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June 15, 2019

What Makes Winchester Firearms So Valuable?

By Danielle Hollembaek

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The name “Winchester” rings through the years of gun collecting past, carrying a prestige few other manufacturers can reach. But how can one brand of firearms achieve a level of fame that people are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single rifle? There are many factors at play including provenance, condition, rarity, history, special features, and other small desired qualities that could make an unassuming looking Winchester worth a hefty price tag. The range of reasons to why a Winchester firearm can sell high is broad, but knowing why a person gives up their well-earned money for Winchester firearms can help one understand the world of gun collecting.

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. 

The History Behind Winchester Firearms

Rock Island Auction Company has already written a blog going in-depth about the history of Winchester rifles that can be read here.  As you read about the history behind establishing the company, one will see that it wasn’t exactly a quick or simple path for Oliver Winchester.

As many collectors know, the Henry Rifle is one of the most iconic of all guns produced by New Haven Arms and the first Winchester design. The rifle was quite popular during the Civil War era seeing use in battles across the nation. There were many other repeaters on the market, but special qualities like reliability and capacity made the Henry rifles made them stick out among the competition.

After the war, Winchester started his own manufacturer, Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Winchester used parts from the Henry to make the “new” Winchester rifle with improvements patented by Nelson King, the Superintendent of the factory. The lever action rifle was well produced and an improvement when compared to the Henry. The loading gate of the Winchester rifle was much better for speed and accessibility than the Henry. The Henry rifle was beloved by people all across the country, so capitalizing on the success and making the design better was a sure fire way to see success in the firearms industry.

Lot 8: Desirable U.S. Contract Henry Lever Action Rifle Documented to the 97th Indiana Infantry Regiment. Available in the 2019 June Regional Auction.

After the widespread success of the Model 1866 Winchester rifle, the company propelled its way forward producing the Model 1873, 1876, 1886, 1892, 1894, 1895 in the next 30 years. Not to mention the variety of shotguns and single-shot rifles the company also produced. Winchester made thousands and thousands of rifles in the 1800s alone. The interesting origin story helped it make its mark on history. It never hurts to build success off of already known and popular brands. Fans of Henry rifles and Volcanic firearms tend to collect Winchester rifles for they share a connected history. The Winchester company did survive longer and was around in a time where innovation spread like wildfire aiding the rifle in its evolution. Throughout the years, special features could be added to a gun and prestigious historic figures took this opportunity to make elaborate firearms. The longevity and special features is one big reason Winchester firearms have high valuation above other manufacturers to this day.

Lot 1025: Exceptional Winchester Model 1866 Saddle Ring Carbine. Sold for $28,750 in April 2018.

The Provenance of Winchester Rifles

Historic Relevance

Beyond the unique background of the company’s origins, many Winchester rifles have belonged to or been presented to important military heroes, Wild West legends, and political leaders. The Model 1873 is acclaimed as being, “the Gun That Won The West.” Buffalo Bill loved his Winchester Model 1873 so much that he traveled with it during his Wild West Show years. The gun currently resides in the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Wyoming. Annie Oakley, who traveled with his show, also carried a Winchester rifle but she chose the Model 1892 which she used in her arena performances. Both famed Western legends have commemorative versions of their Winchester rifles as reproductions since they were such important figures to the Wild West. The provenance not only of the Winchesters used by the popular figures themselves, but the fame earned around the models they used propel the prices of these rifles sky high in value.

Besides western historical figures, military generals were also awarded Winchester rifles for their years of service and heroic acts. RIAC set what was then a world record in April of 2018 for the most expensive single firearm ever sold and it was the Winchester Model 1886 rifle that previously belonged to the captor of Geronimo. The Winchester rifle is still the highest selling Winchester rifle to ever be sold at auction. The story and historic past of the firearm made it sell for an astounding 1.265 million dollars. The fact the gun was a beautifully cased harden deluxe Winchester most likely helped it achieve the high values at auction combined with its story. This is just one example of a Winchester belonging to a famed military hero, if you are interested seeing more, keep an eye out on items in our Premier Auctions that happen three times a year. We always have a wide variety of historic Winchesters in the three day sales.

Lot 1025: Historic Winchester Model 1886 Rifle Serial Number 1 and Pocket Watch Presented to Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Captain Henry W. Lawton, Noted Captor, following the Surrender of Chiricahua Apache Leader Geronimo. Sold for $1.265 million in April 2016.

Esteemed Winchester Collections

Provenance can come from historic relevance, but it also derives from the collection a deluxe, high conditioned Winchester has belonged to over the year. There are quite a few highly regarded collections such as the Robert M. Lee, Allan Cors, Larry Jones, and Mac McCroskie. Any guns that crossed those valuable collections are bound to be in pristine condition, have historic importance, and be spectacular examples of Winchester rifles and other firearms. These collector’s have dedicated years to research to these firearms to help prove authenticity and rarity, so it is reassuring to purchase a Winchester firearm from a seasoned collection.

These collectors devote their lives to learning about the guns they own and seek. Through this education, they build their collections and find the best Winchester rifles and other guns that they can to improve their ever growing and rotating collection. If you come across a Winchester that belonged to an esteemed collector, you can rest assured that it is well researched and thoroughly examined.

Lot 3056: Rare Documented Factory Engraved Winchester Deluxe Model 1890 Slide Action Rifle with Factory Letter. Belonged in the Robert M. Lee Collection and sold for $51,750 in December 2018.

Rarity in Winchester Rifles


It is no secret that Winchester rifles have produced a high quality and reliable products since its inception. If a person is looking for a gun that will outlive them, a Winchester is not a bad choice for your desire. From the materials used to the expert producers and the quality of design Winchester had, and still has today, a top notch operation in place. They always are on the edge of innovation which was very important during the Industrial Revolution and in modern times. Keeping a few steps ahead of your competitors can make or break you. Between the minds making the guns and the people marketing the new firearms, the company has continued to succeed in the firearms industry. The constant striving to be the best has helped Winchester rifles sell well in the past and present. The extra effort and details have made the guns timeless classics.

Lot 2015: Exceptional Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Saddle Ring Carbine with Factory Letter. Sold for $28,750 in December 2018.

Special Features of Winchester Rifles

As Winchester rifles gained more and more fame throughout the country and the world, the company started doing special orders and deluxe finishes for the firearms. Deluxe Winchesters could include checkering, engraving, inlaid detail work, special wood with piano finish, barrel finish, case hardening, and other high quality additions to make the gun special among others of its model. When people ordered Winchesters from a catalog, there would be the standard features for each model and the price, then there would be “add-ons” to improve the appearance and also the functional features of the gun.

These Winchesters are top notch pieces of art in many cases. From the gorgeous blue finish to the casehardened details, when you see a masterpiece deluxe Winchester rifle in person, you will understand why they sell for thousands of dollars. Nothing beats luxurious features on a great classic gun. Having just one one deluxe feature sets a Winchester apart from thousands of others of its kind, but adding a few more bumps up the rarity to insane levels.

Lot 1017: Fresh to the Market, Well-Documented and Extraordinary Factory Engraved Special Order Winchester Model 1876 Deluxe Rifle with Factory Letter: The Finest of Its Type Known. Sold for $747,500 in April 2018.

The “One of One Thousand” Series

There are certainly Winchester varieties that were produced in small quantities that now bring HUGE cash values. The “One of One Thousand Model 1976” series is one of those legendary collections. The guns came with a special markings, deluxe features, and were masterfully manufactured. Despite the name, only 54 Model 1876 “One of One Thousand” Winchester rifles were produced by the company. The Model 1873 also had a “One of One Thousand” series in which the company produced 136 rifles. Both are very rare, but the Model 1876 version is a bit more prestigious because of its scarcity. In September of 2018, RIAC sold a “One of One Thousand” Model 1876 for the astounding price of $891,250.

Lot 1009: Ultra-Rare Documented Winchester “One of One Thousand” Deluxe Model 1876 Lever Action Rifle with Factory Letter. Sold for $891,250 in September 2018.

Even rarer comes the “One of One Hundred” Model 1873 Winchester rifles. Only 8 were ever produced and only 6 can be traced back to collections today. Needless to say, if you own a “One of One Hundred” Winchester, you are in an elite club. In December of 2018, RIAC sold a “one of one hundred” Winchester for $805,000.

Lot 35: Ultra-Rare Documented Winchester “One of One Hundred” Model 1873 Lever Action Rifle with Factory Letter and 1878 Inscription Identified as the Last of the One of One Hundred 1873 Rifles. Sold for $805,000 in December 2018.

Not All Winchester Rifles Are Extremely Pricey

Now that we have taken a look at why Winchester rifles sell for thousands of dollars, let take a step back a see the rifles that are budget friendly and affordable to just about everyone. At Rock Island Auction Company, we see Winchesters ranging from one thousand to one million dollars year round in our various auctions. Our Online and Regional sales include a nice selection on modern Winchester rifles that are very nicely kept and function well for heavier use. In our upcoming 2019 June Regional Auction, we have hundreds of Winchester rifles and shotguns up for sale at very affordable estimated prices. Lot 4403 includes a Pre-64 Winchester Model 70 bolt action rifle manufactured in 1954. The rifle is in working condition with all its parts.

Lot 4403: Pre-64 Winchester Model 70 Bolt Action Rifle. Available this June.

Another budget friendly option for Winchesters in our next auction is accompanied by its factory letter. Lot 2010 is an antique Winchester Model 1886 lever action rifle. It was manufactured in 1898 making it an antique. The gun does show some use, but sometimes the best part of collecting is thinking about the previous owners and how they used the firearm you now own. The gun includes completely original parts, as well.

Lot 2010: Antique Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Rifle with Factory Letter. Available this June.

The last affordable Winchester rifle highlight was produced in 1876 and is a First Model Winchester 1873 lever action saddle ring carbine. This is an old gun and one that is quite the antique for the estimated price. RIAC is offering a few first year model Winchesters in the June Regional Auction. Check out our catalog to get a look at all the Winchester rifles available.

Lot 32: Desirable First Model Winchester Model 1873 Saddle Ring Carbine. Available this June.

Shop Winchester Rifles with RIAC

Hopefully this blog has helped you grasp an understanding as to why Winchester rifles seem to always sell very well at auction. The truth is, Winchesters are great guns and a lot of people have sought after owning one for over a hundred years. It really is no wonder they have held high price tags for so long and continue to see growth in valuation. A nice Winchester is a great investment. Be sure to keep an eye on our catalogs to pick up your next Winchester. Our 2019 June Regional Auction starts Wednesday with our Preview Day and party and the live auction begins the following day on Thursday at 9am. We hope you get a chance to win the Winchester rifle you’ve been hoping to own.

Lot 7: Attractive Engraved Winchester Model 1866 Lever Action Rifle. Available this June.

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