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.