Classic Guns: Winchester Model 42 — “The Greatest Little Shotgun”

Classic Guns: Winchester Model 42 — “The Greatest Little Shotgun”

A scaled-down version of Winchester’s classic Model 12 pump-action shotgun, the Model 42 was a sweet little scattergun that still holds value to collectors.

What to know about the Winchester Model 42 shotgun:

  • Introduced during the Great Depression, the Model 42 was produced until 1963.
  • It was the first pump gun designed for the .410 bore.
  • It's a scaled down version of the earlier Model 12 shotgun.
  • About 164,800 were produced, in a variety of grades and with special features.

The first pump-action shotgun designed specifically for the .410 was introduced by Winchester in 1933 as the Model 42. It was essentially a scaled-down variant of the famous Winchester Model 12, at least from the outward appearance. Winchester Chief Design Engineer William Roemer made some internal changes to allow the use of the diminutive .410 shell.

Like the Model 12, which introduced the 20-gauge in 1912, the Model 42 brought the 3-inch .410 to market 21 years later. Marketed as “Everybody’s Sweetheart,” as well as “The Greatest Little Shotgun in the World,” the sleek, racy, fast-handling Model 42 was a hit with upland hunters and skeet shooters. It was considered by some shooters to be a companion not only to the Model 12 but also to the slide-action Model 61 .22 rimfire pump, which had been introduced a year earlier in 1932.

Winchester Model 42 -1
Photo courtesy Guns America

Like some of the other classic guns of the 20th century, the Model 42 was introduced during the Great Depression. The timing was somewhat risky, as Winchester was going through some tough financial times. Several other popular Winchesters — the legendary Model 21 double-barrel shotgun, the Model 61 and 62 .22 pumps, the Model 63 .22 semi-auto, and several updated lever-action centerfire rifles — were also new to the market in the early 1930s. Yet, all were successful models through the ’40s and ’50s, in part due to a change in ownership of Winchester in late 1931 when the Olin Corporation’s Western Cartridge Company bought the struggling gunmaker out of receivership. John Olin became head of the new Winchester-Western company. As a gun enthusiast, he was responsible for the introduction of the above models and putting the brand back on the right track.

The Model 42 stayed in the line-up until 1963, a famous year in the company’s history, when rising production costs led to changes in manufacturing processes, and to the “pre-64” and “post-64” categories of all Winchester firearms. To the chagrin of many Winchester fans, many other favorite models in addition to the 42 were discontinued after 1963. This model, incidentally, had its own serial number range, from 1 to 164800.

Winchester Model 42 -2
Photo courtesy Guns America

About 164,800 Model 42s were manufactured over its 30-year run, and in many variations and grades. These include the Standard Grade, Deluxe Grade, Skeet Grade, Pigeon Grade and Trap Grade (yes, some trap shooters love the challenge of the .410). Numerous special features were offered, such as barrel lengths, solid and ventilated ribs, plain barrels, extra barrels, different chokes, Cutts Compensators, and various wood and checkering patterns. Factory engraved Model 42s will occasionally be seen. Collectors are urged to seek expert advice on these rare and expensive guns. Contrary to some opinions, Winchester offered factory ventilated ribs on the Model 42. Former employees and factory drawings substantiate this fact.

In the 1990s, after Fabrique Nationale became owner of both Winchester and Browning brands, it had Miroku of Japan make a limited-edition series of Model 42s. About 6,000 were marketed in the 1991-1993 time period as Browning Model 42s, and only 850 were marked Winchester. These fine replicas can be found on the used gun market and are more affordable than the original Model 42s. Collectors are mostly interested in the original models, but the Miroku guns are also excellent.

Estimated Values
The following estimated values are from the 2018 Edition of Standard Catalog of Firearms. We wish to thank renowned Model 42 collector Bud Bugni for his comments and descriptions of the various grades.

Standard Grade:
26- or 28-inch plain or solid rib barrel, plain walnut pistol-grip stock, grooved slide handle, composition buttplate. A straight-grip stock was offered on a special-order basis but is extremely rare. Built from 1933 to 1963. Add 50 percent for solid rib, 25 percent for pre-WWII.
NIB      EXC.      V.G.      GOOD      FAIR      POOR
3250    2000     1450      1000       850       500

Skeet Grade:
26- or 28-inch plain, solid or ventilated rib barrel, select walnut checkered pistol- or straight-grip stock, checkered extension slide handle, offered in full, modified, improved cylinder, cylinder or skeet chokes. Built from 1933 to 1963. Add 25 percent for 2.5-inch chamber. Deduct 25 percent for no rib.

Solid Rib
NIB      EXC.      V.G.      GOOD      FAIR      POOR
6950   5450       4750     3950       2000      1250

Ventilated Rib
NIB      EXC.      V.G.      GOOD      FAIR      POOR
7950    6450      4950     4150       2200      1250

Trap Grade:
26- or 28-inch plain or solid rib barrel, fancy walnut special checkered pistol- or straight- grip stock, special checkered extension slide handle, checkering pattern has one closed diamond on each side of pistol-grip, straight-grip model has diamond located on underside of grip, extension slide handle has two uncut diamonds on each side. Most were stamped “TRAP” on bottom of receiver under the serial number. Only 231 were built from 1934 to 1939.
NIB      EXC.      V.G.      GOOD      FAIR      POOR
12950  11500    9500     5500        3000     1500

Deluxe Grade:
A continuation of the Trap Grade. Available with ventilated rib after 1954, some early models were stamped “DELUXE” on bottom of receiver. This stamping is seldom seen and was probably discontinued around 1949. Built from 1940 to 1963.
Solid Rib
NIB      EXC.      V.G.      GOOD      FAIR      POOR
12950  10500    8750     6450        3600     1275

Ventilated Rib
NIB      EXC.      V.G.      GOOD      FAIR      POOR
14500  12950    11000   7500        4750     2400

Pigeon Grade:
Same as Deluxe Grade but engraved with pigeon on lower magazine tube. Very few of this grade were produced, some estimates are less than 50. Authentic Pigeon Grade Model 42s appear to have been built between 1945 and 1949. Seek an expert opinion before sale. With documentation on expert authentication, add 100 percent to Deluxe Grade values.

Extra Barrels:
Winchester offered extra interchangeable barrels for its Model 42s at customers’ requests beginning in 1934. These extra sets of barrels are a rare option. Both barrels should have same barrel markings and matching serial numbers before originality can be considered. Values are difficult to determine but, as a general rule, add 60 percent for factory-original extra barrel sets.

Cutts Compensator Guns:
Approximately 66 original Cutts Compensator guns were produced in the Winchester factory, making this one of the most rare options on the Model 42. New information reveals that Cutts Compensators were available on Model 42s as early as 1950. Add 25 percent for original factory-installed Cutts Compensators; deduct 50 percent for non-original Cutts guns.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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