grade B, Fancy English Walnut stock, pistol grip, damascus steel barrel…. $80
-Grade C, English Walnut stock, pistol grip, Laminated(most likely fluid steel with etched pattern) barrel, no engraving…. $60

-Model 1882


1886 Spencer

In 1886 the second model was released with the only difference being the “SPENCER ARMS.CO.WINDSOR.CT.U.S.A.PAT.APR.1882” markings added to the top of the barrel, some guard models having a longer forend, and a second screw added to the top of the control plates. These had the same 3 grades of gun available and barrel lengths as well. They were 7 3/4 to 8 1/2lbs depending on barrel length and grades, and there were about 1,300 of these 12 gauge models made in their only year of production. Serial numbers range from around 800-2100. Four grades of these models were available, with the newly introduced “Grade D” model being the most affordable. These are easiest to identify by a long control plate but dual screws


-Model 1866 guard gun(one of the 345 used by the prisons).


1887 Spencer

The third and final model produced by the Windsor plant was the Model 1887, made from 1887 till bankruptcy in 1889. Less than 1000 of these were made in the final 3 years of production and it was not enough to sustain the company. This led to financial pressure by late 1899 and soon became bankruptcy, as payments to creditors and machinery companies like Pratt and Whitney(who owned the tooling)stopped and could no longed be payed. Four grades of these models were available, with the newly introduced “Grade D” model being the most affordable. A 12 gauge rifle was listed as being available as well on some of the ads. The only other differences present here were a new thumbscrew in the magtube for easier takedown, smaller right side control plate, and a lower priced “D” Grade model at $45. Serial numbers range from 2100 to ~3000. The one pictured below was a VERY late one with the Bannerman style rubber forend rather than a 1886 grooved wooden “guard gun” style one. These are easiest to identify by the short control plates with 2 screws and lack of Bannerman markings.

-A Model 1887 straight wrist model. This was a VERY late one with the longer forend that also appeared on the 1890 Bannermans




1890 Bannerman

In the fall of 1890, Bannerman had restarted production of the shotguns while using up the last of the Spencer Model 1887 receivers till at least Serial #3000 and likely more. When they ran out of remaining stocks of recievers, they would then produce more with their markings as the “Model 1890”, and at the same time introduced a new longer pump forend as standard. About 9000 of this new 1890 model would be made over the next 3.5 to 6 years. Serial numbers range from ~3000 to ~12000, and are marked as follows;


MODEL 1890

-The bannerman Model 1890. Note the 2 screw sideplates, Bannerman markings, and rubber foreend.


1894 Bannerman (maybe)

Bannerman would later go on to market what they called an 1894 model… although, they are either very rare, or were just marketed in brochures as such to try and increase sales….as most Bannerman guns were very talked up in their ads to drum up business at that time, and pictures or records of ones marked as such have been impossible to find. Those made after late 1893 started getting a new, more shapely forend that stayed till the early Model 1896s. Serial numbers on these are unknown if they even exist…markings below are what these would have most likely been…


MODEL 1894


1896 Bannerman

These models were pretty well unchanged, minus forends. In the early days they got a rubber checkered forend but they were too fragile and Bannerman declined to even guarantee them. These were then replaced by a very similar looking wooden version which sometimes had a cutout on the inside, then a little while later they were replaced again by the much more common grooved wooden 1896/1900 forends that superseded them. Most of these will have that style forend and some may have even had dual ejectors but it is doubtful. Serial numbers range from ~12000 to ~18000. These are marked as follows;

MODEL 1896

-Bannerman Model 1896. Note the forend change, the most defining change on these.


1900 Bannerman

This is by far the most changed of all the models, and the last revision made before production ended in ~1902. These are most easily distinguished from a distance by…. A 2nd left side ejector, a tall left control plate, takedown levers or screws, and the same 1896 grooved forend.

The biggest functional change on these models is the unusually tall left side plate, which is where the 2nd ejector on 1900 models rides. This is used to help extraction, yet the left side plate being taller is a mystery, as the side plate doesnt control the ejector at any point, nor would it being extended help any.

I have verified that this makes no sense, as i have fitted my model 1900 pump with its extractor removed(as the plate is not recessed for it) and placed on my otherwise unchanged model 1896 gun. Later i tried it with the full Model 1900 pump/barrel/dual extractor setup, again on my Model 1896 receiver… it seemed that it would work fine with a relief in the receiver and side plate for the left side extractor to slide into as is present on a 1900 receiver/plate. Previously, i had guessed that the tall left sideplate may have been for another reason, or perhaps even a simple tooling work around to save money. But, since a 1900 setup clears in all but that one place, it doesnt seem to have any logical reasoning behind it that i can find or think of.

These also all should have come with the large teardrop takedown lever for the barrel and mag tube from examples ive seen. Simply rotate the barrel lever straight down 90*(NOTE: do not remove this lever by unscrewing unless barrel is removed from receiver, and ONLY if you need to! The threads are weak!) Then turn the mag tube lever counter clockwise till the tube pops off, then pull the tube out and unscrew the barrel, while leaving the lever in the mag tube . Serial numbers went from ~18000 and ended between 21,000 and ~21,100 by best guesses and records. These are also marked as follows;

MODEL 1900


-Model 1900 Bannerman. Note the taller left side control plate, grooved forend, and takedown levers



Breakdown with parts view(My Model 1900)




Myths(and opinions) on “Damascus/twist barrels”

Barrel making methods

Disclaimer: Everything below is from my educted best guess and should NOT be taken as gospel. Its ALWAYS worth consulting with a gunsmith, especially if you are firing one of these.

MY personal theory(which is well based after having my 1896 barrel and a model 1900s barrel sonar checked and research ive done) on their mothod of construction is, shotguns marketed as “twist barrel” DID NOT have actual twist barrels. The higher grades with the damascus WERE probably damascus as the price would have justified its higher manufacturing cost easily, and it also would make sense as they were typical patterns that are very common and were sourced from turkish stock at the time usually. But the Twist barrels were most likely fluid steel, as Spencer himself had YEARS of experience building fluid steel barrels for shotguns. This is how he made the barrels for the Roper guns(he still owned this machinery too) and had been making them for years for others with the Spencer and Billings company.

This leads me to believe that they would have done the same on the Spencer guns, and then used nitric acid as a way to imprint the colorized pattern in the steel as others had started doing as early as 1866. This acid etch process was beginning to catch a LOT of traction by 1883 in the industry and is a LOT LOT more common than people think it is. My grandpa used to talk about how his dad was always weary of pre 1885 guns but not many after that as many gun experts and shop workers had found they were found to not be real twist, but that they WERE 2 1/2 or 2 5/8ths chambered and the real reason they blew up was smokeless rounds. Plus, the fact that the forcing cone being much too tight, and or, the fact that smokeless generated too much pressure on top of that. Many post 1870 guns were proofed in other countries with twist barrels and found to be safe with smokeless as long as they had the glued in shot covers that didnt expand into the cone rather than crimps that expand into the forcing cone.

Now i am no expert but ive researched it for over a year and shot TONS of low power smokeless shells with ZERO issues in good condition barrels. But to stifle the occasional wonder, i took a Bannerman Model 1896, Bannerman Model 1900, and a LC Smith Field Grade made in 1899 to have them Sonar inspected by an old man who gunsmiths. He said all were fluid steel barrels, and completely safe with correct low power smokeless shells and said that most post 1892 guns were not true damascus.


Period Pictures

Annie Oakleys press photos…She was a well known user who ordered one directly from Spencer for her show



Spencer Serial #1



Lancaster imported Spencers




Patent drawings for the Spencer



Period Ads



Other pics i have found

– US Navy Sailor with a Spencer shotgun during the US occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1914.


End part 3…This is the final post, it took me a lot longer than i thought it would do to tech and motivational issues but here it is. I will try my best to add more to it over time also.

See part 2  HERE

and Part 1  HERE

Thank You for reading this, and feel free to comment below with reviews and any questions/info you have! -Seth.


Special Thanks go out to Othias for creating this site and him graciously lending his pictures, and Morphy Auctions Co. & Rock Island Auction Co. for letting me use some of their photos!

6 thoughts on “History of the Spencer Shotgun. Part 3 of 3, Model differences, Breakdown, Myths, and Pictures.”

  1. Excellent articles, Parts 1,2 , and 3 of The History of the Spencer. I would like to contact Seth Newman relative to several aspects of the Spencer Arms Co., proprietary subjects. George Carr

    1. Thanks George, they need some revisions, just been slowly chipping away at it and havent finished those yet. also…. Im available on Discord, if you have/use it? Shadow0fd3ath24#9141 or you can find me under “Seth N.” in the C&Rsenal discord

  2. I just tried logging discord and couldn’t find you or get an invite to C&Rsenal. My dad has some questions as well as some info. Can you please contact me? Thank you. By the way, my dad is a dinosaur and doesn’t have discord, only e-mail.

    1. did you put a Zero (0) and not an “O” (the letter o) in “of” in my name? That will make me not pop up. it is a 0(zero). Their discord link is at the botttom of their main c& website

      Or whats a good email for you?

Leave a Reply