Published: April 3, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy James D. Julia, Inc.
FAIRFIELD, MAINE – It was almost just another multimillion-dollar firearms auction at James D. Julia’s. Except that it wasn’t. The March 21-23 sale was Julia’s last sale and it was as much a fun gathering of old friends as it was a successful auction. The top lot, an exceptional engraved Model 66 Winchester rifle, brought $598,000, matching a world record price.
Julia sold his company to Morphy Auctions of Denver, Penn., and the Julia firm will, in the future, be a division of Morphy. It was appropriate that the final sale was a firearms sale, as those sales have been among the company’s strongest sales, and the collectors, Julia and Julia’s firearms specialists have been friends for years. The salesroom was full each of the three days, internet bidding was available and more than a dozen phone lines were staffed, with hundreds of items being sold to phone bidders.
John Sexton, Julia’s senior firearms consultant, was asked if phone bidders had previewed that material. “Some have, but many have not. Phone bidders can feel very confident of what they’re buying here based on our catalog descriptions, which include a detailed condition statement on every item. And they know that they can return any item they’ve bought if the condition isn’t what we say it is. Julia’s is the only firearms auction company that fully guarantees everything they sell. It’s a full 100 percent guarantee.”
This was a strong sale, comprising consignments from major collections. In addition to the top priced lot, there were three other weapons that brought more than $200,000 each, and many sold for $100,000-plus. The Winchesters in the sale, including the Model 66 that brought almost $600,000, were from the late Ray Bentley’s collection, widely considered the premier Winchester collection. Bentley’s material also included a portion of his collections of historical silver trophies, swords and knives, Gatling guns, artillery pieces, Western saddles, advertising materials, ammunition and more. Additional items from the Bentley collection will be included in Morphy’s June firearms auction.
The catalog description for the Model 66 Winchester that sold for $598,000 stated that it was “possibly Conrad Ulrich’s greatest masterpiece, and a legendary Winchester icon for nearly a half century. It is an extraordinary exhibition Winchester model 1866 lever-action rifle manufactured in 1870, superbly engraved and signed by the master of the Winchester engraving shop, Conrad F. Ulrich. This rifle is shown on the dust jacket and frontispiece of the 1975 edition of The Book of Winchester Engraving by R.L Wilson, and the book contains a full description and eight illustrations of this rifle, including a multi-page color foldout. The description in the book states that this rifle is considered to be one of Conrad Ulrich’s masterpieces. The rifle frame is profusely relief-engraved with two standing nude female figures in relief panels on the frame and three highly detailed game scenes. The nudes are based on one of the most famous sculptures of the mid-Nineteenth Century, ‘The Greek Slave’ by Hiram Powers, completed in 1844.”
Bidders obviously agreed with the catalog description, which by the way, was two full pages long with seven color illustrations.
The sale also included a selection of sporting guns, including several shotguns. Malcolm MacGregor is Julia’s consultant for this category, and he was particularly proud of a group of five cased hunting rifles and shotguns made between 1905 and 1909 by Holland and Holland, London, to the order of Cambridge, Mass., capitalist and sportsman Nathaniel Cushing Nash. The guns had been in storage from the time of Nash’s death in 1915 until rediscovered in 1986. The catalog refers to them as “stunning reference examples, in original time capsule condition.”
MacGregor said the collection had remained intact since 1986, and he hoped they would remain together after this sale. The group earned more than $300,000, with a cased pair of inlaid and engraved 12-gauge shotguns bringing $74,750, and the same price was achieved by cased pair of .577 caliber rifles, with accessories. Both were inlaid with gold and engraved.
The Model 66 Winchester was related to one that helped Julia learn that “history sells,” especially with firearms, and one of his early lessons in that regard involved another Winchester Model 66. “In around 1999 we took a Model 66 on consignment,” said Julia. Rifles of that type normally would have brought around $3,000-4,000 at the time. However, this one was forensically proven to have been used at the Battle of the Little Bighorn against General Custer. I had just sold a Springfield carbine, also used at that battle, for $225,000, which I thought was stunning. So, when the collector of the Model 66 asked if I could get $150,000-250,000 for the gun, I told him I could guarantee it. Several historical gun collectors chased after this historic one and it finally went out at $682,000. That was phenomenal, and, for a $3,000-4,000 gun, it showed me that the value of history was of great significance.”
Julia’s understanding that “history sells” was borne out by several other lots in the sale, including items that had belonged to Annie Oakley and George McClellan and a trophy awarded after the Battle of Trafalgar. An 1893 engraved Marlin takedown lever-action rifle, with gold and platinum inlay, that, in 1917, Marlin presented to sharp-shooter Annie Oakley, finished at $258,750. The rifle is pictured and discussed in William Brophy’s Marlin Firearms. Oakley donated that gun, and several others, to efforts to raise money during World War I. The book quotes a 1921 letter from the Marlin Company, indicating their disappointment that Oakley had parted with the gun.
A sword presented to General George McClellan sold for $63,250. The silver scabbard was engraved in all capital letters: “Presented To / General George B. McClellan / By His Staff In Commemoration Of His / Appointment As Commander Of / All The Armies Of The United States / November 1st 1861.” It is also engraved with an eagle, has relief castings, and more. The blade is engraved with a picture of a mounted officer, possibly McClellan.
Of historical interest was one of the silver trophies from the Bentley collection. It was related to the 1805 naval Battle of Trafalgar, in which vastly outnumbered British forces, under Admiral Nelson, were victorious. Only 15 of these trophies were created and given to the captains of ships that were engaged in the battle. The catalog stated that none have been available on the market for several years. This one, 16 inches tall, which sold for $138,000, was engraved, also all caps, “From The Patriotic Fund At Lloyd’s / To William Hargood Esq. Captain Of H.M.S. Belleisle, / For His Meritorious Services In Contributing To The Signal Victory, / Obtained Over The Combined Fleets / Of France And Spain, Off Cape Trafalgar. / On The 21st Of October 1805.”
Throughout the sale, there were reference to the late J.R. LaRue, longtime friend and firearms associate of Jim Julia, who died in December.
When Julia talks about his success in selling firearms, when his two annual sales total between $30 million and $40 million, he quickly credits much of that success to LaRue. Julia started selling firearms in the 1990s and LaRue came on board shortly thereafter. “J.R. was an incredible guy. What was initially the most important thing to me was his tremendous breadth of knowledge about firearms in general. J.R. and I could look at virtually any type of collection and J.R. had at least a general knowledge, if not an in-depth knowledge, of it. He had a remarkable nature, just about anyone in the firearms world was a friend of his, and he was highly respected for his knowledge. We both believed in doing things in an honest manner. From that point on, for many years, J.R. was an essential part of my firearms division.
“In the beginning,” Julia continued, “J.R. handled and cataloged virtually everything. We traveled all over North America and throughout the world looking at collections together. We also hunted together throughout the world and North America. My association with him was critical in helping to grow the reputation of my firearms auctions. J.R. became one of my very best friends and continued to work with me and the company up until his passing in December of 2017.”
Fittingly, Julia arranged a celebration of life for his friend the evening before this sale began. It was conducted in the Governor Hill Mansion in Augusta, Maine, and attended by about 200 friends who knew LaRue, some of whom had in flown from Europe specifically for this event, as well as family members. It was LaRue’s wish that friends donate to the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo. Astonishingly, more than $130,000 was raised for the museum, which had been a lifelong passion of LaRue. Additional funds were raised as personal items were sold and a lengthy tribute to LaRue is on Julia’s website.
Julia also credits John Sexton for much of his success with firearms, especially Confederate pieces. “For many years, we sold more high-end, rare and valuable Confederate and Civil War items than any other firearms auction house in the world. One of the reasons for our success with Confederate items was our high level of expertise, a result of our association with a single individual; John Sexton, who is one of the foremost authorities on Civil War and Confederate items in the world today and who has cataloged for us for years.”
Sexton commented on the Bentley collection, Jim Julia and the strength of some of the items in the sale. “Ray Bentley’s collections are incredible and will be dispersed over several Morphy sales later this year. The six silver trophies we sold are just the tip of the iceberg – the collection has more than 250, and there are more Winchesters and other things. The exceptional items almost always exceeded our expectations. We set a record for the Ames Civil War mountain howitzer that brought $80,500, just a few months after setting the previous record last October. The market for good Civil War firearms is especially strong now. When I started cataloging for Julia in 2003, a good sale might have a couple hundred thousand dollars’ worth of Civil War material. Now any number under a couple of million would be considered low.
“In my opinion,” Sexton added, “the main reason for the growth of interest in Civil War memorabilia was the 100 percent guarantee that Jim Julia offered. He really helped make that market over the last four or five years. Even today, most auctioneers don’t offer that kind of guarantee. Jim has become a good friend and I’ll miss the fall and spring events up there.”
Important collections handled by the firm include that of Don and Kathlee Bryan, whose collection many consider the finest assemblage of Confederate sidearms ever put together. Highlights from the Bryan sale include an exceedingly rare Sisterdale Texas Percussion Revolver, which brought $253,000 and set a record for a Confederate firearm sold at auction. The Bryan collection also included General Beauregard’s personal LeMat Revolver. Beauregard was good friends with Colonel LeMat and instrumental in convincing the Confederacy to use these highly lethal side arms. They consisted of a cylinder with six or seven chambers on the outer edge for cartridges, and a larger central chamber that would fire a shotgun shell filled with buckshot. At close range, these revolvers were terribly lethal. Beauregard’s example was considered to be the finest Confederate LeMat in existence and realized $224,250.
After the sale, Julia commented on his feelings of this being his last. “It will take some getting used to. I know that life will change. It’s programmed into my head and I’ve tried not to think about it. Auctions are emotional events for me. They’re exhibitions, and I’m surrounded by my friends. When the auction is over, the crowds are gone, the hoopla is gone, so it’s depressing for a period of time. But it’s time to move on. I’ve been thanking everyone that’s helped me: my staff, my friends and everyone. I’ll continue to buy and sell antiques and my executive assistant, Nancy Noonan, will stay on and so will one another person. I won’t be involved with auctions, except to man the podium at Guyette and Deeter decoy auctions. The transition feels good now. It’s the right thing to do and will allow me to spend time with my wife. I’m also pleased that Tony Wilcox, who now runs the firearms division, will move to Pennsylvania and work with Morphy’s firearms team.”
Jim Julia has been a fixture on the New England auction scene for more than years. It is truly the end of an era.
All prices cited include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.jamesdjulia.com or 207-453-7125.
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