This is a remarkable Model 1897 shotgun in near Mint condition in its original shipping crate. It has a Special Order 32" barrel and best of all, it has an ultra rare antique serial number....I cannot begin to tell you how hard it is to find a true Antique Model 1897 Shotgun...Lets just say its "Difficult"...and one in this condition..OK, "Very Difficult".. in fact, it may take a few years of looking...but one in the crate...that would be on the border-line of "Impossible!" You probably won't see another one and if you do, it will probably be on display and not for sale! In 20+ years of collecting Winchesters, I've only encountered one 19th century Winchester still in the crate, which was a model 1876.
I've sent for a letter from the Cody Museum which will be included with the gun. I have confirmed with Waddy at the Museum that this shotgun is listed in the records as being a 12 gauge with a 32" barrel. It shipped on May 7, 1898 as a one gun shipment. Very few 1897's left Winchester prior to 1899.
Overall, this Winchester is in NRA Excellent Plus with about 97-98% bright original blue remaining. There is only slight wear on the edges of the bolt and slide rails from the action being racked. There is some minute deterioration of the finish from long term storage in a few spots, mainly from where the metal touches the wood of the crate as there is some flaking on the very top of the receiver and some loss of blue on the buttplate. The hammer has all of its bright case colors remaining and the majority of the screws and springs show much of their original vibrant fire blue. The bore is mint. All markings and edges are as sharp and crisp as the day it left the factory back in 1898. The wood is Excellent plus retaining all of its original finish. The three screw forend retains all of its original varnish as does the buttstock with the exception of some very light staining next to the buttplate. The wood is so untouched that the grain is still raised up on the surfaces. 1897's are notorious for developing cracks in the stock next to the receivers from firing...nearly every one you find has at least one or two...this one has never been cracked. I doubt its been fired more than a few times if any.
The crate is marked "Richard White" over "Myrtle Illinois". It was shipped via Wells Fargo Express (that's right, Wells Fargo) which is stamped in the bottom left corner of the lid. There is a "1" in the top left corner. The side of the crate is stamped with the Winchester Repeating Arms Address. Its pretty unusual to see a crate that only held one single gun as Winchesters were usually shipped to dealers and hardware stores in quantity and rarely to individuals. I don't know who Richard White was but its very likely this 1897 was shipped to him as a replacement for a Model 1893 shotgun. When the 1893 was introduced, it was never intended to utilize smokeless powder shells...however, by the mid-late 1890's, smokeless powder shells were on the market and finding their way into the chambers of the vulnerable Model 1893 sometimes with disastrous results. Winchester began re-designing the 1893 with a stronger action to acommodate the hotter smokeless loads. By the late 1890's, in one of the first commercial recalls, Winchester began advertising the faults of their 1893 with the promise of a brand new smokeless powder 1897 shotguns for every 1893 returned to the factory. I believe this explains why this gun was a one gun shipment and the crate is addressed to a private individual rather than a store. The overall condition is good with some staining and darkening of the pine over the past 105 years. The crate has never been varnished or oiled in an attempt to make it look better...this is as pure as a Winchester crate gets..simple, plain, ugly rough sawn pine.and remember, these were made only to get the gun to its destination and never intended to last. You can see the mill marks running perpendicular to the grain. Best of all, its still got its partitions...these are often lost. The partition on the end of the box is designed to hold the end of the barrel in place...notice the chamfered cut off the edge of the hole to accomodate the bead front site.
This old 1897 has a lot of great things going for which any one aspect would be desirable but this one has it all: Rare Antique serial number, in Near Mint Condition, Rare 32" barrel, Early features, its in the crate, and it shipped via Wells Fargo. It just doesn't get much better than this. This would make a great investment as there probably isn't a Winchester collector in the country who has an antique 1897 in this condition still in its original crate.