In 1875, Winchester Repeating Arms Company came up with a marketing scheme to promote their rifles by featuring those that turned out just a bit closer to perfect than the others. They wrote:

The barrel of every sporting rifle we make will be proved and shot at a target, and the target will be numbered to correspond with the barrel and be attached to it. All of these barrels that are found to make targets of extra merit will be made up into guns with set-triggers and extra finish and marked as a designating name “One of a Thousand” and sold at $100. The next grade of barrels, not quite so fine, will be marked “One of a Hundred” and set up in order in any style at $20 advance over the list price of the corresponding style of gun as shown in price list.

Just as in today’s world of marketing, some schemes fall flat. This one tanked. Customers thought the statement meant Winchester’s regular rifles were of only average or poor accuracy, and you had to pay extra money to get one that turned out to be a true marksman’s gun. In today’s parlance, we would say their Quality Control isn’t stable. In less than two years, and after making only 136 Model 1873 “One of One Thousand” rifles, eight Model 1873 “One of One Hundred” rifles, 53 Model 1876 “One of One Thousand” rifles, and eight Model 1876 “One of One Hundred” rifles, Winchester dropped these monikers.

There were one or two of these fine guns that popped up in the annals of history, but nothing too noteworthy. Finally, in 1950, a movie was made based on an earlier fiction article centered around a “One of a Thousand” 1873 rifle that changed hands several times. The movie “Winchester ‘73” with Jimmy Stewart brought the “almost perfect” rifle into the spotlight again, and all of a sudden, an old rifle with a little extra embellishment was in high demand.


People started pulling out their old ‘73s to see if they were marked “One of One Thousand”, or the earlier marking “1 of 1000”. Collectors just had to have one like Jimmy Stewart. Depending upon condition, one of these could sell today from between $40,000 and $400,000. Not bad for a gun that originally sold for a whopping $100. Too bad Winchester Repeating Arms did not see any of that money in the 1870s.

This new-found frenzy kind of reminds me of a large-bore handgun cartridge that was only known in some handgun-hunting circles until 1971 when a certain fictional hard-nosed San Francisco Police inspector pulled out what he called “the most powerful handgun in the world”. Hollywood did it again, and everyone wanted a .44 magnum.

Thank you, Dirty Harry, and thank you, Jimmy Stewart for firing up the gun market for a whole lot longer than the original “One of One Thousand” marketing scheme originally did.

FC4E3FB5-E2C5-46C0-A375-CEE1BE45B86B.jpegImage Enlarger