Like its exposed-hammer predecessor, the Model 1897, the Winchester Model 12 transitioned from peacetime popularity to wartime warrior and back again. The Model 12’s journey from battlefields to hunting fields and trap and skeet ranges spanned more than 50 years. From its introduction in August 1912 until it was eventually discontinued in May 1964—a victim of escalating manufacturing costs (and not counting periodic limited editions offered until Winchester’s New Haven factory closed in 2006)—more than 2 million Model 12s were produced in various grades and barrel lengths ranging from 20" to 30". Special-order guns could be had with lengths up to 32".
Designed by longtime employee Thomas Crossley Johnson, the Model 12 was Winchester’s first concealed-hammer, pump-action shotgun. With its sleek, modern lines, smooth action and available takedown feature, the Model 12 was an instant success, selling more than 100,000 guns within the first two years. Winchester’s subsequent ads christened it “The Perfect Repeater.” Brought out in 1913 as the Model 1912 and priced at $20, the name was shortened to Model 12 in 1919. Initially only chambered in 20 gauge, 12- and 16-ga. versions were introduced in late 1913 and first listed in the 1914 catalog; a 28-ga. version came out in 1934 (a .410-bore model was produced in 1933 as the Model 42). Although the tubular magazine held six 2¾" shells, after the Federal Migratory Bird Act of 1934, all shotguns came with a removable wooden plug limiting capacity to two shells.
In all, there were 12 variations of the Model 12, including the rare Super Pigeon Grade (introduced in 1965), Heavy Duck Gun (1935 through 1963), Skeet Gun (1933 through 1947), Featherweight (introduced in 1961) and Standard Grade. The Riot Gun, without the trench gun’s heat shield and bayonet lug, was introduced in 1918, and, like the trench gun, was available only in 12 gauge with a 20" cylinder-bore barrel. Because of its lack of a disconnector, the shotgun could be “slam-fired” by holding the trigger down while cycling the action, which made it a formidable close-range firearm for “police departments, express messengers, sheriffs, and railroad guards” as Winchester’s ads boasted. The Riot Gun also served in both world wars and right up through Vietnam.
The 90 percent example from 1959 shown here, however, apparently saw only civilian use—possibly as a messenger or guard gun—judging from a lack of military markings and an unidentifiable, hand-etched, six-digit inventory number on the receiver. Although it sold for $93.85 when new, it fetched $1,226 at a Lock, Stock & Barrel online auction in June 2021. If law-enforcement credentials could be identified, the price would possibly double.
Gun: Winchester Model 12 Riot Gun
Serial No.: 1699XXX
Condition: NRA Very Good (Modern Gun Standards)