What you see: A closeup of a Winchester 1873 “1 of 1000” rifle, serial number 6594. James D. Julia estimates it at $250,000 to $400,000.
What is the Winchester Model 1873? It was one of the most popular 19th century firearms from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which touted the Model 1873 as “The gun that won the West”. Named for the year in which it debuted, Winchester produced well over 700,000 of them from 1873 until 1923.
What does “1 of 1000” mean? “According to Winchester, they were barrels specially selected for accuracy. It’s estimated that only one of a thousand barrels met those accuracy standards,” says J.R. LaRue, head of James D. Julia’s fine firearms consulting department, noting that 136 Winchester Model 1873s earned the designation, and about 70 to 75 of those still exist.
How often do Winchester Model 1873 “1 of 1000” examples come to auction? LaRue says he started to see them appear at James D. Julia about eight to 10 years ago, and saw many more come in during the last two to three years. “In this auction, we have three. The other two, I haven’t had time to describe yet,” he says, “But they’re not anything remotely like the quality of the one you read the description on [this one]. This is a really fine, high-condition example.”
This example dates to 1875, the year in which Winchester introduced the “1 of 1000” designation. Does that make the firearm more valuable? “It may add a little bit of prestige to a new owner, but it’s not going to add significantly to the value,” LaRue says.
It’s described as “one of the highest condition Model 1 of 1000 Winchester rifles extant.” What does “high condition” mean here? “It doesn’t show a lot of wear, and it shows a great deal of original finish,” he says. “The likelihood is the owner who purchased the rifle held it in such high regard, he didn’t allow it to be abused or exposed to the elements. Whoever owned it took care of it. It didn’t rattle around in a wagon box or a saddle scabbard.”
In the realm of antique firearms, condition includes functionality. Does this one work? “We don’t fire it at all,” he says. “We only check the functionality of the mechanics to ensure it’s working as intended.”
How unusual is it for an elite 19th century Winchester to have even a partial provenance, as this one does? “Pretty rare. Most of them can only be dated back to 1950, when Universal Studios searched for 1 of 1000 rifles to promote the movie Winchester ’73. We know the history of this one back to 1935,” LaRue says. The first twenty owners who wrote to the studio received a Winchester 184 “Carbie” for their efforts. The person who owned the rifle in 1950 was quick enough on the draw and won a Carbie. That 20th century gun is included in the lot.
This rifle is estimated at $250,000 to $400,000. James D. Julia sold a Winchester 1873 1 of 1000 in fall of 2014 for $258,750. Could this Winchester 1873 1 of 1000 do better? “It certainly has a chance to do so. I absolutely hope it does,” he says.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of James D. Julia.