This information is available from various sources including the Winchester Dates of Manufacture pocket book and the factory records at the Cody Firearms Museum. Not all Winchester records are readily available in that case further research from other sources may be required.
All Winchesters, including commemoratives, are collectable.
You never pay too much for a Winchester–sometimes you simply buy them a little early“…George Madis
Rarity – A collectable firearm’s value will generally be increased in inverse proportion to the number of pieces manufactured along with any rare special-ordered features it may have.
Originality – The piece must have all of the attributes of the weapon as it was received from the factory when new. Refinished steel and/or wood surfaces, altered components, cut down or replaced barrel, magazine, stock, replaced screws, etc., will materially diminish collector value.
Desirability – The model and configuration has a large impact on the gun’s desirability and therefore its value: i.e.: a Henry versus a Winchester – Lee model. Also, certain features are desirable and will sometimes even outweigh rarity. A .44 caliber rifle or carbine will always be valued higher than the .38 caliber which will always be valued higher than a .32 caliber Winchester with all other features being the same. An octagon barreled, full magazine, crescent butt configuration will always have greater market value than a round barreled, half magazine shotgun butt configuration with all other attributes and features being equal.
Condition – Most dealers agree that condition is what sells in today’s market place. Values will span a 10 fold range depending on the percentage of original condition. A piece that is in 100% original condition will be worth at least 10 times more than a piece that is in 10% original condition. However, this value equation is not linear. The value increase between an 85% piece and a 95% piece being significantly greater than 10%!
Age – the older the piece the greater the value given similar model characteristics. A First model 1873 Winchester will always be worth more than a Second model which will always be worth more than a Third model having the same condition and factory specifications. An antique (pre-1899) will be worth more than a non-antique (post-1898).
Factory Documentation – Factory records which list a gun’s configuration are available only within certain serial ranges. Generally, but not in all cases, a Winchester which falls into the documented (or “letterable”) serial range has more value than an identical piece which is outside the range.
Historical Significance – A piece with authentic documentation evidencing a role in an historical event will always have significantly more value than a similar piece w/o historical significance. Values can be increased as much as 100 fold. An 1873 Springfield carbine worth $2,500 might bring $250,000 if it can be documented as being present in the Custer fight at the Little Big Horn River in 1876. However, historical documentation is difficult to prove and can be faked easier than physically altering the weapon itself!
Provenance – A firearm that has an irrefutable record of ownership will have more value than an identical piece without such provenance and the more prominent the former owners, the more the value.
Current Market – Collector likes and dislikes vary over time. Some items which were most desirable last year may give way to different items this year. This is the least predictable and most difficult factor in determining the value of any collector piece. The high end collector fraternity can be very thinly populated at times. It only takes two collectors to escalate prices at auction to astronomical heights making recent auction results a poor guideline.
Complicating the process is the fact that the weight given to each of the above factors will vary by model and by manufacturer which makes it impossible to condense these factors to a universal mathematical equation.
When you have your Winchester appraised for insurance, estate purposes or if you may wish to sell the firearm, seek the advice of an experienced and knowledgeable Winchester collector or dealer who has no conflict of interest in providing such an appraisal (avoid “the fox guarding the hen house” situation). WACA members and member/dealers are always good place to start. All appraisals should be in writing on the appraiser’s letterhead and based on a physical examination of the gun. Values are usually stated as a price range verses a specific amount. In reality, the value of any collectable firearm is determined by what someone is willing to pay for it and on the day it is sold.
It is impossible to know the historical significance on the vast majority of Winchesters; however, there are some documented. Factory records on file at the Cody Firearms Museum generally do not list where the Winchester was shipped or to whom it was sold. This information is primarily found from other sources. An affidavit from a “John Doe” may not be the most reliable (or accepted) source when determining historical information and should be considered only as a first step in the research required. There are numerous books relating to collecting Winchesters offered at our online General Store, or at most on-line and retail booksellers.
While the stock market has its ups and downs, it is the opinion of most collectors that Winchesters seem only to increase in value. In addition to the pride of ownership factor, many collectors view their Winchester collections as their “401(k)”.
While there is no substitute for years of hands-on experience, valuable knowledge can be gained by reading books on Winchesters. The single most comprehensive book is The Winchester Book by George Madis, available at most on-line and retail booksellers. Other excellent, more specialized books are available as well. Experienced collectors own every book available on Winchesters.
Education is the key to collecting success. In this regard, it would be reason enough to join WACA to receive our quarterly magazine alone; but there are many other member benefits.