In the beginning, the concept of the first
Winchester side-by-side shotgun was likely
little more than a few reverse engineered pencil
drawings of the competitor's doubles of the day.
After all, Winchester had made its name and
fortunes as a Repeating Arms Company, and had
done well by developing the patents the likes
of John Browning and others. An organically
developed double gun was way down the list
of priorities for the company in the first quarter
of the 20th century. As the Model 21 was being
launched, the United States was slipping into the
Great Depression. Winchester Repeating Arms
Company went into receivership, and was bought
at bankruptcy auction by the Olin family's Western
Cartridge Company on December 22, 1931.
Fortunately for Winchester, Western's First Vice-
President John M. Olin was an avid sportsman and
Early on, Olin recognized the Model 21s immense
strength as a useful selling point. By that time, the
ammunition industry had shifted almost entirely
from black powder to smokeless-powder. Those
with an eye on the future, however, realized that
if full advantage was to be made of smokeless
ammo, guns would have to be stronger. Olin's own
Super-X cartridge offered more power and greater
killing range than any shotshell ever had before,
and he saw the Model 21 as the gun to handle it.
Winchester M21 barrel steel and construction were superior.
Guns were subjected to punishing "Violent Proof" loads and
stamped "VP" before leaving the factory.
To prove the gun's meddle, a rigorous testing
procedure was adopted using "Violent Proof"
loads equivalent to more than twice the standard
pressures encountered with factory loadings of
the day. To dive home the point and put their
shotgun on a pedestal high above the gentrified
competition, a torture test was arranged in which
guns from the world's major competitors were
fired a number of times with Western Cartridge
proof loads. Olin would test a stock M21 against
the best English side by sides with the idea of
firing each gun until failure with these VP loads.
Every English gun failed after only a very modest
dose of the poison pills. The M21 kept firing
until after 2,000 consecutive rounds, the test
was halted. The gun was thoroughly inspected
and recorded absolutely no measured signs of
distress. It was a marketing coup for john Olin that
would set the stage for the Model 21s reputation
in the marketplace as a platform of unequaled
performance. Commenting on the test almost
fifty years later, Olin said, with characteristic
understatement: "There was no near competitor in
strength nor endurance to the Model 21."
The 1930 catalog has Models 21s listed in Standard,
Tournament and Trap grades. By 1960 it was a Custom Shop
Throughout history, in their determination to
produce the finest double shotgun available,
Winchester Model 21 designers have offered
and made seemingly limitless configuration
choices based on customer wants and needs.
These variations are what make the Model 21 so
intriguing, unique and challenging for collector.
Starting with the "Production" years of 1930
to 1959 there were approx. 30,000 units of the
Winchester 21 Shotgun made. This double-barrel
shotgun was highly attractive to buyers, even
during the tough times of the Great Depression
at $59.50. As World War II ended and continuing
through the economic boom that followed, the
Model 21 Shotgun turned into a platform for
more custom-made and quite lavishly decorated
products. This emphasis on special ordered
"bespoke" shotguns gained in popularity through
the 1950-60s as Winchester catered to the varied
tastes of the upscale modern sportsman. As a result
of this selectivity, only about 1,000 additional
Model 21s were produced in the Custom Shop
from 1960 to 1991. As production numbers fell
off, prices rose dramatically in tandem. Model 21
grades were now offered in 12, 16, 20, 28 gauge
and .410 bore with 16 gauge being the rarest.
Select custom engraved models were available in
6 different Factory patterns, with a higher number
indicating more embellishment. Even higher levels
of adornment were available in the Pigeon Grade
and iconic gold inlaid Grand American Grade
two barrel set, which near the end of production
in 1988 retailed with a base price of $22,700. A
customer could, of course, order anything he/she
desired... for a price.
And finally there is the ne' plus ultra of M21
world, the Model 21 Grand Royal Grade. A
concept of singular beauty derived as a special
presentation gun for John Olin. Only two such
examples were ever produced by the Custom Shop.
Unfortunately, Olin died before his gun could be
presented - it resides on permanent display at the
NRA Museum in VA. The remaining Grand Royal
will be sold to the highest bidder at Julia's October
2014 firearms auction as part of the prestigious
Bill Phifer Collection. These are some of the most
highly prized and sought after Model 21s extant.
In all, only a little more than 31,000 total units
were produced by the various incarnations of
the Winchester factory, making it truly a scarce
commodity... The finest examples coveted by the
most passionate collectors.
Classic Grand American engraving w/ gold inlays and Style B
checkering pattern. This unfired Small Bore Set (20,28,.410) is
Special Note: The esteemed Bill Phifer Collection
of Custom Shop Model 21s will be sold in its
entirety (individually) as part of Julia's October
7-9, 2014 Firearms Auction. This represents
the most significant offering of M21s to ever
come to public auction. In 1972 Bill Phifer saw
his first Winchester Model 21 shotgun at Kerr
Sport Shop, Beverly Hills, California and was
instantly impressed. He ordered his first Model
21 from the Winchester Custom Shop in 1978,
a 20 gauge Grand American. He subsequently
ordered a 12 gauge Grand American and 16 gauge
Grand American. Smitten with Winchester's
Finest, Bill kept on ordering Model 21s until
he had accumulated a complete collection of all
configurations available for sale by the post-1959
Winchester Custom Shop located in New Haven,
CT. In addition, many one-of-a-kind small bore
customs, including the spectacular Grand Royal 28
ga two barrel set (as pictured), were commissioned.
Of the thirty plus Phifer-ordered Model 21s, all are
accompanied by factory documentation and remain
in new unfired condition, assembled only recently
for catalog photography. The collection will be
sold, as individual guns, in its entirety as part of
Julia's October 7-9, 2014. Firearms . A special
website was created www.winchestermodel21.com
to proudly display some of Bill's collection.