$2.3M Armor Helps Bring Record Year
If anyone ever wondered whether Rock Island Auction Company knows how to end the year with a flair for the dramatic, the 2015 December Premiere Firearms Auction left no doubt. Before the sale began, it had the makings for a successful event: items tied to well-known names from history, top condition guns, rarities and prototypes, 7 exceptional collections, and over 3,000 collector firearms. Though, even with all these pieces in place, few could have anticipated how strong the results would be. Led by the $2.3 million dollar sale of a 15th century Egyptian piece of armor, the auction achieved a realized total of nearly $15 million and pushed the annual sales of the auction house to over $51 million dollars. That figure is an industry record that bodes well for firearms collectors and the hobby as a whole.
No other firearms auction house has even come surpassed $40 million, yet Rock Island Auction Company continues to set records in the industry, a feat Director of Auction Services Kevin Hogan attributes to two sources. “It really comes down to our customers and our employees,” stated Hogan. “Our customers are extremely loyal. The consignors place a lot of trust in us to present their items well and to market them, and the buyers trust us to honestly represent thousands of the world’s top firearms. They can put that trust in us because our employees go above and beyond every day to make sure that we stay the world’s #1 firearms auction house.” RIAC has maintained that title for 12 consecutive years.
Day One of the sale started strong with a host of Winchesters flying off the block such as the deluxe Winchester 1873 in lot 8 with vivid casehardening that sold for $86,250, far surpassing its estimate of $65,000. Other popular genres enjoyed success as well. Lot 281 contained a stately cased and engraved John Rigby side lever, double barrel rifle that exceeded its $12,000 estimate en route to a sale price of $27,500. A Kentucky rifle from the illustrious Piedmont Collection provided a highlight when the Jacob Dickert Lancaster Flintlock rifle with its distinct rattlesnake-shaped patchbox in lot 129 rang the bell at $25,000, ignoring its estimate of $16,000.
Day One’s sales were certainly impressive and it started out strong, but the second day of auction would prove to be the one that no one in attendance will forget. It started as a feeding frenzy! The first fifty lots were quickly gobbled up by collectors who wanted the best and were willing to pay for the privilege. Immediately snatched up was Lot 1014, a stunning Ulrich engraved and gold inlaid deluxe Winchester 1894 rifle from the legendary Mac McCroskey Collection, that couldn’t be had for less than $207,000. Not four lots later, it was followed by an excellent condition, deluxe, factory engraved, gold and nickel plated Winchester Model 1873 in lot 1018 that was promptly seized by a collector for $140,000, despite an estimate of $95,000. Bidding was fast and aggressive, and within the first hour, the day had already notched one million dollars in sales! Fortunately, bidders were just getting warmed up.
Surprising bids began to come in for every type of item. A finely carved powder horn with engravings themed around the French-Indian War in lot 1132 spurred the second biggest bidding battle of the day, shattering its humble $1,800 estimate by bringing $22,500. The biggest battle that occurred that day, that weekend, and arguably in the history of Rock Island Auction Company was for the contents of lot 1262, a 15th century shirt of armor identified to military powerhouse and architectural patron Qaitbay, Sultan of Egypt. The armor possessed the highest estimate in the auction, $200,000 – $500,000, but murmurs were exchanged among staff and collector alike wondering just how much the armor would sell for, as if those in attendance had their own inklings that they were on the precipice of witnessing something special. They would not be let disappointed
Bidding began well into the six figures, but it wouldn’t take long for those large bidding increments to push the bids into the seven figures. By that time, the competition was already down to two buyers bidding live via telephone, and the auction hall began to fill again with people from adjacent rooms who couldn’t believe the bids they were hearing. Eyes got wider and wider and the numbers continued upward and Auctioneer Kevin Hogan came down from the podium to take the momentous bids. A pause between each bid was interrupted by gasps, cheers, and disbelieving laughter as the two rival bidder cards flew up again and again. It could’ve only taken a few minutes, but to those in attendance waiting on the edge of their seats for each new bid, time stopped. Hogan even broke the ice at $1.5 million dollars when he turned to the crowd to ask, “Does anyone else want in on the lot?” Cheers erupted when the bidding struck the $2 million mark, but the second prospective buyer could not make the required $2.1 million dollar bid. “Two point one million dollars going once! Two point one million dollars going twice! SOLD! For TWO MILLION DOLLARS!” With the whoops and hollers that were heard all throughout the hall, one would have thought everybody had won the armor! It was a tremendously exciting moment and it set the tone for the rest of the day.
Nobody wanted to come down from that excitement high! It was practically tangible and the room was electric with what they had just seen. That elation showed itself in the subsequent bids, especially during The Royal Hunt Collection of Imperial German hunting trophies. Each one seemed determined to outdo the last. The crown jewel of this regal collection was a massive red stag European mount from King Frederick William III on a spectacularly carved base. Housed in lot 1329, it was nearly the last of the collection offered on the day, and it was taken home for $69,000; well over its $20,000 estimate. Other offerings included a fantastic Red Stag full cap mount marked to Count Von Schlitz in lot 1331 estimated at $14,000, but won for $48,875, and lot 1326 which held two handsome Red Stag full cap mounts that bounded beyond their $7,000 estimate by selling for $31,625. Even to the very last semi-autos and Colt snake guns, the energy carried through the entire day.
Living up to Day Two is no easy task, but Day Three managed in its own special way via a number of remarkable antiques and historic items that some bidders had been waiting for all weekend. Their patience was short-lived, however, once the bidding started. Lot 3083 was a cased presentation sword that was surrendered after a pivotal naval battle in the War of 1812, and formerly displayed at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. It struck true with a collector who paid no attention to its $45,000 estimate and gave $74,750 to place it in his collection. The very next lot, number 3084, was a cased, brass Dolland spyglass once belonging to George Washington was won for $40,250 by a live internet bidder who clearly felt the $15,000 estimate was modest. Day Three also held a section of the Royal Hunt Collection which was just as warmly received as Day Two’s selection, as was seen in a lot 3419’s gorgeous Red Stag cap mount marked to the Baron Von Esebeck that destroyed its $12,000 estimate by earning $57,500.
It may seem like all other sales in this auction were eclipsed by the incredible amount fetched by the Egyptian armor, but collectors should be extremely pleased with the results of this sale. Numerous genres experienced very positive returns, such as: Winchesters, Colts, German military arms, Colt snake guns, antiques, Lugers, and U.S. military arms. Strong results were required across the board to tally the nearly $15 million realized price for the auction. It was a wonderful auction that helped make an absolutely sensational year. It’s years like this that reflect very positively on firearms collecting in terms of participation and gun values. It was also a good sign for Rock Island Auction Company, which has now cemented its place as the world’s #1 firearms auction house for 12 consecutive years, and shows no signs of stopping.