Landmark Firearms Collections Lead the Way in September Premiere

Return to


With the one-two combination of the Robert “The Bear” Bretherton firearms Collection and the Robert M. Lee Collection, we knew we had something special in our 2016 September Premiere Auction. Not only special, but a fantastic bit of serendipity that saw two of the 20th century’s most prolific firearms collections meet in the same auction. It was eerie how well they complemented each other: little overlap, extreme rarity, high condition, different firearms manufacturers, various interests, high art pieces and gritty, unproven firearms prototypes. The legacies of these two men coming together at once, was the stars aligning in the firearms collecting universe – a once-in-a-lifetime event that dazzled those who participated.
Firearms collectors happily pounced on the mass of opportunities and the result at the end of the three-day sale was a realized total of $16.1 million. To say that we’re thrilled with the results would be an understatement. This comes on the heels of our record setting $17.5 million April Premiere Auction, and is another example establishing Rock Island Auction Company as the #1 firearms auction house in the world, a position we have enjoyed uninterrupted since 2003.
Day 1
The first day of the firearms auction found success in many new and different places, but the top item of the day still belonged to a familiar name: Winchester. A true prize for any collector, the well-documented pair of cased, consecutively numbered Winchester Black Diamond Trap Model 1897 shotguns were also engraved and gold inlaid by John Ulrich. Lot 477 did not hesitate at its $95,000 low estimate, but was finally captured at $138,000. Later, a rare and recognizable FAMAS F1 bullpup rifle in lot 725 generated a good deal of excitement when it said au revoir to its $8,500 low estimate en route to a $21,850 realized total. However, it was not the only surprise of the day. An American long rifle in lot 327, signed by J. Dickert and set in a handsome curly maple stock, proved to be a very desirable piece of early Americana as it flew past the $2,000 low estimate and onward to the $11,500 price tag it rightly deserved. Excellent prices were also found for Sig pistols and Korth revolvers.

Day 2
Saturday was absolutely loaded with everything firearms collectors could want: condition, variety, beauty, rarity, and history. They didn’t have to wait long to get it. The eleventh lot of the day, 1011, was the iconic Winchester 1866 musket nicknamed, “The Three Graces.” Practically a celebrity of the Winchester world, the gun had been bought and sold privately for decades, but never publicly sold until this weekend. Patient collectors rightfully took the opportunity solemnly and drove the price of the iconic lever gun to $414,000. Minutes later, in lot 1019, an incredible Winchester Model 1895 takedown in .405 was also ready to make a splash. Factory engraved and gold inlaid in marvelous detail, the Winchester was worthy of even the finest collections, and quickly proved it with a $368,000 total. The very next lot was 1020, what many a collector and historian had awaited – President Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting knife. Its story has been covered in numerous outlets, and excited bidders came prepared to do battle for this national treasure. The gold and platinum handled blade fit for a president found a new home for $414,000, a new world record price for an American knife at auction. Not even half an hour into the sale and the totals were over $1 MILLION.

A mere 4 lots later, the “Rarest of All Winchester Firearms” came up for bid. The “Centennial 1876” model single action revolver is an unparalleled pride and joy for any firearm collector regardless of genre. Savvy buyers ignored the $80,000 low estimate and the supremely scarce revolver rang the bell at $253,000. Lot 1036 contained another iconic piece collectors couldn’t wait to put in their own collection. The well-documented, beautiful, and fine condition Winchester Model 1873 short rifle presented by Buffalo Bill Cody himself was available in all its gold plated, Ulrich engraved, history-laden glory. Provenance featuring the icon from the Wild West is certain to draw plenty of attention, and the little golden rifle received its fair share. When all was said and done, it brought $345,000. I bet that Robbie Campbell Adams, the original recipient of the rifle, could have been knocked over with a feather were he alive to hear the news. With more pristine Winchesters to follow, the action was not 45 minutes old before $2 MILLION in sales had been achieved on Saturday alone. When we say we know how to find bidders, we mean it.

Day 3
The second day of the firearms auction many have been a blockbuster, but the top price of the sale belonged to Sunday. After whetting the crowd’s appetite with lot 3009, containing a rare and developmentally significant Smith-Jennings repeater that sold for $40,250, the stage was set. Lot 3014 contained the German silver framed, exhibition quality, panel scene engraved Winchester Model 1866 with ties to trick shot Chevalier Ira Paine, “Master Shooter of the World.” With an incredible back story, remarkable rarity, and possessing some very unusual markings in hidden places, the rifle had intrigued collectors in any number ways. Available to the public for the first time in its life, the rifle rightfully drew tremendous fervor and bids. When the dust settled, the silver Winchester of the “King of the Pistol” had the top price in the auction at $483,000. The rest of the day saw success in multiple genres including many antique flintlocks and a marvelous selection of ornate wheellocks.


This firearms sale had all the earmarks of a sensational event, and it lived up to every single one of them. Two benchmark-setting  firearms collections enjoyed great success, as did a host of smaller, outstanding groupings, and even single gun consignments such as the Ira Paine Winchester. The $16.1 million total puts Rock Island Auction Company in a fantastic position to finish 2016 with yet another industry record for annual firearms sales that our competitors simply cannot approach. Thank you all for your support, patronage, loyalty, and passion for this fantastic hobby, and thank you for choosing Rock Island Auction Company as your favorite way to participate in it.