Sons of guns: Winchester motorcycles return to the auction block

27 pictures

Two of the rarest and most valuable motorcycles in the world are going to public auction next month but because they were made by Winchester Repeating Arms Company, they're being auctioned by the world's foremost firearms auction house, James D. Julia

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In 2013, one of only two Winchester motorcycles known to exist, sold at auction for what was then a world record price of US$580,000. The other Winchester failed to meet reserve and was passed in with a high bid of $520,000. Had that bid been accepted, it would have given the two Winchesters, the "gun that won the west," both first and third on our all-time top 100 motorcycle sales listing.

Our article on the Winchesters makes for interesting reading because it concludes that the American Gun marketplace is so much more active and buoyant that the Winchester's firearm provenance had elevated the value of both motorcycles beyond the prices of the motorcycle marketplace.

We're not the only people who seem to think that's the case, because the Winchesters will both go to auction next month not at the normal elite motorcycle auctioneers (Bonhams, Mecum/Mid-America and Gooding), but at James D. Julia, the world's foremost firearm auctioneers. Both Winchesters will go to auction during a two day sale on March 15-16, 2015.

In the mid-1860s, Oliver Winchester started his firearms company, which would eventually produce the most famous rifle in the world. By the late 1800s, his firm had branched out to manufacture all forms of sporting equipment such as camping, hunting, and fishing. Whether it was footballs, fishing poles, or a camp knife, Winchester made it. The company and its products were focused on the adventurous segment of society, so it was only natural that in the early 1900s when motorized bikes appeared, that Winchester would attempt to become part of that market also.

In the early 1900s, Winchester commissioned Edwin F. Merry Company of San Francisco to build 200 motorcycles bearing its name. These were produced between the years 1909 and 1911, based upon the engines of the Marsh-Metz company

Metz co-founded America's first motorcycle company, the Waltham Manufacturing Company (WMC) in 1893. Waltham began manufacturing bicycles, expanding into motorcycle manufacturing just before the turn of the century, and subsequently into automobile production.

Metz is believed to have coined the term "motorcycle," first using it in an 1899 advertisement for the company's new Orient motorcycle. Waltham Manufacturing's 1900 Orient Light Roadster and "Orient-Aster" were America's first mass-production motor driven cycles, and in July 1900, at the Charles River Race Track in Boston, the Orient covered a five mile distance in seven minutes (42.86 mph). In 1902, Metz left WMC to begin the Metz Motorcycle Company (MMC) and his new Metz set an American speed record of 51.42 mph over a one mile course.

In 1906 Metz merged with David Marsh's Marsh Motorcycle Company in Massachusetts to create the American Motorcycle Company and the 1000 cc V-twin Marsh-Metz motorcycle was introduced in 1908. It was the finest motorcycle available at that time and one of these bikes is featured at #95 in Gizmag's top 100 motorcycles list, having fetched US$137,500 during the sale of the Otis Chandler Collection in October, 2006. More information can be found on Metz at Wicked Local and The World of Motorcycles. Marsh-Metz engines powered many of America's earliest motorcycles.

Edwin F. Merry opened his business in 1906 in San Francisco. His business thrived and expanded rapidly and he was commissioned to utilize his very best components to produce the Winchester motorcycle. He also utilized various Winchester patent holdings.

The two examples which will go to auction in March at James D. Julia are considered to be unique. They are the only two examples of the original 200 Winchester motorcycles known to exist.

They have been restored to as-new condition. See the image gallery for the fine details on these rare specimens and be sure to take a look at our original article on the Winchesters and the relationship between the gun and motorcycle marketplace.

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