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April 28, 2017

A Wealth of Antique Winchester Rifles

By Joel R Kolander

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If you’ve been following the goings-on here at Rock Island Auction Company, you know that there are some outstanding antique Winchester rifles that are headlining our event.

Early Winchester rifles helped shape the country and tame the frontier. Their predecessors helped push firearm design and even served in the American Civil War. 

But what you might not know is that behind those flagship pieces is a virtual armada of outstanding antique Winchester rifles and shotguns that any collector would be thrilled to have in their collection. These include the quintessential lever actions, but also delve more deeply into the Winchester line-up with beloved sporting models, unusual custom order configurations, and stunning high condition examples of almost any model you can name. With that, I’d like to point out of some the incredible Winchester firearms in our May Premiere Auction that have more than earned some extra attention.

Lot 3013: Phenomenal First Year Production Damascus Barrel Winchester Model 1887 Deluxe Lever Action Shotgun with Factory Letter
Estimate: $35,000 – $55,000

This is being listed for no other reason than I absolutely adore these old lever action shotguns. Something about that massive receiver, the mechanical syncopation it voices every time it’s cycled, and an action that by necessity is large enough for you to be able to peer in to see all the moving bits. With this existing love for these old lever shotguns, there was no question that I wanted to feature Lot 3013. Its looks alone are enough to make it a Bucket List gun for me. That case hardening and the Damascus barrel are a match made in heaven. Those features alone would likely be enough to endear this gun to me, but it’s also a deluxe model. Talk about your extras! It has a pistol grip, highly figured wood, is a takedown model(!), and bears checkering on the forearm and grip. Still not enough? It has the “Winchester Repeating Arms” monogram on the left side and is a first-year production! The serial number is 414 and for those wondering, yes, this qualifies as an antique rifle, meaning that whoever is lucky enough to scoop up this gorgeous piece of history can take it home the same day. You might find a gun with a few of these features someday in the future, but it’s almost certain they won’t be in this condition. I don’t see how one could hope to improve on this gun.

Lot 2019: Extremely Rare Documented Antique Winchester Rifle 1897/1898 New York Exhibition Factory Shipped Winchester Model 1892 Nickel Plated Lever Action Trapper’s Carbine with Factory Letter
Estimate: $35,000 – $55,000

Just looking at this little antique Winchester rifle Model 1892 you can tell it’s different. You don’t have to be a student of Winchesters, or even firearms in general, to pick up on the fact that it digresses from a “normal” rifle. You might not be able to place it, but shouldn’t the barrel be longer than the stock? That’s right collector friends, this little 92 carbine is what’s known as a “trapper’s carbine.” Folks who work their trap line for food or pelts generally aren’t in need of long distance precision shots, just a short range coup de grâce as required.  Often times, these were makeshift guns with barrels sawed off or even small caliber rifles chopped down to imitate pistols. Large guns and fancy embellishments were probably the two last things on a trapper’s firearm wish list, so finding one with a factory nickel finish is a paradox to say the least. Finding them blued or case-hardened is rare enough, but a nickel plated piece is a one-of-a-kind, worthy of an advanced Winchester collection.

Not only is this gun unusual for combining a nickel finish with a “working gun,” but it also has quite the pedigree. I am not alone in finding this gun fascinating because over a century ago Winchester also found it fascinating enough to take with them and exhibit at a number of expositions including the American Institute Fair.  Known popularly as the “New York Expo,” it was held annually in New York City from 1829 – 1897, and was in line with most expositions from the mid-to-late 1800s, showcasing innovative science, intricate machinery, stunning architecture, and the fanciest products a manufacturer could muster. The factory letter for this nickel plated trapper places indicates it was displayed at “NY EX 97″ and other exhibitions, being returned to the factory after each one. The shortened barrel is also lightweight, tapering rapidly to the muzzle, and perched upon it is the optimistic folding rear leaf sight graduated out to 900 yards. Like the 1887 shotgun mentioned above, this little carbine is also an antique and totally exempt. You can tell all your friends you own a rifle with a barrel less than 16” without an ATF stamp.

Lot 2054: Fabulous Deluxe Factory Engraved Special Order Presentation antique Winchester Model 90 Slide Action Rifle with Special Order Sight and Deluxe Wood with Cheekpiece
Estimate: $45,000 – $60,000

If you didn’t know already, the Winchester Model 1890 was THE boys gun in its day. Frankly, it makes a pretty good one today as well, but collectors love these little plinkers because so many of them had one of their own while growing up. Those that didn’t hunt down rabbits and squirrels with their own model, could often encounter them at fairs and shooting galleries. Because these were boys’ guns (or gallery guns), they were nearly always well used and are not often seen in excellent condition. Enter the gun in our May Premiere Auction. It’s in remarkable condition and clearly avoided the rough daily activities that a young lad can provide.

Now let’s talk about why this gun is in a class of its own. Right away you can see that this is a deluxe gun: checkered pistol grip, fancy grade English walnut stock, excellently executed factory “No. 8” engraving pattern (as seen in the Winchester Highly Finished Arms catalog), a monogrammed disk inset into the stock, and totally unheard of cheekpiece! According to Schwing’s “Winchester Slide Action Rifles,” only one stock was ever ordered with a cheek piece. Most “boys’ rifles” would never have received this type of treatment. Why bother? They were just going to get beat up anyway. Also special is the extremely late serial number, issued long after the 1927 merger of the Model 1890 and Model 1906 serial ranges, perhaps placing its manufacture as last as post-WW2. It’s super-late production and the numerous special order features imply that this gun may have been made for someone of importance – a fun provenance to investigate for the lucky buyer.

A similar gorgeous Model 1890 appears in Lot 3056 and is engraved by George Ulrich, son of renowned John Ulrich. You may also like the rare Maple-stocked Model 1890 in lot 2055.

Lot 28: Near New Winchester Model 1894 Lever Action Takedown Sporting Rifle with Factory Letter
Estimate: $20,000 – $30,000

Rock Island Auction Company guarantees all of their Premiere Auction items’ headlines, so when the words “Near New” appear when describing is Winchester Model 1894, it has to be true. Winchester 1894 rifles are easily one of the most produced rifles in history, so why feature one here? Three words: condition, condition, condition. It was actually manufactured in 1904, has an “extra finish” walnut stock, uses the rare Winchester high velocity rear sight, and is a takedown model as well, but even those attributes take a back seat to how pristine this rifle is. The finish is black as ink, the wood tight, the casehardening… you know what, just go look at it. Instead of me gushing on and on about it, just go look at the pictures. I’ll wait.

Lot 754: Extraordinary Master Engraver Reno Greco Signed Elaborately Custom Engraved and Gold Inlaid Pachmayr Custom Winchester Model 21 Double Barrel Duck Shotgun
Estimate: $12,000 – $18,000

Winchester Model 21 shotguns are often sought by hunters and collectors alike for their high-end treatment. Many consider it as close as you can get to bespoke in a production piece. Originally made to compete with the other top quality shotguns from Fox and Parker Brothers, the Model 21 uses remarkably high-grade materials and is well known for its durability, ruggedness, and reliability. Back in their heyday, not only were they sought by hunters and collectors, but by any right-minded firearms enthusiast! Celebrities the likes of Ted Williams and Roy Rogers toured their facility, something Winchester encouraged all of its Model 21 customers to do. Models were presented to people are wide-ranging as Ernest Hemmingway (as Winchester’s Outdoorsman of the Year in 1959) to 5-Star General Omar Bradley. The shop did the most exquisite of work, but also encouraged its “every day” customers not to shy away from special requests. Did you need a smaller wrist? Done. Your name engraved on the rib? Done. In fact, when you submitted an order for one, besides submitting the measurements for the gun (length of pull, drop at comb, drop at heel, drop at monte carlo, etc), you would also get to choose whether you wanted your initials in gold in the trigger guard or a gold oval plate with your initials on the underside of the stock!

Take that already unimaginable level of customization on a production gun and now give it to legendary gunsmith and designer Frank Pachmayr. If you don’t know the story of Pachmayr, you owe it to yourself to read up on it. The man’s “Combat Special” essentially defined a custom 1911 handgun, not to mention the rubber pistol grips and recoil pads that are still known by his name. When he wasn’t busy changing the firearms industry, his shop was producing beautiful and highly embellished rifles and shotguns like this one. So to review: beloved manufacturer, revered model, borderline bespoke side-by-side, jaw-dropping embellishments, industry-shaking designer. What else can we say?

Honorable Mention: Winchester 1886

Lot 2015: Outstanding Special Order Winchester Deluxe Model 1886 Takedown Lever Action Rifle with Factory Letter. Est. $55,000 – $85,000

If you have ever wanted a high-end Winchester 1886 rifle if your collection, congratulations! Now is the time. It is not hyperbole when I say that I have never before seen so many gorgeous examples of a single Winchester model in one sale. Their features run the gamut: takedown models, antiques, casehardened, factory engraved, fancy stocks, checkered stocks, shotgun butts, 1/2 magazines, pistol grips, set triggers, big calibers, small calibers… you name it, it’s all but guaranteed to be in this sale. I won’t run down the list of exceptional examples one-by-one, there are simply too many, but I will leave you this handy little link so you can see for yourself.  Oh OK, and some photos too.

Lot 3006: Magnificent Factory Engraved Winchester Deluxe Model 1886 Takedown Lever Action Rifle. Est $55,000 – $85,000
Lot 3002: Outstanding Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action antique Winchester Rifle with Desirable Casehardened Receiver and Factory Letter. Est. $16,000 – $27,500
Lot 26: Exceptional Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Rifle in 45-90 with Factory Letter. Est. $25,000 – $40,000
Lot 2000: Exceptionally Fine Early Production Special Order Winchester Deluxe Model 1886 Lever Action Rifle in .45-90. Est. $30,000 – $40,000

As this motley grouping might suggest, the depth and quality of Winchesters in this sale is overwhelming. Extending far beyond the classic lever guns, the auction will host Winchesters for nearly every collecting interest: sporting arms, U.S. military, lever actions, rimfire, exhibition pieces, high art, and investment buyers. Take some time right now to search our catalog for your favorites and place your bids. Time is running out before this momentous sale begins.

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