To talk with Alex Aiken, museum digitisation officer, is to receive an education in firearms manufacture and history. It’s a passion. When Alex was perusing the museum armoury, he was quick to recognise the Model 1894 Winchester lever-action hunting rifle and knew he was going to share it with readers of Midweek. “It’s the most common as well as the most sought-after hunting rifle in the US,” says Alex. “It was made in New Haven, Connecticut, at the old Winchester factory which closed down in 2006. That exact model was in production for 112 years.”
This rifle, he says, could have been made anytime between 1894 and 2006 but, from the wear and tear and general appearance, looks more likely to have been manufactured in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. It’s a .303 calibre and can take six or seven shells, depending on the length of the shell.
So why did Alex choose a firearm and why this one in particular? “My grandfather was an armourer in the British Army and his fascination with weapons has been passed on to me,” he says. Things military are now part of Alex’s arsenal of interests, and not just arms; tactics and things more cerebral are an attraction too.
This rifle was imported from the US and sold in New Zealand by A&W McCarthy in Dunedin. In 1973 it was donated to the museum by Father Feehly, a local Catholic priest. How he came by it we don’t know, but it would have been a novel way to keep his parishioners in line or maintain interest in his sermons.
Alex says the 1894 model Winchester was designed by John Browning, who has more than 120 gun patterns to his name. Browning and Winchester were in partnership until Winchester’s death. Browning continued alone at the factory in New Haven, producing both Brownings and Winchesters.
To complicate matters, the original company was started by Smith and Wesson in 1855. Smith and Wesson then concentrated on pistols, leaving the Winchester factory to focus on rifles.
With the close of this phase of the museum’s digitisation process, Alex moves on to a job with Study Link in Palmerston North.
Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in September 2010. Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.