Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1024: The Winchester 'Centennial 1876' Single Action Revolver

Auction Date: September 10, 2016

Rarest of All Winchester Firearms The Winchester "Centennial 1876" Single Action Revolver

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $80,000 - $140,000

Rarest of All Winchester Firearms The Winchester "Centennial 1876" Single Action Revolver

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1876 Centennial
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 40-50
Barrel: 7 1/2 inch round
Finish: nickel
Grip: walnut
Item Views: 8842
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 26
Class: Antique

Offered here is one of the most advanced rarities in Winchester collecting, a Winchester-Wetmore-Wells single action revolver. In 1872, former Smith & Wesson employees William W. Wetmore and Charles S. Wells were hired by Winchester to develop a revolver. As the year 1872 came to a close, Wetmore and Wells had developed rudimentary single action revolver designs. Later their designs featured chambering for a new series of experimental cartridges developed by Wells and experimental ejector systems that included a swing out cylinder design by Stephen W. Wood. Winchester board of directors planned on making a big splash in the revolver market and planned on doing so at the Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876. To say that the directors were ambitious would be an understatement. The company was still enjoying the success and profits that came with the improved design of the Henry rifle, the Model 1866, and its iron frame successor the Model 1873 and were looking forward to the introduction the Model 1876 at the time of Centennial celebration. But the revolver market eluded the company. Colt emerged as the big winner in the revolver market, winning a series of highly competitive U.S. Army contracts and also a large share of the civilian market with its Single Action Army. Smith & Wesson also won a few U.S. contracts and had a large civilian following. In the early 1870s it was announced that the U.S. government as well as the Russian government were in the market for a new side arm. Smith & Wesson as well as Colt competed for these contracts but what many people do not realize is so did Winchester. Undaunted by its losses for government contracts, Winchester forged ahead with its plans to break into the revolver market. The company invested a great sum of resources and money to the Centennial Exhibition, and their Wetmore-Wells revolver samples were introduced to the public. (For more see, for example, Herbert Houze's "Winchester Repeating Arms Company" with a photo of a similar revolver on page 100. Note that other publications have referred to Centennial '76s as Winchester-Borchardt revolvers. An examination of the historical record has shown Borchardt's participation in the design of these revolvers was minimal.) Renowned firearms expert and author R.L Wilson has noted 9 known Winchester revolvers with most of them still held by the Winchester Museum in Cody, Wyoming. This example is without visible markings and features a cartridge ejector system developed by Wells. The ejector system is mounted on the right side of the frame. Ejecting a casing requires the operator to push down the ejector bar, thus setting in motion a sliding ejector that rode under the rims of a chambered cartridge in line with the loading port. It has a solid frame, six shot cylinder, blade front sight and frame sighting groove. All nickel finish with checkered walnut grips. A lanyard ring is mounted on the butt. According to a signed letter of analysis by Winchester expert and author Herbert Houze, "Approximately seven pistols were made in this series prior to the termination of the project in late July 1876….and [this revolver] is identical in nearly all respects to an unfinished model [at the Winchester Arms Museum]."

Rating Definition:

Excellent. The revolver retains 97% original nickel finish showing some very scattered light flaking and some loss on the hammer. The grips are excellent with overall crisp checkering. Actions needs work as cylinder is not in time and does not lock up when cycled. A once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire a historic piece of Winchester history rarely found outside a museum! Provenance: Robert M. Lee Collection.

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