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From the History Books

Peculiar Pistol: The Winchester Bolt-Action Pistol

by S.P. Fjestad   |  August 23rd, 2012 12
Winchester-bolt-action-pistol

Top: One of Winchester’s biggest oddities, this experimental Model 1902 has a tapered barrel with integral front sight and a target stock that looks almost homemade. It is cocked by pulling the firing pin head in the back rearward. Screw on bottom is for take down. Bottom: Top view indicates a dovetailed blade rear sight in the top of frame, and definitive Winchester proofmarks on the frame and bolt handle. No markings appear on the barrel. Even though the 1902 single shot rifles were not serial numbered, these experimental pistols have been observed in the serial number range 1-20.

I know what you’re thinking and it’s wrong – Winchester never made any pistols. Not true. You’ve probably also heard over the years that Sam Colt and Oliver Winchester had a gentlemen’s agreement that Colt would make handguns and Winchester would stick to long guns. Wrong again. Colt did manufacture slide action rifles and SxS shotguns, even though they didn’t develop legendary reputations like Oliver Winchester’s repeating rifles and shotguns.

Winchester DID make a few pistols and even some revolver prototypes. This particular pistol was based on the Model 1902 single-shot rifle that was produced in .22 cal from 1902-1931. Over 640,000 of these rifles were manufactured during this time period, and it was Winchester’s entry .22-caliber rifle that had a retail price of $5 in 1902. More importantly, why did Winchester bother with a pistol, and what were their marketing plans for potential sales? There isn’t a lot of information on these pistols that never made it into the production stage, and it seems all were prototypes, since no two have the same features. There’s also a theory that these were “lunch bucket guns” made by Winchester employees.

LeRoy Merz, well-known and long time Winchester dealer from Minnesota, provides the following information on this weirdo:

“Over the last 30-35 years, I’ve probably had a total of 12 or 13 of these Winchester pistols. Every one I have had or examined has been different. The taper of the barrel, the sight, notches or grooves, the handles-whether it be walnut, brass or pot metal. The complete designs vary from heavy barrels to pencils barrels. Every one I have examined has been under serial #20. I understand that at one time, these were offered for sale to the public in both Australia and New Zealand — I have not been able to confirm that, but 3 of these guns came from New Zealand. The sides of the walnut stocks are marked: one is marked ’102′, one is ’103′ and one is ’104′. I’m not sure if this is Winchester’s marking or the marking of an importer. These pistols are very unusual and quite collectible — I wish I had kept all the ones I’ve had over the years. Some range from VG quality to a strange, very crude, poor quality for Winchester. I don’t know just what they were trying to do.”

In terms of value, they’re actually somewhat of a novelty item. Winchester lever-action collectors don’t need to buy one – neither do Winchester shotgun aficionados. This is a good example where rarity is not the trump card in determining a firearm’s value. While undoubtedly these pistols are rare, they’re not that desirable for most collectors. After all, how many Winchester handgun collectors are out there? This can also be determined by the value, since they’re a lot less expensive than mainstream Winchester rifles and shotguns.

So what’s this Winchester pistol really worth? $3,500-4,000. The bottom line is that we’ll probably never know exactly why these pistols were made. Even if we did, it most likely wouldn’t make much difference in their value or collector status with Winchester dealers and collectors.

Images and some information courtesy of Rock Island Auctions. Information also courtesy LeRoy Merz. For more from S.P. Fjestad, check out his blog at BlueBookOfGunValues.com.

  • Wolvie

    Interesting that they made the bolt action with the handle on the right hand side.

    For rifles, this is fine. But for pistols, you would think that they would manufacture it with the knob on the left since most ( if not all) guns made at that time were set up for right-handed shooters with almost no regards for southpaws. To work this action, a right-handed shooter would wither have to release his strong hand grip or reach awkwardly over the top with his left hand.

    • Wolvie

      Doh! Autocorrect failure!

      That should be, "would either have to…", not "wither".

    • BJC

      I have seen Anschutz, & Weatherby pistol's like this and the Remington XP 100 also had the bolt handle on the right side. Maybe they thought it was not that hard to just cant the gun sideways in your strong hand and use your left hand on the bolt handle.

    • Derp

      Unless you hold it gangster style, then you're good. Antique pistols in gang fights? Thats cool.

  • JLM

    That is really cool. Thank you for the glimpse into another part of firearm history!

  • Mack Missiletoe

    I've been wanting a bolt action pistol like this which would work just like the Marlin action. But with the bolt on the left hand side. Of course the shell ejection would go right.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmeiersks Kyle Meier

    Remington made bolt action handguns some years ago, maybe still do. Albeit more advanced and well made.

    • http://www.facebook.com/999johnston Robert Johnston

      Ahhh, for the days of the XP-100!
      –RKJ

  • Will Carry

    The bolt action looks like an old Marlin model 100. I wonder if a modern version would sell, if marketed well.

  • Bill

    Very nice ! Barrel and front sight look they they were later used on the Ruger Standard .22 auto !!.

  • mike from mi,

    Savage also made bolt hand guns. Id like to see those make a come back.

  • Tran Quilize

    Gunsandammo.. First I was getting the Emails before my subscription, and now… 11 months after these comments were posted, I get your Email??
    This is why I didn’t renew!
    Loved the old XP-100.

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