9 – One Of The World’s Rarest Winchesters

By Museum of Northwest Colorado

Museums strive for rare items and you can’t get any rarer than “the only one known”. It’s even better if you can use that phrase while describing one of the most iconic brands of the American West — Winchester
This 25-35 caliber Winchester Model 1885 (High Wall) has been featured in numerous national publications, was awarded the National Rifle Association’s “Ten Best Weapons Award” and was the very first 15” rifle to be cleared by the ATF as a legal “Curio & Relic” firearm.
So what makes this particular Winchester so special? There is no other known High Wall known to sport a 15” barrel. In fact, the configuration is so unbelievable that for years the barrel was thought to have simply been sawed-off. However, the factory records eventually showed that this was indeed a special order. To date it is still the only one known to exist.
Its original owner was a sheep rancher from Idaho who had it made in 1907. In 1969 it ended up in hands of Bill Mackin (Mackin is the renowned collector from whom the museum acquired nearly our entire Cowboy & Gunfighter collection). Mackin had one problem though: it was 100% illegal to own.
The National Firearms Act of 1934 prohibited rifle barrels shorter than 16” with the threat of both fines and imprisonment. After keeping his prize artifact under wraps for years, Mackin received a letter from the ATF in 1977 stating that his Winchester would receive an exemption do to its exceptionally rare, one-of-a-kind status.
With the threat of prison behind him, Mackin took his rifle to the NRA conference the very next year and won the coveted “Ten Best Weapons Award”. Today it is owned by the Museum of Northwest Colorado and is still one of the rarest Winchester’s known.