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October 23, 2014

The Silver Standard of Winchesters

By Joel R Kolander

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Gold inlaid Winchesters always attract attention at auction. Most times, that gold embellishment was reserved for special presentation or exhibition pieces that were the pinnacle of American firearms artwork. They, as well as gold washes, could be added for what today seems like ridiculously low prices, but relatively could be an additional 10% on top of the price of the gun. However, silver was also used frequently to decorate Winchesters for exhibitions, well-to-do buyers, and for presentations.

Rock Island Auction Company has sold and written about some amazing “golden” Winchesters we were entrusted with earlier this year. Little did we know that mere months later we would find ourselves in the middle of a “silver rush!” These are truly amazing firearms that set a silver standard for early lever guns.

Spectacular Winchester Factory Presentation, Deluxe, Silver-Plated Model 1866 Lever Action Rifle

This beauty is a third model 1866 that was manufactured c. 1873 with silver covering its frame, trigger, crescent buttplate, factory swing swivels, and forearm cap. The only remaining parts are the piano-finished English Walnut stock & forearm, the blued bolt, barrel, & loading gate, and the casehardened hammer & lever. There is a remarkable percentage of silver plating remaining and it enjoys a myriad of patina colors, as well as inscriptions on both sides of the frame. The right side reads, “David Ross,” and the left side reads, “Presented to the 2nd Regt. Rifle Association/By the/ Winchester Rifle Club/ New Haven/ Conn.” Many times on a silver plated gun, much of the silver has worn away and only traces of it are left in corners or protected areas of the firearm. Not this Winchester!

Estimate: $130,000 – $200,000

Spectacular Winchester Factory Presentation, Deluxe, Silver-Plated Model 1866 Lever Action Rifle

Estimate $30,000 – $50,000

This gun simply commands attention where ever it goes! The dark wood against the bright silver plated receiver, the gold inlay, and of course the seven-leaf express sight are a dynamite combination sure to be a bright spot in any collection. It is a virtual grocery list of special order features and exceedingly rare as detailed in the book “Winchester New Model of 1873, Volume I” by James D. Gordon. He is quoted as calling the seven-leaf sight, “the rarest and most interesting rear sight found on Model 1873’s.” At the time of his writing, Gordon was able to positively identify the serial numbers of 10 rifles known to have been fitted with it. To add to its rarity, Gordon also notes that while the majority of the rifles with seven-leaf express sights also had special order features such as engraving, plating, deluxe wood, etc, only two of them had “rare matted barrels.” This particular gun does not disappoint in the special order department; it has the silver plating, 26-inch octagon barrel with matted top flat, single set trigger, factory engraving on several components, deluxe checkering on the deluxe, fancy grain wood, a pistol grip, an ebony insert, and the left side of the receiver is gold inlaid with the factory documented presentation text, “A.I.N. Duran Hoopstadt.” Meanwhile the right sideplate features an engraved hound’s head surrounded by scrollwork and a punch-dot background.

Supporting documents from the Cody Firearms Museum state that this particular rifle was shipped from the Winchester warehouse on Dec 27, 1882. The describers here at RIAC have done an excellent job detailing the rifle’s provenance, as follows:

“Research identifies “Hoopstadt” was a town in South Africa located in what was once the Boer Orange Free State. Considerable fighting between the British and Boers took place in and around Hoopstadt during the Boer War (1899-1902). The document further states that “Duraan” is a common Afrikaner name and that Albertus Duraan (b. Orange Free State c. 1848) is very possibly the “A.I.N. DURAN” who was the recipient of this rifle. In addition to the special features, the top of the matted barrel flat is roll-stamped with the Winchester two-line legend with King’s Improvement patent dates.”

Click to see a larger version of the factory letter.

Very Fine Factory Engraved Silver-Plated New Haven Arms Co. Volcanic Carbine with 16-Inch Barrel

Not only is the brass receiver still abundantly plated with silver, but it’s a historically significant firearm to boot! For those that don’t know the story, Oliver Winchester, a New York clothing manufacturer at the time, discovered a portion of the Smith & Wesson company that wasn’t doing well. Being a savvy investor, in 1850 Winchester raised some capital with others and purchased the lagging business department known as the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. Within seven years, Winchester had moved Volcanic to New Haven, Connecticut, the site of one of his clothing factories, and was the primary stockholder. To accompany the new location, the company was renamed the New Haven Arms Company.

This rifle would have been manufactured around 1860, in the time period when New Haven Arms existed. We know this thanks not only to the serial number, but also because of the legend rolled on top of the barrel that simply reads, “Patent.” That particular mark was introduced in April of 1857 after Oliver Winchester had acquired Volcanic.

Honorable Mentions

1. Extremely Rare Factory Engraved Colt Paterson No. 2 Belt Model Revolver with Eight Inlaid Silver Bands.

With it’s estimate of $80,000 – $150,000, this silver banded and engraved Paterson is potentially the second priciest gun in this article, so why the honorable mention? Well, it was featured previously when we unveiled our amazing selection of Colts at the 35th Annual Colt Show, and there are so many other guns to show you!

2. Desirable New Haven Arms Co. Silver-Plated No.1 Lever Action Pocket Pistol with Patriotic Motif FactoryExcellent and Deluxe Engraving

Estimate $11,000 – $16,000

Look at all the silver on this historic New Haven Arms Volcanic pistol! The high-polish on the walnut grips is very attractive and the factory engraving with its patriotic theme and scrolls is yet another embellishment that remains crisp and in fine condition. Hints of the bright original bluing remain and when you put them all together you have an excellent collectors piece that must have cost quite a pretty penny back in the day. It’s fun to imagine how sharp this gun would have looked coming straight from the factory.

3. Factory Engraved Silver-Plated Volcanic Lever Action Navy Pistol

Estimate: $16,000 – $25,000

The first thing you may notice about this gun, is that you have to look a little harder for the silver plating. Rest assured, it’s there! Traces of silver remain, and the condition on the rest of the gun is as strong as ever. Look at all that bluing, the gorgeous high polish wood, and the vivid case hardening on the trigger and hammer. This gun is a stunner that easily earns its honorable mention status.

I hope you enjoyed looking at all these silver beauties, but the best part is… these aren’t all of them! When the Online Catalog for our December 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction is posted in the coming weeks, you’ll be able to see guns with all kinds of precious metal finishes, works from Master Engravers, unbelievable high condition pieces, and brightly colored case hardening. If you think you can’t wait to see them, imagine how it feels to have to wait to show them! All in good time, collector friends.

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