Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 10: J. Ulrich Exhibition Relief Engraved Winchester Model 1873 Rifle

Auction Date: May 14, 2021

Phenomenal and FRESH, High Art 19th Century American Masterpiece: John Ulrich Double Signed and Dated, Relief Panel Scene Engraved and Gold Inlaid Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Rifle Commissioned as a Factory Display Piece for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and Later Presented by Winchester to the President of Honduras Marco A. Soto with Factory Letter

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $500,000 - $800,000

Phenomenal and FRESH, High Art 19th Century American Masterpiece: John Ulrich Double Signed and Dated, Relief Panel Scene Engraved and Gold Inlaid Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Rifle Commissioned as a Factory Display Piece for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and Later Presented by Winchester to the President of Honduras Marco A. Soto with Factory Letter

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1873
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44 WCF
Barrel: 24 inch octagon
Finish: blue/gold/silver
Stock: highly figured checkered
Item Views: 7649
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 15
Class: Antique

Rock Island Auction is proud and privileged to unveil this never before published masterpiece by celebrated Winchester factory engraver John Ulrich. Its rarity of configuration alone puts into the ultra elite category as a "best of". Sprinkle in the nuances of condition, depth of engraving, execution and style in tandem with its exhibition and presentation history and this rifle, serial number 18264, becomes a collection defining piece. An object that transcends rank and file, genre specific, fine and historic arms collecting all together. Its an object worthy of the most discerning public institutions or private collections of the decorative arts. This rifle was originally discovered in France in approximately 2014-2015 and was the second of two incredibly important Winchester rifles found in Europe in the last fifteen years. The second, also an engraved Winchester Model 1873, is serial number 16139. While the rifles were discovered in two different countries and several years apart, they will forever be linked to one of the most culturally significant events of 19th century America: the Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. A celebration grand enough to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, it was their discovery and corresponding factory letters which shed new light on the mystery surrounding Winchester’s display at the Centennial. Unlike the fabulous photograph of Colt’s spectacular “pin-wheel” display board from the Centennial, and, unlike the photographs of Smith & Wesson’s awe inspiring display at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, virtually no primary source information is known about Winchester’s display, other than it was extraordinarily ambitious. Winchester had grand plans for the Centennial display. They would introduce not only their newly refined and expanded ammunition manufacturing capability for which they were awarded a bronze medal by the exhibition judges. They would also unveil two new models of firearms: the Model of 1876 Rifle appropriately marketed as “The Centennial Model” as well as introducing their first revolver, a new departure and market for the firm (its imperative to note that we also have one of the Centennial revolvers in the sale). Beyond the lead up plans to the exhibition, and understanding the tradition of arms makers displaying only the finest decorative pieces at such an event, the only other primary source material we are left with are a series of photographs and a quote. The photographs are from the main exhibition hall with frustrating views from above looking east to west and west to east. They only show the silhouette and configuration of Winchester’s display, not its actual contents. The quote is from a souvenir booklet published in 1877 and like the photographs gives you just enough to live in utter frustration. That was until the discovery of the aforementioned rifle, serial number 16139. The quote reads: "The Winchester Repeating Arms Company of New Haven had a rich and extensive display of weapons, consisting of magazine rifles, field, sporting, and target models. The cases containing them were upright, forming three, sides of a square, with projecting counter cases, and in the center an upright, octagonal case…… Another case contained a rifle exquisitely inlaid in gold tracery on blued steel, the floor of the case being a mirror, reflecting the reverse side, and thus exhibiting the whole piece. The exhibit included nearly two hundred guns, representing about fifty different styles. The cost of the cases alone was $3,000, and this represents but a fraction of the value of the exhibit….. At the Exhibition the company received an award on their magazine sporting rifle, the report of the judges characterizing it as 'the best magazine rifle for sporting purposes yet produced'". "Souvenir of the Centennial Exhibition, 1877" published by George D. Curtis, page 89. The only rifle discussed individually in the excerpts is Winchester 1873 serial number 16139 “a rifle exquisitely inlaid in gold tracery on blued steel”. This rifle was discovered by RIAC founder and CEO Patrick Hogan circa 2008 in Spain. The rifle was said to have been presented to Spanish royalty, and it is indeed "exquisitely inlaid in gold tracery on blued steel”. Its factory letter is equally extraordinary: “rifle, octagon, set trigger, Engraved by Young, Monogram on stock” and then three very important dates: “October 19, 1882, Order number 203, Received in the warehouse April 19, 1876, Shipped from the warehouse on May, 6, 1878, order number 11740”. This rifle is photographed in the closing pages of "Magnificent Colt’s" on page 535 by R.L. Wilson. Factory engraved and gold inlaid by Gustave Young serial number 16139 is the exhibition mate to this rifle, number 18264, one of John Ulrich’s great masterpieces. They share two of three identical ledger dates: 1. Received in warehouse: April 19, 1876 (less than one month from the opening of the Centennial Exhibition). 2. Shipped from warehouse: May 6, 1878, order number 11740. One other gun also shares the May 6, 1878 ship date AND the order number 11740 from the ledgers. A casehardened, half octagon Winchester 1873 1 of 1000 serial number 18267 sold by our firm September 2012 lot 1007 $402,000 from the Gateway Collection. The first date, in combination with the quote from 1877 put these rifles together on display for the world to see from May 10th - November 10th, 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition. We feel it is also extremely important to point out the level of embellishment on both rifles is as deluxe as possible. So much so that the factory recognized their importance and recorded the engravers' names for each masterpiece: “engraved by Young” and “engraved by U”. The discovery of these rifles are a seminal event in the field of highly finished Winchester collecting as their factory letters in conjunction with the quote offer up so much more. We know from the quote that the exhibit contained "200 guns and 50 different styles". It has long been a mystery to this writer why several of the published relief engraved Winchester 1866s have long been attributed to the Centennial in older books like Madis, the 1971 Arms Annual or the original "Winchester Engraving" by Wilson without a shred of additional information. Why are their series or blocks of incredibly embellished and ornate 1866s that appear in the 35,000 range, the 79,000 range, 95,000 range, 103,000 range and so on? The Cody records state that only twenty-three records exist on Winchester Model 1866s prior to serial number 125,000. Serial number 35527 is the earliest manufactured in 1870 and serial number 124899 is the latest, manufactured in 1874 . So we inquired on all twenty three records. The results are inconclusive thus far because we have yet to receive all the requests. However, of the eight records that we have received, six of the eight have shipping dates in 1878. Four of the six share the exact date May 6th, 1878 order number 11739. The same date as the two masterpiece 1873's and with consecutive order numbers, likely organized by model. All eight were manufactured in either 1870 or 1872 which means they were maintained by the factory for an extended period of time, no doubt for exhibition. They were certainly on display at the Centennial along with this great Ulrich Masterpiece. Furthermore, relief engraved and gilt Winchester 1866 serial number 107209 (which letters as shipped May 6, 1878) is photographed on page 146 of "Winchester Engraving" by Wilson with attribution to the Centennial Exhibition and states it was subsequently presented to Mexican General Fidencio Hernandez, with his name engraved on the the barrel. Relief engraved and gilt Winchester 1866 rifle serial number 103975 photographed in the 2nd edition of "Winchester Engraving" on page 121 has the inscription “Gorio Rozas. Philadelphia PA Sept. 1876” down the length of the barrel. It is also three numbers apart from another 1866 , serial number 103672 which letters engraved and shipped May 6th, 1878. What does it all mean? That Winchester maintained a stock of exceptional and highly decorated firearms, mostly 1866s that were easier to engrave with a brass frame and virtually obsolete with the improved models of 1873 and 1876. So while the exhibition 1866s are incredibly rare, their 1873 counterparts can be counted with two fingers and both considered masterpieces. It also shows Winchester, like Colt, used exceptionally decorated, high art firearms as presentation pieces to nobles, royals, military men and politicians alike to help secure lucrative military contracts for both firearms and ammunition. The May 6th, 1878, shipping date remains somewhat ambiguous. Paris would hold its third “Exposition Universelle” in the spring/summer of 1878, and its likely that is where these magnificent firearms would travel next. At least fifteen truly great Winchester’s have been discovered abroad over the last century, including the king of them all the “Emperor of Japan Winchester 1892” also by John Ulrich. It’s likely the lion's share of high art Winchesters produced from 1870-1880 and beyond were a part of, or influenced by, Winchester's display at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and were presented with a purpose all around the world. The accompanying letter confirms the octagon barrel and set trigger as well as “engraved by U”. The factory record also indicates that the rifle was received in the warehouse on April 19, 1876, and shipped on May 6, 1878, and that it was returned to the factory for “engraved and swirls” on order number 25116 dated May 5, 1881. It was at the time we believe the “Marco A. Soto” inlay was added as well as the small swirl patterns on the barrel flats and sight which are a later style, unlike the scroll work and gold Greek key inlay “bands” that we feel were there for the original display in 1876. John Ulrich has twice signed this masterpiece. The first signature or stamp is “J ULRICH” located ahead of the trigger, and the second is a fancy hand cut signature “JU” inside a banner located on the lower tang ahead of the lever catch. Along with the lower tang signature, Ulrich dated his work with the year “1876,” as if we need more evidence to its original commission. It is nearly unheard of for Ulrich or for any of the great 19th century master engravers to date their work. On the barrel sections of relief scrollwork along with gold inlaid Greek key bands appear towards the muzzle and breech and gold inlaid panels terminating with floral spray at both ends surround the two-line Winchester address/King’s improvement patent dates marking and the gold inlaid inscription “MARCO A. SOTO” at the breech. The gilt receiver features near full coverage of scrollwork along with multiple deep relief vignettes. Appearing on the left side are vignettes depicting a grizzly bear and a wild turkey while the side plate has an elk hunting scene. Appearing on the right side are vignettes of a fox and a moose while the side plate has a buffalo hunting scene with the hunter on horseback and a smaller panel depicting a squirrel in a tree. A leaping stag adorns the cartridge elevator. The bear and buffalo panels are similar scenes found on the presentation inscribed Model 1876 no. 14327 presented to Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan by his friend General Will E. Strong. This other gold plated J. Ulrich signed masterpiece appears in “The Book of Winchester Engraving” on pages 152-154, “Winchester Engraving” on page 155 and “Antique Arms Annual” on pages 126-127. Many collectors have regarded the Sheridan Model 1876 as “the finest Winchester ever made.” Marco Aurelio Soto (1846-1908) was President of Honduras from August 27, 1876 to October 19, 1883. Soto was a reforming Liberal statesman who never joined the Liberal Party or any party for that matter. He wielded great discipline among the various liberal factions within his country, resulting in ambitious reforms which continued to impact Houdurans well after he left office. Highlights of these achievements included the reorganization of public finances, transfer of civil codes such as marriage, divorce, and education from the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church to secular public institutions; and the establishment of a national library and archives and postal and telegraph service. Soto is credited for paving the way for the Liberal Revolution, a period of liberal reforms in Honduras that lasted until the turn of the century. By the 1870s, Honduras was purchasing Winchester Model 1866s and Model 1873 as part of the country’s effort to upgrade national weaponry. In September 2020, we had the pleasure of selling a pair of gold plated New York panel scene engraved Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 revolvers (nos. 8997 and 9968) inscribed to Soto, formerly of the famed Dr. Gerald Klaz collection. This Model 1873 certainly fits well with Soto’s opulent tastes and was almost certainly given in thanks or persuasion for the contract between Honduras and Winchester. Soto fled Honduras in 1883 for France which is where this rifle was found 130 years later. When the rifle was originally discovered, the buttplate and buttstock had suffered damage from moisture and poor storage. For preservation purposes the buttplate has been restored, and the buttstock repaired.

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine, still radiating John Ulrich’s undisputed talents as a master engraver, an exquisite masterpiece of 19th century firearms artistry that rarely presents itself as an opportunity for acquisition. The barrel retains 50% original blue finish with the balance a smooth gray patina and a few patches of mild pitting. The magazine tube retains 70% nickel. 70% original silver remains on the loading gate. The forend cap and magazine band retain 90% original gold. The receiver retains 95% original gold. The spectacular relief engraving is crisp, and Ulrich’s signatures are clear. The rear of buttstock and buttplate have been meticulously restored for preservation purposes. The forearm shows minor handling marks, overall crisp checkering and nearly all of the original varnish remaining. The set trigger needs adjustment; otherwise, the action cycles properly. As one of two known factory relief engraved and gold inlaid Model 1873s, no. 18264 is a truly once in a life time opportunity for acquisition and certainly John Ulrich's finest 1873.

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