Winchester Dominates at the Rock Island Auction

The annual Western firearms auction was a success for all.

The auction included an assortment of edged weapons and six cannons. This field cannon, with a complete set of accessories, took top dollar among the big guns, hammering in at $9,200.

Rock Island Auction Company’s February event was a “personal best” for the auction house. With a record number of over 4,800 lots, totaling 8,700 firearms, the auction brought in $11,143,413. Two hundred different manufacturers were represented, but Winchester Repeating Arms Company was the star of the show, with a total of 943 lots. Nearly 30 of those brought the top prices of the auction.

Over 2,000 handguns were sold at the Rock Island Auction, including a large assortment of Colts. They included this example of the iconic Colt Single Action Army revolver, which brought $10,925.

The products of Winchester Repeating Arms Company represent the convergence of shrewd businessmen and innovative arms design. Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson (who later founded Smith and Wesson), designer Benjamin Henry and clothing manufacturer Oliver Winchester were all associated with the company during its early history. Henry worked for Winchester from 1856 to 1864, leaving a legacy as the inventor of the repeating rifle. Even after Henry left Winchester, the company continued to build on his innovations, creating the Winchester Model 1866 and the Winchester Model 1873. Winchesters quickly became the most popular rifles in the American West, with the Model 1873 nicknamed “The Gun That Won the West.” 

Oliver Winchester’s first company, the New Haven Arms Company, was renamed the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1866. The highest price realized during the auction was $34,500 for a Henry lever-action rifle made by New Haven Arms in 1862. Henry rifles were particularly popular during the Civil War with Union soldiers, who purchased them during the war and later kept them as they moved westward. A Winchester Model 1866, nicely engraved and signed by John Ulrich, brought $28,700.  There were around 100 Winchester Model 1873 rifles sold in the auction, with a deluxe model shipped in 1889 taking the top dollar among them for $6,325. Winchester’s popularity has clearly not subsided; Winchester dominated this auction, just as it dominated the Old West.

This Winchester Model 1866, beautifully decorated with geometric designs, was created by the company’s master engraver, John Ulrich. It sold for $28,750.

UPCOMING AUCTIONS

June 25-27, 2021

31st Annual Cody Old West Show & Auction 

Brian Lebel’s Old West Events (Santa Fe, NM)

OldWestEvents.com • 480-779-9378

August 20-21, 2021

The Russell Auction

C.M. Russell Museum (Great Falls, MT) 

CMRussell.org • 406-727-8787

September 9-12, 2021

Premier Firearms Auction #83

Rock Island Auction Co. (Rock Island, IL) 

RockIslandAuction.com • 309-797-1500

An early lever-action rifle, designed by Henry in 1860 and manufactured in 1862 by New Haven Arms, brought in $34,000.
This Henry-designed lever-action rifle, produced for use in the Civil War by New Haven Arms in 1863, sold for $23,000.
The popular Winchester Model 1873 continued in production for many years. Bearing an 1888 serial number and shipped in 1889, this Winchester 1873 sold for $6,325.

All images courtesy Rock Island Auction Company

Steve Friesen comes to “Collecting the West” with over 40 years of experience in collecting for museums, including evaluating and acquiring artifacts from the American West. 

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