One day my brother came by the house and dropped off our friend Jerry’s shotgun to see if I knew anything about it. It was obvious it was an old Remington as it has Remington Arms Co. stamped onto both sides of the receiver. After a little bit of research, I determined it was an early vintage Grade 2, 12 gauge, Model 1889 side by side shotgun.
The firearm has two exposed hammers and dual triggers. There were 7 grades of 1889s available for purchase, Grade 1 being the lowest grade. The Grade 1 used decarbonized steel barrels and had no engraving. Grades 2 and 3 also did not have any engraving but their barrels were made of pattern-welded steel. The Grade 2 utilized twist steel and the Grade 3 used Damascus steel for their barrels. Grades 4, 5, 6 and 7 shotguns were engraved, used a finer quality of wood and Damascus steel of higher quality. There was more attention to detail as the grade of firearm increased. All of the different grades have checkered half-pistol grip style stocks. Over 130,000 Model 1889 shotguns were manufactured from 1889-1908 and were available in 10, 12, and 16 gauge, with barrel lengths of 28, 30 and 32 inches.
The Model 1889 uses an extractor to get the shells out of the chamber. It is actuated by the front of the bolt on the extractor cam (joint check) when the action is pivoted open. The action breaks open via a top lever.
After taking the forend off of the barrels when disassembling a Model 1889, many folks struggle when trying to get the barrels off of the receiver. You must keep the top lever pushed all the way over to the right and then pull the barrels down and forward. Then continue to pivot the barrels to release the joint check/extractor cam from the bolt. When reassembling the barrels to the receiver, make sure that the extractor cam/joint check is first moved to the position that it would be in when the gun is closed and locked up, then move the top lever all the way over to the right and put the barrels back onto the gun.
The locking system consists of two sets of locking lugs on the barrel that fit into recesses in the receiver. A rib extension called a doll head, which provides extra strength to the locking system, fits into a recess on the top of the receiver. When firing the gun, the front trigger releases the right hammer and the rear trigger releases the left hammer. The mainsprings that power the hammers are “V” springs and they can still be acquired from the various gun parts dealers. These shotguns used the original hard rubber butt plates with the old Remington Arms Co. logo on it.
Something to be cautious and aware of with these fine old shotguns is even though you will see past advertising that states these shotguns are “Guaranteed for Nitro Powders” (smokeless powder), these firearms are now 110 to 125 years old and pattern-welded steel (twist steel and Damascus) has been known to bulge and blow up, as microscopic rusting can occur within the welds, weakening the structure. Many folks pay no mind to this warning and shoot modern loads through their Damascus barrels all day long and have not had any problem. I say, “It’s all good until it isn’t” and you lose an eye or injure one of the shooters/hunters beside you. Modern propellant burns much faster and creates higher pressures than black powder, so there is a significant risk shooting modern smokeless powder cartridges through a pattern-welded barrel. If you really have a need to shoot these old fellows, you could use black powder cartridges or if you want to really be safe, you could use a sub-caliber insert like the ones available from Briley (www.briley.com). These Briley inserts will allow you to safely shoot modern 20 gauge shells through your old 12 gauge Damascus barreled shotgun. When something like this is available, why take a chance in blowing up your beautiful old shotgun and acquiring the nickname “One Eyed Willy,” or become embroiled in a lawsuit.
Remington’s Model 1889 was not their first double barrel hammer shotgun, as a matter of fact, it was the last Model sold that had exposed hammers. American firearms manufacturers didn’t ramp up production on double guns until Congress imposed a 35% tariff on imported firearms in 1883. Until that time, the British had the market cornered on double barrel shotguns. Earlier Remington shotguns that resembled the 1889 were Models 1882, 1883, 1885 and the 1887. Each of these previous models were the “New” Model of Remington and incorporated design modifications and upgrades. By the time the Model 1889 came out, the “hammerless” shotguns were already becoming popular.
In my opinion, the Remington Model 1889 is a beautiful shotgun. The hammers have an elegance the previous models did not have. Though you can still find some of these old shotguns for sale on auction sites, many folks hang on to them because they are great examples of our prowess in manufacturing and they can be passed on to a family member.