Cowan's Corner

Winchester Expanded Into Domestic Products 

By Wes Cowan  

The manufacturer of the iconic Winchester repeating rifle began operations in 1849 and produced exclusively firearms and ammunition through the turn of the century. But the company that is famous for "the gun that won the West" also manufactured domestic products. It made lawnmowers, meat grinders and clothing irons, and for recreational pursuits, fishing reels, ice skates and baseball bats. For the well-groomed gentleman, Winchester made razor blades, hair clippers and even cologne.

During World War I, Winchester was a major arms supplier to the U.S. government and the war years were extremely profitable. But the close of the war had a severe effect on the company's finances. It was during this downturn that Winchester management decided to venture into areas beyond firearms. The company targeted hardware supplies and sporting goods. Winchester bought out manufacturers and partnered with companies to begin branding its name on a variety of products. Acquired hardware stores were renamed Winchester Stores.

The rapid expansion into various markets during the 1920s led to the heyday of what was then known as the Winchester Firearms Company. At its peak, the company boasted 6,500 stores. The 1926-1927 Winchester Store catalog contained more than 7,000 items. Winchester President J.E. Otterson was determined to dominate the hardware and sporting goods sectors.

One way that Winchester sought to attract new customers was through its Winchester Junior Rifle Corps. The division was launched during World War I to inspire patriotism and increase father and son bonding. It promoted shooting competitions and focused on gun safety until its demise in 1924. Due to its brief duration and unique mission, the Junior Rifle Corps is an extremely popular area for collectors.

Winchester salesman's samples also are highly popular as collectibles. By the end of 1920, 3,400 sales representatives were part of a vast Winchester dealer network. Winchester supplied displays and numerous brochures to salesmen who were expected to cultivate new buyers. The brevity of the period that stores operated during 1920s accounts for the rarity of these items.

The Great Depression dealt a major blow to Winchester. In 1931, the Western Cartridge Company acquired Winchester. The new company continued to sell various household products, but the era of Winchester Stores and product diversification came to an end. The primary focus once again became firearms.

Winchester Collecting Tips

Sporting and fishing collectibles are always a good investment and highly desired by today's collectors.

Winchester Junior Rifle Corps items are extremely rare and collectible due to the short duration of the existence of the corps.

Consult your price guides. Cowan's recommends The Standard Catalog of Winchester and The Most Comprehensive Price Guide Ever Published (by David D. Kowalski).

Be careful purchasing reprints of old Winchester catalogs and reproduction posters and calendars. The value is a fraction of the originals.

Winchester salesman's samples and display stands are extremely rare due to their smaller scale of manufacture. 

About the author: Kentucky native Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan's Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via email at Article research by Joe Moran.

These Winchester roller skates, ice skates and skate pads sold for $488.75 at a May 2007 auction.

This Winchester railroad padlock and key sold for $862.50.

A Winchester lawn mower that sold at a May auction for $747.50.







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