Winchester rifles and the Nipple of Knowledge

Slowly, ever so slowly, I’ve been building up the FAR Western armory… Thanks to a book titled The History of Winchester Firearms, 1866-1975 (full info on the FAR Western bibliography page), I finally got some decent information on Winchester rifles, thus filling in a gaping hole in the game’s equipment list.

It’s not that examples of Winchester rifles are hard to find…they’re everywhere. Heck, in the heyday of the Old West, “a Winchester” was pretty much a synonym for “a rifle.” The info I needed wasn’t on how they work or what they looked like (I’m a gun nut, so I know that already), or details on any particular model, but what cartridges they were chambered for and when various models were available.

I needed the broader history and a detailed chronology, and it turns out that those aren’t easily found. At least, they don’t seem to be laying around on the internet screaming “read me!” to morons like me.

A while ago it finally dawned on me: I work at a university. Universities have libraries. Enormous ones, with millions of books. And university employees have library privileges. (Yes, I know, I’m slow.) So into the cavernous depths I went, to suckle from the nipple of knowledge.

It seemed to me there was an appalling dearth of factual firearms info among the library’s 2 million-plus tomes, but amid the firearm-related intellectual puffery I nevertheless did find a handful of useful books.

And that’s where The History of Winchester Firearms, 1866-1975 comes in.

There’s a lot more on the latter 50 than the first 50 years, but this book is nonetheless a great resource if (like me) you need to know which models and chamberings of Winchester rifles were available in the frontier era and when they were made.

One interesting thing I discovered is that when testing rifles for function and accuracy, the company set aside the best ones and designated them as “One of One Thousand” or “One of One Hundred” marksman’s rifles. (We’d say one in a thousand today, not of.) These were sold at a premium price, with upscale cosmetic options, and cased up with a cleaning kit and the test target as proof of performance. The One of One Thousand specimens were particularly snazzy.

These are definitely going into the FAR Western armory as weapons that player-characters will cherish. They’re the Old West version of that +2 or +3 Sword of Slaying you covet for your character in D&D.

Another interesting thing I’m slowly discovering is that no one seems to have made repeating rifles in .22 rimfire until the turn of the century. At least, Winchester didn’t, and I haven’t heard of any others yet. Back in the old days, the assumption seems to have been that if you needed a repeater at all, it was because you needed to kill something bigger and meaner than squirrels and raccoons.

Sooner or later I’m going to have to do a deeper dive into the history of .22 rimfire cartridges…but that’s a topic for another time.

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2 thoughts on “Winchester rifles and the Nipple of Knowledge

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  1. I bet if you wrote up a few posts summarizing the knowledge you gain from this book, you would get some organic traffic to those posts from people who, like yourself, can’t find that info anywhere else online.

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    1. Yes, I need to do that. I also have some good info on Sharps rifles, including copies of catalog pages and ads from the 1870s. I keep forgetting to scan them.

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