The Winchester Collection at the British Shooting Show.
The Wild West was won, or tamed, by a great many things. The gold rush, the expansion of the railway network, the monster cattle drives and of course the hard working pioneers, all set for adventure and fortune. The only thing they had in common was “the gun that won the west”, the ubiquitous Winchester repeating rifle.
Established as the New Haven Arms Company in 1857 by entrepreneur Oliver Winchester, its products were continually developed by engineers Ben Henry and Nelson King. In 1866, after the end of the American Civil War, Winchester renamed the company Winchester Repeating Arms.
The new Winchesters were sold as Model 1866s, or more popularly known as the Yellow Boy, on account of its brass alloy receiver. This model in particular was proving something of a hit among the new pioneers, prospectors, cowboys and Native Americans.
As time passed and the range of Winchester models available increased, so too did the myth surrounding this remarkably simple, beautifully balanced yet highly effective rifle. All myths soon become legends though and in Winchester’s case the legend was associated with other legends, including Teddy Roosevelt and John Wayne.
Capitalising on this status, Winchester soon started to produce unique and limited edition models. These were beautifully engraved and detailed either by Winchester or, on one occasion, by the Italian artisans of Giovanelli, who turned their continental flare and attention to detail upon the venerable Winchester. These limited editions are highly sought after items worldwide.
With the introduction of film it wasn’t long before script writers and film makers were producing movies, “Western” movies where the theme was often about defiance in the face of overwhelming odds, linked with the desire to do right.
These battles were well played and epitomised by the performances of the giants of the silver screen such as John Wayne “The Juke”. The films were also early introductions to the romance of the cowboy lifestyle and the team of Colt and Winchester to numerous cinema going teenagers.
Sadly Winchester tends not to release collectors’ models to the European market. On the very rare occasions they do, the units released can be counted on one hand.
“The Winchester Collection” contains several commemorative rifles, which are often nigh on impossible to obtain outside of the US. This includes the Buffalo Bill, a replica of the 1873 – one of only 1,000 made – with its unique Whitworthesque octagonal barrel, a traditional rifled bore and gold plated medallion, as well as the wonderful, almost mesmerising Winchester and Colt set.
This unique collection of guns remain truly faithful to their design roots. Although these beautifully engrave rifles are not fired, as that would raise the likelihood of ejected cases damaging the receivers engraving, they are fully working firearms. Ultimately is one of those subjects where it’s sometimes best to let the object to the talking for fear of doing the craftsmanship that goes into producing these rifles a grave disservice.