When people think of firearms, there are a few names that immediately come to mind, and Winchester is one of the first. Old Winchester rifles are synonymous with the America during the 19th century, and their lever-action, metal plated appearances contributed to them becoming one of the most popular weapons for decades. Now, firearms enthusiasts clamor over these antique rifles and are willing to pay you, or any other lucky soul, quite the lump sum for one.
Oliver Winchester and the Winchester Rifle
Oliver Fisher Winchester and two other investors banded together to launch the rebranded Winchester Arms Repeating Rifles Company in 1866. The original company that they rebranded manufactured the repeating Henry rifle, a well-known weapon which laid the foundation for what the company would become legendary for.
Winchester's Henry Rifle
Prior to Winchester's acquisition of the Henry rifle, it found a lot of popularity during the Civil War. Its fast speeds enabled 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 during the war, and quite a number of those that were purchased were Henrys. In short, this rifle proved to be reliable, accurate, and rugged.
Winchester's 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 ever made. These mid to late-19th century lever action models proved to be continually innovative and groundbreaking, leading to them dominating the weapons industry and a long-term partnership with the United States government.
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. Interestingly, even presidential incumbents had an affinity for these rifles; 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 Winchester Rifles
Surprisingly, Winchester also made a number of rifles that weren't lever-action. Among these include a single-shot rifle that was manufactured as far back as 1885. Subsequently, Winchester introduced a bolt-action rifle in 1925, even though it had been making a single shot bolt action .22 rifle since 1899. As its other products attest to, Winchester wasn't limited to only the design and production of rifles; they also had a few shotguns in their lineups as well. 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.
Unfortunately, Winchester firearms underwent an extreme redesign in 1964, which directly correlates to what firearm enthusiasts consider to be the company's downfall. Thanks to this decrease in demand and customer dissatisfaction, the desire to own antique Winchester rifles is still incredibly high.
Winchester Rifles to Complete Your Collection
There're a handful of Winchester rifle models that stand out in the line-up of the company's 20+ configurations. So, if you're looking to add a new Winchester lever-action to your collection, and aren't sure where to start, these incredibly valuable treasures might be the perfect - albeit, expensive - pieces to add to your gun safe.
Briggs Patent Henry Rifle
The Briggs Winchester Rifle displays an evolutionary link between the firearms leading up to the creation of Winchester's infamous 1866 rifle. George F. Briggs was contracted to unravel the loading and magazine issues with the Henry Rifle, and the resulting prototype greatly improved on these issues. Regular Briggs rifles can sell for around $100,000 at auction, but the original prototype presented to Briggs' family was recently put to auction and sold for $172,500.
Captain Henry Ware Lawton's 1886 Winchester Rifle
The 1886 Winchester rifle is already an incredibly popular model, but one specific model recently became the most expensive gun ever to be sold in an auction. This model 1886 sold for $1.256 million and was awarded to Captain Henry Ware Lawton, the man who captured Geronimo, a famous Apache leader, in 1886. Despite this gun's dubious and unscrupulous connections, given the American treatment of the landscape's indigenous communities, the gun is historically significant.
Model 1876 Winchester Rifle
Winchester's 1876 model rifles are popular in their own right, but the rifles from this series that're the most collectible are considered "one of one thousand" thanks to the limited number (a total of 54) of special rifles that were released with deluxe features. Thanks to this rarity, these rifles can sell for upwards of $500,000-$1 million. For instance, one of these models sold at auction for $891,250 in 2018.
Model 1873 Winchester Rifle
Even rarer than the "one in one thousand" Winchester rifles are the "one in one hundred" model 1873 rifles from the legendary firearms manufacturer. According to the Rock Island Auction Company, who often deals in these antique firearms, only eight of these specialty rifles were ever produced, with only six having known whereabouts today. In 2018, RIAC was lucky enough to sell one of these "one of one hundred" rifles for $805,000.
Winchester Model 1866
The first ever rifle to bear the Winchester name, this mid-19th century lever-action rifle is iconic for its brass receiver and detailed engravings. High-quality authentic models of this rifle can sell for anywhere between $10,000-$500,000 depending on the year they were produced, their provenance, and their condition. One of the most expensive of these rifles recently sold for $437,000 thanks to Conrad Ulrich's breathtaking gild work.
Popularity of Winchester Rifles
Following the introduction of the Henry Rifle, Winchester rifles became the most purchased and used rifles from 1866 until well into the 20th century. Even decades later, it's still a popular rifle for sportsmen and hunters. Collectors aren't limited to a single 1876 model; rather, it was also made in a number of calibers, including 45-70, 40-60, 45-60 and 50-95 and the 50-95 version was the only repeating rifle known to be used by the buffalo hunters.
The World of Collecting Winchester Rifles
Thanks to the American mythos surrounding how it (horrifically) conquered the west and popular cultural's fascination with this western ideal, Winchester rifles have transcended the position of being just a firearm, and turned into something so intricately connected to American iconography that people would pay thousands and thousands of dollars for the right kind of Winchester rifle. Of course, this popularity hasn't waned any, due in large part to classic Hollywood's period of western films and television series in the 1940s-1950s.
Winchester Rifle Values
Old Winchester rifles are graded and priced according to a variety of factors, including authenticity, condition, model, and age. Any restorations or modifications made to these original rifles almost always decrease their value, the degree of which depends on how severe the modifications are. Things as simple as reapplying blue to the rifle or repairing the stock will drastically change a rifle's collector value. On the other hand, special configurations that were available at the time that the rifle was manufactured usually increase their value. That being said, most of these rifles sell for anywhere between the low thousands to the hundreds of thousands of dollars mark.
What to Consider When 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're in full compliance with the law. Also, take these considerations when you're purchasing rifles online as you don't want to accidentally break a law shipping a firearm across state lines or country borders.
Winchester Rifles Never Go Out of Style
The Winchester name is synonymous with powerful, reliable, and stylish firearms, and their antique rifles are so popular that the company brought back modern productions of its most popular 19th century models. Thus, if you can't yet afford an authentic antique Winchester rifle, then you can always turn to the more affordable modern interpretations to satisfy all of your 19th century needs.