Search For The ’96 or A Tale of Two Carbines

By: Larry Uhrig of Marietta, Ohio   

So, I thought I’d share a nice story with the Krag Collector’s family. It started innocently enough when I stopped in a neat, hidden but well visited LGS while on vacation with some friends in Frederick, Maryland. The store owner had a couple consignment rifles that caught my eye, being a collector of fine milsurp firearms. He had a beautiful example of an early production Smith Corona 03-A3 in excellent condition with a minty bore on the original barrel, excellent bluing with a re-arsenalized stock. He also had a fantastic condition 1896 Krag carbine. Being an undying Krag fan, I looked it over and knew I had to get it. After a little friendly bargaining on each firearm, I was able to get the 03A3 for $800 and the Krag for $780. Great day already. I handed him a copy of my FFL which bypassed the hordes of paperwork now required in Maryland for a firearm transfer and walked them out for some well planned examination when I got back home to Ohio the following day. I knew enough about Krag rifles and carbines to be sure I wasn’t getting hosed for that price but I didn’t realize until I got home what I had. The carbine had a nice looking bore with a quick flashlight examination in the store, the stock was beautiful, it had the original and correct cleaning kit and oiler for the SN 68128 and had the original dove-tailed front sight. The gun store owner did alert me that the rear sight was not the correct carbine sight. It was actually an 1896 rifle sight. Everything else, though, was perfectly correct and possibly original based on the patina throughout. Even still had nice fire blue on the extractor.
When I got home I checked the bore with my trusty Hawkeye Bore scope and found the rifling strong with mild pitting throughout. Not bad for a used 120 year old firearm. The front lug on the bolt looked good with no visible defects. The stock was full and complete with no cracks anywhere, barely anything more than a few mild scratches. I pulled out my Poyer book and checked every detail. The rear sight was the only thing not correct for this treasure. The cartouche is visible but weak from years of handling. It is dated 1897 consistent with the serial number. Very pleased with my new piece.

     So, the search was on for an authentic 1896 rear sight. I contacted friends and fellow collectors and put the word out. I got numerous comments and responses. I had offers to sell from a couple people who said they had the correct sight. (I got a bunch of spam junk mail from apparent scammers also…Beware!) Evidently, the current market going rate is between $650 and $1000 for one of these rare sights. I was getting quite satisfied, at this time, to keeping the rifle sight in place. Shooting buddy CWO John Miller said finding one of these sights was like finding a Dodo egg. I don’t give up easy.

I searched around the internet for parts at well known gunsmith shops, Gunbroker, checked out milsurp rifle and supply houses, read blogs and forums about 1896 carbines, checked firearm classifieds and searched through lots of auction sites for anything that could lead me to an 1896 carbine sight. I found an auction on Proxibid, where I used to do a lot of buying until buyer’s premiums and add-on expenses went through the roof, where there was a listing for an 1896 rifle “Bbl. shortened to 22″ w/ reattached front sight.” The item description did say that the firearm had the correct 1896 carbine rear sight. The serial number given was 31583 and the few pictures in the listing showed a carbine with the correct barrel band in front of the rear sight and a saddle ring. The front sight was clearly dove-tailed. I could not see the rear sight to be sure about it. The serial number given was in the correct carbine range. It appeared, then, that this was an incorrect listing with an item description that was written by someone who didn’t know what they were looking at but possibly to my benefit. People don’t want a cut down rifle posing as a carbine.

But, since I was dedicated to finding that elusive sight, I decided to take a gamble and bid on and won the auction. I paid, after buyer’s premiums and shipping costs, a few dollars over $1000, so, it was a gamble but I was fairly certain I was getting a real carbine at least even if the rear sight wasn’t a carbine sight. I sent a check and it took almost a month for the stupid auction house to send me my new carbine.

When it arrived, I tore the box open and struggled to get the bubble wrap untaped and unwrapped, anxious for the final verdict. The firearm was indeed a real 1896 carbine with an authentic and correct 1896 carbine rear sight. The bore was identical to my first one with minor pitting but very nice rifling. The finish was slightly better on the previous carbine but this one was nice throughout. The stock had the correct three piece cleaning kit in the triangle cutouts with no oiler provision which is correct for this earlier carbine. The only unusual finding was that the cartouche was weak and unreadable at first but I found out that it is stamped upside down! I have never seen this before and it did not look like a restamp. I just figured whoever stamped it got it wrong. Everything else looked nice and correct. The sight was in great condition with clear “c’s” where they should be.

So, now I have two beautiful 1896 Krag carbines. Since they are slightly different in markings, I want to keep them both. I struggled with the this but decided to switch the carbine sight onto the better condition carbine I got first. But, they are both wonderful additions to my collection next to a fully original 1898 Krag rifle and a slightly later nice sporterized Krag. I also have a neat original McKeever US marked ammo pouch with original vintage ammo from 1896 through 1900 headstamp marks. Half of these rounds are tinned and a couple are marked as 1896 Frankford arsenal production to match my 1896 Krag carbines.

The serial numbers of both are in the Rough Rider ranges and the 68128 is actually only 5 digits away from an authenticated Rough Rider carbine. But, neither are documented as known Roosevelt carbines.

The moral of this story is evident. These rare Krag carbines are out there but it may take some work and patience in finding them and tracking down the parts you need to make them complete. If I can do it, anyone can (with a little luck!).

(Thanks to CWO John Miller, Scott Duff and others who e-mailed me about my search for the correct sight. Nice to know there are so many good fellow collectors willing to help.)