Published: April 5, 2022
Review & Onsite Photos By Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy Amoskeag
MANCHESTER, N.H. – Peter Tillou’s 100 historic swords were just part of Amoskeag Auction Company’s March 26-27 1,200-lot sale. It included modern and historic firearms, and a selection of shotguns and other weapons from the Perry White collection, one of which brought the highest price of the sale. There was also an Eighteenth Century cannon, hundreds of antique firearms, many with engraving and other decorations by master gunsmiths of early days, numerous hunting firearms capable of being used for animals ranging in size from rabbits to elephants, and several Confederate weapons. The sale grossed more than $4 million and about 50 items brought five-figure prices.
The top seller of the sale, earning $76,375, was an 1860s factory engraved Henry rifle made by the New Haven Arms Company. With a 24-inch barrel, it was engraved on all steel surfaces in a pattern rarely seen. Henry rifles were .44 caliber breech-loading rifles, capable of holding 16 cartridges. Some were government issue during the Civil War, but the potential high rate of fire persuaded many soldiers to buy their own, favoring them over other government issued rifles. Many were later acquired by the Sioux and Cheyenne who used them to defeat Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It was the iconic rifle of the American West, appearing in countless westerns. This rifle was from the Perry White collection.
Finishing behind the Henry rifle, in second place at $70,500, was a Paris second model LeMat percussion revolver. It was marked on the barrel “Col Le Mat Bte s.g.d.g. Paris” This was a cap and ball black powder revolver, capable of firing buckshot, dating to the early 1860s. Many were used by Confederate forces during the Civil War and many were used in the Franco-Prussian war. Another Confederate weapon, a Griswold & Gunnison first model percussion revolver, sold for $19,975.
An unusual lever-action 12-gauge shotgun from the Perry White collection, a Winchester model 1887 riot shotgun, in superb condition, sold well over the estimate, finishing at $41,125. These were one of the earliest successful repeating shotguns and it was a highlight of the White collection. White was a New Hampshire resident who started collecting in 1946, amassed an impressive collection, buying the best that was available. He opened a gun shop in 1955 and that would take precedence over his collecting. As a result, the collection remained secure in showcases for more than 50 years, practically untouched and oiled only occasionally.
Peter Tillou’s (1935-2021) broad knowledge, broad interests and impeccable taste led him to study and collect, as well as buy and sell antiques from various cultures all over the world, ranging in size from coins to outstanding Oriental rugs to automobiles. The quality of his offerings and his knowledge resulted in him exhibiting at premier antique and fine art shows all over the world; he did his first show in 1949 at the age of 14. As he told the story, he began as a coin collector and one of his first passions, at about the age of 12, were swords. He has told of making his “first deal for a sword” after seeing a sword that he wanted in a pawn shop in his home-town of Buffalo, N.Y. Not having money to buy the sword, he went home, found in the attic what he thought “was just an old violin,” took it back to the store and traded it for the sword. (The violin, he later learned, was one that his mother had used years earlier when she was a concert violinist – she was not happy.) According to the antique dealer’s son, Jeff Tillou, his father’s other early interests in the field included wheel-lock and additional early firearms. The sword collection would grow to more than 200 examples, with several being early American swords dating to the Revolutionary and other wars, and most with elaborate engravings and decorations. Many were presentation pieces given to officers and others.
Amoskeag sold 100 swords from the collection; another 120 will be sold in future auctions, along with the firearms. Jeff Tillou said that other portions of his father’s collections will be dispersed over the next year or so, utilizing various auction companies best thought to handle parts of the collection. Michael Grogan, for example, will disperse the Oriental rugs in the collection. Tillou described his approach to collecting in an article he wrote in a 2002 edition of Antiques and Fine Arts which can be read online (https://www.incollect.com/articles/my-love-affair-with-dealing-and-collecting-by-peter-tillou).
Topping Tillou’s sword collection, which grossed more than $200,000, and earning $22,325 was a Philadelphia silver-hilted example with a bird’s head pommel, an ivory grip, a blade engraved with patriotic motifs, a 6-inch figure of Lady Liberty in high relief on the scabbard, an American eagle clutching arrows and more. This sword has been published in Daniel Hartzler’s American Silver-Hilted, Revolutionary and Early Federal Period Swords, in which it is referred to as “wonderful and the ultimate.” Bidders apparently agreed.
A silver lion-hilt officer’s sword, hallmarked 1776, with its scabbard, realized $16,450. The lion’s head pommel had red stones inlaid as ears and detailed teeth, whiskers and mane. There were a number of swords with historical associations. Foremost of these was a brass-hilted eagle-head sword with a smooth maple grip, once the property of Revolutionary War hero Captain, later Major, Jonathan Cass of Exeter, N.H. Cass enlisted the day after the battle of Lexington and fought at the battle of Bunker Hill and went on to fight at Trenton, Princeton, Germantown, Monmouth, Saratoga and the siege of Boston. There’s much more history to this officer that was detailed in the sale catalog. The sword was accompanied by a large, unsigned oil on basswood portrait of Cass in his colonial officer’s uniform. This sword and painting earned $15,275. Tillou was researching the full story of Major Cass at the time of his death. Also with an interesting historical background, selling for $11,163, was a sword presented to General James McMillan, who served in both the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. Inscribed “Brevet Maj. Gen./James W McMillan/from the Enlisted Men of the/160th New York Volunteers/As a Token of Respect/April 1865.” As with the previous lot, the catalog contains much more information of McMillan’s military service.
Not all swords in the Tillou collection were American. An Eighteenth Century French small sword, with scabbard, with ten different decorative panels, went out for $5,875. Bringing the same price was an Eighteenth Century French musketeer rapier engraved with the musketeer cross in an oval surrounded by floral vines. This 1750 example was of the type traditionally carried by the King’s Guards, who protected the king (perhaps Louis XV) when he left the grounds of his palace. A Seventeenth Century Spanish rapier with an ornate cupped hilt topped off at $4,113.
The Amoskeag Auction Co was founded in 1997 and specializes in all types of firearms and related items. Jason Devine grew up in the business, working as a teenager with his father, J.C. Devine, who also specializes in firearms. Jason’s wife, Melissa, works with him, and the company mounts at least four sales a year. Commenting on the past, Devine said, “I’ve been brought up in this business and really love it. My first sale totaled $38,000 and our last one totaled $4.3 million. That must say something.” Extensive, full-color catalogs are produced. The one for this sale had 440 pages, with numerous color photos and very detailed descriptions of each item. The gallery is located in one of the restored mill buildings in the Amoskeag mill yard. (The Amoskeag Manufacturing Co. was, at one time, the largest cotton textile company in the world, employing 17,000 people.). Prior to the sale, Devine said in 2021 they sold to customers in at least 48 states and about a dozen foreign countries. “Selling and shipping firearms internationally is tricky these days with so many countries heavily regulating the business. But it works well for us. The market is really hot now for the type of stuff we had in this sale. The exceptional pieces, like the LeMat, which is probably the nicest I’ve ever seen, really did well. We had more than 1,200 buyers registered on our site, some things went to London and we had about 50 bidders in the room, which is pretty good for these days. The gross came in around $4 million – can never complain with a number like that.” After the sale, Jeff Tillou, said “I think Jason [Devine] and his team did a very good job with the swords. The catalog was impressive and the descriptions were thorough. I think, price-wise, they did very well. We’re satisfied and there will be more to come.”
Amoskeag’s next sale will be June 4 and will include additional swords from the Tillou collection, along with some of his firearms.
For additional information, www.amoskeagauction.com or 603-627-7383.
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