International Distinction by Wes Dillon

Few images of late 19th century American history conjure up a feel for the spirit of the “Old West” more than the vision of a Man, a Horse, and a Winchester lever rifle. It was, after all, a Winchester that won the west! In the days of Cowboys and Indians, the gun was a tool for foraging and defense. Men educated by the hard-learned lessons of the land, carried repeaters if they could afford one. The rich and profligate carried a gun in the vest, on the belt, in the saddle and survivors always had one or two handy at the homestead or around camp. The Winchester Model 1873 rifle was truly remarkable, designed to utilize the revolver cartridges of the day with great effectiveness, complimenting and extending the range of the frontier six-gun and thus became the most popular repeater of its day. As Colt and others chambered revolvers in .38, .32 and .22 calibers so did Winchester in its 1873 creating a unique and profitable symbiosis. The demand for Winchester rifles was international in scope, with commercial and military orders originating from Canada, Europe and South America.

When purchasing a Model 1873, one could choose a stock factory working gun or custom order a bespoke piece from an endless assortment of build options. Barrels could be long or short, heavy contour or rapid taper, octagon or round or a combination of both. Magazine length/capacity, special sights and set triggers were available per your order. Stocks could be straight or pistol grip, checkered or not, plain or extra fancy grained walnut with butt options to match. You want engraving or the glitter of gold? Your bank account was the only obstacle.

Constant improvements were being made in the ‘73 and quality assurance steps in the manufacturing process produced remarkable and predictable results. OFW was striving to produce guns of great variety and accuracy. Early advertisements in 1875 stated “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 those barrels that are found to make targets of extra merit will be made up into guns with set triggers and extra finish and marked in a designating name ‘One of a Thousand’, and sold at $100”.

These elite rifles were promoted to the most affluent clients around the world. This badge of merit, while conceptually sound, would not be received by sportsmen with great enthusiasm and subsequent demand. Rather, the “1 of 1000” quality concept would languish, being supplanted by more fanciful cosmetic embellishments. Facts surrounding the marketing rationale would eventually fade into relative obscurity being acknowledged only by the most reverent Winchester scholars and collectors. That is until 1950 when Hollywood and Universal Studios stepped in to reclaim history with the filming of “Winchester ‘73”.

Billed as an edgy thematic western featuring a powerful performance by Jimmy Stewart as a man obsessed. As the screenplay goes, straight shootin’ cowboy Lin Mc Adam wins a valuable Winchester 1873 “One of One Thousand” repeating rifle in a July 4, 1876 shooting contest–which his outlaw brother instantly steals, and uses it to run amuck throughout the territory. This leads to a rousing series of adventures for Mc Adam, as he attempts to track down his brother, and recover the prized Winchester.

As part of the publicity campaign around the release of the film, Universal Pictures and Winchester sponsored a contest, by placing magazine ads and distributing posters, to find some of the rare remaining “One of One Thousand” Model 1873 Winchester rifles. This attention did indeed bring many previously-unknown original rifles (22 in total) into the spotlight and drew additional public interest to the field of antique gun collecting. The owners of the first twenty guns reported and confirmed received a new Winchester Model 94 Deer Rifle. A 1950 press release states “From obscurity these unique 1873 rifles have graduated within only five months into one of the most sought after collector’s items in the country. Even the garden variety M1873s have doubled in price in the last few months. The complete story is told in the October, 1950 issue of American Rifleman”. Even to this day “One of 1000” discovery pops up from behind a kitchen closet door, down from a dusty attic or from a faraway land.

Such was the case this winter at James D. Julia Auctions in the form of an inquiring international email sent to the firearms division with several images attached. The sender noted that Julia’s had sold several “1 of 1000” rifles for very good prices, and wondered what his gun might fetch at auction. Upon opening the attached images, a collective gasp could be heard throughout the building… OMG! This was no garden variety Winchester… it was an extraordinary example of the gun maker’s art, undoubtedly ordered by someone of wealth and taste. A reference check of the serial number in the factory records confirmed a rifle of great substance as observed in the images. The specifications called for a “1 of 1000” with special deep-relief panel engraving ($20 extra), gold/nickel plating and fancy XXX checkered walnut stocks. It was shipped from the warehouse on November 26, 1879.

In response to our eager reply, the owner confided that the heirloom had been handed down directly through his family for many generations… In Argentina. It had once been the property of the most influential land owner in the Santa Fe region of Argentina during the last quarter of the 19th century. His name was Don Eduardo Casey. By 1880, Casey had amassed tremendous agricultural land holdings in excess of 1,700 square miles on which he developed a means to efficiently raise livestock and bring them to market in mass. He was known to be a flamboyant businessman as well as a generous provider and benefactor to those who worked tirelessly on his estancia. Extravagance was a way of life for Casey, so it comes as no surprise that a highly embellished “1 of 1,000” would be ordered by such a man.

This prestigious treasure has remained with descendants of the Casey family in Argentina for 135 years. It is now coming back to the United States and will be presented, at auction, by James D. Julia in their October, 2015 sale. The rifle¹s exciting discovery and subsequent offering will undoubtedly generate a tremendous ground swell of interest and participation from investors and collectors alike, given its rich provenance and great character.

Further information on this extraordinary Winchester and other superb items being offered this fall, can be found on Julia¹s website – www.jamesdjulia.com. Please Contact Francis Lombardi or Wes Dillon for more details, firearms@jamesdjulia.com or (207) 453-7125.