Identifying Whitney Lever-Action Guns

The information given here is meant only as a basic guide to identifying Whitney lever guns. There are many more variations that are discussed in Sam Maxwell’s book “Lever Action Magazine Rifles”, Published in 1976 by Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas & Covina, California .

Just a brief note about the author Dale Olson:

The first time I saw a picture of a Kennedy ( early 1960s) I was struck by the unusual shape of the frame, all I had seen before were Winchester lever guns. I wanted to know more about these guns, and began looking for information concerning them. This was almost nonexistent at the time. As the years went by I acquired several Marlin and Winchester rifles. When I started going to gun shows and actually looked a Kennedy over, I was stuck. The other lever guns had to go. I began looking for the Whitneys. After a few years I discovered Sam Maxwell had published a book titled “Lever Action Magazine Rifles,” This book is a must for every Whitney collector. With this information I became organized in my collecting.

I have set up and displayed my collection of Whitney lever guns, titled “The Last Decade At Whitneyville Armory New Haven, Conn. 1878-1888” at numerous gun shows, and have won awards for it, however the most satisfying part of all of this is not only the information I collect but the information I am able to share with others. I am at this time working on a book about the Burgess guns and some of the stories I have collected about them. One story has to deal with a homesteader in Wyoming who bought his Burgess in 1880 at Fort McKinney near Buffalo, Wy. During the years he owned it he killed 159 bears with it. This gun is still in the family. With the passing of the years these stories will fade away if not written down. My hope is that there are more stories about these guns and the people that owned them that will come to light through the interest of like minded collectors.

This work is an ongoing document that needs your input to fill in the empty spaces. Your help is appreciated by like minded collectors and historians.

Burgess Serial Numbers

Andrew Burgess was a well known Civil War photographer, designer of fire alarms and a prolific designer of firearms. He had nearly 600 firearms patents to his credit. Burgess approached Whitney with his design for a lever action repeating magazine rifle chambered in the .45-70 Government cartridge. It was hoped that this gun would be accepted in the military trials of 1878 to adopt a repeating rifle. Although not successful, Whitney continued production in sporting and military versions. It is believed by some that Whitney may have only contracted to manufacture 2000 of these guns.

First model:
Serial numbers range from 1 up to approximately 700

Barrel address: faces right.

G.W. Morse, Patented Oct. 28th 1856 (this patent covers the recessed head of the cartridge in the breach)

Tang markings:A. Burgess
Patented: Jan., 7th 1873
Patented: Oct. 19th 1875

Serial numbers: Numbers are all marked internally.
On the first model the serial number is located by opening the action and looking from the top of the receiver to the inside of the floorplate. When dissembled, most parts are numbered.

Features of first model:
This model has what is referred to as a rebated frame, which appears to be rather flat sided with a step at the front of the receiver. The dust cover has two small screws at the forward end, wedge attaches the nosecap to the barrel, magazine tube plug dose not have a screwdriver slot, and screw above where the lever enters the frame is on the right side only.

Second Model:
Serial numbers range from approximately 700 to 800 with some overlap. This model appears to be a transitional model between first and third models.

Barrel address: Same as first model.
Tang markings: Same as first model.

Serial numbers: Numbers are now marked externally. Numbers are now found stamped on the lower tang, visible by opening the lever.

Features of the second model:
Screw has been added to the left side of the frame above where the lever enters the frame, screw between the carrier and hammer screw on the left side of the frame has been eliminated.

Third Model:
Serial numbers range from approximately 800 to end of production.

Barrel address: Address now faces the left.

Tang markings: Same as first and second models.
Serial numbers: Same as second models.

Features of the third model:
This model has been completely redesigned. The receiver is no longer rebated, but rather now has a smooth more rounded appearance. The breechblock is thickened considerably, the two small screws on the dustcover have been eliminated, the forearm wedge has been replaced with a screw, and the magazine tube plug screw now has a slot.

Kennedy Serial Numbers

In 1880, Samual V. Kennedy and Frank W. Tiesing redesigned the 1878 Burgess rifle to accept the popular .44 Winchester Center Fire cartridge. With the basic machining already in place, the transition was rather inexpensive. The last Burgess was shipped from the factory in March 1880 and the first Kennedy was also shipped in March 1880.

Estimated dates of production: Early 1880 to early 1886.
Total production estimated at approximately 23,500. E range introduced the .45-60 cartridge. Frame becomes slightly larger. F and G range the loop lever was introduced. .45-75, .40-60, and .38-40 rifles were introduced. .50-95 and .32-20 were made in late production.

Barrel markings: Initially marked only Kennedy, after nearly 2000, Whitneyville Armory Ct. U.S.A. was added to the address.

Tang markings: Early markings were; PANTENTED January 7, 1873-May 19, 1879

Later markings were; PAT’D JANY. 7-73. APRIL 12 ) MAY 13 & AUG. 12-79

It appears that the die might have had a break in it, as April 12 is not clear on all that were examined.

Serial numbers: Serial numbers began with 1, approximately 4500 the serial number

Sequence was changed to a letter prefix, i.e. A1-A999, to B1-B999 continuing this sequence till the end of production in the high S range. Serial numbers are located under the lever and also on the lever. By opening the lever both these numbers can be observed. However, there are some that are found without numbers in one or more of these places. Most all of the parts are also marked.

Whitney Scharf Serial Numbers

In 1886 Wm. Scharf and Whitney patented a rifle which appears to be nothing more than an oversized Colt- Burgess (designed by Andrew Burgess) rifle, with enough modifications to avoid patent infringements. This rifle has many fragile parts, no dust cover and a sliding loading gate which invariably caused the thin wood of the forearm to crack. Produced in calibers .44, .38, & .32

Estimated date of manufacture: Early 1887 to early 1888.
Total quantity produced, less than 2000.


Tang markings: WHITNEY ARMS CO. PAT’D DEC. 21,1886.

Serial numbers: Visible under lever, most all parts marked also.

Features of this gun: Made in rifle, carbine and musket. A well made gun

Seldom encountered, features a sliding loading gate, and several variations in barrel configurations. This was the last gun manufactured by Whitney. Whitney Arms Co. was sold to Winchester in February of 1888.

Right view of 1st, 2nd and 3rd model Burgess rifles - Manufactured from late 1878 to early 1880. Total production estimated at less than 2000 rifles and carbines.

Left view of 1st, 2nd and 3rd model Burgess rifles - Manufactured from late 1878 to early 1880. Total production estimated at less than 2000 rifles and carbines.

45 Cal 70 Gr. C.F. near the breech faces left.


Top view of 1st and 3rd models



Top picture is an early Kennedy carbine with S lever in .45-60; bottom picture is a late .44 rifle with a loop lever