4 Guns: The Finest Known of Their Kind
By Joel R. Kolander
When you declare something “the best” you better come with the goods to back it up. Usually the best is very well documented and well-known, so people are quick to recognize if you offer them anything less than the cream of the crop. That said, we unequivocally stand by calling these guns The Best. In full disclosure, we do call each of them “the Finest Known,” since part of the magic of this remarkable hobby is the sudden appearance of phenomenal guns that the collecting fraternity has yet to discover. In other words, there may be nicer examples out there somewhere, but they are still waiting to make their grand entrance to collectors. This article takes a look at not just one, but several firearms in the 2018 April Premiere Firearms Auction that are the finest known of their type. Having just one would be an honor, having several is unheard of.
#1 – Lot 114: Extraordinary, Finest Known Factory Cased Remington-Rider Double Action New Model Belt Revolver
The Remington-Rider takes its name from Mr. Joseph Rider, Remington’s plant superintendent at the time who held several patents regarding the new double action mechanism. Remington was not the first double action percussion revolver, however, its cartridge firing version would be the first American firm to claim the honor. This example, manufactured in 1865, doesn’t just let you imagine what it looked like when it left the factory, it shows you. The high polish Remington blue is black like oil on its surface and the markings are crisp and sharp. We could gush on and on about this pristine little revolver, but let’s take a look at the numbers. We have rated the following qualities of the gun:
Finish: 98% bright, original finish. Appears unfired.
Grips: Near-new. Nearly 100% of varnish finish intact
Hammer: 100% of subdued case colors
Powder flask: Excellent. 90% of gold plated finish
Bullet Mold: 85% or original blue finish
Not only is this a beautiful example, but cased specimens are extremely rare. Its accessories would also be nearly impossible to improve upon. This Remington was proudly featured on p. 72 of Howard Madus’ book The Guns of Remington.
#2 – Lot 7: Historic, Finest Reported Known, Documented U.S. Contract Martially Inspected New Haven Arms Company Henry Lever Action Rifle with History
We all know the story about how the Henry rifles produced by New Haven Arms evolved into the iconic Winchester lever actions of the 19th century. Many familiar with their firearms and Civil war history also know that despite being produced at almost the perfect time to see action in the Civil War, they saw relatively little official use with only 1,731 purchased by the government. of course, many were purchased privately by soldiers who felt the rifle’s superior firepower would keep them alive and justified the $42 price tag – roughly four times the cost of the Springfield rifles in use at the time.
In addition to being one of the only 1,731 ordered by the Union, the rifle shown here is part of a November 1863 order of 800 rifles by the Ordnance Department to arm the 1st District of Columbia Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (DC Cavalry). It is in the correct serial number range for such service and bears all the inspection and sub-inspection marks fitting such a rare piece of American history. If defending our Nation’s capital during the Civil War weren’t enough of an extraordinary history, this rifle is also documented by the Springfield Research Service as, “issued first to PVT. Charles Hamann and then to PVT. Henry Bowie,” about May 13, 1865, at Camp Stoneman in the District of Columbia. The item’s full description not only documents to whom it was originally issued, but its entire provenance up to 1984.
Any surviving U.S. Contract Henry rifle is a worthy prize for any collector, but to have one of the 800 issued to the 1st DC is an incredible find. This rifle clearly avoided a life on the battlefield, though most of the 800 were used in combat and saw hard use. It is all original and the new benchmark against which any U.S. Contract Henry rifle must me measured.
#3 – Lot 1017: Fresh to the Market, Well-Documented and Extraordinary Factory Engraved Special Order Winchester Model 1876 Deluxe Rifle with Factory Letter: The Finest of Its Type Known
Featured in one of our recent YouTube videos, this Winchester 1876 is simply incomparable. When I personally opened the leather-fitted oak case and saw this absolute jewel of a Winchester resting quietly in its French fitted lining, I gasped out loud. This Winchester immediately gives the impression that you are beholding something truly special.
The Cody Firearms Museum states that this Third Model 1876 was shipped on January 26, 1885. It remains in a condition that nearly duplicates that day’s.
Beyond the magnificent condition, the rifle’s special order features read like a grocery list for collectors: set trigger, checkered stock, pistol grip, special sights, casehardened, and as grossly understated on the factory letter, “Engraved, etc.” Not listed on the letter are the deluxe, highly-figured, fancy grade walnut stocks with Winchester’s “Style H” checkering and their semi-gloss finish, the full checkered black hard rubber shotgun buttplate, nor the ebony inlay in the pistol grip. The factory engraving was performed by Master John Ulrich, about which RIAC President Kevin Hogan states, “It’s almost as if the engraver knew this gun was going to remain a time capsule because it so elegantly exhibits the condition, yet subtly accentuates it.”
#4 – Extremely Well-Documented, Historic and Iconic Only Known Original Cased Colt Civilian Walker Percussion Revolver, Known as “The Danish Sea Captain Walker”
We’ve already discussed the special nature of this remarkable and possible once-in-a-lifetime gun in last week’s blog, as well as in its own video on our YouTube channel, so we won’t repeat it here. However, this list would be sorely lacking if we did not include the finest known Colt Walker, which also happens to be the finest known Colt civilian Walker.
In May 2014, Rock Island Auction Company had the distinct pleasure of selling the legendary “Thumbprint Walker.” It too was a Colt civilian Walker that was period refinished and was accompanied by a period holster. That instantly recognizable Walker brought $546,250 and is undoubtedly housed in one of the nation’s top collections. It does beg the question: if a known icon can bring that sort of price, how much higher will an equally known original specimen bring that can also claim to be the sole remaining example in its original case?
Having this many guns staking their claims as being the best, is an excellent indicator of the high level and large number of quality arms that the April Premiere Auction brings to the table. Perhaps, it should come as no surprise with no less than fifteen named collections gracing the sale, cumulatively representing centuries of hard work and dedication. The level of high condition pieces in the sale is simply staggering, thus the opportunity for collectors has seldom been greater.