Published: June 16, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Rock Island Auction Company
ROCK ISLAND, ILL.- Rock Island Auction Company’s (RIAC) auctions typically promise to be a bonanza of historic, fine art, high condition, rare and unusual arms from the world’s top arms makers. That promise was kept on June 5-7, when more than 2,500 lots were offered in the firm’s Premier sale, covering a variety that expanded far beyond the Colts and Winchesters that collecting hobbyists seek. The auction posted a new industry record – $21.1 million, the highest grossing firearms auction in history.
Three times each year RIAC turns its preview hall into a virtual pop-up museum filled with the history, artistry and notable names of the objects they offer to collectors. Plus, the firm spares no expense in making sure guests are both supremely impressed and safe. While the auction was conducted online, by phone and in-house with precautions put in place according to state guidelines, visitors from around the United States were able to enjoy a new hospitality suite anchored by a bar wrapped around an M4 Sherman tank, as well as a complimentary bag complete with mask and sanitizer.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a RIAC event without a grouping of Colt firearms. Billed as a historic Texas “National Treasure,” a company No. 50 Colt Walker percussion revolver with holster elicited $431,250, one of the top lots in the overall sale.
It was documented as passed down through multiple generations of the celebrated Darst family of Texas. The Darsts were a storied family with ties to the Mexican American War, Daniel Boone, the Alamo and Terry’s Texas Rangers. The Colt Walker itself has long been the single most essential and necessary piece for many, if not all, of the iconic, important and influential Nineteenth Century American arms collections over the last century. Their appeal stems from their place as tangible pieces of the American spirit – grit, vision, conquest and expansion – physical embodiments of Manifest Destiny.
At times, the worlds of art and firearms intersect with the appearance of high-art pieces from world-class artisans through the centuries. Highlighting these luxurious offerings were two pairs of pistols crafted by Nicolas-Noël Boutet, Parisian gunsmith to the king and eventually Napoleon. One of these pairs, a stately cased set of dueling pistols, took $74,750, and the other was an extravagant masterpiece set of French Empire officer’s flintlock pistols dripping with bright gold and originally presented to Counter Admiral Cesar-Joseph Bourayne, baron of the empire. They achieved the highest price in the sale, commanding $575,000 for the pair.
The genesis of the lever-action rifle, a historic and well-documented, deluxe engraved Smith & Wesson lever-action repeating carbine formerly of the Wesson family collection, got bidders pumped and finished at $488,750.
Samuel Colt, the marketing genius and industrialist, showcased his first steps in the firearms trade with both the above-mentioned Walker and a rare, high-condition Paterson Model 1839 carbine. The historic and military pattern Colt Paterson Model 1839 percussion carbine, the only known example with a sling bar, saw $345,000.
Another Colt pistol, this one a rare, historic and well-documented Model 1910 prototype semi-automatic with serial number “2” and factory letter went out at $207,000, while the last factory-engraved Colt first generation single action Army revolver with factory relief carved steer head grip and S.D. Myres tooled holster rig and factory letter found a buyer at $195,500.
Infamous Colts found their way into the sale lineup, with notorious bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd’s Colt government model cracking its $20,000 high estimate to pull in $31,625 and Al Capone’s nickel-plated Colt Model 1908 pocket pistol shooting past its $55,000 high estimate to achieve $69,000.
The entire Ulrich family was seemingly in attendance, unable to resist the pull of an event that featured works by John, George and Conrad. Even Herman was there, who seldom makes such appearances, and stole the show with his masterpiece gold-plated Winchester 1866 lever-action rifle from the Centennial Exposition that realized $161,000.
Master engraver Louis D. Nimschke presented a gallery comprising six of his works from a virtual “who’s who” of Nineteenth Century American firearms manufacturers. A Smith & Wesson new Model No. 3, finished in silver and gold, far surpassed its $35,000 high estimate and brought $48,875.
Twentieth Century American military weapons were led by a well-documented DWM Model 1902 US Army “Cartridge Counter” American Eagle test Luger semi-automatic pistol that brought $138,000.
Firearms with celebrity or historical connections entertained. King of Hollywood Clark Gable and his wife Carol Lombard were glamorous as ever with a golden, bespoke shotgun – a presentation from husband to wife. The “Man in Black,” Johnny Cash, came up from Folsom prison to revisit a Spencer repeating carbine once housed in his personal collection. It found a new home for $8,050. Several of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were represented by a gold inlaid presentation revolver, as well as an issued Colt single-action Army revolver.
Other highlights from the three-day event included a Civil War production New Haven Arms Company Henry lever-action rifle selling for $97,750; a rare special order factory engraved silver-plated Winchester Model 1892 takedown fancy sporting lever-action rifle with 1934 factory letter that realized $103,500; and a documented historic “National Treasure” archive of items owned by Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Jacob G. Frick, including an inscribed Tiffany & Co. Civil War non-regulation infantry officer’s sword, inscribed walking stick made from a flag staff shot from Frick’s Hands, and a second officer’s sword bringing $184,000.
Also notable were a Union Metallic Cartridge Co. cartridge display board that toted up $51,750 and a scarce rifled Ames Model 1841 heavy 12-pounder field gun that rolled to $126,500.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. RIAC’s next events are two online firearms auctions set for June 17 and July 15.
For more information, 309-797-1500, 800-238-8022 or www.rockislandauction.com.
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