Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 367: High Art Wheellock Sporting Gun with Polychrome Stock

Auction Date: December 3, 2021

Documented Beautiful High Art Engraved Wheellock Sporting Gun with Gilt Metal Accents and Gorgeous Polychrome Scrimshaw Decorated Stock

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $75,000 - $120,000

Documented Beautiful High Art Engraved Wheellock Sporting Gun with Gilt Metal Accents and Gorgeous Polychrome Scrimshaw Decorated Stock

Manufacturer: German
Model: Wheellock
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 54
Barrel: 32 5/8 inch part octagon
Finish: blue/silver/gold
Stock: cherry
Item Views: 889
Item Interest: Average
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 220
Class: Antique

This beautiful late 16th century type wheellock sporting gun is highly embellished from the muzzle to the butt in Renaissance high art style with Roman classical motifs on both the metal and stock. It is item 43 on pages 114-117 of "Decorated Firearms, 1540-1870, from the Collection of Clay P. Bedford" by Gusler and Lavin where it is noted as from the William Randolph Hearst collection and as from c. 1570. The two-stage, smoothbore barrel has a gilt blade front sight at the muzzle, an interesting gilt "block" rear sight with an internal covered notch for shorter range shooting and a top sight groove for longer range shooting, and ornamentation covering basically all of the visible surfaces consisting of engraved and gold and silver inlaid classical figures, birds, and floral patterns. The barrel was finished in fire blue and has a slight flare at the muzzle. The flat lock plate and the domed wheel cover have coordinating floral patterns in gold and silver and heat blue finish. The gilt dog has a bestial design, and the other external components are also mainly gilded. "709 27" is marked in red on the reverse of the lower jaw. The pan, pan cover, and internals were polished bright, and the cover has a lion mask design. The trigger guard also has gilt accents. While the metal work is phenomenal, it is the embellishment of the stock that is truly the most extraordinary. The stock has extensive staghorn/bone inlays along the whole length to the extent that the stock wood provides a sparse background for the exceptional inlays which consist of a wide variety of designs. Throughout the stock are floral and fruit designs, including rare polychromatic elements mainly consisting of green tinted accents. Among the designs in the forend are several lions and lion masks, a nude female figure at the ramrod entry point by the forend tip, a female figure with a sword pointed at her heart near the middle of the forend, and a male soldier with large sword on the bottom ahead of the lock. These female figures are noted in the book as Lucretia and Fortune. The buttstock section has renditions of Geometria, Venus, Spes, and Mercury along the bottom (all labeled) along with nude female busts on the sides of each vignette. The left stock flat has a dual Pegasus design, deer, Hercules wearing the pelt of the Nemean lion and slaying the dragon Ladon in the Garden of Hesperides per the text noted above. Flanking the barrel tang are interesting column designs with bearded masks and dogs, and the left side of the butt features rabbits leading dogs (one riding a dog), a central design of a lion battling a griffin, and masks. The right side has a hunter and his dogs taking down a boar/bear and two lions. The patch box lid has a female figure with hands grasped in prayer and a lion mask at the top. A "1373" marked inventory tag is on a wire around the trigger guard. The ramrod has a coordinating engraved tip. Provenance: William Randolph Hearst; Clay P. Bedford; Joseph Murphy; The Tom Lewis Collection

Rating Definition:

Fine. The lock and barrel primarily have a dark gray appearance with contrasting gold accents and aged patina on the silver which is partially worn away. The engraving is worn but generally distinct when closely examined. The majority of the bright gild finish remains on the lock components, and the bright pan and pan cover have minor wear and crisp engraving. The wheel shows some chipping and wear. Per Gusler and Lavin, "The pancover and pan are modern replacements." The stock is very fine and has beautiful embellishment throughout with crisp details and lovely contrast between the inlays and the wood including strong green tinting, some minor edge wear, and some faint hairline cracks and repairs. The lock is untested. This is a beautiful wheellock that would be at home in an art gallery or in a private collection of fine arms. The stock alone represents some of the finest artistic work found on antique arms from the late 16th century. As Gusler and Lavin concluded, "With its combination of polychromed stock and mounts, this gun achieves a decorative impact seldom equaled."

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