Each year I attend as many antique firearms shows as possible and the Las Vegas show in January remains one of my favorites. It is not the largest show by any means but it attracts many of the top dealers, collectors and auction houses in the country. Restoration, engraving and custom gun making artisans such as Doug Turnbull have their work on display to awe you. And Vegas itself provides such an over the top venue. It’s not one to miss.
When at a show I try and detect the subtle changes in collecting and valuations going on in the world of antique firearms. By no means do I claim to have any crystal ball or special intuition regarding valuations and the current popularity of certain genres of firearms. However, since I am interested in all types of firearms I think I approach the shows with less tunnel vision than some collectors pursuing a particular interest.
Here is a trend that I have noticed over the last couple of years.
Winchester 1894 rifles – The early antique 1894s (Pre-1899), particularly high condition specimens in the more desirable calibers such as 38-55, take-downs and special-order guns, are seeing a dramatic escalation in value. I am noticing wide variations in pricing for similar condition pieces which I believe is indicative of an escalating price trend that has not yet matured. This provides a real opportunity to ferret out some of these Winchesters at still bargain prices. The early 1894s with the help of a John Browning design, are a culmination of years of development of the lever action at Winchester. These guns manufactured in the late 1800s and early 1900s show amazing craftsmanship. And although millions have been made over the years, the antique pieces remaining in high condition can be difficult to find. Untouched wood, a high percent of receiver bluing, niter bluing remaining on the load gate, and case colors remaining on the lever, hammer and butt plate are keys to determining condition. Many guns from this period have been restored or renovated and it is important to have an eye for detecting these modifications. One of the most telling changes will usually be bluing on the originally case colored components and a blued loading gate that matches the receiver blue.
Early 94s suffered from thin bluing on the receiver and flaking and wear here is often the case. Mottled, pitted, flaked and scratched receivers are often found on even higher condition guns and do not move well from the dealer’s tables.
High condition 1894s should have 90% or better bluing remaining. Barrel and tube blue generally is in better condition than the receivers and the high condition specimens should have most of the deep barrel blue remaining. Case color often fades and it can be difficult to find a Winchester from the 1800s with vivid case colors remaining. When you find one, buy it!
Pricing is still a little all over the place. I am seeing high condition, standard octagon barrel rifles priced from $2200-$6000. If you find one in that lower price range it should be acquired as it is well undervalued based on the trend. Takedown examples in high condition are difficult to find for less than $4000 and are pushing $7000 on the high end. And special-order rifles are now pushing $10,000 or more for the better examples.
In conclusion, the boring old 1894 is now getting more notice but remains both an affordable antique for collectors as well as an excellent investment at the higher end.