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U.S. Springfield .45-70 Gov’t Trapdoor Carbine

Trapdoor carbines were used from shortly after the Civil War through the 1920s.


Attend any decent-size gun show and chances are you’ll come across an 1873 Trapdoor Carbine (the only version to sport a stacking swivel) or subsequent variations, which include the Models 1877 (the first with a two-piece cleaning rod in the butt), 1879 (with buckhorn rear sight), and 1884 (with Buffington rear sight). Although trapdoor rifles were also produced, the 22-inch-barreled .45-70 Gov’t carbines command the most interest and value, due to their association with the U.S. Cavalry and the taming of the American West. Trapdoor carbines were also used in the Spanish-American War, and refurbished arms were issued to National Guard units as late as the 1920s.

To replace the Army’s 1861 and 1863 muzzleloading rifle-muskets, Erskine S. Allin, master armorer at Springfield Armory, perfected a forward-hinged breechblock that swung open like a trapdoor, earning its everlasting nickname. Commensurate with this was the development of the .45-70 Gov’t cartridge, a gun and ammunition combination literally made for each other. Due to the carbine’s lighter weight and shorter barrel, reduced-load cartridges containing 55 grains of blackpowder were issued for it. Nonetheless, the carbine’s sights were optimistically calibrated to 800 yards.

Carbines were fitted with a stock-mounted bar and saddle ring, to be hooked to a leather sling worn diagonally across a trooper’s body, thus curtailing accidental loss from the saddle. Numerous changes were made to the carbine during its 20-year service in the Army, encompassing triggers, lockplates, breechblocks, stampings, hammers, and rear sights. Befitting military guns, parts were interchangeable and today it is rare to find a trapdoor in “as-issued” condition. Plus, many rifles were made into faux-carbines in later years.

There were 60,912 carbines made from 1873 to 1893. Those with serial numbers below 43,700 are known as “Custer Guns,” as there is a possibility they saw action at the Little Big Horn, but easily swapped parts mean “buyer beware”—authenticated guns are rare. Nonetheless, values of any carbine in decent condition have risen dramatically in recent years.

This Model 1879, serial number 177,XXX, was manufactured in 1881. A five-pointed star stamped after the serial number indicates an arsenal rebuild. Research shows this carbine was reissued in 1898 to the 13th Colorado Volunteers. A properly fitting lockplate, visible inspector’s cartouche, and pristine bore make this an above-average example worth $2,250 to $2,500.

Gun: Springfield Model 1879 Trapdoor Carbine
Caliber: .45-70 Gov’t
Condition: 60 percent - NRA Fine (Antique Firearm Standards)
Manufactured: 1881
Value: $2,250 - $2,500

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18 Responses to U.S. Springfield .45-70 Gov’t Trapdoor Carbine

Jim wrote:
September 21, 2013

What is the value of my 1873 saddle carbine 22 inch barrel s/n 350212 Springfield 45-70 and my 1884 Springfield 45-70 s/n 306758 with cleaning rod and swivels. Both have VP~P etched on barrels. Thanks

Howard Van Loan 2 wrote:
August 23, 2013

I have trapdoor Springfield serial #240832 carbine is this a true carbine???

Chuck LaRue wrote:
April 27, 2013

I have a springfield 45-70 with serial 9866. Is this a Custer rifle? What is it worth?

David Flory wrote:
March 08, 2013

I have a US springfield .45-70 that my grandmother gave that belonged to her brother who was killed in war. It is stamped 1893 on the left butt and the serial # behind the trap door is 122694. could you give me any information on the gun and what the value might be. It looks to be in pretty good shape for it's age. I could send photos if needed Thank you David Flory 509-930-2225

paulb wrote:
January 10, 2013

I just recently had a govt trapdoor handed down to me that has been in the family since new.It is an 1884 model. Is this thing worth money? Might i be able to find paperwork somewhere. Any info is appreciated

Hpd777 wrote:
August 12, 2012

I have some info mr glass if you would like to sell it let me know e-mail hpd777@hotmail.com

Larry L Shouse wrote:
July 19, 2012

Mr Rice, You are correct in your post but you are mis-reading the article

G. Rice wrote:
June 18, 2012

Re: R. Glass. An 1873 carbine could not have been used in the Civil War,. It ended in 1865.

R. Glass wrote:
May 29, 2012

I have an 1873 Springfield Trapdoor rifle with serial marking 35795. Not exactly sure, but there is a possibility that it was used by one of two of my ancestors during the "Civil War." There are obvious markings from possible use in battle and gun is in great shape. I have no reason to believe whatsoever that the serial number has been swapped or altered at any time because the rifle has been in our family for at very least over 100 years. Anyone having any knowledgable info or insight on the rifle based on serial number, etc. would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

David Baildon wrote:
March 08, 2012

I have a 45-70 springfield , 1873, the serial number it legible except for the second number, and I am not sure of that , I believe the serial # is 17260 can any one tell me its worth. It does have a saddle ring but not stacking ring.

Frank Mayo wrote:
February 28, 2012

I have a 1884 Springfield 45/70 trapdoor with a 31" barrel serial#454764. We have had this rifle for about 50years it was purchased from an old black gentel man who was using it to kill injured cattle in a field in 1963. We have had it ever since.Is there anyway to find additional information on this rifle. It has the U stamp on some parts and an eagle on the sideplate. The top of trap "US Model 1884" serial number is on top behind the trapdoor in front of hammer to slightly to the left. or across from firing pin. Any help on finding information would be nice. thanks frank

J.D.Skaggs wrote:
February 14, 2012

I have a trapdoor rifel and am trying to do reserch as where it has been,it is an 1873 and I can't find the ser# any where it is in a group of missing #'s on the springfield reg. any Idea where I can look

scott gostovich wrote:
March 24, 2011

Did any of the saddle ring carbines 1884 come with a 25" barrel. I have one and everything looks right except the barrel is 25" not 22".

Bruce Aylett wrote:
March 08, 2011

I have a gun that looks just like this but it has "Enfield 1861" on the side. Is this a 45-70 gun and where is the serial # stamped, thanks

Ken Schader wrote:
February 03, 2011

Gary, thanks for your response. That makes sense. I thought it must be something like that or possibly a cam rotation of some sort.

Gary Moseley wrote:
February 01, 2011

The firing pin is free floating with the base located under the hammer. The firing pin is angled to a center fire position in the bolt face. There are some cartridges that have the apperance of a rimfire. These cartridges were manufactures in an effort to keep them from being reloaded when collected off the battlefield. The center fire primer is under the shell base cap. The S/N can be found at the base of the receiver just to the left of the hammer.

Ken Schader wrote:
January 31, 2011

How does this work? How does the firing pin contact the cartridge at the hammer stike angle. Was the cartridge possibly a rim fire?

Wayne Burkdoll wrote:
January 31, 2011

Where do you locate the serial number on the 45-70?