Some firearms ooze history. Just arrived at the saleroom to be included in our 25th August Firearms, Arms and Militaria auction is an 1897 Winchester pump or slide action 12 bore shotgun marked to the Royal Irish Constabulary. With a thorough examination, the working life of the gun reads like a story book.
The 1897 pump action was the revolutionary design of John Moses Browning. The slide or pump action design allowed five rounds which could be fired in quick succession. This easily surpassed the traditional double barrel side by side hammer guns generally available and fielded by most hunters trap shooters and game shots. The firepower of the Winchester 1897 was not lost on the military and the shotgun was adapted for trench warfare during WWI in which it was fielded with a 20” barrel and bayonet lug to accept the standard 1917 sword bayonet.
Winchester marketed the 1897 shotgun to police departments across the US and dubbed it the ‘Riot Gun’. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) took notice of this and in 1919/ 1920 an order was placed for 1,000 shotguns. This order was increased to 2,000, the guns being procured by the War office who probably used the services of London Small Arms (LSA) who were UK agents for Winchester as well as Colt.
The RIC Shotguns are all serial numbered in the E 700,000 to E 720,000 range, the gun featured in our August 25th auction is numbered E719963 for 1922/23 which fits in the time period. When the guns arrived in Britain, they were thoroughly inspected at the Enfield factory receiving an inspectors stamp of approval, a letter E below a crown, to the receiver. The left side of the butt stocks on all RIC riot guns were stamped with the guns rack or issue number as well as the initials R.I.C. The gun included in our August 25th sale being numbered 780
Many of the RIC’s Winchester 1897 shotguns were to fall into the hands of the IRA who would raid barracks with overwhelming numbers in order to steal weapons. It is impossible to say if the 1897 included in our August sale was one of these guns however one has to question how it ended up in civilian ownership.
The next stage in the life of our Winchester 1897 was around the mid-20th century when the gun was re-barrelled. The RIC shotguns were originally supplied with 20inch barrels, not exactly ideal for game shooting and not generally allowed in civilian ownership in the UK. A 26 inch barrel with ¼ inch choke was fitted and proofed under the 1954 rules of proof for 2 3/4inch cartridges making it much more suitable for sporting use.
The gun was to go through another change during its working life. In 1990 the five shot magazine was restricted to two rounds giving the gun an overall capacity of three rounds total with one in the breach. This was to comply with the 1989 changes to firearms law which limits the capacity of shotguns held on a section 2 certificate. The gun carries a Birmingham proof mark to the magazine tube as proof this work has been carried out correctly.
Whilst the 1897 Winchester included in our August sale is not completely original, the changes it has endured through the gun’s working life make it much more suitable and available to UK shooting enthusiasts with a standard section 2 certificate. In its original configuration the gun would have qualified for a section 1 licence which is governed by much stricter regulations.
The 1897 Winchester Riot gun is estimated to sell for £1,500 – 2,500 in our August 25th 2022 auction.
Should you have any items you would like to sell in one of our Firearms, Arms and Militaria sales we would be pleased to hear from you. For more information please contact Chris Large on 01270 623878 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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