George Little: A Winchester 1873 rifle sells for $93,000

George Little

A Winchester 1873 rifle marked “1 of 1,000” recently sold at auction for $93,000. It is one of the most rare factory shoulder arms ever produced.

Understandably, one of these rifles seldom comes up for sale. A rifle that was one of 1,000 had a specially fitted barrel and was tested for accuracy. If the barrel qualified, it was stamped “1 of 1,000.”

Winchester intended to make 1,000 of these guns to appeal to the high-end market. The stock and forearm were checkered with high-grade walnut, and the rifles featured a set trigger.

Selling for $100 in 1876, when a run-of-the-mill ’73 sold for about $18, Winchester may have priced themselves out of their own market. Only 133 of the “1 of 1,000” rifles were ever made. Around 100 of them are known to exist today. If you find one in the attic while you’re going through your grandpa’s stuff, you may be in tall cotton.

The prospect of finding something rare in the attic is enticing, even if it’s about as likely as winning the lottery. Some people strike it rich. Most of us don’t.

Many of us have outdoor family traditions that go back a century or more. An important part of that tradition is handing down equipment from one generation to the next. Firearms, fishing rods, tackle boxes, hunting knives and many other items may pass through many pairs of calloused hands before finding their way to us.

Some of those hand-me-downs are worth several times more than what they cost when they were new. How much more depends on the condition they’re in.

This is a critical part of the value equation. Collectors look for items free of rust and corrosion and that are still in fair- to good-working order. It doesn’t matter if the items have been used, as long as they are still in good condition. A rifle or shotgun in good shape with a three-digit serial number will put you on easy street. The same gun pitted with rust that has a broken hammer still has value, but it is likely to be far less than you hope.

There comes a time when some of that collected personal history is put up for sale. If you have things that you think will fetch a handsome price, the best first step is to find a knowledgeable appraiser. If that proves difficult, go online and see what price those items are bringing on the open market.

Then find an auction where something similar is selling in a live bidding environment. The real value is likely to be somewhere in the middle. 

Old doesn’t necessarily mean valuable. If it did, my hunting coat would be priceless. Most of the time, what you have will not move up your retirement date. Still, doing your homework to determine real value will be more reliable than your brother-in-law’s best guess.

Remember how useful his insights were the day he “helped” you pour concrete?

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