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Winchester Model 42 Slide Action .410 Shotgun, Beginner's Gun or Expert's Gun?

Winchester Advertised it as Both

Winchester introduced the .410 bore Model 42 in 1933 along with the new 3" shells, as a gun for the whole family. The guns were very popular and the company sold approximately 50,000 of them up until World War II came along. Starting in 1941, Winchester diverted their attention to producing more than 500,000 M1 Garand semi-auto rifles for the war effort.

After the war ended, Winchester picked up where it had left off and really kicked things into high gear which resulted in 1946 to 1954 being the highest production years for the Model 42. Then the brakes went on in 1955 and production remained much lower but steady until 1963.

plain metal grip cap on Winchester Model 42
Plain Metal Grip Cap 1954-1963

With the Model 42, there seems to be exceptions to every rule. Pre-War guns did not have a grip cap, however, Ned Schwing's excellent book has a photo of a special ordered gun from 1939 or 1940 on page 72 that has one. After the war in 1946, Winchester began installing hard rubber caps that were inscribed "Winchester Repeating Arms Co." Then in 1954 made a running change to the all-steel cap with no inscription. A "running change" means they used up the old rubber caps in inventory. Post-War Standard Grade guns still had no pistol grip cap.

Winchester Model 42 Deluxe Grade Slide Handle on my 1960 Gun
Deluxe Grade Slide Handle

The different grades of the Model 42 are: Standard Grade, Skeet, Trap (1934-1939), Deluxe (introduced after WWII) and Pigeon Grade. Although my example exhibits the Double Diamonds on the Slide Handle, which would indicate a Deluxe Grade gun, the wood is likely a reproduction and not original. I will explain later.

Winchester Model 42 Solid Rib Barrel
28" Solid Rib Barrel

94% of the Post-War Model 42s have Plain Barrels

The 26" or 28" barrel offerings were the only lengths ever produced for the Model 42 and initially were all 3" chambers up until 1939 when they offered it in 2 1/2" chamber for Skeet Grade. The barrels could be Plain (introduced 1933), Solid Rib (introduced 1934) or Ventilated Rib (introduced 1954). My gun has the Solid Rib so I did not delve into the variations of the Ventilated Rib.

Winchester Model 42 Stock
Fancy American Black Walnut

The wood on this gun is beautiful. At the time the Model 42 was in production, Winchester was famous for trying to accomodate the gun-buying public. A customer could special order a custom gun basically to their configuration specifications (within limits). All Deluxe Grade guns were made to order.

A half-century later, this can make it perplexing for the collector when there are little to no factory records to consult. The checkering pattern on the pistol grip of a Deluxe Grade gun should have a single diamond on either side. This checkering pattern appears to be Skeet Grade (no Diamonds on the Pistol Grip). Standard Grade had no checkering.

I'm Looking Forward to Firing this Gun

The first thing I did after buying this gun was buy a copy of Ned Schwing's book The Winchester Model 42. The man's love of this gun is evident throughout the book with his attention to every detail. The book won't tell you everything about the Model 42, but it will tell you so much that it is worth the price.

My winning bid for this gun at auction in July 2022 was $5,100 and with taxes, fees and shipping my final cost was $5,900. I'm guessing that I paid about one-half or perhaps even a third of what a gun in unrestored original, but similar condition might cost.


Photos

(Click or Tap to Enlarge)



The Winchester Model 42 Dies in 1963

Winchester Model 42 Production Chart 1946-1963

The Cheaper Faster Mindset Begins to Creep In

Ned Schwing states in his 1990 book, The Winchester Model 42, that there was evidence that Remington's introduction of the Model 11-48 in .410 Bore in 1954, had a direct impact on Model 42 sales. Remington introduced the Model 11-48 semi-automatic shotgun in 1949, but did not produce a .410 in that line until 1954.

"Model 42 Standard Grade $93, Deluxe Grade $218."

I have not researched the Remington 11-48 other than to learn that only approximately 25,000 units were produced from 1954 through 1968 (serial numbers 4,100,000 – 4,125,000) with production of that gun halted in 1969. Although I'm sure competition was one factor, there were likely many other factors that played into Winchester phasing out the Model 42.

It Seems Remington Got a Headstart on What Would Follow at Winchester in 1964

The Remington Model 11-48 ushered in stamped steel components for a lower cost of assembly, a mass production technology pioneered by the Nazi firearms industry shortly before WWII (adopted in Remington's military rifle production with the M1903A3, and in civilian rifles with the Model 721 in 1948) which was not used in civilian shotguns prior to 1949.

"Model 11-48 Standard Grade $110, Special Grade $138."

The Remington 11-48 featured interchangeable parts not requiring fitting by a gunsmith. The impact of these changes can be seen on every Remington shotgun since. The Model 11-48 differs from the Model 11 in the shape of its machined steel receiver and the use of less expensive stamped steel internal parts. The easily removable aluminum trigger housing introduced on the 11-48 was also featured on its successors. source: wikipedia.org




A Word On Evaluation

The Starting Point to Evaluating an Old Gun is the Serial Number...

The serial number of my gun is 142674 and the gun was presented as a 1960 gun in the auction. With the serial number in hand, I start my search to attempt to verify that the gun is in fact a 1960 gun.

Author reading 1955 Winchester Catalog
Author reading 1955 Winchester Catalog

In my internet search, I found tthe following resources:

Ned Schwing's book shows my Receiver with Serial Number 142674 was made in February 1957. Schwing stressed that the date a serial number was stamped on the receiver has no correlation with the date a gun may have been assembled, shipped or sold.

Because of production methods employed by Winchester at the time, occasionally a surplus of parts would accumulate. When guns were assembled, parts were not used on a FIFO (First In, First Out) basis. It was possible that a receiver could end up at the bottom of a parts bin and not be used for several years.

Do I think my 1957 receiver didn't get assembled, shipped and sold until 1960? No, but I have no way of proving or disproving this since virtually no Winchester records exist for the Model 42. My gut tells me that three years is a very long time to elapse without a part being used, even in a 1950s production facility.

Next, I Research the Features (Configuration) for Appropriateness (1957-1960)

Believe it or not, you can still find and buy old Winchester Catalogs online. I bought original 1955 and 1960 catalogs and ordered a reprint of the 1950 version. I read in Schwing's book, that Winchester dropped the Solid Rib in 1959 (further evidence that my gun is earlier than 1960). Sure enough, when my 1960 Catalog arrived, I saw that the Solid Rib was no longer listed.

inspecting the gun for signs of rebluing
Inspecting the Gun

What I'm looking for, is to see if my gun is configured properly for the period of time in which it was made. Is it 1960? Is it Deluxe Grade? Is it Original? I think my answers to all of those questions are no, no and no.

Current Configuration:
  • 28" Barrel, 3" Chamber, Full Choke, Solid Rib
  • Very Fancy Walnut Wood with Hand Checkering
  • Diamonds on Slide-Handle, No Diamonds on Stock
  • Bolt & Carrier Not Engine Turned
  • All-Steel Pistol-Grip Cap (No Inscription)

Although I'm not always a purist when it comes to old guns, there is a line you can cross that would turn me off to a gun. I've compared it to old cars before, and discussed the difference between restoration and making a hot rod out of one. I have no interest in hot rods.

Butt Plate of Winchester Model 42 shotgun
Reproduction Butt Plate

Scouring the internet leads me to believe that my Butt Plate is a reproduction, made by N.C. Ordinance, Inc. of Wilson, North Carolina. This may in fact be more similar to the 1990s reproductions that were made in Japan than the original Model 42 Butt Plate. So I assume the Pistol Grip Cap is after-market also.

Winchester Model 42 shotgun
No Diamond Checkering on Pistol Grip

As I stated earlier, my gun appears to have a Deluxe Grade Slide-Handle with Double Diamonds, but a Skeet Grade Butt Stock checkering pattern with no Single Diamond. On page 128 of his book, Ned Schwing states that some guns were assembled from mismatched parts. In his example he showed a photo of a gun that had a Deluxe Grade Butt Stock, but a Skeet Grade Slide-Handle (exactly the opposite of mine).

Winchester Model 42 shotgun
Bolt & Carrier not Jeweled

And then there is my final observation about this gun that raises a question. Again, according to Schwing, prior to 1945 both the bolt and carrier could be jeweled (engine turned) at the customer's request. After 1945 this process was standard for the Deluxe Grade. Customers who did not want the jeweling applied to the bolt and carrier could make that request to the factory. So once again I have an anomoly that by itself does not necessarily indicate this was not originally a Deluxe Grade gun, but when you add everything up, it's pretty clear.

Conclusion

My conclusion is subject to change with any future evidence to the contrary. The metal has been well cared for and the gun shows few signs of wear. I suspect it has been re-blued, but only because it looks too good. It has been fired very little in its lifetime. All of which defies the need to replace the wood other than for cosmetic reasons. I believe this gun began life as a 1957 Standard Grade gun (Symbol G4254S).

Ignoring the wood, the possibilities appear to be:

  • Standard Grade with add-on Solid Rib (in '57 catalog, dropped in '59)
  • Skeet Grade with Full Choke Barrel (special order)
  • Deluxe Grade with Bolt & Carrier not engine turned and Full Choke Barrel (special order)

Support of my conclusion is based entirely on Ned Schwing's book. He shows that from 1957 to 1960, only 387 barrels were made with a Solid Rib. That makes this one quite rare for that particular time frame. Did it go on a Standard, Skeet or Deluxe gun? Most likely Standard, otherwise why replace the wood? If it originally came on a Deluxe gun, I think it would have a second sight bead midway on the barrel.

Summary

The Winchester Model 42 is one of the easiest guns to fall in love with that I've ran across in my endeavors. If you find a very high condition gun, there is a good chance it has been reconditioned or restored. It's easy to see why people would want to preserve these guns and see them at their best, especially with prices ranging from $2,000 to $40,000.

If you are in the market for one of these guns just remember this, "if it seems too good to be true, it likely is" and only an original condition gun should command the very highest of prices. Personally I have nothing against restored old guns, but I firmly believe sellers should disclose it.

Often times when you buy an old gun online, you have a specified number of days to inspect the gun and return it if you are dissatisfied. It may be prudent to arrange for a qualified person to inspect the gun on your behalf.

It literally took me three weeks to learn what I've presented in this article. When I found the auction listing for this gun, I was searching the term "1960" in hopes of finding a birth-year gun. Had I known in advance that Winchester stopped offering the solid rib barrel in 1959, I might have taken one look and moved on.

But then again, I really loved this one at first sight. I have two grandchildren that are going to get to shoot it in the near future and that means a lot to me.



Attempt to Reconcile 1957 vs 1960 Dates

Winchester Model 42 Serial Numbers 1946-1963

Receivers vs Completed Guns

Ned Schwing published Receiver Dates of Manufacture in his 1990 book, The Winchester Model 42, that are represented by the Orange Line in the graph. Winchester published a Gun Serial Number table represented by the Blue Line.

Using the Winchester Table, my gun is a 1960 gun. Referencing Schwing, my Receiver was stamped with the Serial Number in 1957. Winchester says that their table consists of best estimates. Although my graph clearly shows that more Receivers were produced in 1957 than Guns Shipped, and it shows that more Guns were likely sold in 1960 than Receivers produced, I'm still not convinced.

Note: Receivers Reported 118,883 Completed Guns Reported 108,185

Final Word

More confidence was placed in the 1957 Receiver date since those dates were presented matter-of-factly down to the month in Schwing's book whereas Winchester's dates were labelled as estimates. In addition, there is too much variance between the two lines to rely on a different conclusion.

In this article about my non-original gun I never mentioned the terms "fake" or "counterfeit." The reason is quite simple. I'm not qualified to write about those topics. This is just a hobby for me and if I ever decided to purchase a really high dollar gun, I would likely consult one or more persons with more knowledge than I have.

In the past month as I was researching the Model 42, I found eleven of these guns being offered for $20,000+. I believe every single one of those guns were Pre-War models. I have no interest in Pre-War or $20,000+ guns , but if I considered the purchase of a gun for $20,000+, I would not rely on internet research only.

It is true that there is enough pricing discrepancy between lower and higher grade guns to tempt someone to undertake trying to make a higher grade gun out of lower grade gun. But from my novice point of view, deception was not the obvious intent with this gun.

If this gun had a Skeet Choke Barrel, Diamond Checkering on the Pistol Grip, an Original Butt Plate, Engine Turned Bolt & Carrier and metal showing more signs of aging, then perhaps I would go there. A more knowledgeable collector might point to the price I paid for this gun and make a case that restored old guns are bad for the market in general. Why pay $12,000 for a gun you might not use, when you can buy one that looks as good for $6,000 and use it?

If I owned an all-original 1957 Deluxe Grade in mint condition (one that I wouldn't take to the range to fire) I might feel the same way. Ah, everything in life has a good side and a bad side. There are two sides to every coin. It is my opinion that a $5,900 reconditioned gun does not devalue a $12,000 to $18,000 original gun. In fact, it may elevate it.

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