Old Winchester rifles are generally categorized as either antique or vintage. The antique rifles are defined as those that were manufactured up through 1898, while vintage rifles were manufactured between 1899 and 1963.
History of Old Winchester Rifles
The Winchester Arms Repeating Rifles Company founded in 1866, produced Winchester rifles. The plant that manufactured the rifles was based in New Haven, Connecticut. The name of the company was changed in 1866 after Oliver Winchester bought controlling shares in the New Haven Arms Company.
New Haven was the producer of the Henry Rifle. After changing leadership and ownership through the years, the current owners of the Winchester trademark closed the operations at the New Haven facility and transferred their production of Model 70 rifles to their facility in Columbia, SC.
The Henry Rifle
The Henry rifle found great use in the Civil War. It enabled the soldiers to rapid fire during battle and effectively defeat the enemy that was still using single fire weapons. Many soldiers opted to purchase their own weapons for the war and many of those that did purchased Henrys. The rifle proved to be reliable, accurate and rugged.
Lever Action Repeaters
While the model 1873 was known as "the Rifle that won the West," the model 1894 is probably the best known old Winchester rifle made. Many models of the lever action rifle were made prior to 1900 and changed as innovations were introduced.
Though the original repeaters were chambered to use rim fire cartridges, the Model 1876, designed to celebrate the Nation's Centennial, was changed to use the newly designed high-powered center fire cartridges developed by John Browning. As a historical side note, President Theodore Roosevelt used a number of the Winchester model rifles as hunting rifles when he went hunting in the West and on African safari.
Other Rifles Made by Winchester
Winchester also made a number of rifles other than the lever action rifles for which they are best known. They manufactured a single shot rifle from as far back in time as 1885. In 1953, Winchester introduced a bolt-action rifle in 1925, even though it had been making a single shot bolt action .22 rifle since 1899. Winchester was not limited to only the design and production of rifles; they also had a few shotgun designs. In particular, the model 1912 pump action shotgun was the one of the best pump actions ever made, selling more than 2 million pieces before Winchester canceled it in 1963.
The design of Winchester firearms underwent an extreme redesign in 1964. Enthusiasts consider that to be the time when the line declined in desirability. This is one of the reasons that old Winchester rifles are in such demand by collectors.
Popularity of Winchester Rifles
Following the introduction of the Henry Rifle, the Winchester became the most purchased and used rifle from 1866 until well into the 1900. Even decades later, it is still a popular rifle for sportsmen and hunters. The model 1876 was also made in a number of calibers, including 45-70, 40-60, 45-60 and 50-95. The 50-95 version was the only repeating rifle known to be used by the buffalo hunters. The later production models were chambered as .30-.30 caliber shells.
Due to the great degree of history attached to the Winchester rifle, many collectors have a special place for these rifles in their collections. The rifles have played an important role in history as far back as the Civil War, the movement west and during the Indian Wars. Hollywood has also used the Winchester lever action rifles in scores of Western films throughout the years. In fact, one of Hollywood's most famous actors, John Wayne, carried or used one in most of his Western movies.
Old Winchester rifles are graded and priced according to the degree of originality. Any reworking of the rifle over time reduces its value. Things as simple as reapplying blue to the rifle or repairing the stock can drastically change a rifle's collector value. On the other hand, special options that were available at the time the rifle was manufactured increase the value.
Buying Old Rifles
Old rifles can be purchased from antique firearms dealers or at specialty auctions. Be sure to check your local gun ordinances before purchasing rifles, even antiques, to ensure you are in full compliance with the law.